Iceland ~ 8th to 15th June - '24

Wednesday 3 July 2024

Booked a week in Iceland with British Airways including a car from 8th to 15th June, stayed the Friday evening at The Thistle Hotel, Heathrow for a 07:15 Saturday morning take-off. I just booked flights & car with no accomodation, so I could book on the day depending on where I ended up ..

Saturday 8th 

With a flight time of under 3 hours and efficient passport control it wasn't long before I was paying extra for full insurance for car hire, this is something I would recommend as they will get you for stone chips, scuffs and water ingress if your stupid enough to try a river crossing in a car and yes I met a couple a few years ago from Korea who's car went floating down the river.

First stop was for the long-staying W-W-Scoter near Keflavik Airport at Njarovik Bay, I had a good hour or so around the bay area racking up 24 species but No sign of the Scoter.

Then on to Tjornin Ponds in Reykjavik and found 2 pairs of Greater Scaup they seem quite reliable here so I gambled on better light later in the week but still had a few frames ..

Time to head north and get some miles down so got on the ring-road 1 for 2+ hours before stopping at the N1 services at Borgarnes for Jackfruit burger & Fries before driving one of my favorite roads the 540 which turned out to be hard work as i'm guessing this year the breeding season must be a bit late as most of the normal species didn't even seem paired up yet.

I drove right up to the snaefellsnes Peninsula and crossed over via the 56 and headed towards Stykkisholmur, trying the few km's of the 577 with no luck, this is normally a good road for certain species.

It was now nearly 10pm and I hadn't booked any hotels yet so headed for the hostel in Stykkisholmur, which has been taken over and not a hostel anymore, so and 100m up the road I got booked in with a room for the night.

Sunday 9th

I was up and out by 04:00am and back on the 577 it wasn't long before I found some Red-throated Divers.

I tried my luck with them for a couple of hours and gave in and went back for breakfast.

After breakfast I drove the long route around the Snaefellsnes Peninsula out on the 577 towards Grundarfjordur a few small stops along the way but this was my first longer stop around the harbour before stopping at Kirkjufell, I wasn't having much luck with bird photography, a site for Harlequin near Olafsvik always has birds at the river mouth but they were just not interested and stayed distant. I drove the 574 all the way round with nothing to stop for before trying the stacks at Arnarstapi for Auks primarily Brunnich's which i've seen here in previous years but No Auks at all..

Normally early June is perfect but is seems the birds are late starters this year ..

The southern road of the peninsula was just as bad with a few stops before getting on the 56 back over the pass. I decided that with not much luck on my normally good photographic roads to push on north as far as I could towards Husavik but driving some of the tracks rather than the faster main ring road, so it was the 54, 60, 59 & 68 before joining the the ring-road,  I also had a detour for an Ivory Gull that was seen very recently but couldn't find it.

I stayed the night near Blonduos.

Monday 10th

Out early at 4am heading for Husavik, on the ring-road, Over the higher ground it was snow covered and the lower meadows & ploughed fields had 100's of Pink-feet with young, I still made Husavik before 8am and stayed for an hours birding around the harbour with the usual species.

Next stop was Laxa Bridge a quick recce before deciding where I was going to give it a try first which was down river from the bridge ..


The recent snow fall and subsequent melt had the Laxa River flowing fast and high, just under the bridge from the car park is a small beach with a bit of slack water and I staked it out for awhile..

The light was now quite harsh so had a complete recce around Myvatn trying to find a location for the evening session, it needed to be on the western side looking easterly for the best light, starting the 2nd lap past Laxa bridge and passing a few places again which looked promising but I needed to eat so stopped at Reykjahlio before back tracking to Vindbelgur, set the rig up and got myself low down on the black volcanic beach with birds at distance but making their way in to the slack water of the bay.

The light was fantastic, the lake was like a mirror with no breeze so I decided I would try again tomorrow evening and set-up better, so moved further south to the next bay, more Scoter and Long-tailed Duck but all very distant except for a Great Northern Diver cruising the shoreline which was joined by another four and all five came past close in before drifting out in the massive Myvatn..

I booked a hotel when I got back to the car and a short drive around to Reykjahlio staying at Vogahraun 4 ..

Tuesday 11th

Up early & out again, I tried many tracks leading off the main roads around Myvatn, and once I had done the complete loop around Myvatn, I tried some of the better tracks again, nothing was close enough for the camera and birding was typically difficult.

