Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Iceland, birding and icing (on the cake)

There were plenty of interesting things within a very short distance of our apartment in Reykjavik. Right next door was the National Gallery of Iceland, but I have to confess I didn't go in, in the plan-filled three and a bit days we were there there simply wasn't time, what with eating and drinking and wool shops and all, though it looks well worth a visit.

Then there was the town lake, the Tjörnin, which was just a step away. It was almost entirely frozen over while we were there, except for one corner,  which was densely populated by waterfowl. The lake, despite being in the centre of the city, is famous as a birdwatching paradise all the year round, and has become popularly known as the biggest bread soup in the world because of all the feeding that goes on. Generally it seemed at this time that Icelandic bird life is thin on the ground; the silence when we were any distance from the city was notable, and there were few perching or ground birds to be seen (another reason to return another season...). However, this corner of the 'Pond', as the name translates, was a wonderful exception.

There were ducks and geese a-plenty

the ducks mostly the ubiquitous mallard, but also some tufted ducks, and the geese were greylags:

the swans were whooper swans:

When I was an ornithologically nerdy teenage kid, these were something of a holy grail. While others of my peers were sleeping off their disco hangovers, I was known to get up at a quite unearthly hour of a Sunday morning, get my own breakfast and go and meet a few kindred spirits, others of my age and their worthy elders - fathers, geography teachers or whatever - and drive many many miles to the Norfolk broads to catch a glimpse of unusual water birds. To tick off all three species of British swan in one afternoon was a source of some pride. It was, of course, the appeal of train spotting, but not only, it was also the experience of the wildness and wet*, the openness waterlands, the big skies and the thought of the distances those birds had come to be there.

And here I was, having crossed those distances myself, to a place where the wild, outlandish whooper swans and greylags squabbled on a town pond with seagulls for crusts of bread. 

Waddled and shat on the pavement until, startled by a well-groomed pooch,

they'd take off in a cloud and a clap of wings.

The birds had clear moods and patterns in the day, at night they were sleepy and resting on the ice, in the day calm and alert, and at first light, at about 10 am, they were very lively, and doing a lot of whooping. 

By the time I took the videos they were calming down a bit. Our apartment was just behind the church in the last frame.

During the time we were there, we saw more and more people walking on the ice. Our last evening we decided it had to be done, so we made our way across to the tiny island. In the distance a pair of girls were skating like fairies, and a group of boys stood on the island chatting in Icelandic and stamping and laughing with the kind of elation that youth and icy weather and a Saturday night give rise to. One of them turned to us with glittering eyes and exclaimed in English 'This island is not safe! We are here to protect it from evil!'

We laughed and stamped too, then made our way back over the ice and left them to it.

There's a lovely live webcam of the Tjornin here.


Zhoen said...

Children get it right more often than adults. Seeing the animals, birds and horses, puddles and ice patches, little things that matter in the face of Big Important Different Things!

Still wish we'd made it to Iceland when we were in Boston and ohsoclose. Thanks for showing me the stuff I hope I'd've noticed, too.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Marvellous to have the video as well as the stills and your words. The sounds those birds make are extraordinary, surely unforgettable.

How is it possible that the lake is not frozen only in that one area and how does the unfrozen part maintain those absolutely perfect curved edges? Is the water warmed in that section? Or does the presence of all those birds warm it? But if that was so, then they could warm the whole lake?

Catalyst said...

I would have been transfixed by all of those big birds in one place.

Rouchswalwe said...

Birds = dinosaurs ... after learning that, I was hooked.

Adore the whooper swan!

The Crow said...

I could listen to that glorious noise for a long time. When the Canada geese fly overhead, calling out directions or maybe just gossiping, I stop to listen, to try to find them in the sky.