Monday, July 24, 2017

Discovering Iceland- An Overnight on Flatey Island

We'd seen Flatey Island three days before when the ferry Baldur, crossing Breiðafjörður Bay, stopped there.  It unloaded day-trip passengers and potable water. Today, we would leave our van on the boat, taking only an overnight bag and photo gear.  (Our van would be waiting for us at the ferry terminal in Stykkishólmur.) The island of Flatey is about 1-1/4 miles long.

We had an easy departure time at 09:15 from the Brjánslækur ferry wharf.  We were all eager to explore Flatey.  At the terminal, our overnight baggage for the island went in a freight box to be off-loaded.  Right on time, the Baldur approached and executed a 180° turn to back up to the vehicle ramp.  It wasted no time; it has both bow and stern loading, plus bow thrusters.

Once ashore on Flatey, you walk.  It is a modest 1/4 mile to the only hotel on the island. The hotel has a small utility vehicle to transfer our luggage.  The accommoda- tions were quite nice. The island may be remote, but the food was not spartan.  How about a cod tacos with pickled veggies? It spoils the traveler.

Of course, we did not come to Flatey for the luxury but rather for the scenery and the birds. I've been on other islands where there were no real roads, and it is liberating.  Life is simpler and the children play soccer with joy, or search the shore for polished stones.  Adults have time to sit on the porch and socialize over a bottle of wine. The pace of life on Flatey was noticeably easier.  All but two families are summer cottagers. In winter it is likely very quiet with no children because there is no school.

A walk around the island finds a lot of  interesting scenes.  A boatman is rowing out to one of the boats anchored in a partially submerged volcanic cone called Höfn on the map. It is a perfectly sheltered anchorage.

There is a rusted and long abandoned tricycle left on the side of the trail near the hotel.

Farther down the trail is a homemade wheel barrow.  I saw some modern ones with lightweight plastic tubs - more efficient - but not as creative.

The island's church stands on the highest part of the island.  With only two year-round families, it did not seem to have any activity.  We saw many small churches in the countryside, often speaking of an early time when substantial fishing communities supported them.  Such was the case on Flatey.

Exploring Flatey begins with a short walk from the hotel towards the bird cliffs.   A small wetland reveals the ubiquitous Mallard, in this case a duckling.  I had in mind something more exotic.

 It did get better.  This is a Red Phalarope. It was picking for food in the seaweed at low tide.

On the trail from the ferry wharf, there was a field of thick grass and several Red-necked Phalaropes were making a lot of noise with each passing person.  Close inspection located a nest some 30 feet from the trail, and very well hidden.  The little bit of dried grass stalks beneath the bird was the only tip that this was a nest.

There was another surprise, Snow Buntings.  Only these were not in winter plumage. They were frequent on the bluff above the cliffs, and seemed to be picking small insects from the many small pink flowers.

Flatey certainly had a rich array of birds. The sun rises on Flatey around 03:00 or a little before.  It is a pretty gradual event.  I still wanted more Atlantic Puffin images, including some with the beak full of fishes for their chicks in the burrows. I'd seen them that evening in poor light. 

Long before breakfast on the next morning, I arose to try once again for the puffin image I wanted.  In the early morning quiet, the sheep were bedded along the way, and not at all wary of people.  Arriving at the cliffs, I settled down low below the crest of the hill so the incoming puffins would not see me.  They were more wary than those at Latrabjarg.

I could pick up the incoming Atlantic Puffins far offshore and watch their flight pattern.  Usually they came in for a pass and then made a loop back out to sea before deciding to land.   The first several thwarted my effort as they either changed course abruptly, or disappeared behind the bluff just as the scene came together.  This was tough, but finally one bird came in nicely.

Even better, the Puffin landed on a rock outcropping before deciding to go to the burrow.  In its beak is a jumble of slender sand eels for the chicks.  It posed right and left. The bird was not actually posing, but looking around to decide if it was safe.  Oh, the joy!

I walked back to the hotel feeling so rewarded that I didn't care if breakfast was only dry toast, as long as there was coffee.  After a wonderful hot shower, the breakfast was (as I expected) much more than toast.  I pretty much chilled out until the Baldur arrived at 13:00 to continue our travels. 

I loved Flatey, and only wished I could have had another day.  Now it is off to huge waterfalls and other scenery.  There will still be birds, but also a tiny church and maybe a geysir, as they are called in Iceland.


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