Sunday, August 13, 2017

Geysir, Gullfoss and Vestmannaeyjar (14Jul2017)

On the day of our 15th Anniversary, also known as Bastille Day we began the route to Vestmannaeyjar with some more stops along the Golden Circle on the way there.  Vestmannaeyjar is a stunning island off the south coast of Iceland that just happens to have some of the largest Puffin colonies in Iceland.  Of course my planning had nothing to do with that....

After retracing our steps past ├×ingvellir from the previous day we continued on to the next major attraction of Geysir.  Luckily there was something to break the agonizingly awful drive through some of the most ugly scenery I have ever seen (joking). I had done a little eBird trolling the night before and found some coordinates for a field where quite a few Black-tailed Godwits were hanging out so we stopped at those coordinates and it did not take long to find the "Blackwits" lurking in the high grass.

Black-tailed Godwit in breeding plumage and on breeding territory.

Female Blackwit or Juvie?

Of coarse after making the effort to find these Blackwits we drove by a field on the side of the highway with a whole bunch of them out in the open in short grass.

A Redwing enjoying the rain.

Geysir was cool, but I am generally not a huge fan of big tourist attractions.  The good thing about Icelandic tourist attractions is they are kept relatively low key.  The bad thing is all the tour buses.  Basically it is a bunch of Geothermal pools mixed in with a couple geysers.

Here is a short video clip Melissa took with her iPhone.


Gullfoss was a short drive from Geysir and was amazing.  The Niagra of Iceland.  However as is true of many natural wonders, the majesty does not come through in pictures.

This picture of Gullfoss is underwhelming.  You can't see the scale of this massive waterfall in the picture.  Over that grassy ledge is a huge canyon and you are only seeing the top part of the waterfall.  The noise of the waterfall drowned out all the tourists which was nice.  It was impressive.  Actually you can just see a line of tourists in the far left which kind of gives you some idea of scale.

Random scenery and first snow that we saw.  Behind that mountain are some huge glaciers that are melting at an alarming rate.

This is the censored version of an X-rated series I took.  Melissa thought it was tasteless of me to take pictures of the horses procreating but I thought it was important to show that Icelandic horses are relatively happy and left to roam relatively free to do as they please across the countryside.

Here is a clip of a crap load of Icelandic Horses running... just because they can.


I can't remember if these pictures were of the top of Gullfoss using my telephoto lens or some other random waterfall. There were so many waterfalls they all are bleeding together.

After skirting the south part of Iceland on the Ring Road, we arrived to the turn off to the ferry to Vestmannaeyjar.  However, the distant look at the famous Seljalandsfoss waterfall enticed us over for a closer look.

Don't worry dear readers, on the return trip from the island we revisited this amazing waterfall and even went behind it!  This time however we had a ferry to catch so we did not linger.

Great Skua - The fields on the road that leads to the ferry is full of breeding Parasitic Jaegers and Great Skuas but the wind and intermittent rain made photography difficult.  I would have better luck on the way back.

It is a bit overwhelming when you see a Great Skua flying by with such a breath taking backdrop.

Parasitic Jaeger

The wind was really howling when we arrived at the Ferry terminal and I was afraid they would not leave. I had read online that a canceled Ferry ride to Vestmannaeyjar can really mess with your vacation because your hotel will usual not reimburse you if you are not able to make it and we only had 2 more days in Iceland.  However, when I asked the attendant at the ticket booth he looked at me like I was a crazy as if to say, "you call this weather?".  Apparently the waves and wind need to be gale force to cancel the ferry.  In NC I can tell you they would have canceled.

A lone Black Guillemot was a nice find on the Ferry while waiting to push out from the harbor.

I managed to find a corner of the boat that shielded me from the wind a bit and enjoyed the short 45 minute pelagic on the way over to Vestmannaeyjar.

Northern Fulmars were everywhere.  These are some of the most graceful fliers possible.  They glided like shearwaters with wing tips almost touching the wave surfaces making slight adjustments effortlessly in conditions that would have blown all the feathers off a pigeon.

Great Skuas were also in their element harassing all the alcids and other birds lucky enough to be in their path.

Common Murres were also everywhere in these waters, this one almost made me think Thick-billed but I abandoned the ID in favor of Common.

Great Skua

Taking landscape pictures with my big lens is challenging and I didn't use my iPhone too much because it sucks.  However, let me assure you the approach to Vestmannaeyjar is very impressive.  A series of jagged volcanic islands jutting up from the ocean, covered in green and pelagic birds flying all around.

Manx Shearwater - note the white under tail coverts which differentiate it from Audubon's but here it was not an issue as only Manx are hardy enough to breed here.

The sea cliffs upon entry to the harbor are breath taking and covered with Common Murre and Black-legged Kittiwake nests.

After checking into our hotel we walked around the town and hunted for a restaurant for our 15th wedding anniversary.

Puffin was on the menu at many establishments, but Melissa and I preferred to hang out with them rather than eat them.  However I don't judge the Icelanders as they have been doing it for hundreds of years and the healthy numbers of Puffins are a testament that they are managing the colonies well.

We told the waitress that we were celebrating our anniversary but I think she misunderstood that it was our 14th anniversary instead of the correct 15th.  We appreciated the gesture anyhow and devoured the molten chocolate cake as we typically do when presented with something containing hot gooey ganache.  The fish soup preceding the desert was also amazing.

Since it was still light out after dinner, we took a nice tour of the island which is small enough to do quickly.

Northern Wheatear

Atlantic Puffin - we found a nice bird blind that gave us cracking views of the puffins even though the light was subpar.

The almost vertical cliff sides were covered with sheep.  I don't know how the grass was able to cling to the cliff sides let alone the sheep.  This picture does not really show how vertical the cliffs were.

Last birds of the day were Rock Pigeons or Rock Doves.

However, not the ones you think.  These are the truly wild progenitors of our city park birds.  Or at least a feral population living in it's preferred habitat which is coastal cliffs on windswept islands.  I think the real progenitors are in Europe proper, but these are countable.

An often under appreciated bird it actually is quite handsome.

Next post will be from further explorations of Vestmannaeyjar and then from the road back to Reykjavik with some stops in between.