Thursday, 30 January 2020

Advantages of Driving a Motorhome in Iceland

Motorhome rental Iceland advantages female camperIceland is home to many natural marvels that attract adventurous tourists from all over the world. In this Land of Fire and Ice, some opt to travel is by reserving a car rental. But after you've analyzed your rental options, if you want to travel in style and comfort the motorhome is your best choice. There are many advantages to driving a motorhome in Iceland because you are combining easy transport with housing.

Advantages of Driving a Motorhome in Iceland 

Traveling the Iceland roads by motorhome is a lavish method of travel since you will have access to several amenities. For example, you’ll have access to a bathroom and it will come in handy when driving along the Ring Road. Also on your journey, you will have the freedom to explore at your own pace versus a guided tour. Many landmarks require time to absorb such as the striking Gullfoss waterfall and the historic Thingvellir National Park. Now reserve your rental in Iceland and learn why motorhomes are the best way to travel through this island nation.

Luxury Motorhome in Iceland 

Traveling with a luxury motorhome in Iceland is like traveling in a portable hotel. Most motorhome rentals can hold 3 to 6 people and still allow them to feel comfortable. The standard size of motorhomes in Iceland includes a living room space and an area to have dinner. On cold nights you and your friends have room to cozy up indoors while enjoying the cabin heating system. It is also a great opportunity for bonding. Be sure to pack a deck of cards for a game night filled with jokes and lasting memories.

There is also a fully functional mini-kitchen or kitchenette equipped with a refrigerator and cooktop. Cooking and creating healthy meals is a great opportunity to save money on food. Iceland is notorious for being very expensive so finding ways to save money can help with purchases such as gas.

Motorhomes even provide a place for you to get a relaxing night of sleep under the stars. The beds convert into a seating area or there is an actual space for a real bed. Large motorhomes have space in the cabin for extra people to sleep in single beds in addition to the bedroom.

Now let's talk about the all-important bathroom. In Iceland when you are on an adventurous road trip, access to a toilet and shower is the ultimate indulgence. You can conveniently answer the “call” when nature calls. Take a shower when you need to and use the bathroom without the stress of finding a gas station. These lush motorhomes are ideal for long trips and large groups wanting to experience only an aspect of camping. In other words, they can enjoy “glamping” a term coined from the phrase glamorous camping.

Motorhome Iceland rental advantages scenic views

Iceland Motorhome Campsites 

There are many Iceland motorhome campsites found in urban areas like the capital city of Reykjavik. But you can find other locations immersed in nature near where you can go whale watching or spot beautiful puffins. Most camping sites will have amenities like showers, bathrooms, and places to relax and socialize with other campers. This will allow you to save water and even do your laundry. Then make sure to fill up the motorhome water tank and dump your septic black tank at the designated location.

At these campsites, you will see two recreational vehicles: the motorhome or camper van. The camper vans will look more like a van and is typically smaller than the motorhomes. Please note most campsites are open during fall and summer however few remain open in winter. But fortunately, there are a few locations that remain open all year.

In Northeast Iceland, the campsite Ásbyrgi Campground, commonly called Shelter of the Gods is very convenient. It’s spacious, has electrical hookups, and fully equipped bathroom facilities. You can even walk to the beautiful Vatnajökull National Park and take amazing photos. Unfortunately, Ásbyrgi Campground is only open from May to September.

Grindavik Campground is very close to the Keflavik International Airport and is an ideal last stop before your trip ends. This location has playgrounds, showers, toilets, and a place to cook. But most importantly, it has Internet access. On your last night, you can reflect on your journey, enjoy the great Icelandic outdoors, and relax.

Motorhomes vs. Campervans 

Motorhomes and campervans are both recreational vehicles. However, which rental option is better, a motorhome or campervan? There are pros and cons to both but it is highly dependent on your needs and preferences. Now that you know motorhomes can provide many amenities let’s discuss how campervan hire rental compares.

