The Iceland Experience 1

Our Iceland Experience

A day out Whale-watching

Icelandic horses

Icelandic horses grazing near Akureyri, Iceland

I can’t confess to anyone how fast I drove our hire car along that almost deserted road running along the western shore of the fjord, hoping to get to the whale-watching harbour before the ship’s scheduled departure at 9.30 am.

“When they see us, or people like us, the locals must think that the tourists are crazy”, observed Florinda.

And in truth, driving like that did seem out of place, taking into account that in this part of Iceland all roads except the main ring Road 1 were virtually empty, and that we had not encountered anybody speeding over the last week while driving in the country. I was no expert in the Icelandic temperament, but the people didn’t seem to do stress the same way I could.

We sped past a few local ladies out for a walk on the edge of the harbour-side settlement which passes as a village in these parts. I imagined their surprised comments as we pulled up into the harbour and spotted the likely looking vessel comfortably moored by the sea wall. That’s funny, we couldn’t see the activity one would normally associate with a whale-watching cruise about to depart in a few minutes’ time.

We dithered between the moored vessel and a large warehouse which was obviously the commercial base. The only person we could see was a blond middle-aged man in an anorak, walking calmly towards us. He was smiling gently, and to me he looked like a skipper.

“Hello, is this where we get the tickets for the whale-watching?” I asked.
“Yes” he said, “You’re a bit early though, we don’t depart until 1.30 in the afternoon”.

About half an hour later we were back at the guesthouse. Slightly deflated. We approached the reception desk, our source of local information, including the whale-watching enterprises and their timetables.
“Um, the departure from Dalvik is in fact at 9am, not 9.30. And at Hauganes they only do an afternoon departure at 1.30 pm,” I pointed out to the attentive young lady who had previously provided us with some slightly inaccurate information.
“Oh really?”, she smiled, “Thank you for telling me”.

So what could we do for the next 3 hours? We retired to our room to consult leaflets and things over a quick cup of instant coffee. I thought hard while staring out of the window watching some of the numerous and noisy Redwings feeding in the clump of Rowan trees within metres of our room. There were Common Redpolls there too, I could hear them, but they moved so fast it was so hard to get a decent view of any of them.

Iceland fjord

Florinda, a Black sand admirer, Akureyri, Iceland

Our solution was to take a gentle walk along the shores of the fjord – unfortunately we were also just a little too late to go horse-riding. As a complete beginner I’m not sure whether I was relieved or not about that. Still, the walk was enjoyable, the waters were calm and we spent some good time watching Long-tailed Ducks, Common Eiders and Glaucous Gulls at close range, and in calm, gentle sunshine. I kept scanning for the Diver (Great Northern?) I had seen from the guesthouse the previous evening, but it seemed to have moved on. Turning inland and reaching the local road was not enough to call us towards the “forest”, which, by Icelandic standards was obviously quite an eye-catcher, but by my Anglo-Catalan standards was a rather lifeless rectangle of land planted with single-aged spruce trees, where the only birding appeal might be to get close to a slow or unwary Redpoll.

Some time later, we pulled into a parking space in the harbour well before 1 o’clock: we weren’t taking any chances! The possibility of seeing whales was one of the major highlights of this trip for Florinda, we knew there were no guarantees, but the pressure was on. We paid, each found a red jumpsuit which fit us and, feeling slightly awkward in this unfamiliar attire, filed out towards the vessel among a growing group of similarly-clad visitors. The captain was there again, with his enigmatic smile.
“What are the chances of Humpback Whales?” I asked, searchingly.
“That depends on them, but should be good”, came the not-quite reassuring reply.

As our ship set off we could feel a breeze working up and see grey clouds gathering – the lovely calm conditions of the morning were changing and the forecast was for overnight snow. Hopefully we still had a few good hours before things got rough, time enough for us to see a Humpback Whale or two, and to get back to dry land without Florinda having cause for getting seasick!

