Birds of Iceland I

We knew we wanted to have a good luck at the puffins, but were surprised by how many birds we see!

Common snipes, redshanks, oystercatchers and of course gulls and wagtails are birds we have seen all over. The snipe is kind of cool because it flies very high, and then waggles its tail while descending rapidly, creating a sound that seems too low-pitched for such a small bird. Redshanks sometimes sound like the warning sounds of a lorry going backwards.

Centre: common snipe, top left, clockwise: herring gulls, oystercatcher, black-headed gull, redshank.

Coming from a land-locked country, all the seabirds remotely resembling gulls looked identical in the beginning. By now, we can keep (some of them) apart:

Top left and top right: arctic tern. Centre: Northern Fulmar. Bottom left: black-legged kittiwake, bottom right: great black-winged gull.

Arctic terns are incredibly elegant flyers, and their calls are rather high-pitched. They migrate basically from one pole to the other, thereby enjoying 2 summers per year, and travelling 50 – 80’000 km every year! Fulmars are a bit stockier and less vocal, and gulls are fairly vocal and come in different shades of black and grey. The kittiwakes that we met near the puffins displayed pretty interesting behaviour: one bird would come back from the sea, and one or several others would start screeching. It was way too early in the season for this to be chicks, so I read up on it: I guess this was courtship feeding, the male feeding the female.

Help with identification

As birding newbies, we heavily rely on digital aids to identify the birds we see. I can totally recommend Merlin – the app can even identify birds from sound you record on the smartphone! It also helps with step-by-step identification (size, color, location etc.) or ID based on a picture. Going another step further is eBird – it also comes in form of an app, where you can record your sightings all in one go (rather than just one by one as with Merlin). However, you are expected to know what you are seeing, the data is being used for population monitoring and more, after all. Both of those apps/databases are run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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