Iceland

A photo tour in the land of ice and fire

Harlequin Ducks are some of Iceland's most photogenic subjects and we will spend some time trying to do them justice (Mike Watson).

Harlequin Ducks are some of Iceland's most photogenic subjects and we will spend some time trying to do them justice (Mike Watson).


Thursday 1st June - Saturday 10th June 2017
(10 days)

Leader: Mike Watson
Group Size Limit: 8


Potential photographic highlights

  • Point blank photogenic phalaropes during an overnight stay on the lovely island of Flatey.
  • Outrageous drake Harlequin ducks shooting rapids on fast flowing upland streams.
  • Smart Barrow's Goldeneyes at their only breeding site in Europe.
  • Breeding plumaged Horned (or Slavonian) Grebes and Common Loons (aka Great Northern Divers) on remote lakes.
  • A profusion of shorebirds, many unconcerned at our presence, from noisy whimbrels and godwits to golden plovers and more.
  • Seabird colonies on impressive basalt cliffs including the high arctic breeding Brünnich's Guillemot.
  • Arctic and Great Skua colonies (and hopefully Long-tailed as well).
  • Two very well organised whale watching trips with a 90%+ success rate for Humpback and/or Minke Whales.
  • Awesome volcanic landscapes, coastal scenery and waterfalls.

Iceland is truly a land of ice and fire and is one of the world's most spectacular destinations (one of the reasons its landscapes have featured in so many films and TV dramas, like the recent 'Game of Thrones' for instance).  It is one of Europe’s last great tracts of unspoilt wilderness, a place where a tapestry of enormous ice-caps, rushing waterfalls, spouting geysers, brooding volcanoes, lush green meadows and vast plains of lava combine to create some of the most stunning and varied scenery found anywhere on earth. This large island marks the meeting place of two continents, a point on the planet where two tectonic plates split, Europe and America separate, and the Old World meets the New. As if all this was not enough, Iceland also enjoys summers filled with photogenic wildlife!

Our journey will take us from Reykjavík in the southwest to the idyllic island of Flatey in Breiðafjörður, with its profusion of tame nesting birds that include numerous Red-necked Phalaropes, Arctic Terns and Common Eiders. We also have a fair chance of getting close to a Red Phalarope here. Next up is the rugged Snaefellsnes Peninsula and its spectacular volcanic scenery and seabird colonies that include Brünnich's Guillemots amongst the many Common Guillemots and Razorbills. We will then make our way to northeast Iceland in search of Harlequin Ducks, Barrow's Goldeneyes, Horned (or Slavonian) Grebes, Common Loons (or Great Northern Divers) and yet more Red-necked Phalaropes in the Lake Myvatn area. We will not have to search too hard! We should also see (but we also have a slim chance to get close to) the magnificent Gyrfalcon here. The surrounding areas have colonies of Arctic and Great Skuas and even a very small number of Long-tailed Skuas. During our time in the northeast we will also make two whale watching boat trips from the little port of Husavík as well as to visit Detifoss, Iceland's biggest waterfall (by volume) plus yet more amazing volcanic scenery. Eventually we will return to Reykjavík via Iceland's 'golden triangle' of attractions, Gulfoss waterfall, the geysers of Geysir (where the word geyser comes from!) and the spectacular site of the first parliament at Þingvellir.

We will focus mostly on bird photography on this tour but there will also be plenty of opportunity to shoot landscapes as well as whales on two very well organised whale watching trips out of Husavík. The number of bird species is not high but the ones we will concentrate on more than make up for this in terms of looks, tameness and lovely settings. Although we follow more or less the same route as our Birdquest division's birding tour of Iceland we will spend more time in the most productive areas for photography and all of our time on getting close to photographic subjects rather than birding, as well as having an overnight stay on Flatey.

We also ought to mention the spotless, comfortable hotels, tasty home-cooked food  and the unbelievably friendly Icelandic folk that add so much to this classic photo journey.

Itinerary

Day 1   The tour will start this afternoon at Keflavík international airport near Reykjavík, and from here we will travel northwestwards to the small port of Stykkishólmur on the shores of Breiðafjörður (= 'Spreading Fjord'), a 50km wide bay on Iceland's west coast for a one night stay. We should arrive in time for an evening photography session, during which we will search for shorebirds in (weather permitting!) golden evening light as well as Rock Ptarmigans, which breed at sea level here. Stykkishólmur is a small port, established as a trading post in the middle ages. Apart from fishing it's main income is now derived from tourism and most importantly it is here that the ferry departs for idyllic little Flatey (= 'Flat Island').