We had just turned into the open fjord when the first mate shouted to the skipper, who immediately announced that there were Humpback Whales, 3 or so, and gave full throttle across the fjord towards the whales. Could that really be true? He wasn’t having us on, was he? Some of us held on the rails and peered out past the stern, following our line of travel to try and spot a Humpback Whale, and yes! There was a huge watery spout being blown high into the air! Then a tail fin breaking the surface and disappearing below! There really were whales out there!

Humpback Whale tail fluke

Whale-watching: Humpback Whale tail fluke

The next couple of hours were better than we had even dared to dream: we came into close contact with at least a dozen Humpback Whales of different ages, one time so close that one surfacing whale blew its watery spout into my gaping mouth. It was light and salty. We saw the barnacles growing on their bodies, the nicked fins of some, and could tell when they were just swimming or going for a dive. Another vessel had sped up from Akureyri to join us, and after many close contacts with the Humpacks the skipper could see we were all well-satisfied and offered coffee, biscuits and buns to all.

Humpback Whale submerging. Whale-watching north of Akureyri, Iceland

Someone’s just caught a fish!

Great Northern Diver, or Common Loon, Iceland

Turning back to the western shore we hadn’t finished yet. There were good numbers of gulls in flight over the water, including Black-legged Kittiwakes, Glaucous and Iceland Gulls – I’d never imagined I’d see so many in one place- , and a single Great Skua. Common Eiders seemed to be more common closer to the shore, and didn’t seem too put off when we dropped anchor to do a spot of line fishing.

Result: the Chinese tourist was exultant as he caught a fish – and took a selfie; I too caught my first-ever fish; and what about Florinda, would she catch a fish too? Maybe next time – she had already seen so many Humpback Whales, better than a dream come true, so how much more can you ask for?!

7 Marvellous Days in May

New 7 Marvellous Days in May Tour

How do you get from Storm Petrels to Lammergeiers in 3 easy steps?

See the pdf here to find out!

 

Marvellous May (1)

Or should it be 7 Days in Marvellous May?

Iceland Autumn Tour 2018 – with contact info!

Iceland Autumn Tour 2018

Sorry to be repetitive but we have an excuse! Here is a link to download all the information about our 2018 autumn Iceland tour, this time with contact information, which we forgot to publish last time. We apologize for any inconvenience and take the opportunity to show a few more photos of this marvellous experience!

Autumn Iceland 2018 contact

horses-andrew-maranta

Icelandic horses near Akureyri (photo by Andrew Maranta)

iceland-bird-sign

Birds! Shades of Hitchcock?

iceland-godafoss

Godafoss waterfall. Godly.

iceland-hellnar

Headland near Hellnar

iceland-whale-2

A Humpback Whale has just spouted into my open mouth!

iceland-snaefellness

The Snaefellness Peninsula glacier

Autumn Iceland Tour 2018

Iceland in autumn!

Balenaloblog

Humpback Whales

Geiserblog

Geysers

gyrfalconblog

Gyr Falcon

 

Here is the pdf with all the information you need to get you warmed up for our autumn Iceland Tour 2018. There’ll be great birds, amazing scenery, whales and seals, maybe even the northern lights too. Oh, and some wonderful photo opportunities, so you really must bring a camera, even if it’s only on your mobile phone!

Autumn Iceland 2018

pascal-mauerhofer-sealblog

Common Seal

Short-eared_owl_blog

Short-eared Owl

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Northern Lights

Photo credits: Florinda Vidal – Whales and Geysers; Ólafur Larsen – Gyr Falcon; Pascal Mauerhofer – Common Seal; Dan Dzurisin – Short-eared Owl; Vincent Guth – Northern Lights.

Are you sure the best thing to do is to ignore this? Think about it…Iceland….Iceland….

