Posts from the ‘Iceland’ Category

Iceland Summer 4—Puffins!

Sure, I’d seen puffins before…but not ATLANTIC Puffins! In Alaska I’d had decent looks at Horned Puffins and Tufted Puffins…and even a Bald Eagle carrying a puffin he’d snagged off a cliff face! (most folks cringed at this but I thought it was quite cool). I was once booked on a boat out of Bar Harbor, Maine to find these “sea parrots” but we were fogged out. So we were both very excited to see Atlantic Puffins…In fact, 60 percent of the world’s population of this species breeds in Iceland.

Puffins are interesting birds. Sexually mature at 4 to 5 years old, the males excavate a burrow atop cliffs. Our guide Magda said some young bachelor males evidently are not ready to mate as they keep working on their burrows for years. A 30-year old puffin is not unheard of.

Puffins can easily dive to depths of 200 feet, surfacing and bringing back the tiny fish with a misleading name “sand eel.” They often arrive back at the nest burrow with several (up to twelve) sand eels in their beak…and most are alternating head and tail. How do they do it? Underwater they are able to hold fish against their palate with their tongue and still be able to use their beak to catch more fish.

After being rained out the day before, we were thrilled that the weather cleared and we could go on the Ingolfshofdi tour. But in typical Icelandic fashion, the whole venture was an adventure. We were all loaded into a haywagon and told to hold on! Pulled by a farm tractor we bounced our way across the land and into the ocean! It could have been 200 feet deep for all I knew, but it was just a couple inches of water covering a tidal flat.

Once we reached the headland part-time island (depending on the tide) we climbed a steep black sand dune to the top. Once there we had to negotiate a gauntlet of nesting Great Skuas who’d just as soon pluck your eyes out. The Germans didn’t understand Magda’s english instructions of “stay in a tight group and they won’t bother you,” and so were promptly attacked.

This is Magda our tractor driver and tour leader. She and her family are one of seven families that are allowed to collect eggs (puffins and murres) and harvest puffins for subsistence…Yes, Icelanders do eat puffins! How they gather the eggs and birds is an interesting story. One person is lowered down the cliff face on a rope while seven or so others anchor the other end. Magda’s husband is a smaller guy (smaller than her!) and so is the unlucky (lucky?) one on the seaward end of the rope. By having humans anchoring the rope instead of a metal post (no trees on this island), they can maneuver the collector across the face of the cliff to the nests. The number of eggs collected is controlled and most will lay eggs to replace missing ones. Also, they only harvest non-reproducing younger puffins…Magda said with experience you can tell them from older birds. Here Magda holds a puffin net. She said that her family was at the end of their “egg season,” eating hundreds of eggs in a month or so.
In fact, I tried to find a restaurant that served puffin, but to no avail…I’ve eaten Minke Whale in Norway, roadkill Spruce Grouse, and Sandhill Crane so I thought I’d add Atlantic Puffin to the list!

Iceland Summer 3—Rekjavik in HDR

Part 3 of a look back at our Scandinavian honeymoon from 2006:

I think the Insight Guide to Iceland put it quite well, “Visitors are often unsure whether Reykjavik is a scaled-down city or a scaled-up village.” At 112,000 residents it is about the size of Duluth-Superior…And most of its growth has been since WWII. It was only a town of 5,000 folks in 1901. Reykjavik is the world’s northernmost capital at 64 degrees North. Strolling through the old city centre is a charming look at Icelandic culture. One thing I noticed right away is that many of the brightly-colored houses were sided with corrugated metal! One amazing fact is that the entire city is heated with geothermal heat…No fossil fuels used to heat a northern city!

We know the explorer pictured above as Leif Erickson, but in Iceland he is known as Leifur Eriksson, and he is a national hero. Son of the Viking Erik the Red (who discovered Greenland), Leifur also became an explorer and (as all Scandinavians know) “discovered” America centuries before Columbus. This reminds me of my favorite bumper sticker…“Proud to Live in America…A Norwegian Colony since 1004 AD.”

[Photo Note:] All photos in this post are “HDR” images. High Dynamic Range images are created in software programs (I use Photomatix), usually from 3 or more images exposed for different parts of the scene. This technique is especially useful in scenes where it is impossible for the camera to capture the entire range of exposure. Examples would be a shadowed landscape with a bright sky. The software averages out the exposures in the highlights and shadows so all areas are middle range. It is a unique look and not everyone likes it. I must admit that I do like the surreal effect.

