Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Iceland May 2016 Part 2 Hit the road running!

With the alarm set for 2.30a.m. I surprised myself by being up and heading for a wake-up shower even earlier. Mike was bang on time at 2.45a.m and we were on our way. Perfect timing at the Jetparks car park saw us boarding a bus within a minute or two of arrival and to my surprise the new Easyjet  D.I.Y. check-in was a breeze too. Possibly the quickest check-in I have ever experienced.
Security was a bit of a mare, having carefully packed my camera bag I had to unload it all as the security was rigorous. I have no problem with that and it was my fault I had my packs of hand warmers confiscated due to their chemical nature. Mike had a clear run with his bag.
So there we were drinking coffee and totally relaxed with plenty of time to spare. For once an early morning beer, which is a kind of departure ritual for me, was forsaken, we would be driving in Iceland in a few hours time so that was a no go. In fact we had decided to go tea-total for the week because a) the cost of alcohol was expected to be prohibitive and b) with so little time on this trip we would utilise  the long daylight hours to maximise our photographic potential.
Our arrival at Keflavik International was just as smooth as our Manchester experience. The Procar rep had us whisked away to their depot in next to no time and by 8.30.a.m. ( Iceland is 1 hour behind GMT) we were ready for off with a whole day ahead of us. 
First impressions were the number of birds flying around and so close to the airport too. That said, the airport is surrounded by a strange moorland type of landscape which is ideal for breeding birds.
Keflavik    Iceland
We had been recommended by Richard Steel to make a visit to Floi Nature Reserve but first we decided to check out a nearby village called Gardur from where I'd seen a picture of a highly desirable Gyr Falcon taken a couple of days previously. Well I thought I had. I later discovered there are several places going by the same name and this doesn't just apply to Gardur but lots of other places too. Why ? Surely Iceland isn't that big that they have to give the same name to 4 or 5 villages. Makes life too complicated for a simple person like me.
Anyway, the Gardur we visited gave us a close encounter with a Golden Plover. Well, to be honest they were everywhere in Iceland but this encounter was as close as I had ever previously encountered and the breeding plumage was stunning, even in the relatively poor light we had that first morning.
Golden Plover      Iceland
After messing about with a few shots we decided to give up on the Gyr Falcon and head to Floi. Driving,as we soon found out, was a total pleasure compared to the crowded roads of the UK.
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Mile after mile with hardly a car in sight, the photo here taken as we passed a thermal steam driven power plant.
Floi was slightly tricky to find but once there we could unpack our gear and get ready for our first serious photo session.
The sun had come out but it was cold, especially so as there was a fairly strong wind blowing. My first opportunity to try out my new waterproofs. OK, I look more Dad's Army than S.A.S. and at first I felt a little self conscious at being seen dressed in my camouflage kit but I have to say it was a superb investment.
Dad's Army        Floi,Iceland
Totally waterproof, I could lay in wet sand or water logged ground and still remain dry. The cloth soon dried out too and any mud or sand just brushed off leaving the garment unmarked. I think I'll be getting a lot of use out of this bit of kit!
Anyway, off I went in search of Red-throated Diver which was why Richard had suggested this venue. We had seen a few spots holding birds along the drive to Floi but everything had been frustratingly distant and at first Floi appeared to offer similar. We ignored the bird hide overlooking an empty pond and headed out across the marshy grassland. To my delight though and hidden from initial view were numerous ponds and small lakes and the very first I came across held a pair of Red-throated Divers.
I was soon clicking away, lying flat out, hopefully camouflaged sufficiently for the birds to come closer.
Nearly all the photos I took were not good enough even by my standards. Heat haze is just as much a problem in Iceland as it is in hotter countries, so many of my images were "soft".
Red-throated Diver     Iceland
I later found another pond were the birds were closer and that proved to be more successful.
Red-throated Diver       Iceland
The wind was causing the water to ripple in small waves and the birds simply bobbed along in the waves.
Red-throated Diver       Iceland
Trying to get two birds in one shot was a bit more interesting than just one.
Red-throated Diver       Iceland
but hopes of getting some nice reflections off the surface of the water were a non starter.
Red-throated Diver       Iceland
With action being restricted to the odd shake of a leg I decided to move on and look for something new.
Mike was the first to spot one, a lifer for me too,  Red-necked Phalarope. Several nearby ponds all held one or two. 
Red-necked Phalarope      Iceland
These birds are tiny so locking focus in the waves is not that easy !
Red-necked Phalarope      Iceland
But the one thing they are not is shy. On occasions they sailed past just a foot or two in front of me, too close to focus on with my 600mm lens.
Unlike the Divers, the Phalaropes were very active. They are amongst the last migrants to arrive and we had been concerned that we might miss out so it was something of a relief to find these birds in the south west corner of the country. 
The mindset of the female must have been very much on food because she made it quite clear the male bird on the pond needed to be removed !( note: I have since been informed that in the case of the R.N. Phalaropes the male is the duller plumaged of the two. Why ? because this is one of those species where the male is left to incubate the eggs and the female clears off. The male therefore is in need of the better camouflage. What I was actually witnessing here was a sexual assault with little finesse! )
Red-necked Phalarope      Iceland
She chased the bird in flight 
Red-necked Phalarope      Iceland
and when he landed she followed through cash landing on top of him.Red-necked Phalarope      Iceland
The attack that followed was quite vicious.
Red-necked Phalarope      Iceland
and the message must have got through as the male took off as soon as he was able!
Red-necked Phalarope      Iceland
Several hours had soon vanished and by now it was getting towards late afternoon. There weren't too many other species about. Artic Terns, Black-tailed Godwits, Snipe and, as in this picture, Dunlin were amongst the few we saw.
Dunlin      Iceland
A drive around the surrounding tracks gave us more views of Golden Plover but again, not quite what we were looking for with grass and the wind causing problems in the final shot.

Golden Plover     Floi,Iceland
Ah well, we had all week to try and better them but in the meantime it was time to head north to our first overnight stop. 
Hotel Hafnarfjall      Borgarnes
The Hotel Hafnarfjall is set on the shoreline just before crossing the bridge in to Borgarnes. By the time we arrived the weather had turned from sunny in Floi to raining en route to dull and a bit miserable at our stop off point. We drove over the bridge and in to town to find something to eat noting on the way the Artic Skuas harassing the Terns just a few yards from the bridge. The light was too poor to contemplate for that evening but it would be a priority to revisit first thing next day.
With that prospect to dream about, and having had a long day, sleep was all too easy, well it was until my next door neighbours decided to have a party in their room. 
Fair do's though they did shut up when I finally lost patience and hammered on the wall!

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