Thursday, July 20, 2017

Discovering Iceland- On to the Latrabjarg Bird Cliffs

Our anticipation grew as we approached the Latrabjarg Bird Cliffs.  They are in the rugged Westfjords where roads are largely unpaved and often hug steep hillsides. Guard rails? Berms? Not really.  But the views are terrific.

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These roads are not kind to small vehicles. Our ten-passenger Mercedes van was ideal.  Also comforting was that Jóhann Óli Hilmarsson was an experienced local driver.  There can be long distances to traverse, so slow driving was not an option.   It can get rough; the van's high clearance made accessing many locations possible.


Arriving at the bird cliffs, we experienced the strong winds sweeping up from the ocean below and Atlantic Puffins along the edges of the tall cliff. 









Pam made this photo of an Atlantic Puffin peeking up over the edge of the cliff.  Unlike the Puffins we would see later, these were not afraid of people.







 

If one was ready to lie flat on the grass right up to the cliff's edge, really close photos were possible.  Our photo guide, Nikhil Bahl, did just that.  By the time I developed some comfort with the edge, the puffins had moved from the edge.





Still, some striking images were possible.

We had two days at Latrabjarg which was about an half hour from our hotel in Breiðavik.  A great number of other birds are nesting along the seacoast, so there were many "distractions" along the roads to the cliffs.  On the next day, we were offered a Ringed Plover with a nearly helpless chick on a beautiful white sand beach.



Although we kept our distance, one adult still offered the broken wing ploy.  We limited our time in the vicinity.  There were plenty of other birds in the area to keep us firing away with our cameras.






On the inland side of  the road, there was a  small stream where we found a Red-necked Phalarope feeding.  We would see more of them at another stop. It was an urgent feeder, rarely pausing.












The birds are so plentiful in summer here, likely because there is a dearth of predators.  In short order that morning we found an Oyster Catcher seen at right and a Dunlin seen below.





It is time to get back to the cliffs and another charming bird, the Razorbill.  This pair was obviously courting on a small outcrop, where I summoned the bravery to approach the edge.



On our final evening at the Latrabjarg Bird Cliffs,  a most unusual event interrupted my pursuit of fresh Puffin photos.  As I walked toward the higher section of cliffs, a Common Murre chick dropped out of the sky onto the tall grasses.  Really! I believe one of the marauding Great Black-backed Gulls had snatched it from an unguarded nest, but lost hold of it as it flew overhead. The chick furtively scurried about seeking cover and finally decided my feet would be adequate.



The obvious question was what to do with the chick.  The location of its nest was somewhere down on the cliff, and no sane person would attempt to return it.











There was another complication due to the presence of an Arctic Fox actively working the cliffs.  There were numerous eggs shells lying around, suggesting it had been successful in robbing eggs from the nesting birds.  One side says the fox has young to feed and the other sympathizes with the helpless chick.  Interfere or let nature take its course?  In the end we took the chick back in our van to leave it with the hotel staff who would attempt to feed it.


To this day, I am not sure the outcome from our choice was any better than the alternative.

The next morning was an early departure to catch the Ferry Baldur for an overnight on Flatey Island.  It was a wonderful stop that I will save for the next installment.

Paul









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