Birding Without Borders

Day 160: Iceland All-Nighter

Noah makes a quick Arctic stopover.

June 9, 2015, Reykjavik, Iceland — This morning I finally escaped from airport hell: After another extended round of wrangling with United at JFK in New York City (when I checked in this time, it took them an hour to find my reservation), I walked onto Iceland Air, where the mood lighting looks like the aurora borealis, the front seats are called “saga class,” and the attendants are blonde bombshells. Welcome back to civilized travel!

Yesterday’s delays cost me most of my Iceland visit, but not quite all of it. I landed in Reykjavik at 11:45 p.m. local time today, with seven hours remaining before my morning flight to Norway. Luckily, at this season it never gets dark in Iceland, so I could go birding all night long.

A local birder named Yann picked me up from the Reykjavik airport just before midnight and we headed out to see what we could find. Yann had driven five hours from his house in northern Iceland to meet me, and, after our birding all-nighter, planned to sleep two hours in his car then drive five hours back home and go to work (as a biologist, tracking birds in northern Iceland). What a guy!

Yann had things well staked out, and we racked up new birds under the midnight sun: Common Eiders, Arctic Terns, Iceland Gulls, European Golden-Plovers, Whooper Swans… The sun officially set for a couple of hours around 1 a.m. but it never got darker than a low dusk.

At about 3 in the morning we hiked to a windswept seabird cliff with nesting kittiwakes, murres (including a prize Thick-billed), Razorbills, and one of Iceland’s most iconic birds: The Atlantic Puffin. Puffins have been declining in this part of Iceland, and we only saw one, looking dapper on a rocky ledge. I hope for his sake he had a partner.

At 4 a.m. Yann and I checked out some fields and ponds around a nice compound which turned out to be the presidential house. I could imagine Iceland’s president sleeping in there, dreaming of important stuff like his yard list (which would be pretty impressive, if he were a birder).

I reflected that I’d reached my northernmost point for the year—about 64 degrees north, just a couple degrees from the Arctic Circle—which means, of course, that things can only go south from here! Less than an hour before my flight took off at 7 in the morning, Yann and I were watching Manx Shearwaters from a promontory near the airport. He dropped me off with just enough time to walk through security and onto the plane. I sank into my seat and closed my eyes. It was strange to think that, in three more hours, I’d be birding in Norway.

New birds today: 36 (including early hours of 10 Jun)

Year list: 2783

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