Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Iceland May 2016 Part 9 If at first you don't succeed....

We were already down to our final three days, one of which would be largely spent travelling south, so today we agreed we would travel northwards for the day and continue the route originally planned for the previous day. The Tjornes peninsula and beyond!
We had both agreed we wouldn't be diverted from the plan if there happened to be a pair of Great Northern Divers on "the" lake, we had other targets we still needed to try and get images of. The Great and Arctic Skuas supposedly breed locally to where we were heading and we both had them on our list and we would both be grateful for another crack at the Red-throated Divers should we find some on nice calm water.
As we approached the Diver lake we did of course stop. 
Nothing there. 
We did of course wait just in case they were submerged. 
Probably a good thing really as we wouldn't have been able to resist I don't suppose. We had the affliction. Great Northern Diver fever is only curable by a total over exposure to these magnificent birds. I guess in the back of your mind you know that the chances of seeing them in their full breeding plumage is unlikely anywhere else in Europe although ironically one appeared in Surrey whilst we were away.
Anyway, we travelled onwards until we were almost in Husavik. There are two lakes just south of Husavik. Could the first one be the one Richard Steel had pointed us towards when we had mentioned G.N.D's?
 We decided we had to investigate ( the fever is always lurking once contracted) and drove down a lane which had the appearance that it might be private as it went past a sign indicating Kaldbakur holiday cottages then another pointing to the office. We stopped at the top of a hill overlooking the lakes and yes, there it was. A single G.N.D. sat motionless in the very far distance, perhaps 800m away. There was a rough track leading down the hill which our 4x4 was more than capable of driving but we daren't go without first seeking permission.  Kaldbakur had been mentioned on a web site but we would first enquire at the office to see if it was OK to venture down to the lake.
This particular vantage spot had several Golden Plovers searching the ground for food. The sun was out and they looked good.
Golden Plover     Iceland
Despite their numbers we hadn't given them much attention really, I suppose you always think you can fill an empty minute later. However, we wisely spent a bit of time with them here.
Golden Plover     Iceland
Make hay while the sun shines is such a wise bit of advice.
Overhead there were several Snipe flying around doing their "drumming" sound. A fascinating sight that is seen regularly in Iceland, Snipe being very,very common.
Snipe     Iceland
I'd never seen or heard it before this trip and it is quite special, Sometimes you can hear them but can't see them as they fly so high and the sound of their tail feathers carries a considerable distance.
Snipe    Iceland
Trying to capture an image is very difficult. My 600mm lens is a bit too heavy to be easily hand held by myself, a 500mm would have been ideal, particularly with a 7D2 crop camera body attached. 
Anyway, having had our fill we headed back to the office but it was deserted. We decided to carry on our journey north with the intention of calling back later. By late after noon the sun would be in the right spot for the Diver!
Onwards we went collecting another new species for our "bird on a post" collection.
Redwing      Iceland
but being equally frustrated by tantalisingly close Artic Skuas flying past the car. Our second sighting of a Great Skua was sufficiently distant to not having the same effect.
Eventually we came to the Kelduhveri flatlands. A huge area with some pools and much marsh lands. We went off the main road down a rough track but found little to grab our attention.
A pair of Dunlin in the rough grass seemed a strange sight as I'm used to seeing them on sand. No doubt looking for a safe nesting spot here.
Dunlin    Iceland
There were a few Long-tailed and Tufted Ducks on a stretch of slow moving water but there was nowhere that grabbed our attention and persuaded to get out and walk. 
Long Tailed Duck      Iceland
We drove on, passing roadside ponds and lakes full of Slavonian Grebes and Phalaropes, none being particularly approachable. We eventually reached the visitor centre for the Vatnajokull National Park and after a quick look around we headed up to the nearby gorge where there is the off chance of seeing a Gyr Falcon.
Not today though ! We decided enough was enough, there were photo opportunities on the lakes and ponds nearer to our lodge so we returned to Husavik stopping there to re-fuel and treat ourselves to a Magnum ice cream which took us back a bit when the cost for 2 worked out at 1000 krona or £2.80 each. I haven't bought an ice cream in such a long time perhaps I'm out of touch. Still, it was extremely enjoyable and there was no need to be totally cost conscious! The petrol incidentally was about 10% cheaper than the UK at around £1 a litre.
