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White-winged Scoter



A Snowy Owl 'in the middle of nowhere' was probably our most exciting find.

SPRING BIRD MIGRATION CONTINUES WELL INTO JUNE IN ICELAND and it is probably the best month for rarities there. High Arctic breeding birds still on their way north occur alongside overshoots and long-stayers. I managed a total of 84 species during my stay in Iceland earlier this month, on back-to-back Wild Images and Birdquest tours including a good number of rare migrants and actually equalled the Birdquest Iceland life list total prior to 2017! I might even make it into treble figures one day at this rate. However, it is worth remembering that the top Icelandic listers are over 300, with totals consisting mostly of vagrants! Just off the flight from Manchester (on which, by chance, I was sitting in the next row to Reykjavik birder Edward Rickson) virtually the first bird I saw was the super-smart drake White-winged Scoter at Sandgerdi. A WP lifer for me and a great welcome back to Iceland! It has been hanging around the Reykjanes Peninsula for the last few years but there is a lot of foreshore along which to search for it and it can go missing for days. Having been around so long now, the local birders hardly keep tabs on it.

The long-staying Reykjanes Peninsula North American White-winged Scoter at Sandgerdi

Very soon afterwards I caught up with Iceland's first Black-winged Stilt just south of Sandgerdi, which had been around for a couple of weeks and had understandably caused quite a stir when it first arrived. Next stop North America? Although technically it was already standing on the North American plate here. It paced around a shallow pool surrounded by eiders and Arctic Terns. Sandgerdi is a true WP rarity hotspot and in the space of a few weeks this year this area also hosted Bonaparte's, Sabines and Little Gulls, Lesser Yellowlegs, Black-crowned Night Heron and Bufflehead!

Iceland's first Black-winged Stilt, Sandgerdi.

Other notable sightings on my travels included King Eider (two adult drakes), American Wigeon, Mandarin (certain Belgian-ringed escapes at Húsavík but another on Flatey of uncertain origin), Black Tern, a couple of Little Gulls, Common Crane, Long-tailed Skua (four, including one on territory hundreds of km from the single known breeding area), a pair of Bramblings and best of all, a magnificent Snowy Owl, also away from any known breeding areas 'in the middle of nowhere'. We looked for the owl again about a week later and despite some hours spent searching were unable to refind it. However, with so much wilderness it is easy to find your own birds in Iceland and were it not for the eye-watering cost of food and accommodation more birders would surely explore this fabulous country. Finally thanks to my birding friends in Iceland: Gaukur Hjartason, Yann Kolbeinsson and Edward Rickson without whose help I would certainly have seen a lot fewer birds!

Common Crane, Aðaldal.

Mandarin, Flatey.

Belgian-ringed Mandarin, Húsavík.

Long-tailed Skua, also 'in the middle of nowhere'

Brambling, the female of Iceland's only breeding pair.




White-winged Scoter, Parrish Park, Titusville FL

CONTINUING THE THEME OF ARCTIC BREEDING BIRDS, a White-winged Scoter had been found during the birding festival near the A. Max Brewer Causeway to Merritt Island. Happily I was able to chase it on my last morning and it was still loafing around under the bridge at Parrish Park. Another Florida rarity and, following its recent split, a very welcome world lifer for me, which I had missed in several other places until now. The flat calm waters of the Indian River also provided a refuge to a couple of Black Scoters, with hundreds of Lesser Scaup, four Common Loons (or Great Northern Divers) and seven Horned Grebes of note. Whilst watching the scoter I spotted some air bubbles, away from where the loons were fishing and to my delight a Manatee's head popped up out of the water and I was able to take a short video of it as it swam by a few metres away. After a quick visit to the world famous Ron Jon's surf shop in Cocoa Beach I called in at St Cloud on the way to the airport, where on the shores of East Lake Tohopekaliga I added a Snail Kite and four very accommodating River Otters before it was time to start the long journey home. The temperature was back to a more normal-for-Florida 82 degrees fahrenheit today...  although the 'Polar Vortex's' next cold front was only a day away. I also see that 'Storm Brigid' is forecast to bring chaos to the UK after I get back as the series of severe weather events continues.

Snail Kite, East Lake Tohopekaliga

River Otters, East Lake Tohopekaliga

Skater's paradise at Ron Jon's (IPhone 5S Hipstamatic).