Unlike the accommodating motorhome, the modern camper van has been designed to be utilitarian and purely functional. Therefore, they are cheaper than a comfortable motorhome. Most campers come equipped with a mini kitchenette, stove, sleeping cots, curtains, and storage for camp gear. You will still feel connected to nature but will be more comfortable than sleeping directly outside.

Both vehicles are larger than an average-sized car so pay attention to road signs and only park in designated areas. Some campers have four-wheel drive, which will allow you to navigate all of the rugged Iceland terrain. This means you can traverse the rough Highland F-roads that are characterized by lava fields, rivers, and gravel. Motorhomes only come in a two-wheel drive. However, you could easily park your motorhome and book a Highlands Super Jeep tour with an expert driver.

Motorhome Iceland rental advantages beautiful landscapes

If you want to connect with nature but not compromise comfort you should select the motorhome. But if you want a purely functional vehicle then the camper van can work.

Motorhome Camping in Iceland 

Motorhome camping in Iceland is an amazing experience that will give you freedom. You are not confined to one location and can travel at your leisure in luxury. So park your motorhome in a beautiful campsite and appreciate the midnight sun or witness the dancing Northern Lights. Your adventure will be unforgettable.

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Friday, 24 January 2020

Icelandic Dried Fish: One of Our Best Snacks

Iceland is renowned as a place to have daring adventures by experiencing some of the world’s most authentic marvels. From sweeping Highland mountains to erupting volcanoes and geothermal hot springs to mesmerizing ice caves. Naturally, Iceland’s uniqueness extends to food. As an island country, fishing is an important part of our cuisine and exports. Icelanders mainly eat fresh fish but also our special dried fish. Icelandic dry fish is a traditional food that is popular among locals and is often called fish jerky. However, the Icelandic name for these tasty dried fish snacks is harðfiskur.

Icelandic dried fish with butter

Icelandic Dry Fish 

When you visit Iceland, make sure you try this local food. After you get past the strong fish smell, you will be surprised by the delicious flavor. Let’s learn more about how this fascinating food is made, traditional customs, and how to enjoy it.

A Brief Fishing History 

For centuries in early Iceland, the harsh environment made resources very scarce and limited our diet. Fortunately, access to the abundant North Atlantic Ocean provided an opportunity to fish.  Icelandic fishing has been a lifeline for this island nation and functions as both a main food source and an export product. Fish exports have been recorded as far back as the 12th century. Fishing will always be an integral part of Icelandic culture and history.

So naturally, in the present-day, fisheries are still one of the main sources of income for the Icelandic economy. Iceland’s fisheries have square footage that is seven times the size of Iceland. The fishery zone is 760,000 square kilometers or 293,437 square miles.

Before the start of the 19th century, grain was difficult to access. It had to be imported from other countries like Denmark, which made it too costly for most Icelanders. Any grain or flour they had was put in gruel and bread was a fleeting luxury. So instead of eating bread at meals, locals ate Icelandic dried fish with butter.

Icelandic Dried Fish with Butter 

Historically, Icelanders have eaten harðfiskur, which is a whole fish dried into long strips, with butter as a substitute for bread. But over time instead of being viewed as a necessity, dried fish with butter has become a popular snack. You may not believe this, but Icelandic dried fish with butter is absolutely delicious and makes it nicer to eat. The butter helps to soften the very dry meat and also complement its flavor.

Icelandic dried fish with butter

Locals also serve it at the beginning of the meal on a platter with bread, butter, and other meats. They treat it like a delicacy as well as popcorn. Especially the bite-sized pieces of dried fish called bitafiskur. However, you must chew very thoroughly before swallowing every time because it is still tough in texture.

Icelanders eat about 200 to 250 tons of dried fish that is made from 2.8 to 3 tons of fish. This is significantly high since it is eaten year-round and especially during the holidays.