Day 2   This morning we will take the ferry Baldur (= 'Baldy!') that crosses the bay to the island of Flatey, home to some of the only breeding pairs of Red Phalarope left in Iceland. This small island is alive with breeding birds and we shall enjoy a truly intimate and dynamic encounter with its inhabitants. We will also have the pleasure of staying overnight here in a delightful little hotel. Like the other pretty painted wooden buildings in the old village, it has been tastefully restored in a traditional style. Flatey was home to an Augustine monastery established in the 12th century but later grew to be a thriving settlement and a centre for art and literature. The Flateyjarbók, (the Book of Flatey), one of the most important of the ancient Icelandic Viking sagas, was preserved here in the Middle Ages. Although the human population has dwindled since the 19th century its avian inhabitants continue to thrive. It is home to 35 species of breeding bird and of particular interest to us will be its phalaropes. Red-necked is common all over the island and can be watched at eye level on some very photogenic small pools. However, we will need luck to photograph Red Phalarope on their occasional visits to the areas of the island accessible to human visitors during the summer breeding season. In contrast Arctic Terns are everywhere, as are smart Common Eiders, Common Redshank, Oystercatcher and Snow Bunting, many of which can be found in very nice situations. Although Puffin and Shag are on the locals' menu they can also still be found here. The tiny island itself lives up to its name and is only 16m at its highest point and 20m wide at its narrowest! It only takes around 20 minutes to walk its entire length (if you can manage to drag yourself away from the delicious cakes at the hotel that is) and wandering around Flatey, camera in hand, is a must for anyone interested in bird photography. A stay on Flatey is a real highlight and it is one of the nicest places we have visited anywhere in the world.

Day 3   After a morning of photography on Flatey we will eventually tear ourselves away from its wildlife in time to catch the ferry back to Stykkishólmur in the early afternoon. Once back on the mainland we will make our way west along the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. This long finger of land is one of the most enchanting regions in Iceland. Nearing the western edge of the peninsula, we will pass the stunning Snaefellsjökull volcano and glacier, which rises majestically from the adjacent coastline to a height of 1500 metres. The glacier is extremely beautiful and reputedly endowed with great powers: it was the source of inspiration for Jules Verne’s world famous adventure novel 'Journey to the Centre of The Earth'. We shall make our way to the windswept cliff tops on the peninsula's western tip, where we will photograph the breeding colonies of seabirds that include Common Guillemots (or Common Murres), Razorbills and Atlantic Puffins, which here share their ledges with small numbers of Brünnich’s Guillemots (or Thick-billed Murres). The lichen-covered lava fields inland of the cliffs are home to ptarmigans and Snow Buntings and tiny copses of stunted trees along the peninsula hold Common Redpolls and Redwings of the distinctive local Icelandic forms. We may even spot an Orca from the cliffs here, although they are more commonly seen here in the winter months when they follow herring shoals. We will spend the night towards the western end of the peninsula at the small village Hellisandúr.

Day 4   After some morning photography we will leave behind the snow-capped volcanoes of the western fjords, and travel northeast to Husavík, where we will stay for five nights.

Days 5–8  We will make several visits to the world famous Lake Myvatn area ('Lake of the flies' but hopefully we will be a little too early for the main swarms!). Lake Myvatn is shallow and nutrient-rich and sustains an exceptionally large number and variety of breeding wildfowl. No fewer than 16 species of duck breed at this site including some of Europe’s only breeding Barrow’s Goldeneyes. We will also focus on getting close to outrageously plumaged drake Harlequin Ducks, which breed on rushing upland streams here, beautiful Horned (or Slavonian) Grebes as well as magnificent Common Loons (or Great Northern Divers) both of which can also be found on remote lakes in this area. We can expect more smart Red-necked Phalaropes here, either on the main lake itself or the pools around its shore, twirling back and forth, catching numerous hatching midge larvae. The Myvatn area is one of the best sites on the island to see the magnificent Gyr Falcon and although we can only realistically expect distant views we know some good places to see this magnificent bird. Other birds which we will look for in the area include the superb Long-tailed Skua (or Long-tailed Jaeger). The terrain, as in most of Iceland, shows much sign of volcanic activity and we shall stop to admire the basaltic ‘volcanic castles’ at Dimmuborgir and the boiling mud pools and sulphur-encrusted pools at Krafla, an active volcano.

While based in Húsavík, located on the north coast of Iceland only 80 kilometres south of the Arctic Circle, we will take two of the incredibly well-organised whale-watching trips into the cold waters of Skjálfandi (= 'shaky') Bay, where we will have an excellent chance of seeing  both Humpback and Minke Whales against a dramatic backdrop of snow-capped mountains. Minke is the smallest of the northern baleen whales and good numbers visit the bay every summer to gorge on the bountiful supply of shoaling fish. Humpback Whales are also common here and in fact the whale-watching trips here are so well-organised that they have a 90%+ success rate of whale sightings at this time of year. The whales often put on a great spectacle for observers and behavior such as spy-hopping, breaching and lunge feeding by the Humpbacks is regularly observed. The Minkes are usually less extrovert and a forward dive is often all they will offer. This is also an opportunity to watch the playful White-beaked Dolphin and there is even a small chance to see the largest creature, which has ever lived, Blue Whale, however, we will need to be lucky to coincide with one of their infrequent summer visits to 'shaky' bay.

