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Birds and Wildlife

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Birds and Wildlife

Day 1: Vatnsnes peninsula

 

09:00 Visit to The Icelandic Seal Center at Hvammstangi where there is an informative exhibition about seals and their surroundings. There you can learn about seals of the North Atlantic and Arctic, seal biology and skeleton, seals in Icelandic culture and tradition, and the evolution and uses of seal hunting.

10:00 Go Sealwatching and see the seals in their natural environment. Nothing beats the real thing. Admission to the Icelandic Seal Centre is included with guidance when before the trip.

12:00 Lunch at new restaurant located on top of the Icelandic Seal Centre. The view is probably the best starter you can imagine.

13:00 – 18:00 Drive around Vatnsnes peninsula where there are great seal colonies and varied birdlife. Stop at Hvítserkur which is one of the most unique rock stacks instrument in Iceland and rises about 15 meters high, located just off shore on the eastern side of Vatnsnes peninsula. Nice walking is along the beach and there you always find large seal colony and can enjoy to watch the seals in their natural environment. In the area there is a viewing platform and the estuary of the Sigridarstadir lake, south from the stack, is a good seal spotting place. There is an old legend that tells that Hvítserkur was in the past a troll that on his way over Húnaflói Bay came to be rock when the sun came up in the morning.

Another stop at Borgarvirki which is a volcanic plug made out of basalt strata that lies between Vesturhóp and Víðidalur. It is a natural phenomenon that has been used as a fortress for centuries but has been altered by humans in earlier centuries, and upon the fortress is a viewing dial. The Icelandic sagas mention that in earlier centuries it was used for military purposes.

 

18:00 The day will end at Gauksmýri Lodge, which is situated south of the Vatnsnes peninsula, for dinner and accommodation. The Lake Gauksmýrartjörn is in 10 minutes walking distance from Gauksmýri where many different types of birds have settled, such as the rare horned grebes, along with ducks, geese and swans, 35 different bird species are registered there. West of the lake there is a birdwatching house equipped with a telescope, bird books and posters.

Dinner at Gauksmýri Lodge where the dining room has large windows which offer guests a view of Gauksmýri’s picturesque surroundings as they enjoy their meal. The landscape is lush and beautiful around Gauksmýri; there are hills, swamps and lakes in our valley, Línakradalur.

Day 2: Skagafjörður

 

8:30 Drive from Gauksmýri to Skagafjörður.

11:00 – 15:00 Either go on a trip to the island Drangey or go around the region and visit the main bird watching sites in the area. Skagafjörður is a paradise for bird-watchers and is the main resting area for Barnacle Goose on its way to and from Greenland. By the lake Héraðsvötn, near the town of Sauðárkrókur, are good conditions for watching various types of birds, including many types of ducks and vaders such as dunlin, whimbrel and black-tailed godwit.

A trip to the island Drangey from Reykir takes on average around 4 hours, that includes the trip out to the island, the hike to the top and bird watching, whales are also often spotted on the journey to and from the island. Bird life on the island is diverse, however the most predominant varieties are puffin and guillemot. Brunnich’s guillemot and other guillemots nest in the cliffs along with razor billed auks.  The puffin on the other hand digs holes on the edge of the cliff top.  Seagulls and other sea birds also call the island home along with ravens and gyrfalcons.

15:00 – 18:00 At the end of the day you can relax at the café at Reykir, Grettir´s café, and in the geothermal pools. These pools are man made rock pools built over hot springs, the older one called Grettir´s pool and the newer and larger pool is called the Earl´s pool. The temperature in the pools are around 39°C, but can vary dependent on weather.

There is nothing that compares to sitting in the pool and basking in the unique natural beauty that surrounds you at Reykir.

18:00 Drive to Húsabakki, Svarfaðardal, with a stop at Engimýri, Öxnadalur, for dinner.

Accommodation at Húsabakki.

Day 3: Svarfaðardalur – Dalvík – Ólafsfjörður

 

Whale Watching (either with Arctic Sea Tours, Dalvík or Níels Jónsson, Hauganesi)

9:00 – 12:00 Arctic Sea Tours, Dalvík: In the trip you can enjoy the true beauty of the area and in many trips they sail around the island Hrísey - the pearl of Eyjafjörður. In Dalvík you have an exceptionally good chance to encounter the great humpback whale and often we spot white-beaked dolphins, minke whales, the small harbour porpoises and sometimes even the majestic blue whale.

9:30 Níels Jónsson, Hauganesi: The trip starts, and ends, in a small fisherman´s village called Hauganes. Humpbacks, minke whales, dolphins and porpoises are commonly spotted during these tours. Guests are offered to try sea angling on the way back to the harbour and they can take the catch with them. During the tour homemade pastries and coffee is offered free of charge.

14:00 – 16:00 Visit to The Natural History Museum in Ólafsfjörður. The museum is first and foremost a collection of Icelandic birds and, as such, is a good example.The collection includes most of the birds found in Iceland. In addition, the museum has an egg collection, a budding plant collection, a polar bear that was shot in Grímseyjarsund channel, foxes in their den, a billy goat, crabs and other exhibits.

16:00 Go back to Húsabakki and walk around Svarfaðardalur – nature reserve, which is an area of about 8 km² of wetland on both banks of the Svarfaðardalsá river, from the sea to Húsabakki. This natural environment provides an excellent habitat for many species of breeding birds and from Húsabakki easily followed footpaths can be followed through part of the reserve. Two birdwatching shelters are located in the nature reserve, one in Svarfaðardalur near Húsabakki and another one near Dalvík at Hrísatjörn.

At Húsabakki there is an exhibition called the Birdland which presents birds in Icelandic nature and culture in a novel and creative manner.

Dinner and accommodation at Húsabakki.

Day 4: Grímsey

 

9:00 – 12:00 Boat trip from Dalvík to the island Grímsey.

Grímsey is one of the best places in Iceland for watching cliff nesting birds like; Black-legged Kittiwake, Northern Fulmar, Atlantic Puffin, Razorbill, Black Guillemot and Murre, both Common Murre or Common Guillemot & Thick-billed Murre or Brünnich's Guillemot.  Grímsey has one of Iceland’s largest Tern nesting sites and one of the largest Puffin colonies in Iceland.  Commonly seen in Grímsey are also birds like e.g. the White Wagtail, the Snow Bunting and the Northern Wheatear or Wheatear.

The Arctic Circle crosses Iceland at its northern most point, on the island Grímsey.

A symbol, a kind of a bridge to cross the Arctic Circle can be found at 66°33’N, north of the airport terminal, beside the north end of the Guesthouse Básar. Beside the symbol is a pole showing the distance to many well known cities in the world.

16:00 – 19:00 Boat trip from Grímsey to Dalvík.

Drive to Akureyri for where there are many options for dinner and accommodation.

Day 5: Eyjafjörður

 

Spend the day visiting the best places for bird watching in Eyjafjörður. 

The Natural Park Krossanesborgir is the most interesting bird watching area in Eyjafjörður, it is roughly 1km2 and 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 there. Among species found there are: Arctic Tern, Black-headed Gull, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Mew Gull, Black-tailed Godwit, various ducks and Gees such as Northern Pintail and Greylag Goose as well as many other species of birds. Walking paths are around the area to make it easier for visitors to enjoy this beautiful area.

Estuary of the river Eyjafjarðará is the largest estuary area in Iceland and it is estimated that about 33 species of birds nest there, or about 40% of all the species that nest in Iceland. The most common birds in the area are Black-headed Gull and Common Eider duck, other common birds are Arctic Tern, Greylag Goose, Common Snipe, Whimbrel, Eurasian Wigeon ect. Four species in the area are on the Icelandic Institute of Natural history red list i.e. Greylag Goose, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail and Mew Gull.

Rock formations Naustaborgir are in a recreational area just north of the camping site Hamrar. Markings since the Ice time can be found on the rocks as well a small ponds and rich vegetation. Paths lead to the area from Hamrar.

Birdwatching houses are in these areas, in the houses there are good conditions for birdwatchers and an overview with pictures of the most common birds found in the area.

Hvítserkur

Hvítserkur is a 15 m-high sea stack just off shore on the eastern side of Vatnsnes. Good seal spotting place at the estuary of the Sigridarstadir lake, south from the stack.

Vatnsnes

Vatnsnes is an area of varied animal life, and it is here that we find the largest and most accessible seal sanctuary in Iceland, where the common seal (Phoca vitulina) can be seen at quite close range. Facilities for seal watching can also be found at Illugastaðir, Svalbarð and Ósar, but please note that the Hindisvík station has now closed.

The area offers a beautiful environment endowed with many pearls of nature such as Hvítserkur and Borgarvirki, as well as some famous historical trails and sites.

The ring road round Vatnsnes is about 90 km and is mostly dirt road, passable all year round.

Borgarvirki

Borgarvirki is a 10-15 metre high ridge of columnar rock. This phenomenon is a volcanic plug, and there is speculation as to whether it was, in ancient times, a district fortress and even, perhaps, a battleground.
From Borgarvirki there is a wide panoramic view over a large part of the region and a viewfinder is in place to help locate some of the important landmarks.
This is truly a unique natural phenomenon, but one which has also seen some improvements by the hand of man in bygone days.

Hvammstangi

Hvammstangi is the largest community in West Húnaþing whose history as a trading centre dates back over more than 100 years. If you would like to see how people in days gone by conducted their daily trading in the general stores, the Trade Museum will tell you all you need to know.

The town is blessed with a good harbour from which seal watching and sea angling trips are organised.

For the tourist, Hvammstangi is an excellent place to stop as it has a good swimming pool and a camping site well situated in the lee of the cliffs, with excellent facilities and with electric hook-ups for trailer tents, camper vans and caravans.

Hvammstangi also has a hotel, shop, restaurant, banking service, petrol station and garage, as well as a health centre and other necessary services.

The Icelandic Seal Center provides information on seals and the Vatnsnes area, besides serving as a general tourist information bureau.

Ólafsfjörður

For the general tourist, as well as those who are keen on outdoor activities, Ólafsfjörður town has many interesting and enjoyable pursuits on offer.

During the winter months it is a skier's paradise and an outdoor enthusiast's dream come true. There is a choice of cross-country skiing, slalom, skating, zooming around on a snowmobile or hand line fishing in the waters of Ólafsfjarðarvatn.

During the summer, it is the mountains, the lake and the black sandy shores which beckon us, and there is a wide selection of walks and hikes in both mountain and valley to tempt the visitor. A few hours walking through the area's rugged landscape gives one the chance to savour the peace and tranquillity which emanates from these natural elements.

The diversity of leisure activities is almost endless and in Ólafsfjörður it is possible to go sea angling or angling in the waters of Ólafsfjarðará river or Ólafsfjarðarvatn lake. And we must not forget the fishing from the end of the pier can also be fun. There is a 9 hole golf course, a swimming pool, and an excellent natural history museum containing many stuffed birds.

Dalvík

Dalvik is a seaside town, located on the natural paradise of Tröllaskagi Peninsula.

Recreation available for tourists in the area includes a well equipped swimming pool, a museum, skiing facilities, a golf course, sea angling, whale watching, bird watching and horse rental.

There are multiple hiking trails in the area and we recommend trying these, led by one of our top class guides.

Dalvík harbour is a large fishing and commercial port; the ferry Sæfari, wich sails from Dalvík, serves the island of Grímsey, Iceland's northenmost community, wich lies on the Arctic Circle.

Akureyri

Whatever the time of year, Akureyri is a lively and energetic town, and home to around 20.000 inhabitants. It is by far the most densely populated community outside the Reykjavík area, and is the centre of trade, culture and services for the north of Iceland.

It is a town closely associated with educational institutions and cultural events, all of those having strong traditional roots. Two of the largest fisheries in Iceland are based in Akureyri, and the growth of the tourist industry means that this is playing an ever more important role in the life of the town.

Akureyri is close to many of Iceland's most renowned natural beauty spots and the town itself is a popular stopping place for both long and short stays.

