27 June, 2014

Northern Gannet

Scientific Name: Sula bassana

Range / Habitat: Breeds on offshore islands and inaccessible cliffs in large, isolated colonies in the north Atlantic, including Newfoundland, Iceland, the UK, Scandinavia, and Russia. Winters at sea in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, reaching down to 45 degrees latitude.

Field Notes: Large white waterbird with black wing-tips. Long bill and pointed tail. Head with orange-yellow tinges. Plunge-dives for food.

Personal Notes: First seen on Heimay Island in Iceland and (barely) photographed five years later on the Reykjanes Peninsula of Iceland.

25 June, 2014

White-tailed Sea-eagle

Scientific Name: Haliaeetus albicilla

Range / Habitat: Diverse aquatic habitats, both freshwater and marine. Year-round in SW Greenland, W Iceland, N & C Eurasia. Winters S to N Mediterranean, Persian Gulf, Pakistan, N India and SE China.

Field Notes: Large eagle, overall dark brown with yellow bill and legs. In mature adults, tail white, head and neck pale buff. Unmistakable in range.

Personal Notes: Highlight of a "Viking Sushi" tour of Breidafjordur Bay in western Iceland, though the sushi was pretty good, too. Once the bird was sighted, Richard raced to the back of the boat and managed to get this shot (with the characteristic white tail) before we pulled out of range.

24 June, 2014

Red-necked Phalarope

Scientific Name: Phalaropus lobatus

Range / Habitat: Breeds on tundra in the circumpolar Arctic. Winters at sea in a variety of spots near the equator.

Field Notes: Small wader, smallest of the phalaropes. Small, needle-like bill and slender neck. Brown upperparts, with some gold, white breast and chin. Rufous horseshoe-shaped collar.

Personal Notes: A ubiquitous bird in small pools of water in Iceland in the summer, but surprisingly difficult to photograph.

Meadow Pipit

Scientific Name: Anthus pratensis

Range / Habitat: Breeds in a variety of open habitats in northern Europe, including Iceland and Greenland. Resident in western Europe but northern breeding populations migrate further south, as far as northern Africa, to similar open habitats, but also including seashores.

Field Notes: Small pipit with slender bill. Upperparts brown streaked with black, underparts buff, also streaked and sometimes coalescing in breast spot.

Personal Notes: We found this European bird to be somewhat of a cross between an American Pipit and an Eastern Meadowlark in its behaviour.

Purple Sandpiper

Scientific Name: Calidris maritima

Range / Habitat: Breeds on tundra and rocky areas from NE Canada through Greenland, Iceland, Scandinavia to NW Siberia. Winters on rocky coasts of E North America and NW Europe.

Field Notes: Plump, medium-sized shorebird. medium-length bill with yellow base and slight droop at end. Short yellow legs. Grey to brown head, neck and back. Underparts lighter and heavily streaked. No purple in breeding plumage and only a faint sheen in winter.

Personal Notes: A surprise find at Snaefellsjoekull National Park in Iceland.

European Shag

Scientific Name: Phalacrocorax aristotelis

Range / Habitat: Marine bird with strong preference for rocky coasts and islands. Year-round on the Atlantic coast of Europe, including western Iceland, and in the Mediterranean.

Field Notes: Medium-sized cormorant, with short tail, glossy back overall. Eye turquoise, base of gape yellow. Crest in non-breeding plumage.

Personal Notes: Seen initially on the rocky coast of Snaefellsjokull National Park, Iceland. The mom and chick later seen in Breidafjordur Bay, Iceland.


Scientific Name: Alca torda

Range / Habitat: Marine species, breeding on steep mainland cliffs and rock offshore islands in subarctic waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Winters offshore from breeding areas, though often extending further south.

Field Notes: Medium-sized waterbird with black head, neck and back, white undersides. Stout, deep, and round-tipped bill has criss-crossing white lines. Often holds tail up in the air. Throat white in non-breeding plumage. Common Murre and Thick-billed Murre less stocky with longer bill, lacking characteristic marks.

Personal Notes: Part of an exceptional visit to the Latrabjarg cliffs in western Iceland.

Thick-billed Murre

Scientific Name: Uria lomvia

Range / Habitat: Exclusively marine, breeding on coastal cliffs and islands, restricted to Arctic zones with open water. Winters offshore of breeding grounds, where often found at see in large flocks.

Field Notes: Medium-sized waterbird with black head, neck and back. Clean white underparts. Non-breeding adults have white throats. Common Murre without white gape and with streaking on flanks.  Razorbill more stocky, with stouter bill with white ring at the tip.

Personal Notes: Also seen at the Latrabjarg cliffs in Iceland.

Common Murre

Scientific Name: Uria aalge

Range / Habitat: Exclusively marine, breeding along sea coasts on rocky cliffs and offshore islands throughout the subarctics. In winter, generally pelagic in the same waters.

Field Notes: Medium-sized waterbird with black to dark-brown head, neck and back. White underparts with some dark streaking on the flanks. Bridled or ringed morph, restricted to the Atlantic, has white eye-ring and post-ocular stripe. Non-breeding adults have white on face and throat. Thick-billed Murre has a white line on the gape, is blacker on the back, and lacks streaked flanks. Razorbill more stocky, with stouter bill lined in white.

Personal Notes: Seen huddled in large clusters against the wind on the Latrabjarg cliffs in western Iceland.

Glaucous Gull

Scientific Name: Larus hyperboreus

Range / Habitat: Breeds in coastal areas of the circumpolar Arctic. Winters generally in costal areas slightly further south.

Field Notes: Large white gull with light grey mantle. Wingtips white, in contrast to most other grey-maltled gulls its size. Iceland Gull more dainty. Glaucous-winged Gull with grey or dusky wingtips in all plumages.

Personal Notes: Above photo from Isafjordur, Iceland.

Black-tailed Godwit

Scientific Name: Limosa limosa

Range / Habitat: Breeds in wet grassland throughout Europe and parts of Russia. Fully migratory. Winters in sheltered estuaries and inland wetlands in parts of southern Europe, northern Africa, Asia and Australia.

Field Notes: Large, leggy shorebird with long, straight bill, orange at base and dark at tip. Breeding plumage with rufous head, neck and breast, otherwise mottled brown. Tail with with black tip. Winter plumage is uniform grey-brown above and lighter below.

Personal Notes: Striking bird seen in the marshy grasslands throughout Iceland in summer.

Long-tailed Duck

Scientific Name: Clangula hyemalis

Range / Habitat: Breeds in ponds, streams, and other wetlands in the circumpolar Arctic. Winters on open ocean or on large freshwater lakes in northern latitudes.

Field Notes: Medium-sized diving duck. Mostly black-and-white plumage, varying throughout year in a series of complicated moults. Black wings in all plumages. Male has long central tail feathers and often a pink band near tip of black bill.

Personal Notes: Seen on Lake Myvatn in Iceland. Colloquially known as Oldsquaw.

Snow Bunting

Scientific Name: Plectrophenax nivalis

Range / Habitat: Breeds on rocky tundra in circumpolar Arctic. Winters in open weedy and grassy fields and along shores of lakes and oceans in northern latitudes of North America, Europe and Asia.

Field Notes: Small songbird with white head, chest and belly. Back black in males, more brown in females. Can have some brown in the face. Large white patch in wings. Unmistakable in range. 

Personal Notes: A surprise find at Godafoss waterfall in Iceland. We finally saw these birds in Minnesota on a March ride back from Ely to the Puppe's cabin.