Continuing southwards and heading back towards the Kaldbakur holiday cottages we spotted an unpaved road leading down to the beach so we decided to check it out. Unbelievably two Great Northern Divers were cruising along the shoreline only about 5 metres from the edge. 
Stop! Park up! Dash down the steep bank on to the beach and hopefully get in to position while they are submerged.
Once again more frustration as they emerge much further down than expected.
Back in the car, drive way beyond them and get down on the beach again.
This time they emerge about 50 metres off shore. Agh!!!!
Still as we find ourselves on the beach we'll check out the outflow over in the corner.
   Husavik Beach      Iceland
You can just about make out a small gathering of birds below the parked van feeding off the discharge from a nearby fish processing plant.
There were quite a few Iceland Gulls amongst the gathered flock.
Iceland Gull      Iceland
The sun was no longer shining so the light was a bit flat.
Iceland Gull      Iceland
Not a bad looking bird though.
Iceland Gull      Iceland
Also in the mix were a couple of Turnstone
Turnstone      Iceland
A Sanderling
Sanderling      Iceland
and a couple of stunning Red Knot.
Knot      Iceland
I was particularly interested in the Knot as you don't see them looking like that in the UK, rather a dull grey colour.
Where was Mike though? I'd seen him head up on to the makeshift harbour wall so I went to take a look.
He'd relocated the Divers! They proceeded to do a similar circuit several times, heading some distance out, returning to the shore, out again , a circuit of the harbour wall. The only question was where would they pop up to get reasonably close. We both spent/wasted a lot of time trying to pre-empt them only to be left pretty frustrated ! This is a classic symptom of Diver fever I'm sure.
I did get some shots though
Great Northern Diver      Iceland
And even a bit of action
Great Northern Diver      Iceland
Which despite the distance
Great Northern Diver      Iceland
and the flat light
Great Northern Diver      Iceland
Gave me something at least.
Why couldn't they just pop up right in front of me just like this Red-breasted Merganser?
Red-breasted Merganser      Iceland
We decided the Divers were very smart and were deliberately playing games with us!
In the end and out of frustration we headed off to see if there was one still sitting on the lake at Kaldbakur.
First call was the office where we were told by all means, the grounds were open to anyone who wished, we could take the car down too should we wish. First though we checked out some calling Redpolls which we managed to see but not to photograph.
Down at the lakeside the Diver was still very distant. We tried our luck with some Slavonian Grebes  but most of my shots were once again very soft.
Slavonian Grebe     Iceland
Birds on water seem to be particularly prone in Iceland it seems.
Anyway, as Mike and I were discussing what next he suddenly spotted an Arctic Skua swooping in.
With little time to even think it was simply a case of point and shoot.
Arctic Skua     Iceland
and hope for the best.
Arctic Skua     Iceland
The images are a bit soft but they are also by far the best I have taken of this species.
Arctic Skua     Iceland
A Pale phase bird with a bit of oil on it's belly it appears.
That was a result as far as I was concerned.
We drove back to the top of the hill to see if we could re-locate the Redpolls but had no luck there. Instead I took a few snaps of the Redwings feeding in the paddock.
Redwing     Iceland
At this point we decided we would take one more look down at the lake and then call it a day.
There's a track that goes around part of the lake and it's a bit of a steep bank to drive up and on to it. As we approached I jokingly told Mike who was sat in the back to get ready as the Diver would be sat waiting for us just off the track.
I'm not sure who was the most surprised, us or the Diver!
The bird allowed me to position the car so we both had a view and could fire off a couple of shots .
Great Northern Diver       Iceland
before it turned to face us and slowly submerged below the surface in the most laid back of fashions.
Great Northern Diver       Iceland
That was an incredibly close encounter but were we happy ? Well, yes and no. The light was flat ! 
Do I have reason to whinge? Well no, I don't really but hey,ho we do strive for perfection or at least as good as we can get.
We were reasonably satisfied though and headed off for an early dinner as it wasn't worth driving back to our lodge first.
After dinner another cruise around to see what was about which was usually a search for a bird on a post but on this occasion none were to be found. This Ptarmigan shot I took does demonstrate why Lake Myvatn translates to Lake of Flies though.
Ptarmigan       Iceland
The flies didn't bother us at all but perhaps later in the summer it gets worse.
For us though we just had one last full day before the long drive south again.

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