Northern Spain: Mammals, birds and butterflies of Asturias and Cantabria

A trip report by Kathie Claydon. To read just click on this link:

Northern Spain: A trip report by Kathie Claydon

We were very happy to draw up an itinerary and guide Kathie and Mick Claydon around Asturias and Cantabria in early September this year. We saw plenty of birds, 40 species of butterflies and at least 7 Brown Bears! We had great weather and all shared enthusiasm for the fauna and flora we managed to encounter. The company was enjoyable too, so that it just did not feel like work – what else could we ask for (apart from wolves)?

Watching Brown Bears in Asturias

Watching Brown Bears in Asturias

Kath admiring the scenery in Asturias

Kath admiring the scenery in Asturias

Wolves in Cantabria

Searching for wolves in Cantabria

Birding In Spain Feedback and Reviews

More reviews from clients of Birding In Spain

Lee Wilkinson says:

Birding in Spain – 2 excellent tours

Three mates and I had a fantastic tour with Birding In Spain seeing 140+ species including all our targets including Bonelli’s Eagles, both Bustards and Wallcreeper. Steve West’s knowledge of the birds of the area is formidable, as are his call recognition skills. I remember one time he simultaneously identified by call three birds which sure enough popped into view. He’s also very good company. Great accommodation and comfortable vehicle. Later in the year I did their Lammergeier photography trip, which Florinda organised for me to perfection.

Winter Wallcreeper in SpainWallcreepers winter in the Sierra de Guara in Spain

Birding Sierra de Guara, Spain

Alquézar in the Sierra de Guara is a lovely place for a birding stroll. Photo courtesy of Lee.

Lee Wilkinson from the UK arranged a birding trip with Birding In Spain for himself and three friends in early April 2016. Then he returned alone later in the year to enjoy some hide sessions on his own taking photographs of Lammergeiers and vultures galore. You can see some of Lee’s birding trip photos at this link:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/45727856@N05/albums/72157664553377224

Birding In Spain

 

Birding In Spain says:

 

“Lee, thanks to you and the lads I had an excuse to be out and about in the countryside looking for birds just when things were on the move for the spring season. We managed to see the last wintering Wallcreeper, and the first Red-rumped Swallow, and the air seemed so alive and refreshing at that time of the year. So I should thank you for getting me out of the city! It was also fun playing the numbers game, although I can’t remember who the winner was, can you?

Another thing: Do you remember how thrilled Pete was at seeing the wild boar (the one you photographed, and included here)? And that you really have to return one day for another try at Black Woodpecker and Penduline Tit?”

Wild boar, run, Spain

Photo: Wild Boar on the run, by Lee Wilkinson

Our regards to Pete, Pete and Rick.

Rick kindly sent a list of the birds we saw on the trip, which can be seen here:

Birdwatching in Spain Lee

Birding in Spain in the Pyrenees

Pyrenees birders. Photo courtesy of Lee.

Birding In Spain Feedback and Reviews II

Following with more feedback and reviews from Birding In Spain clients.

Simone Wolthius says:

“Fantastic experience”

“Every time we visit Spain, we arrange a birdwatching tour with Steve West. We are never disappointed! He is a very good guide, who almost always finds the birds he has promised! So, we go out for a long half day touring in the beautiful Spanish countryside and are really happy when we return home. Steve even came all the way to the Pyrenees to be our guide. Birding in Spain is a special experience with Birding In Spain!”

Birding in the Pyrenees

Wryneck

Photos: Birding in the Pyrenees and Eurasian Wryneck

Simone and husband Alexander from the Netherlands are regular visitors to Spain. They contracted guided birding days around different parts of northeast Spain in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Apart from birding we have discovered that among Simone’s and Alexander’s other interests are those of playing golf and staying at lovely rural hotels.

Birding In Spain

Birding In Spain says:

“I still remember the Wryneck in the Sierra de Guara and how delighted you both were that we had come across it. It’s reactions like that that give us a gentle smile and a lot of job satisfaction. We hope you continue to enjoy birds like that for many years! On the negative side, we’re sorry about the long drive to the very disappointing salad on your last visit!”

