Hawks Aloft | Iceland - Birding in the Land of Fire and Ice

Hawks Aloft | Iceland - Birding in the Land of Fire and Ice

About this trip

With its frigid glaciers, geothermal lagoons, and dozens of volcanoes, it’s no wonder Iceland is known as the land of fire and ice. The country’s avifauna is equally impressive: located at the junction of two oceans, it hosts a unique mix of vagrant and migratory birds from both Europe and North America. This 11-day adventure with Hawks Aloft offers a look at Icelandic breeding and non-breeding bird populations, from the waterfowl of Lake Mývatn to the iconic Atlantic Puffins. As you seek out auks, petrels, cormorants, gannets, gulls, terns, waders, stilts, and birds of prey, you’ll also enjoy hikes and boat trips designed to enrich your understanding of the island’s natural history.

Highlights

  • Bird the hotspots of Lake Mývatn and the River Laxá, where sightings may include more than a dozen duck species.
  • Trace the fjords of northwest Iceland and see the majestic cliffs supporting populations of auks, murres, and kittiwakes.
  • Navigate Breiðafjörður Bay for up-close views of Great Cormorants, European Shags, and Atlantic Puffins.
  • Look for humpback, blue, and minke whales and a variety of pelagic birds on a whale-watching excursion.
  • Visit Sigurgeir’s Bird Museum, considered the largest known private bird collection in Iceland.

In flight

Jun 1, 2023

Depart the US for your overnight flight to Iceland.

Reykjavík

Jun 2, 2023

On the descent into Iceland, notice how the landscape is strikingly bare and almost devoid of woodland. Where there is plant life, much of it is considered tundra, though the mild climate prevents permafrost, a defining feature of the tundra biome. Iceland hovers near the Arctic Circle, and while the influence of the Gulf Stream moderates temperatures, strong winds and thin soils help keep the vegetation stunted and tundra-like. Iceland is rich in bird diversity, with over 300 species recorded; 61 Important Bird Areas cover 7 percent of the country. Upon arrival at the Keflavík International Airport, transfer via flybus to your hotel in Reykjavík. Buses are located right outside the terminal building. Hotel check-in starts at 3 pm. Begin exploring the city and observe Redwings and Common Redpolls. Visits to nearby ponds should yield abundant Arctic Terns that breed by the side of the road. Lesser Black-backed Gulls also gather here in good numbers. Meet your group for a program orientation, then get to know your guide and fellow travelers during a welcome dinner. Breakfast and lunch are on your own today.

Dinner included
Overnight at Centerhotel Laugavegur

Reykjavik

Jun 3, 2023

Enjoy a morning of birding at Þingvallavatn, Iceland's largest natural lake, and the adjoining Þingvellir National Park, which showcases the dramatic continental drift between the American and Eurasian tectonic plates. The steep and rocky shores of Þingvallavatn do not attract much in the way of waterfowl, although Tufted Duck, Greater Scaup, and Common Merganser are usually present in summer. Roughly 50 species can be found here year-round, while another 30 are occasional visitors. Iceland is the easternmost point for the Common Loon, which nests in a few places by the lake. Other North American migrants include Barrow's Goldeneye and the Harlequin Duck. Black-tailed Godwit and Whimbrel breed in the many grassy meadows near the lake, Snow Bunting and Merlin are common in the area, and Gyrfalcon are seen regularly. Lesser Black-backed Gull and Arctic Tern also breed around the lake. Have lunch at Friðheimar Greenhouses for an out-of-the-ordinary, "stem-to-table" experience in the Icelandic countryside. After an introduction to the greenhouse, enjoy a special lunch served among the plants. Sample classic tomato dishes like Friðheimar's famous tomato soup, as well as new creations made with a twist, like green tomato and apple pie or refreshing, homemade tomato ice cream. Afterward, watch a horse show and learn about the history of the Icelandic horse. This afternoon, visit Iceland's famous Gullfoss, or "Golden Falls," and the nearby Geysir hot spring area to see numerous spouting hot springs and boiling mud pools.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Centerhotel Laugavegur

Lake Mývatn

Jun 4, 2023

Return to the airport for your flight to Akureyri in northern Iceland. From here, the journey to Lake Mývatn includes a stop at a plantation in hopes of finding Goldcrests, and a visit to the famous Goðafoss Waterfall. Later enjoy close-up views of Harlequin Ducks on the River Laxá as it flows out of Lake Mývatn. Red-necked Phalarope often spin on the river and feed on emerging flies, while Whimbrel and Golden Plover live in the surrounding moorlands. Also scan the lake for some of its 14 Icelandic breeding duck species, such as the Black Scoter, Barrow's Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Eurasian Wigeon, and Greater Scaup.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Fosshotel Mývatn or similar

