The Land of Ice and Fire

I was planning where to go on my summer vacation and was leaning toward a domestic trip, but wasn’t sure I wanted to go on a lengthy South American birding tour. My pre-pandemic Peru trip was cancelled and I haven’t travelled with passport since.

I am limited by work for more of the desirable birding tours throughout the year, which limits my travel window to just two months during summer: June and July. (Yes I can hear the sound of the tiny violins).

There was a tour in the Northern Hemisphere that caught my eye: Iceland.

This was the land of puffins, razorbill, and murre. The white-tailed eagle, gyrfalcon, and snow bunting. Home to one of the largest seabird colonies on Earth.

Iceland: the land of fire and ice, home to the midnight sun and Nordic winds. Of the dancing Northern lights and Viking blood.

Sign me up!

And I did sign up with a ten day tour run by WINGS Birding Tours. Most of the tour will be focused on the western side of Iceland.

While this tour wouldn’t produce a treasure trove of lifers (I estimate between 20-25 lifers), I would have the opportunity to see many birds in breeding plumage because Iceland was their breeding grounds. I looked forward to seeing Harlequin and long-tailed duck, Barrow’s goldeneye, black-legged kittiwake, red-throated and common loons in their breeding finery. One bird I really looked forward to seeing on solid ground is the arctic tern. The only time I had seen this long distant migrant was on the deck of a pelagic tour boat. This tour really is about spending quality time with the amazing avian culture of Iceland!

My two Iceland journals. I decorated the covers with stickers in case anyone didn’t know these were Icelandic journals!

Before going on any great saga, I must first obtain a watercolor journal. For Iceland, I chose two Stillman & Birn Beta Series journals. One is hardbound 5.5″ by 8″ journal and a soft bound pocket journal. On the first page I sketched a symbol of Iceland: the Atlantic puffin (featured sketch). Seeing this bird would be a lifer for me. The alcid can be seen in the northeastern part of North America but when I was in Maine in October, all the pelagic puffins were far out at sea (they come ashore in the summer to nest in large breeding colonies).

I like to start my travel journals with a map and drawing the outline of Iceland seemed to be like tracing the undulating lines of a Rorschach test. This map was really not to scale!

A trip is always an excuse to add some new gear to my travel set up, and then do a spread about it. In this case I wanted a new stuff daypack that could stuff down to almost nothing and then be used as a daypack to carry my sketching kit and rain gear. I chose the Osprey Ultralight Stuff Pack. This stuffs down into a 4″ by 4″ bag yet has a capacity of 18 liters while weighing in at just 3 oz. The pack features zipper pulls, padded straps, a water bottle pocket, and an easy access top pocket with a key clip.

I just couldn’t resist drawing an Osprey on a puffin.