We will make several other excursions in the northeast, one to visit a remote Great Skua (or 'Bonxie') colony on a desolate lava plain, where its residents are sure to come and take a look at us! We will also admire some of the geological features of the northeast including a meeting place of the North Atlantic tectonic plates as well as the impressive Dettifoss, Iceland's largest waterfall by volume. At 100 metres wide and 45 metres tall the falls carry the thundering flow of the Jökulsá á Fjöllum, a meltwater river from the Vatnajökull glacier, Iceland's largest ice cap. The falls were featured in the 2012 science-fiction film Prometheus, as a landscape on a primordial Earthlike planet.

Day 9   We will leave the northeast today and retrace our steps westwards and southwards. Eventually we will reach the small settlement of Gulfoss where we will spend the night. Just north of the settlement is the spectacular waterfall on the Hvitá River that gives its name to the area, which we will naturally stop to photograph. Let's pray for some interesting evening light!

Day 10   This morning we will have time to experience the impressive Strokkur (‘The Churn’) geyser at Geysir, which shoots a column of boiling water up to 20-30 metres high every 10 minutes or so. Just before the waterspout the geyser forms a beautiful dome of water that is equally photogenic. We will also visit the very scenic outdoor setting of Iceland’s first parliament at Þingvellir. This was chosen for both its dramatically beautiful setting beside the Þingvallabvatn lake and for its acoustics, and served as the site for the Icelandic parliament from 930 to 1798. The area is also fascinating from a geological standpoint as a place where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet, with some impressive fissures and cliffs at the fault line. The tour ends in the early afternoon at Keflavik airport.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels are of a good standard throughout and all rooms have private bathrooms, except for Husavík, where some bathrooms are shared. Road transfers are by SUV or minibus. Roads are good where sealed but this tour will also involve some driving on Iceland's famous but well maintained gravel roads.

Walking: The walking effort is easy throughout.

Climate: The weather is very changeable, with sunny periods alternating with wet and overcast conditions. Temperatures range from cold to fairly warm.

Photographic Equipment: For bird photography we recommend an effective focal length of 500mm+. The use of a tripod is also recommended at times. For whales we recommend an effective focal length of anything from 70-500mm depending on how much background you want to include. Some of the whale encounters can be fairly close. We also recommend a short wide angle lens (up to 35mm effective focal length) for landscape photography and there will be plenty of good opportunities for slow exposures/time lapse photography like waterfalls, coastal scenery and most likely interesting clouds. Alternatively, you can get wonderful results with a high quality digital compact camera with an optical zoom. If you have questions about what equipment you ought to bring, please contact us.

Reykjavík city breaks: Reykjavík is one of the world's most endearing capital cities. With a population of just over 121,000, it is just about the same size as Watford! It is consequently more like a provincial town and it has a reputation as a centre of arts, museums and culture as well as dining out and partying! We can easily arrange extra nights for you in Reykjavík in connection with the tour and you can also be picked up there en route to Stykkisholmúr or dropped off there after the end of the tour. Please contact the Wild Images office for details.

These are confirmed prices

Important Information for Pound Payers: Kindly note that the prices shown here are based on post-EU-referendum exchange rate reality, unlike many tour operators who are still showing prices based on hugely higher and very outdated pre-referendum exchange rates. Consequently you can rest assurred that we will not have to adjust these prices upwards at invoicing, unless the Pound falls significantly further, and if there is a significant recovery by the Pound you will receive the benefit by way of a price reduction.

Tour Price: £2870, €3390, $3760 Keflavík (Reykjavík)/ Keflavík (Reykjavík).

Price includes all transportation, all accommodations, all meals, all excursions, all entrance fees, leader services. Tips at the hotel are not included. Price based on minimum 4 participants.

Base prices for this tour are determined in Euros, the currency in which we pay for most tour services. The exchange rates applied at the time of costing were: £1 = €1.180 and €1 = $1.110. For those not paying us in Euros, prices will be adjusted (either downwards or upwards) at the time of invoicing should there be a significant change in the exchange rate. See booking information.

Single Room Supplement: £333, €393, $436.

Deposit: £350, €400, $450.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency can arrange your air travel in connection with the tour from a departure point anywhere in the world, or you may arrange your own air travel if you prefer. We can tailor-make your itinerary to your personal requirements, so if you would like to travel in advance of the tour (and spend a night in an hotel so you will feel fresh when the tour starts), or return later than the end of the tour, or make a side trip to some other destination, or travel business class rather than economy, we will be happy to assist. Please contact us about your air travel requirements.

A delightful Eurasian Whimbrel in a sea of Alpine Bartsia (Mike Watson).

A delightful Eurasian Whimbrel in a sea of Alpine Bartsia (Mike Watson).

The mighty Strokkur geyser gets ready to blow. This weird alien-like dome of water is perhaps more impressive than the actual blow? (Mike Watson).

The mighty Strokkur geyser gets ready to blow. This weird alien-like dome of water is perhaps more impressive than the actual blow? (Mike Watson).

X

e-Newsletter Signup

Keep up-to-date with all the latest news from our tours around the world as well as other news and competitions with our quarterly e-Newsletter.

Sign up filling in the fields below. All form fields are required.

Your Contact Details
  • To help us reduce the amount of spam we receive please answer the simple sum: