BIRDS IN NORTH ICELAND

The rich bird life of North Iceland, distributed over widely varying habitats, displays a diversity seldom surpassed in Iceland and accessible areas for seeing species such as the Barrow’s Goldeneye, Harlequin Duck, Gyr Falcon, Rock Ptarmigan, the Great Northern Gannet and the Guillemot. Wetlands are important as a habitat for many Icelandic breeding species, and of the Icelandic wetlands which are famed for rich bird life, several of the most renowned are in North Iceland.

Three Birding Trails have been mapped out for North Iceland, each one having its own character. North East Iceland including the famous Lake Mývatn regions provides you with more species than anywhere else found in Iceland, one of the best duck area in the world where you easily find the Barrow’s Goldeneye and Harlequin Ducks and areas of unique density of the Gyr Falcon and Rock Ptarmigan. You have the only breeding spots of the Northern Gannet in mainland Iceland in Skoruvíkurbjarg and accessible puffin areas in a nature boosting of volcanic activity.

In Northwest Iceland many species of birds are accompanied by rich wildlife in the area. You can come up close to seals in Vatnsnes peninsula without disturbing them, either from see or land. Skagafjörður is often named the cradle of Icelandic horsemanship as it has the highest number of horses per capita in Iceland. In Drangey Island you find a protected area with flocks of seabirds such as the puffin and the Brünnich Guillemot to name a few. In Gauksmýri Lake you find the Horned Grebe and the Red-Necked Phalarope.

Eyjafjörður and Tröllaskagi Peninsula is characterised by high mountains surrounding deep valleys. Birding areas include the protected wetland areas of Húsabakki, calm oceans for seabirds and the tranquil islands Hrísey Pearl of Eyjafjörður, where the Rock Ptarmigan behaves like tame, and Grímsey Island crossing the Arctic Circle providing excellent areas for seabird watching and great flocks of Puffin.   

This website is not hosted by the Birding Iceland Community. This website only contains information about the 3 birding trails of North Iceland and information about travelling around the area. For information about the Icelandic Birding Community please visit www.facebook.com/birdingiceland

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Bird Trails

Bird Trails
Northwest Birding Trail

The trail starts at the west of the area, in Borðeyri, and travels east
through the Northwest, guiding bird lovers through areas rich in
birdlife and nature. Though the trail starts at one point and ends at
another, travellers can join and leave the trail whereever they want.
It has also been set up so that travellers can skip the most remote
areas and still keep on the trail, ideal for those with little time but
still wanting to see rich birdlife.

What to Expect in Iceland?
360 bird species have been recorded in Iceland and about 85 species
nest here. The geographical location of Iceland, far north in the
Atlantic, allows bird enthusiasts to see birds from both sides of the
Atlantic. These include birds common in northern regions of Europe
as well as American birds such as the Great Northern Diver, or
accidental visitors such as American Robins, Indigo Buntings, Grey
Plover and others. Some of the species nesting in Iceland appear in
very large numbers, such as the Whooper Swan, Greylag Goose,
Atlantic Puffin, Fulmars and other sea and cliff birds.
For further information on birds that have been spotted in Iceland,
we recommend The Icelandic Bird Guide.

The Best Time to Visit
For those who are keen to see as many bird species as possible in
Iceland, late May to June is the best time. By then the migrant
species have arrived and are preparing their nests. With 24 hours of
daylight, Iceland is teeming with bird activities which allows you to
bird watch whenever you desire.
As most of the birds in Iceland are migrants they typically leave the
island in August and September. The winter season lacks the same
abundance of species as summer but still provides the Gyr Falcon,
Merlin, White-tailed Eagle, Snowy Owl and Short-eyred Owl, Rock
Ptarmigan in shining white, Common Raven, Snow Bunting,
Redpoll, gulls, ducks and a few others.
For best time to see certain species, we recommend www.eBird.org,
go to Explore Data - Bar Chart - Iceland.