A common time period to have dried fish and other traditional foods is at a festival called Þorrablót held during Þorri. Þorri is the fourth month of winter (mid-January through mid-February) according to the Icelandic calendar and means frost in Norse mythology.

Fish Jerky: A Traditional Icelandic Food 

Dried fish is often called fish jerky because of its tough texture. Traditionally, the fish was cleaned, gutted, and deboned. Then finally hung up to dry for up to 6 weeks outside in the salty Icelandic air at fish drying farms. Now with technology the drying process only takes 36 to 48 hours. After the fish has sufficiently dried it is beaten with a meat mallet to make it edible.

The fish typically used are cod, haddock, or catfish. Haddock and cod have a milder flavor. Catfish has the strongest smell so prepare for the robust scent when you open a bag of dried catfish. Either one you try, just dig in with some butter and you won’t regret it. Fish jerky is an Icelandic food you just might get hooked on!

Icelandic dried fish process

Icelandic Dried Fish Snacks 

Fish jerky are healthy snacks that provide a great source of protein. These dried fish snacks contain 100g of protein, which is about 80 to 85% of the recommended daily protein intake. For example, fresh haddock has 17 to 19% protein content but when it is dried, this amount increases to 75 to 80% protein content. The Icelandic dried fish snack also has many nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids. Studies show consuming fish jerky can help minimize the risk of stroke and heart disease.

You can easily try these snacks by buying a bag of dried fish jerky in local Icelandic grocery stores. It will be an adventure for your nose and taste buds. You might really enjoy it or hate it but it will definitely be an experience to remember. You should even bring a bag of them as a souvenir for your friends. It will certainly leave a strong impression on everyone.

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Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Dog Sledding in Iceland

Looking for a great adventure in Iceland? Are you a dog lover who can bear the cold and has a need for speed? Well then, dog sledding in Iceland might just be a fantastic option for you. Tourists can find many different options as there as several dog sledding agencies that operate within the country. Some packages offer self-guided tours, however this option can be expensive and is more for people who like to splurge. Tours are generally restricted to non-pregnant, solo riders weighing less than 95 kg (210 pounds) and older than 6 years of age.

Dog sledding in Iceland at sunset

Dog Sledding in Iceland

Dogsledding Iceland tours are available all year and are an interesting experience that feels different throughout each season. Some dog ride tours are only offered in winter over snow while others can take place on dry land. Either way, travellers are sure to have a unique experience being transported through the idyllic Icelandic landscape at high velocity. A half-day dog sledding tour normally encompasses at least a 45-minute guided dog ride as well as opportunities to take pictures. This entails time to snap shots of the scenery and also time to cuddle with your four-legged race team.

Sled Dog Breeds 

There are only three breeds of sled dog used to mush: Greenland dogs, Siberian huskies and Alaskan huskies. Each sled dog breed has its merits but the latter is considered the quintessential sled dog since they are built for speed. Alaskan huskies share genetic links with grey wolves and can maintain a speed of 31 km/hour over great distances. Equally, Siberian huskies are descendants of the original sled dog, bred by Chukchi people of east Siberia ages ago.

This breed was an important element in the survival of many ancient tribes, allowing them to cross swathes of land. Greenland dogs are typically heavy-built with high stamina and endurance and able to traverse most terrain with ease. No matter which breed you choose, all are sure to love a belly rub from mushers after a morning run.

Ethical Implications of Dog Sledding in Iceland 

Dog sledding in Iceland is a responsible industry as a whole with countless vets confirming that huskies love to run. Icelandic mushers seem to genuinely love their dogs and they try not to push them beyond their limits. From birth, pups are typically treated very well by being given healthy food, routine medical exams, and copious rest breaks.

Still, remember that they are not house pets and they don’t want to be treated like lapdogs either. Huskies have a pack mentality and living in kennels allows them to abide by those rules. From a young age, they are trained to pull sleds with a decent rest in between runs. For breeds with thinner fur training can begin in summer but more typically takes place in the autumn season.