Redwing's are everywhere if you cannot see one, you can definitely hear one, but getting one isolated wasn't easy ..
Myvatn and the river Laxa seemed birdless virtually for the camera,  So I went further out basically birding and running the clock down for the evening session back at Myvatn.
The rest of the morning and all the afternoon was hard work, and the evening session just didn't go as planned either, the light was fantastic again like last night but tonight had a breeze which made the water surface a bit choppy in all the bays on the western side of Myvatn and none of last nights birds were there ..
A few times I drove up & down the western side before giving up and headed for the bird trail 2.3km walk out from the cafe as the sun was going down and then off to my hotel.

Wednesday 12th  

Having never driven the north-eastern part of the ring road it seemed like a good opportunity,  so put my hoped for finally destination for the day of Vik in google maps and at nearly 8 hours driving it was definitely going to be a long day ..
A couple of stops along the way to add Rock Dove & Great Skua to the list, some breakfast (muesli in a car park) before yet again trying for the mighty Vestrahorn last time I was here a few years ago now it was completely surrounded by mist and not visible at all, only giving myself a few hours meant I never got to see it.
This time I still really only had a few hours at most but was teased with the bottom half !!

Next time fingers crossed it will be all of it with the Aurora Borealis above it, if your planning a trip google "Vestrahorn" then you will see why it should be on your trip list ..
I added a distant Ring-necked Duck out on the Hofn point before another 2 hours on the road to Jokulsarlon Lagoon & Diamond Beach, its a tourist hotspot and getting here in the middle of the day is not ideal as its full of humans 1000's of em, if you can time it better for like 4am when most are still asleep do it .. I was hoping for Eiders on the iceberg's and the crazy beach full of iceberg's neither happened ..!!

Hofskirkja Church, the last turf roof church c.1884, since my last visit they've added white crosses which I managed to position myself to get them out of frame ..

By the time I eventually got to Vik it was early evening, a quick stop for a search for the evening meant a bit more driving further west for another 30 minutes to Skogafoss for a well earned nights sleep ..

Thursday 13th 

Out early as breakfast wasn't till 7 and I had two hours to kill in the rain, yes it turned out to be utterly pointless, no birds and one of the sites was closed for the breeding season at Dyrholeay, by the time I got back and loaded the car it was 7 so it all worked out ..
The plan was to stop at Floi Reserve but the rain was still heavy and the forecast was better further west, so with no real luck so far with Slavonian's I tried a site near Reykjavik and was amazed to find at least 9 pairs, two pairs already had built nests, with one pair choosing to build 5 meters from the path. Forecast was decent for the evening and even better for tomorrow evening, I now had a plan so went off firstly to Sandgeroi then Gardur Lighthouse before returning back for the evening, watching the behaviour of the Slavonian Grebe's with the inevitable territorial disputes ..

Once the light had completely gone, I packed up thinking how tomorrow here could possibly pan out before booking a hotel for the night in the city, checked in and walked out for a restaurant only to find the massive Hallgrimskirkja Church at the end of the road ..

A bowl of soup, slice of Rye & two beers later with £27 gone !!
It was time for bed ..

Friday 14th

Wasn't in a rush to get out as it was all about the evening session, so had breakfast at the hotel then went for another try for the Greater Scaup photos at Tjornin Ponds light was awful ..

I had another try at Njarovik Ponds for the White-winged Scoter, stopping for a coffee at the services and returning back to the car with a glance over to the pools and it was there, asleep out in the middle I scrambled to get the camera set-up, got in position and a fire engine with sirens going spooked it and off it went, so far out in the bay that I couldn't find it ..

Back towards Sandgeroi and I drove the road 45, up to the lighthouse at Gardur then out to Hafnir and back a couple of times.

At Hafnarfjorour I had amongst the usual species a Common Moorhen and at Gardi Ponds was a Ring-necked Duck.
Knowing I would be with the Grebe's till late I stopped off for dinner first before heading for the lake.
From the car park I had a walk on the southern side out to the trees just checking that I wasn't missing a better option for Grebe pairs on my return I had Common Sandpiper briefly fly in momentarily before heading off along the southern side.
Once back at the car I tried submitting to Ebird, turns out it's a rare bird for Iceland and it wasn't long before the local birders arrived trying to find it. The Common Sandpiper has only been recorded 13 times, not realising just how important it was I carried on and set-up back in the same spot as last night and began, watching, waiting and seeing some fantastic behaviour between the pair of Slavonian Grebe's ..

 The next few hours was brilliant to witness the bond & behaviour of this pair that I concentrated on, the male spent his time adding weed to the nest or chasing off intruders.
When it another species he dived and came up underneath possibly grabbing a foot as the bird freaked with shock and moved away.
There were two other pairs nearby and the male kept the rival males in check, firstly by a defensive posture of laying flat against the water level, moving towards the rival with a quick burst of speed would normally be enough to retreat the rival, otherwise it went to full on attack ..