Jon Gunnar Arnason’s striking sculpture Solfar (Sun-Craft, 1986) sits along the oceanfront in Reykjavik.

Sheep, sheep, everywhere. I’m sure it’s true that, like New Zealand, there are more sheep inhabiting this island than humans. And crazy cool sheep. They say that every single sheep on Iceland is descended from Viking stock. And there are no fences! …hence this road sign not far from Reykjavík.
Every autumn, farmers go on horseback with their Icelandic sheep dogs to round up their flocks. The flocks are driven into huge wheel-shaped corrals with the “spokes of the wheel” defining the pens. Every farm has its own mark cut into their sheep’s ears and this is how they sort them into the correct pens. Icelandic wool is still big business in Iceland.

Iceland Summer 2—Vik i Myrdal

North Shore of Minnesota or South Coast of Iceland? Basalt is basalt, right?

Dutch birders scan the sea from perfect perches of 5-sided columnar-jointed rock, a feature of slow-cooling lava flows.

Black sand meets white surf at Vik i Myrdal. This rare formation was likely created when lava flows poured directly into the cold ocean, fragmenting into tiny pieces. This beach was voted one of the World’s Top Ten Beaches by Island magazine…the only non-tropical beach to make the list.

Vik’s red-steepled church.

I almost lost my wife of 5-days at Vik i Myrdal. We were knocking around on the stunning black lava sand beach (photo above) when we saw a couple birders perched on the rocks looking seaward (photo above). I went to talk with them while Bridget decided to explore a narrow strip of beach hemmed in by cliff on one side and the North Atlantic on the other. I chatted with the hard-to-understand Dutch couple about birds, but it was obvious they were trying to tell me something else. I finally figured out that they were pointing to the sea where Bridget had gone, pantomiming to me—the idiot American—that every so often a big wave would break. I ran down the beach, only to see Bridget nearly swept out to sea by one of these “rogue waves.” The wave surge went all the way to the cliff and engulfed Bridget up to her waist. Thankfully she stayed on her feet and was not sucked out into the cold ocean. It was one of those moments that, after it’s over, you get a whole body shudder at the thought of what might have been.

Other than that frightening moment, Vik i Myrdal was a stunning place to visit (population 400 or so). We stayed at a guesthouse (most lodging choices in Iceland are guesthouses…hotels/motels are few and far between) above the town, with a view to the red-spired church (photo above). Hiking up to the top of the nearby Head wall is a huffing-puffing affair but a worthwhile effort—the scenery is spectacular. Also a great place to be eye-to-eye with flying Northern Fulmars and possibly even an Atlantic Puffin.

Most photos taken with Canon 10D and either Sigma 10-20mm or Canon 70-200mm f4

Iceland Summer—Seljalandsfoss

Hard to believe that its been five years since our honeymoon in Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland…but it has. When I look at my photos, I realize that I’m itching to get back there…and not just a mosquito-bite-itch but a full-blown lay-in-poison-ivy-scratch-til-it-bleeds type itch. That’s how much I liked the place.

To celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary I’m going to relive some photographic highlights of our honeymoon to Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland over the next few weeks (How many new brides would let their husband bring a tripod, camera gear and binoculars on a honeymoon…and use them! …Thanks Bridget!)

Iceland, July 2006: It never got above 63 degrees…and drizzle was our constant companion, except when it rained. But Iceland is such a fascinating place that we really didn’t care. We spied the cascade from the Ring Road (the two-lane “highway” with no shoulder and dozens of single-lane bridges that serves as the main artery for the country (more like the restricted artery of a 500 pound chain smoker!). A short gravel spur brought us to this waterfall.

This is Seljalandsfoss (“seal’s land waterfall”), created by a glacier-fed river that flings itself off a nearly 200 foot high cliff. The spot is basically a wayside rest with a tiny dirt parking lot, one outhouse and a couple picnic tables. In America this place would be a national park! Its real claim to fame is that you can walk behind the thundering cascade…and not get too wet. We nearly missed this spectacle because it didn’t even make the cut for our Discovery Channel Insight Guide book…That’s how many spectacles there are in Iceland!

This is one of the few waterfalls that you can safely walk behind. Note the two figures behind the curtain of water. This also gives scale to the top image…Seljalandsfoss is a BIG thundering waterfall!

We both made the hike behind the cascade and felt its tremendous power fully. We would definitely recommend adding this falls to any Iceland itinerary.

I suppose this type of rainbow should really be called a mistbow. I post it here upside-down because it looks more interesting that way.