Birding in the Northwest
The Northwest region of Iceland offers extended wetlands with an
abundance of Whooper Swan, Great Northern Diver, ducks such as
Long-tailed Duck, waders, and geese. The area has accessible
wetlands that offer the ideal habitat for many species of marshland
birds and waders. Eider ducks in large colonies, Arctic Tern, Atlantic
Puffin, Kittiwake and many other species live close to the ocean.
Almost everywhere it should be easy to see and listen to birds such
as the Red-necked Phalarope, Golden Plover or Snipe.
Of all the bird species that visit Iceland, only a few can not be seen
in the Northwest during nesting or migration periods.This map
highlights birding locations and areas which are accessible for most
bird enthusiasts travelling on their own. For more remote places we
recommend tour operators operating both locally and across Iceland.

Protection of Wildlife
Almost all birds in Iceland are floor breeders. Therefore, we
recommend care be taken to avoid disturbing their nests and eggs
when hiking in nature.

Northwest Birding Trail map

The map for the Birding Trail of Northwest Iceland

 

Northwest Species chart

The chart of species of birds in Northwest Iceland

 

Eyjafjörður Birding Trail

1.Svalbarðseyri 

A small area by the shore that is populated with birds. Two ponds can be found there and the pond Tungutjörn has the richest birdlife. The area is a destination for migrant birds, e.g. Ruddy Turnstone(Arenaria interpres) and Red Knot(Calidris Canutus), from may to june. Waders can also been see there, seagulls, ducks and Slavonian Grebe(Podiceps auritus).  

2.Estuary(Óshólmar) of the river Eyjafjarðará 

It is estimated that about 33 different species of birds nest in the estuary of the river Eyjafjarðará or about 40% of all the species that nest in Iceland. The most common birds in the area are Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus) and Common Eider duck (somateria mollissima), other common birds are Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea), Greylag Goose (Anser anser), Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago), Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus), Eurasian Wigeon (Anas Penelope) ect. Four species in the area are on the Icelandic Institute of Natural history red list i.e. Greylag Goose (Anser anser), Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata), Northern Pintail (Anas acuta) and Mew Gull (Larus canus). 

3.Kristnespond 

The pond is directly below Kristnes and by road number 821. West of the pond is a birdwatching house. It can be reach by driving along the old road that lies south from the side road up to Kristnes. Very nice place for birdwatching at spring. The main species to be seen are Slavonian Grebe(Podiceps auritus), Whooper Swan(cygnus cygnus), ducks and waders. 

Many good places for bird watching are within Akureyri and its surroundings. Four bird watching cabins are available for birdwatchers in the area, three within the town itself and one in the island Hrísey which also belongs to Akureyri. These cabins  are placed in the following areas, Naustaborgir, Krossanesborgir, at the estuary of river Eyjafjarðará and in the island Hrísey. In the houses are good conditions for birdwatchers and an overview with pictures of the most common birds found in the area. A map displaying the location of bird watching cabins and walking distance from parking can be found here for Akureyri and Hrísey. 

4.Krossanesborgir  
At Krossanesborgir which is roughly 1km you can find approx. 500 to 600 nesting pairs of birds of mixed species.  According to a thorough bird count 
made 2003 at least 27 species breed here. 
Among species found here are: Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea), 
Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus), Herring Gull (Larus argentatus), 
Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus) and Mew Gull(Larus canus), 
Blacktailed Godwit (Limosa limosa), 
various ducks and Gees such as Northern Pintail(Anas acuta) and 
Greylag Goose (Anser anser)
as well as many other species of birds.  

(Review of the most common birds in the area.) 
The trails around the area and information boards with the history, geology, flora and
fauna make it pleasurable for guests to enjoy the area.

5.Rock formation Naustaborgir 

The rock formation are in a recreational area just north of the camping site Hamrar. Marking since the Ice Age can be found on the rocks as well as small ponds and rich vegetation. Paths lead to the area from Hamrar. A birdwatching house is in the area, on the west side from the pond. A path from the parking in the residential area of Naustahverfi leads to the birdwatching house. For a map of the area click HERE. Twelve to fourteen species of breedes, ducks, waders and the Black Headed Gull can be found in the area. Review of the most common birds in the area.  