Nest change overs were roughly every 45 minutes, the bird would carefully get on with their clumsy approach, check & move the contents before settling down, the bird on the water would wash and preen before moving away ..

 The female's posture (below) a submissive gesture waiting for the male to approach ..

Mating took place only once in the time I was there, and the pair thankfully were perfectly side on ..

I stayed until the light went with the sun dropping behind the hill.
What a fantastic way to finish the trip on ...

I finished on 68 species for the week ..

I also saw Arctic Fox, Long-finned Pilot Whale and Reindeer ..

My last hotel was close to the airport for an early flight back to the U.K ..
I fancy a mid-winter visit next time ... 






Lake Kerkini & Lailias Ski Resort ~ Greece ~ April 4th - 7th .. '24

Thursday 25 April 2024

 Got a flight & car package with British Airways and a hotel down at the dam end of the lake, the drive from Thessaloniki airport to the hotel took nearly two hours arriving just after 10pm.

Up early on Friday 5th and began driving to various sites around the lake in a anti-clockwise direction and after a few hours at different sites the realization that the birding and photography was going to be much harder than i was expecting ..

These are the sites from Gosney & Ebird that I visited multiple times especially on the eastern side of the lake to the drainage channel approaching from different tracks each time ..

I tried a boat trip which was disappointing even at 8 euros the skipper just went straight through the massive raft of cormorants putting them all up with some pelicans, the rest of the tourists on the boat thought this was fantastic obviously the boat then drifted for five minutes before returning to dock ..

I then made my way down the western side of the lake ..

I managed 72 species for the first day which I was more than happy with and there was some great birds like Ferruginous Duck, Little Crake, Hen Harrier, Black Kite, Penduline Tit, Marsh Sandpiper, Black Stork, Short-toed Eagle, Greater Spotted Eagle, Quail and both the Pelicans ..

Saturday 6th

I tried the drainage channel as the light direction was perfect but approaching a small run-off ditch from the hot spring water which i'd driven a few times already gave way and the car was now grounded with the passenger wheel just spinning, an hour later, after jacking up the car and making a ramp out of bricks & blocks I finally got it out .. 

After that little bit of drama I decided to head up to Lailias Ski Resort an hours drive and once out of Serres the scenery on route and then up Mount Lailias was great ..

The light for photography was already harsh by the time I was nearing the resort but the birding was good ..

  I tried a couple of locations for Rock Partridge as per Gosney and stopped on the way down scanning nice rocky slopes but unfortunately couldn't see any but I did have some good birds like Wryneck, Woodlark, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Marsh Tit, Crossbill & Common Rock Thrush ..

Back at the lake mid-afternoon trying the drainage channel before heading to Strymonas Bridge on the northern side driving out east photo targets were still hard work but 5 Tawny Pipits & an Ortolan Bunting were nice to find before they flew off ..

I also went back to the harbour hoping to find Vasilis but was given the run-around and gave up ..

Later at the restaurant after a nice meal & a couple of beers I found him on Facebook and sent a message, back at the hotel, batteries charged, showered and now asleep, I was woken by a strange buzzing it was my phone ringing and it was Vasilis, he was 300km away but he had arranged with a friend of his Nick Gallios for me to be on his boat in the morning, a few messages later and it was all sort, now i'm wide awake and can't go back to sleep and I need to be at the boat for 6:45 am ..

Sunday 7th

 It felt like I got next to no sleep and i've got a 20 minute drive to the boat but arrive with 15 minutes to spare it was just getting light and looked like it was going to be a good day ..

     Nick arrived with three other clients for the boat ..

So I know its really the wrong time of year for pelican photography, winter is best as they are in breeding plumage but it was a great trip out and Nick knew exactly what we all wanted out of our photography and where to position the boat ..

The 800 5.6 was definitely a bit to much focal length, and the others had nice silent mirrorless bodies and my 1dx mkII sounded like a sledge hammer but it was so good on the boat for the birds ..

 The 3 hour boat trip was great both Pelicans, Spoonbill, White-tailed Eagle, Black-winged Stilt, Ruff and Med Gull were the notables and more Great Cormorant than you can possibly imagine ..

I decided to get the two hour drive done so I was closer to the airport and headed for Kalochori Lagoon another really good site which I drove around and checked out all the areas ..

Notables here were Marsh & Wood Sandpiper, Slender-billed Gull and Little Owl ..

Total species for the trip 111 not to shabby at all ..

Definitely going for a winter visit ..