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  • Photograph of Harlequin Duck

    The beautiful Harlequin Duck, by Dubi Shapiro.

    ICELAND

    Best Wildlife in Iceland

    Mammals
    Minke Whale, White-beaked Dolphin, Harbour Porpoise, and Common and Grey Seals. Also a chance of Blue, Humpback and Killer Whales, and Arctic Fox (especially off the beaten track in the far northwest, in Hornstrandir NR for example).

    Birds
    White-tailed Eagle, Gyr Falcon (mostly grey morph), (Atlantic) Puffin, Harlequin Duck, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Grey (Red) and Red-necked Phalaropes, and Brunnich’s Guillemot (Thick-billed Murre), as well as (Northern) Gannet, (Northern) Fulmar, Whooper Swan, Greylag and Pink-footed Geese, (Greater) Scaup, Common Scoter, Common Eider (borealis), Long-tailed Duck (Old Squaw), Slavonian (Horned) Grebe, Great Northern & Red-throated Divers (Loons), (Rock) Ptarmigan, (European) Golden Plover, Purple Sandpiper, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit (islandica), Whimbrel, Arctic Skua (Jaeger), Glaucous Gull, (Black-legged) Kittiwake, Arctic Tern, Black & Common Guillemots (Murres), Razorbill, (Winter) Wren (islandicus), Redwing, Common Redpoll (islandica) and Snow Bunting. Also a chance of King and Steller’s Eiders, and Long-tailed Skua (Jaeger - which breeds at one remote site in the middle of the island), as well as (European) Storm Petrel, American Wigeon, Ring-necked Duck, Great Skua, Little and Iceland Gulls, and Short-eared Owl.

    Plants
    The arctic-alpine flora includes Coralroot and Northern Green Orchids, Arctic Riverbeauty, Arctic Poppy, Mountain Avens, Snow Gentian and several saxifrages.

    Other Natural Wonders of Iceland

    Thingvellir NP
    The European and American tectonic plates meet here, at the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

    Skogarfoss
    This waterfall is about 60 m (200 ft) high.

    Eyjafallajokull
    The volcano which erupted in 2010.

    Jokulsarlon
    A glacial lake with icebergs from a calving glacier.

    Vatnajokull
    The largest ice cap outside the polar regions of the world covers about 12% of Iceland and is about 400-1000 m (1312-3281 ft) thick.

    Gullfoss
    This waterfall on the River Hvita drops about 10 m (33 ft) then 20 m (66 ft) into a narrow crevice.

    Geysir
    The geysir all geysers are named after erupts very irregularly but the nearby geyser known as Strokkur rises up to 23 m (75 ft) usually every five to eight minutes.

    Dettifoss
    The most powerful waterfall in Europe, which is about 100 m (328 ft) wide and 45 m (148 ft) high. It is situated in Jokulsargljufur NP.

    And several other places with hot springs, boiling mud pools, steam vents and other geological phenomena.

    Best Sites for Wildlife in Iceland

    Photograph of White-tailed Eagle

    White-tailed Eagle by Ian Fulton.

    Best Times for Wildlife in Iceland

    During the northern summer the peak time for birds is late June-early July. This coincides with the peak time for wild flowers which is from mid-June to mid-July and, unfortunately, the peak time for biting insects which can be a torture through the months of June, July and August. There is usually light 24 hours a day during the months of May, June and July.

    Summer temperatures are cool, ranging between 4°C and 16°C, and the weather can change quickly so warm, windproof and waterproof clothing is recommended, especially for boat trips since it is always much colder at sea.

    Recommended Books etc. for Iceland

    Whale Watching in Iceland by A Bjorgvinsson and H Lugmayr. JPV Publishers, 2002.

    Birdwatching in Iceland by J Baldurhlidberg and H Gudmundsson. Ritsmidjan, 2001.

    Icelandic Bird Guide by J O Hilmarsson. Mal og menning, 2011 (Second Edition).

    The Arctic Guide: Wildlife of the Far North by S Chester. PUP, 2016.

    The Complete Guide to Arctic Wildlife by R Sale. Helm, 2006.

    Collins Bird Guide by L Svensson et al. Collins, 2010 (Second Edition).

    Birds of Europe by L Jonsson. Helm, 1999.


    Apps etc.

    Collins Bird Guide.

    Trip Reports for Iceland

    Many trip reports, some for Iceland, are posted on the websites listed here. On some of these websites some reports are independent and some are posted by tour companies who organize tours to Iceland. These tour companies and others also post their own reports on their websites, which are listed under 'Some Organized Tours to Iceland' below.

    Local Guides and Tours in Iceland

    The costs of organized tours partly reflect the quality of the tour leaders. Some leaders are certainly better than others and many companies claim their leaders are the best but even the best rely at least to some extent on the exceptional skills of the local guides they employ. If you are travelling independently, employing such local guides will greatly increase your chances of seeing the wildlife you wish to see.

    Accommodation in Iceland

    Some Organized Tours to Iceland

    There are many tour companies who organize tours to see mammals, birds, other wildlife and other natural wonders. The cost of these tours vary considerably according to such variables as the airlines used, the number of days the tours last, the number of sites visited, the number of people in the group (an important consideration if you wish to see such wildlife as rainforest mammals and birds), the number of tour leaders, the standard of accommodation and transport, and the percentage profit the company hopes to make. Generally, where the number of days tours last and the number of sites visited are similar, the cheapest tours are those that use the cheapest airlines, accommodation and local transport, that have the largest groups with the least number of leaders, and that make the least amount of profit. The most expensive tours tend to be those which are exceptionally long, use the most expensive accommodation (ridiculously lavish in some cases, even for single nights) and which make the most profit. Some tour costs partly reflect the quality of the tour leaders. Some leaders are certainly better than others and many companies claim their leaders are the best but even the best rely at least to some extent on the exceptional skills of the local guides they employ.

    While tour companies organize tours with set itineraries many also organize custom tours for individuals and private groups who instead of taking a tour with a set itinerary want to follow their own itinerary to suit their own personal tastes, whether it be mammals, birds, other wildlife, other natural wonders or even man-made attractions, or a mixture of them all. Many organized tours with set itineraries are also fast-paced and target as many species as possible, whether they are mammals, birds or other wildlife or everything, which usually leaves little time to enjoy the best sites and individual species, but on a custom tour those taking part can specify the pace and the sites and species they wish to concentrate on. Custom tours also suit people who like to travel with people they already know, rather than with a group of strangers, and they are popular with people with partners with different interests. Individuals, partners and small groups will almost certainly have to pay more for a custom tour than an organized tour with a set itinerary but a large group of friends may be able to travel for less than the price quoted for a set tour.

    Tour companies who run organized tours to Iceland include the following. Many of these also offer custom tours.