6.Kjarnaskógur 

The forest area of Kjarnaskógur is one of the most popular outdoor area in Akureyri, about 3,2 km2 in size. This area was with all deforested in 1950 when the reforestation began. Since then around 1,5 million plants have been planted. Many birds species can be found in the forest area, e.g Mealy Redpoll(Cardeulis flammea), Winter Wren(Troglodytes troglodytes), Goldcrest(Regulus regulus), as well as rare species like Common Blackbird(Turdus merula) and Fieldfare(Turdus pilaris). There are many walkingtrails in the forest area. 

7.Hrísey Island

Hrísey has developed a reputation as a birdwatching destination. There are no natural predators on the island, making it an ideal bird sanctuary. The northen part of Hrísey, Ystabæjarland, is a privately owned nature reserve, and the killing of birds is forbidden on the rest of the island. Among the forty species of bird on the island are the Ptarmigan(Lagopus muta), Artic Tern(Sterna paradisaea) and Eider Duck(somateria mollissima). Hrísey is renowned for having the densest population of Ptarmigan in Iceland during the nesting season and also a large Artic Tern population. Hrísey is excellent for walks and marked walking trails are around the island. A birdwatching house is in Hrísey, for map please click HERE. Review of the most common birds in the area. 

8. SVARFAÐARDALUR BIRD RESERVE  and the exhibition BIRDLAND in Húsabakki

Svarfaðardalur Bird Reserve spans 8 kmof marshland in lower Svarfaðardalur valley. Over thirty various species of birds nest here every summer and even more pass by. Walking paths highlighting points of information and education lay from Dalvík and Húsabakki through the reserve. Bird watching-houses are in both places. Svarfaðardalur Bird Reserve is placed in a beautiful countryside surrounded by high mountains. Due to the walking paths you can easily spot many different species including Great Northern Diver and Slovenian Grebe. The Black-headed Gulls nest in a close community near Dalvík and the Common Gull is getting  more populated there as well.

 The exhibition BIRDLAND in Húsabakki presents birds in Icelandic nature and culture in a new manner for both children and grownups.  BIRDLAND attempts to bypass the conventional presentation of natural objects, scientific taxonomy and the solemnity which often characterizes exhibitions of this kind. Each bird has its own story to tell.

9.Grímsey 

Grímsey is the northern most point of Iceland and located on the Arctic Circle which crosses the island. Grímsey is a part of the municipality of Akureyri.  

The birdlife in Grimsey is unique with numerous different species and unusually dense populations. The birdlife is flourishing due to several reasons; rich fishing grounds are close by, no rats or mice are on the island and hunting of the birds and collection of their eggs has been reduced to a minimum since earlier times.  

During summer is Grímsey a home to nearly all of the main wader, moorland and seabirds that visit Iceland each year.  

Grímsey is one of the best places in Iceland for watching cliff nesting birds like; Black-legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla), Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis), Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica), Razorbill (Alca torda), Black Guillemot (Cepphus grylle) and Murre, both Common Guillemot (Uria aalge) and Thick-billed Murre or Brünnich's Guillemot (Uria lomvia).  Grímsey has one of Iceland’s largest Tern nesting sites and one of the largest Puffin colonies.  Commonly seen in Grímsey are also birds like e.g. the White Wagtail (Motacilla alba), the Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) and the Northern Wheatear or Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe).  

The best season for watching birds is from April till August. After that time Migrating birds start to leave the island for warmer places and sea birds head out for the sea.  Most of the sea birds stay out on the open sea during the winter, but start returning in the end of February to secure a nesting spot in the densely populated cliffs.  

Note! Take good care not to go too near the edge of the costal line as the nest burrowing of the puffins has made the ground loose and hollow in some places.  

