Circumnavigation of Iceland Jun 01—12, 2017

Posted by David Wolf


David Wolf

David Wolf is a senior member of the VENT staff and one of our most experienced tour leaders. After birding the U.S. and Mexico for over a decade, an interest in the wildli...

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“The Land of Fire and Ice”!  There couldn’t be a more apt nickname for this island nation, for the two great forces of volcanism and glaciation have here combined to determine both the natural and cultural landscape of Iceland.  By making a complete circumnavigation of the island on this cruise, and taking numerous excursions on land, we were able to experience both aspects in-depth.

Almost all visitors to Iceland arrive at and depart from Reykjavik, as we did, and on our bus trip from the airport it quickly became clear that the landscape was volcanic and barren.  Only as we neared the city itself did planted trees and flowers appear, amidst modern and clean buildings.  Much of the city seemed to be under construction, with glassy high rises and construction cranes looming over the older historic buildings.  Clearly this is a nation “on the move,” modernizing rapidly.

Djupivogur town, Iceland

Djupivogur town, Iceland— Photo: David Wolf


Our first excursion was a day-trip around “The Golden Circle,” Iceland’s most popular tourist destination.  With over two million visitors expected this year, to a nation of less than half-a-million, we found ourselves amidst many others as we gawked at dramatic Gullfoss Waterfall, the Geysir Hot Springs, and other sights.  A show of the special Icelandic horses and unique lunch in a geothermal-powered greenhouse rounded out a full day, before returning to Reykjavik and sailing that evening.

The next morning, as we arrived at Flatey Island, we discovered the “other” Iceland, the small and remarkably isolated fishing villages and sheep farms nestled on deep fiords and rocky islands scattered around the rugged coastline.  On Flatey, under warm and sunny skies, we were greeted by breeding shorebirds like the noisy Eurasian Oystercatchers and Common Redshanks, winnowing Common Snipe, and courting Red-necked Phalaropes, while on the low cliffs of a nearby islet we spotted our first endearing Atlantic Puffins, for many the most-desired bird of the trip.  No bird is more iconic of Iceland, but the Common Eider is a close second, and we found them numerous here too.  Both species would be seen again throughout the trip, but the European Shags studied closely from the Zodiacs would prove to be unique to this site. As the days went by, we would visit quite a number of these colorful settlements, some larger and others very small, but all of them clearly tied to the sea rather than the vast snow and ice-covered uplands rising steeply above them.

Read David’s full report in his Field List.