The dogs pulling the sleds were literally born to run and pulling a sled is exactly what they love to do. Huskies are also a breed which require plenty of exercise and running is hardwired into their DNA. It’s the only thing they want to do in summer when it becomes very challenging to stop them from running.

Huskies have thick fur more suited for winter so when warmer weather hits, handlers must keep them from overexerting themselves. This could even happen by accident if the dogs are allowed to run freely as they would keep going until they dropped. Thus riders should be confident that by the end of their tour, these sled dogs will be gleefully wagging their tails. Make sure to give them a nice long belly rub and a treat for their efforts.

Iceland dog sledding Siberian husky

Iceland Dog Sledding Trips 

Iceland dog sledding trips are very exciting and quite popular. There are several husky tours available throughout this island nation and many can even accommodate small groups. Normally sleds can hold two people plus a guide but there are also bigger sleds for families with young children. Riders are able to switch positions throughout the tour, giving everyone the chance to experience dog sledding from the front. Most tours consist of the same itinerary where participants are guided by a professional musher who leads the sled team.

While the mushers remain in primary control of the sled during most tours, some others allow passengers more free reign. Participants can therefore learn how to steer the dogs themselves and halfway through the tour are given a photo opportunity. This includes time to get up close and personal with the dogs and to snap pictures of the Icelandic countryside. These photos will capture the moment perfectly.

The majority of dog sled tours take between 2 to 5 hours with only about an hour consisting of actual sledding. The tour will generally cover a trail of 5 to 8 km through glacial plains, mountain slopes and snowy pastures. This means prospective mushers should take precautions against the cold and wind burn by wearing appropriate attire to protect themselves. This should include multiple layers, thick undergarments, waterproof jacket and trousers, ankle-high hiking boots, hats, gloves, scarves and sunglasses. And don't forget the sunscreen. Be sure to wear all the winter accessories you would need to enjoy dog sledding to the fullest.

The Impact of Weather 

Interested parties should keep in mind that weather conditions strongly affect the availability of dog sled tours. Tour operators reserve the right to change a team sled tour to a scooter tour from lack of snow. This means instead of being pulled by a team of 4 to 8 dogs, passengers will be ushered by only 1 to 2 dogs. During warmer spells, this is more likely to happen so keep an eye out for snowy forecasts before you book.

Dog Sledding over Snow 

Dog sledding over snow is an activity that takes place between December-April when there is enough snow in the area. For those wishing to see the Northern Lights, this is also the best season to travel when visibility is best. Taking a sled tour in the Golden Circle is a great way to merge multiple activities on the South Coast.

This is a very popular tourist route as it's comprised of Thingvellir National Park, Gulfoss Waterfall and active geysers. Many tour operators advertise expeditions of 5 days plus along the 300 km (186 mile) route, which tends to include sled tours. Several tours operate out of kennels close to Reykjavík but only a few offer transport from the city to their site. Prospective mushers should consequently verify that their tour comes with pick-up from their accommodation before deciding on the best package.

For those wishing to travel Ring Road from North Iceland, then there’s the country’s “Capital of the North,” Akureyri. There are also multi-day tours that only focus on husky riding and might also involve other attractions in the region. Some of these include Lake Mývatn, Dimmuborgir lava fortress and the geothermal field of Hverir filled with hissing mud pools. If you’re lucky enough you might even catch a glimpse of some sets from the HBO series Game of Thrones.

Snowy landscapes while dog sledding in Iceland

Dog Sledding on Dry Land 

If you’ve decided to travel to Iceland for the summer months and are afraid of missing out, don’t worry! There are still various dog sled tours offered on dry land which is no added hindrance to the dogs. These breeds are used to running all year long and the equipment used by the professional mushers is typically wheeled. Instead of sleds, dog carts are often used and participants are then pulled by a strong team of 4 to 8 canines.