 

11.Siglufjörður 

During the summer months, the tidal sands of Siglufjordur support a large, diverses ecosystem.  The rising an falling of the tides invariably suggests mealtime for the birds here. When the tide isn‘t bringing small fish to the sands it is revealing an array of crabs and sandworms in the exposed shore.  For most of the year these sands are inhabited by Cormorants, Herring Gulls, Great Black-backed Gulls, Long-tailed Ducks, Mallards, Red-breasted Mergansers, Common Eiders and Purple Sandpipers. In spring, the regulars are joined by Fulmars, Arctic Skuas, Black-headed Gulls, Kittiwakes, Arctic Terns, Golden Plovers, Common Snipes, Black-tailed Godwits, Dunlins, Red-necked Phalaropes, Ringed Plovers, Whimbrels, Redshanks, Oystercatchers, Whooper Swans, Scaups, Wigeons, Tufted Ducks, Harlequin Ducks, Teals, Ravens, Redwings and Meadow Pipits.  Migratory birds found here are the Iceland Gulls, Red Knots,  and Turnstones.  Many other species are also attracted to this land of plenty: Greylag Geese, Pink-footed Geese, Gyr Falcons, Merlins and Wheatears.  Several species stop by these sands only rarely.  These include the Razorbill, Little Auk, Guillemot, Brunnich‘s Guillemot, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Common Shelduck, Common Scoter and Kind Eider.  Nesting has greatly increased in the areas surrounding these tidal sands since 1980. The Arctic Tern and Common Eider nest  extensively here. By 2000 som 700 Arctic Tern nests and 1000 Common Eider nests could be found. On the 20th May, 1998 Siglufjordur‘s tidal sands officially becam a protected bord sanctuary. 

Eyjafjörður Perceptibility chart
Perceptibility chart Eyjafjordur Birding Iceland right click to save

Northeast Birding Trail

With this map we will guide you along the Birding trail through Northeast Iceland, from lake Mývatn to Langanes peninsula. Although we start at lake Mývatn you can of course join the trail anywhere along the route. It should take between 3 and 7 days to cover the bird trail, depending on the level of interest and your time frame. Covering the entire trail is well worth it in terms of the variety of both the birdlife and the landscape.

The best time for birdwatching in the area is from mid May to mid June. Most of the breeding birds can still be found in the area in July, although many are more secretive by then. This text focuses on birdwatching in the months of May through July. The area’s specialities, such as Barrow’s Goldeneye, Harlequin Duck, Gyr Falcon and Rock Ptarmigan, are found in the area all year round and can be even easier to observe in winter than summer. Up to 80 species of birds can be seen along the trail, depending on the season and the time spent searching for birds.

The text describes the trail with reference to the Birdtrail map. It includes 31 numbered sites which are considered to be the most interesting places to stop. The text also mentions sites between the numbered sites where a stop is likely to be rewarding. However, interesting birds can turn up almost anywhere on this route. The text focuses on where to find the scarcer birds; some common species are hardly mentioned as they are very easy to find in many areas.

The roads along this trail are mostly paved, but there are still gravel roads at Melrakkaslétta, Langanes and Bakkaflói. A general 2WD vehicle should be sufficient to drive the trail, even though a 4WD vehicle is recommended for the seabird cliffs at Langanes. A telescope is always useful when birdwatching in Iceland, but binoculars will suffice in most places.

The official website of the Birding Trail in North east Iceland is www.birdingtrail.is

Northeast Iceland Birding Trail Map

View the Birding Trail map for North East Iceland

 

Perceptibility chart

Perceptibility Map of Northeast Iceland Birding Trail

 

Wildlife

nr1-einar_gudmann.jpg
Birding and Wildlife

Wildlife in North Iceland combines birds, sea mammals and land mammals. In North Iceland you can expect to see over 80 species of birds, 23 species of cetacean and 7 land mammals plus a Polar Bear now and then.

Some of the species you can expect to sea are the largest animal on earth, the Blue Whale, Grey Seal, Arctic Fox, Puffins, Gyr Falcon, Barrow’s Goldeneye to name a few.

The rich bird life of the North, distributed over widely varying habitats, displays a diversity seldom surpassed in Iceland. Wetlands are important as a habitat for many Icelandic breeding species, and of the Icelandic wetlands which are famed for rich bird life, several of the most renowned are in North Iceland. 

