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Shoveler Whooper swan & cygnets Eider Ducks Red breasted Meganser Red Throated Diver


There are believed to be around 150 species of wildfowl in the world of which 19 breed regularly in Iceland. The whooper swan (cygnus cygnus) is the largest, the harlequin duck the smallest. Lying in the north Atlantic, midway between Europe and America, Iceland attracts migrants from both continents. The Barrow’s golden eye (bucephala islandica) and the harlequin duck (histrionicus histrionicus), which are American species, breed in Iceland but nowhere else in Europe as does the great northern diver (gavia immer).

Whooper swans

In addition to the regular breeding birds, there are sightings of occasional visitors. This spring we saw a pair of garganey (anas querquedula), more at home in sub-Saharan Africa, on a coastal lagoon in East Iceland. The best time to see wildfowl is between April and July when the males are in their full breeding plumage. The females of all species tend to be many shades of brown to provide some camouflage whilst nesting.

However, even the females have brightly coloured or white wing flashes thought to help the birds group together during migration. In August and September the birds moult and become flightless for up to 2 weeks. The resulting ‘eclipse’ plumage is often rather drab and the birds more difficult to identify. Lake Mývatn in northern Iceland is one of the best locations to see wildfowl in western Europe. The lake is shallow, fed by geothermal springs and has abundant food supplies.

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