Birding in Ordesa, Spain

New Posts! Your Feedback and Reviews of Birding In Spain

Feedback and reviews of Birding In Spain

Here you can see new reviews from Birding In Spain clients!

Jean-Christian Pioch, bird photographer

Jean-Christian Pioch, bird photographer

Jean-Christian Pioch says:

Many thanks for a fantastic birding photo trip in Catalonia. From the first contact up to the accommodation and food everything was perfect and very well organised, in a professional manner.  Cherry on the cake the lammergeiers were present, and I came back home to France with beautiful pictures.

Jean-Christian is a French wildlife photographer who came to our hides on a raptor photo trip in December 2016. He photographed Bonelli’s Eagles, Goshawks, vultures and his “cherry on the cake” Lammergeiers.

One of Jean-Christian Pioch's photos from the Goshawk hideBirding In Spain Goshawk hide in Catalonia

Some of Jean-Christians photos are on display at this link.

http://www.fils-de-saone.fr

Birding In Spain

We at Birding In Spain say:

“We’re so glad that everything fell into place for you Jean-Christian, and that you got some marvellous shots of all those superb raptors. Of course it is our job to make that possible, and while we have delivered countless photographic opportunities to so many photographers over the years not all of them express their satisfaction so openly! It was a pleasure to share in your positive energy and enthusiasm for the birds and we hope that you will be able to return to us in the not-too-distant future for the like of Golden Eagles and more.”

Birding In Spain bird videos: Golden Eagle, Black Wheatear and Montagu’s Harrier

 

We at Birding In Spain have added 3 more short (10 second) bird videos to the growing collection. Taken from encounters with birds around the Lleida steppes, Catalonia, Spain, you can see Golden Eagle, Black Wheatear and Montagu’s Harrier.

The Golden Eagle is a juvenile bird filmed at the steppes to the south of Lleida. You can see the eagle swooping and landing, and being bothered by a Jackdaw and what looks to be like a Red Kite, or is it a Black Kite?

Golden Eagle, Aquila chrysaetos

                Golden Eagle, Aquila chrysaetos

The Black Wheatears depicted were filmed at two different steppe locations in the Lleida steppes, again just south of the city of Lleida. You can hear a very short splatter of Black Wheatear song if you listen carefully, and bear in mind that these are active birds, and are rarely still!

Black Wheatear, Oenanthe leucura

          Black Wheatear, Oenanthe leucura

The Montagu’s Harrier is a male bird which was filmed on the Lleida steppes, but to the north of Lleida. Watch as the Montagu’s Harrier comes flying in over a cereal field and actually lands on a branch perch in front of the camera! This lovely bird then starts preening.

Montagu's Harrier, Circus pygargus

            Montagu’s Harrier, Circus pygargus

Golden Eagle, Black Wheatear and Montagu’s Harrier are just three of the many interesting bird species that can be seen and filmed around the Lleida steppes.

The Golden Eagles are mostly juvenile birds which disperse over the steppes to hunt for more abundant food sources the area has to offer. Black Wheatears are resident breeding birds, holding their own in the more secluded, arid areas with barren, rocky slopes. Montagu’s Harriers are summer visitors to the Lleida steppes, arriving in April and often breeding in small numbers in cereal fields.

We hope you enjoy these videos and are looking forward to seeing more.

Hoopoes in the Lleida Steppes: Video

The next bird video in the 10 second bird video series is one of Hoopoes in the spring in the Lleida steppes, Catalonia, Spain.

Hoopoe on branch

             Hoopoe on branch in the Lleida steppes

You can see Hoopoes landing on a forked-branch perch when entering or leaving their nest nearby.

Listen out very carefully for the following birds: Corn Bunting, Hoopoe, Thekla Lark and Mistle Thrush. You may have to turn up the volume!

Dirk from the Netherlands was one of the photographers to use our photography hide for Hoopoes in the Lleida steppes with very good results. Although he wasn’t too happy that I had forgotten to bring a chair that day!