Mývatn lake and the nearby Laxá river are home to more duck species than any other place in the world, while examples of other wetlands include Svarfaðardalur and the islets at the mouth of Eyjafjarðará. Some well-known bird cliffs are located in the North, such as at Grímsey, Rauðinúpur and Langanes, besides the islands of Lundey in Skjálfandi and Mánáreyjar just eastwards, with their large puffin colonies. Skoruvíkurbjarg is one of the best places in Iceland to see Guillemots at nesting site and the best place to see the Northern Gannet.  The cliffs at Langanes hosts hundreds of thousands of the auks and guillemots of Iceland, including the uncommon Brunnich’s Guillemot.
The seaward end of the peninsula off which these islands lie, Tjörnes, has abundant puffins at points where it is easy to approach and observe them.

Many cooperative project are in North Iceland regarding Birds and Wildlife.

To explore wildlife www.wildlifeiceland.is

To explore and learn about whales we recommend starting in the Icelandic Whale Museum in Iceland www.whalemuseum.is

To explore seals the Icelandic Seal museum is where you would go www.selasetur.is/en and there is a project in progress to map birds and possible locations in the region so this is a newcomer that we look forward to exploring.

To explore birds we have numerous options among of those are www.birdingtrail.is where you can both learn a lot about the Icelandic bird scene and get good guidance.

Whale Watching

Watching whales has become one of the most common activities among foreign visitors to North Iceland. In fact, Húsavík and Eyjafjörður were among the first places in the country as a whole that offered whale-watching excursions.

The number of species, along with favourable weather and sea conditions, make North Iceland one of the best Icelandic areas for spotting whales. Skjálfandi and Eyjafjörður are sheltered bays, perfect for a boat ride on a summer's day, surrounded by birds and beautiful scenery. The experience becomes complete by seeing dolphins and minke, humpback or even blue whales play beside one of the particularly appealing oakwood boats used exclusively in North Iceland.

Watching a whale off North Iceland will fascinate anyone.

Seal Watching

Seals are incredibly beautiful and entertaining creatures and they are also said to be quite curious. Seal watching is a wonderful activity for the entire family.

The harbour seal (Phoca vitulina) and the grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) are the only species to pup around Iceland, 4 other visit the island on a regular basis. Those species are harp seal (Phoca groenlandica), bearded seal (Erignathus barbatus), hooded seal (Cystophora cristata) og ringed seal (Phoca hispida). Walruses have also been found around Iceland but they are very rare.

The Icelandic Seal Center created and runds the multi-national project The Wild North which aims to research the effects of tourism on wildlife in the North Atlantic region and produce a set of guidelines and advice for both tourism operators, the grneral public and local and national goverenment authorities.

In 2011 a trail code of conduct was created for the watching of seals on the Vtansnes peninsula. The code of conduct can be found by clicking here.

Bird Watching

The rich bird life of the North, distributed over widely varying habitats, displays a diversity seldom surpassed in Iceland. Wetlands are important as a habitat for many Icelandic breeding species, and of the Icelandic wetlands which are famed for rich bird life, several of the most renowned are in North Iceland. 

Mývatn lake and the nearby Laxá river are home to more duck species than any other place in the world, while examples of other wetlands include Svarfaðardalur and the islets at the mouth of Eyjafjarðará. Some well-known bird cliffs are located in the North, such as at Grímsey, Rauðinúpur and Langanes, besides the islands of Lundey in Skjálfandi and Mánáreyjar just eastwards, with their large puffin colonies. Skoruvíkurbjarg is one of the best places in Iceland to see Guillemots at nesting site and the best place to see the Northern Gannet.  The cliffs at Langanes hosts hundreds of thousands of the auks and guillemots of Iceland, including the uncommon Brunnich’s Guillemot.
The seaward end of the peninsula off which these islands lie, Tjörnes, has abundant puffins at points where it is easy to approach and observe them.

See www.birdingiceland.is for more info.

 

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