Lake Mývatn

Jun 5, 2023

Continue your exploration of the Lake Mývatn area, including a visit to Sigurgeir's Bird Museum. The museum's collection-considered the largest known private bird collection in Iceland- contains specimens of almost all of Iceland's breeding species.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Fosshotel Mývatn or similar

Húsavik

Jun 6, 2023

Today visit Dettifoss Waterfall in Vatnajökull National Park. Measuring 330 feet wide with a drop of 144 feet into Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon, Dettifoss is the largest and most powerful waterfall in Iceland. Continue driving further northeast through an area that holds good numbers of breeding Purple Sandpipers, Arctic Terns, and Snow Buntings. With luck, you might come across Rock Ptarmigan or hunting Gyrfalcon. On the way to Húsavík, visit a big birch forest for the chance to encounter Eurasian Wigeons at very close range. At another site, scan the sea from a cliff top covered with Atlantic Puffins for the opportunity to see Great Skuas flying by.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Húsavík Cape Hotel

Laugarbakki

Jun 7, 2023

Embark from Húsavík for a morning whale watching tour. Located on the edge of Skjálfandi Bay, Húsavík is globally recognized as one of the best places in the world to watch whales and porpoises. To date, 23 species have been spotted in Icelandic waters, and species commonly seen in Skjálfandi Bay include humpback and minke whales, white-beaked dolphin, and harbour porpoise. Blue whales, the largest animal on earth, are also possible since they regularly visit the bay to feed during the summer months. Birds are possible too; keep an eye out for Common Eider, Great Skua, Parasitic Jaeger, and more. After lunch, drive west toward Laugarbakki, looking for Pink-footed Goose, Mew Gull, and the Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit along the way. If you're willing to stay up late, you may get a chance to see the Short-eared Owl.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Hotel Laugarbakki

Látrabjarg

Jun 8, 2023

Today is a long day of driving toward the majestic seabird cliff Látrabjarg. The route follows a number of fjords in northwest Iceland, so the scenery from the window should be fantastic. Your target species en route is the White-tailed Eagle, with scattered breeding pairs found throughout the fjords. An evening stroll around your hotel should produce Red-throated Loon, Common Redshank, Common Snipe, and the omnipresent Arctic Tern.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Hotel Breiðavík

Flatey

Jun 9, 2023

Perched on Europe's westernmost point, the Látrabjarg cliffs harbor the continent's largest seabird colony, numbering in the millions. The constant stream of birds whizzing past the end of the promontory is simply amazing. The number of seabirds nesting here every year is staggering and includes the largest population of razorbills in the world, with over 160,000 nesting pairs (roughly 40 percent of the world population). Common Murres (225,000 pairs), Thick-billed Murres (120,000 pairs), Northern Fulmars (100,000 pairs), Atlantic Puffins (50,000 pairs), and Black-legged Kittiwakes (30,000 pairs) also nest along Látrabjarg. Atlantic Puffins nest along the cliff edges and can be approached at close range-an excellent opportunity for photos. A cacophony of vocal Black-legged Kittiwakes emanates from the rock face below, while Northern Fulmars take turns riding the lift off the wall. On the moorlands above the seabird colonies, look for a bevy of boldly patterned birds-Snow Bunting, Northern Wheatear, White Wagtail, and Common Ringed Plover. In the afternoon, take the ferry across the Breiðafjörður Bay and stop at Flatey Island for an overnight stay. Birding on the island is a once-in-a-lifetime experience because the birds are surprisingly tame. Species include the abundant Black Guillemots on the shoreline, Red-necked Phalaropes, Common Redshanks, Meadow Pipits, and Redwings. With luck you may even encounter the rare Red Phalarope, as Iceland is on the southern edge of its breeding distribution around the Arctic. (Please note: Hotel Flatey is closed during the month of May. If traveling in May, this night will be spent in Grundarfjörður with a day trip to Flatey Island for birding.)

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Hotel Flatey (shared facilities) or similar

Grundarfjordur

Jun 10, 2023

Continue birding this morning on Flatey Island before boarding the ferry for the crossing toward Stykkishólmur. In the afternoon, take another boat trip around the islands of Breiðafjörður Bay, allowing close-up views of the Great Cormorants and European Shags that live among thousands of Atlantic Puffins nesting in the bay. Sometimes the White-tailed Eagle can also be seen here.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Hotel Kirkjufell

Farewell!

Jun 11, 2023

This morning, depart early from the hotel to the airport. Transfer time is approx.. 3 hours. Please schedule flights after 11 am. Check-out is at 11 am. If your flight is later in the evening or you are extending for additional nights, there will be a stop in Reykjavík en route, where you can pre-reserve a flybus at an additional cost to get to the airport at a later time or to your next accommodation.

Breakfast- included