Posts tagged ‘Iceland’

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.