Below is a list of places we would recommend as being well worth a visit while in Akureyri:

  • The Akureyri Botanical Garden (with 400 plants indigenous to Iceland and more than 7,500 foreign species)
  • the Akureyri Art Museum Listagil Art Centre
  • Akureyri swimming pool
  • Húni II - a boat built from oak in 1963, which is to be found at Torfunefsbryggja pier
  • restaurants which offer dishes prepared from produce originating in the surrounding countryside
  • Kjarnaskógur wood the
  • old town -museums, a church and historical buildings
  • Jaðar golf course - the most northerly 18-hole golf course in the world
  • Hrísey island - the pearl of Eyjafjörður
  • the Akureyrarvaka festival which is held in August each year and is the culmination of the Summer Festival (Listasumar) which runs from mid -June until the end of August
  • beer from the local breweries, Víking and Kaldi
  • Brynja ice cream - a favourite with the local people
  • Akureyri Church
  • Hlíðarfjall ski slopes.
Seals

Sellátur is the Icelandic name given to an area by the sea which is the breeding ground for seals and these are to be found wherever seal colonies have settled. The breeding grounds are usually close to the tidemark and seals can be seen lying on the beach or splashing around in the sea at high tide. In each colony there can be as few as one or two animals or as many as several hundreds. Vatnsnes is the best place in the north to study these creatures.

Whales in North Iceland

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.

Birdwatching

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. 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.

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.

Grímsey Island

Grímsey is the northern most point of Iceland situated on the Arctic Circel. It is the home to one hundred people, one million seabirds and one of the biggest Puffin colonies in Iceland. It is a great place to enjoy the midnight sun around the summer solstice.
A ferry serves the island several times a week from the town Dalvík and flights are provided from Akureyri several times a week during winter and daily during summer.

Sauðárkrókur

Sauðárkrókur lies on the south west shore of the inner reaches of Skagafjörður fiord. Here you will find a variety of services on offer; exhibitions, museums, places of entertainment, shops, restaurants, accommodation, a hospital, workshops and garages, a sports ground, a beach volleyball pitch, a swimming pool etc.

On Aðalgata, you will find a store bearing the name Haraldur Júlíusson, which has been in constant operation since 1919. Also the Minjahúsið Folk Museum, where four small workshops demonstrate the types of occupation pursued by the inhabitants of Sauðárkrókur in days gone by - and they even have a polar bear on display! Minjahúsið also houses the Tourist Information Bureau.

On top of Nafir, the ancient sea cliffs which rise above the town, there is a golf course and also a viewfinder which gives you a wonderful view across the fjord.

Sauðárkrókur combines a thriving fisheries operation with the processing of produce from the extensive agricultural area surrounding it and a very effective service system. The town is one of the busiest most important communities outside the capital, and it would be hard to find better services anywhere outside the Reykjavík area.

To the east of Sauðárkrókur stretches Borgarsandur, a long sweep of black sandy beach almost four km in length, and just to the south, on the shores of Áshildarholtsvatn lake, information boards give details on the rich variety of birds frequenting the area.

The most abundant birdlife is to be found at the mouth of the river Héraðsvötn and on the lakes Miklavatn and Áshildarholtsvatn, just to the south of Sauðárkrókur.

North Iceland

Towns & Villages

Society and the economy have many faces. Whereas agriculture is the mainstay of rural areas, the towns depend upon fishing, industry, trade and a range of services, with each village having its own characteristics though they all prove hospitable hosts. 
The availability of food and accommodation and the possibilities at every location for recreation and entertainment make hopping between the villages informative as well as fun.   
In every case, the residents are lively and ready to celebrate.

Explore map with pictures

Map Akureyri Hrafnagil Grímsey Raufarhöfn Kópasker Þórshöfn Bakkafjörður Húsavík Mývatn Laugar Svalbarðseyri Grenivík Hjalteyri Hauganes Árskógssandur Dalvík Hrísey Ólafsfjörður Siglufjörður Hofsós Hólar Varmahlíð Sauðárkrókur Skagaströnd Blöndós Hvammstangi Laugarbakki Borðeyri