For intrigued dog lovers and summer travellers, these tours are normally available from April through November when there is almost no snow. However, the difference in weather has little bearing on tour prices. The cost is about the same as tours in the winter over pristine white snow. Either way, participants are guaranteed to enjoy the experience and to end the day by cuddling their furry guides.

The Final Verdict 

Regardless of when you want to have an Iceland travel adventure, there will be a tour agency available for your convenience. The most economic tours begin around 16,000 ISK (128.97 USD) but others can easily reach 25,000 ISK (201.52 USD). This can depend on the amenities included as well as the location as those to the North are better priced. For those willing to spend extra cash, this is sure to be the experience of a lifetime so book today.

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Friday, 17 January 2020

An Iceland Honeymoon: 7 Great Ideas

Looking for a romantic vacation after all the stress of planning your wedding and reception?  If you and your new husband or wife are nature lovers who love outdoor activities, maybe you should visit Iceland. The Land of Fire and Ice is home to careening waterfalls, fiery volcanoes, charred lava fields, bubbling hot springs, and icy glaciers. An Iceland honeymoon could be the perfect start to your marriage and the beginning of the rest of your lives. Let's take a look at some ideas for couples during a honeymoon in Iceland.

Iceland honeymoon couple watching Northern Lights

An Iceland Honeymoon: Pampering for Two at the Blue Lagoon

The world's famous Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa that is one of Iceland's most visited attractions. Of course, if you're honeymooning in Iceland, the last thing you want to do is be surrounded by hundreds of tourists taking selfies. That's why I recommend a visit to the Retreat Spa at the Blue Lagoon. The package includes access to the intimate Retreat Lagoon filled with mineral-rich, geothermally heated water. It's the perfect escape for the bathrobe and massage-loving crowd.

Hold Hands Walking on Vik’s Black Sand Beaches

The misty atmosphere and volcanic black sand beaches of Reynisfjara Beach are one of a kind. A cool experience of your honeymoon in Iceland and new life together can be walking hand-in-hand along these haunted shores. Be sure to check out the hexagonal Basalt column cliff face for an even more out of this world experience. And if you're looking for a place to stay nearby, the newly-opened Black Beach Luxury Suites provide both intimacy and get you close to nature.

Honeymooning in Iceland: Glacier Hiking 

This is a great idea for the ultimate adventure-loving couple on their post-nuptial vacation. Everyone knows that Iceland is famous for its glaciers, which cover around 11% of the surface area of the island. There are tons of activities related to our massive ice sheets, and surely you'll find one that works for you. The first is to do a glacier hike somewhere like Skaftafell.

There's also ice caving as well as a caving tour of the glacier caverns that rest below the surface of the expansive sheets of ice. You'll no doubt feel a sense of accomplishment and want to give your honey a kiss once you've reached the top. These are the types of memories that will make you remember your Iceland honeymoon forever.

Iceland honeymoon couple on glacier hike

Honeymoon in Iceland: The Northern Lights 

If you decide to take your honeymoon in Iceland Between the months of October through March, you're in for a special treat. Not only will you save money on everything from restaurants to accommodation, but Mother Nature also has something in store for you. Because you'll be traveling during Northern Lights season, you'll get the chance to enjoy the dazzling light show that illuminates the heavens every night.

The Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights, are natural phenomenon you absolutely don't want to miss. There's nothing more romantic than watching waves of turquoise, emerald, and amethyst dance across the sky. And because you'll be here during a time when it's typically colder, that's all the more reason to snuggle up close and stay warm. Not that you would need an excuse to do that, but honeymooning in Iceland certainly is a convenient one.

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon 

Once you find your soulmate, it often feels like the only thing you want to do is be with that person. You don't even have to talk in order to enjoy each other's company. The beautiful floating icebergs at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon will take your breath away and you can stand still marveling at them together.

It's possible to watch from the shore but it's even more of an adventure to take a ride on one of the boats that go into the water.  You'll get up close with the ice as you float among the white ghosts in the glacial lake. Bring some binoculars as well so you can appreciate the wildlife and lagoon seals.

And don't forget to head across the street to visit the Diamond Beach. This is another black sand volcanic beach, but with one particularly striking feature. The chunks of ice that have floated out to sea from Jökulsárlón occasionally make their way back to shore. The result is a shoreline scattered with sparkling pieces of ice, some as large as SUVs. It's quite a spectacular sight to behold.

Take a Road trip from Reykjavik

While some newlyweds choose to spend their time having an adventure around Iceland Ring Road, others prefer to just relax.  whether you choose to take a road trip around the island or chill out in the capital city is entirely up to you. That being said, there's definitely a day trip or two that I highly recommend. And if you have the light of the Midnight Sun in the summer, you'll have even more hours to explore while honeymooning in Iceland.

The first one that I recommend is to do the Golden Circle tourist circuit. This route loops around from Reykjavik and visits exciting highlights such as Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall, Haukadalur Valley and more. The Reykjadalur hot springs and geothermally-heated river are also a fun, off-the-beaten-path destination.

And of course, you should definitely take advantage of being in Iceland's capital, at least for one or two nights. We've got a thriving nightlife scene as well as a wide selection of fine dining establishments. From modern takes on Icelandic cuisine to fusion style cooking to excellent wine selections, we've got it all.

Iceland honeymoon Reykjavik fine dining

Honeymoon Iceland Outdoor Ideas 

For those looking to enjoy the great outdoors with an unusual activity, have you ever thought about taking a horseback excursion? Horse riding is extremely popular here and you'll get to know our famous Icelandic horses. They are the direct descendants of the equines used by the Vikings, so they have noble blood.

Mounting one of these small steeds and riding through the wild Icelandic countryside is not only romantic but not something everyone does. Though these horses are small, whatever you do, don't call them ponies. They are proud Icelandic horses with a distinctive gate and you'll enjoy getting to know them. They are a unique breed that you won't encounter anywhere else on Earth.  You'll have a professional guide leading you and educating you about this fascinating animal.

Try Something New 

Coming to Iceland after you get married is not something initially on most couples' radars. But the more you think about it and the more you learn, the more appealing the idea becomes. Talk to your partner to see if this just might be the perfect destination for you.

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Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Birds of Iceland

Iceland is famously known as the Land of Fire and Ice with jarring contrasts such as frozen waterfalls and natural hot springs. However, in recent years Iceland has steadily become an alluring location for the joys of bird watching. Bird enthusiasts worldwide quickly flocked to this Nordic island when the many majestic birds of Iceland were discovered.

Birds of Iceland in Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon

About 85 different species nest year-round, however roughly 330 species total have been recorded in Iceland. This stunning country has several picturesque locations for anyone interested in bird watching. For example, the beautiful Lake Mývatn scenery in North Iceland and the dynamic Reykjanes Peninsula are both memorable places for bird sightings. Puffin birds in Iceland are especially popular. Let’s dive into the most common species of birds and more places to spot them.

Puffin Birds in Iceland 

Iceland has the largest puffin population in the Atlantic and is rightfully considered the puffin capital of the world. There are about 10 million adorable puffins in Iceland and they are often seen casually walking around when in season. Bird enthusiasts and scientists alike, all travel to Iceland specifically to see this intriguing species in person. Puffin watching has also become a general tourist attraction because the birds are beautiful and friendly.

It’s easy to personify them with their expressive eyes, clumsy walk, and bright beaks. As a result of their funny demeanor, they have been often nicknamed “clowns of the sea.” They also mirror some human social bonds by raising their baby chicks as a couple and nesting as lifelong partners.

Most of the year, puffins live on the surface of the ocean. Puffins only come to shore when they need to reproduce and raise their chicks. You can easily spot the popular Atlantic puffins in very large groups during the summer season. Therefore, prime puffin watching season is from May to early September. In summer, they nest in the exact location they were born and only nest with other puffins nearby.

The female puffins produce a single egg and it takes up to 45 days for the chick to hatch. During this time the parents take turns nesting the egg. After six weeks the chick will mature quickly and can function on its own. Puffins have long lifespans for birds and average between 20 to 25 years of life.

How to Watch Puffins Responsibly 

Puffin watching is a great opportunity to feel connected with nature and have a genuine Icelandic experience. Puffins are very eye-catching and fun to watch during their summer nesting season. Just imagine a sea of birds with brightly colored beaks, freely toddling around, and showing no fear of humans. They will even walk up to you if you are close and it can be tempting to reach out and touch them.

However, we must protect the Atlantic puffin population with responsible tourism. Here are a few rules to make sure you have a great time while simultaneously protecting the puffins. If you want to know how to watch puffins responsibly, please follow our guidelines. Under no circumstances, barring an emergency, should you touch a puffin or feed them. Their feathers have special properties to deflect water and touching them ruins this process. Puffins are also highly skilled at securing their own food.

When you are puffin watching, always approach them quietly and slowly to avoid disturbing their daily routine. If watching from a boat, keep a safe distance to limit noise from the engine. If you are coming from a cliff, avoid the edge because you could step on one of their nesting tunnels. Thus crushing eggs and causing them harm. This also poses a danger for tourists because you could fall if you step through a tunnel by the cliff edge.

The best way to see puffins is to pretend to be a nature photographer and silently watch them from a safe distance. Overall, be respectful of their habitat and personal space.

Birds of Iceland puffin with eels

Where You Can Spot Puffins 

Iceland boasts the best places to observe the fascinating Atlantic puffins up close. But where can you spot puffins? You can see large groups of many different species of nesting birds throughout the island. You can rent a car and drive to see them up close or take a boat tour.

For example, you can take a boat tour from the capital city of Reykjavík to visit two neighboring islands. The boat ride is short and when you arrive the two scenic islands are called Akurey and Lundey. However, they are more commonly called the Puffin Islands because large colonies of puffin birds nest there. The two islands also house other bird species such as Arctic terns, seagulls, and eider ducks. It’s a stunning sight to see.

In South Iceland along the coast, there are more spectacular sites such as the Westmann Islands. The Westmann Islands are unique because they contain the largest puffin colony in the whole world. One-fifth of total puffin population nests on this island year after year.

In the Northwestern part of Iceland, there are several places to see puffins as well. Go visit the stunning Hornbjarg Cliffs and the Nature Reserve Park of Hornstrandir for close viewings. The puffins are very trusting at the Hornstrandir Park because it is protected land and has no history of poaching. Puffins are considered a vulnerable species because they have been used as a food source for the local people. Therefore, be respectful as you take photos and observe these beautiful creatures.

Iceland’s National Bird 

The popularity of the Atlantic puffins may have you believe they are the national bird of Iceland. However, Iceland's national bird is, in fact, the Gyrfalcon. The Gyrfalcons are the top predators in the sky known for their lethal precision hunting skills. They mainly eat seabirds, waterfowl, and sometimes rabbits. The Gyrfalcon skills made them a valuable falconry export from the medieval era. These are powerful birds that entice bird watchers from all over the world to come study in person.

Gyrfalcons are the largest falcons in the species. Male gyrfalcons have a wingspan of 48 to 61cm (19 to 24 inches. However, the female gyrfalcons are interestingly larger with a wingspan of 51 to 65cm (20 to 24 inches). They are found throughout the Arctic region but mainly in Iceland. Their plumage is different per location and can be brown, black, white, dark grey or silver. Gyrfalcons are unique because they lay their eggs inside cliff faces and rocky holes. Then they produce 3 to 5 eggs per breeding season.

Since Gyrfalcons nest inside cliffs, in Iceland they are mostly located in the Highlands, and the East Fjords and West Fjords. Gyrfalcons are also found in the North, like at the picturesque Vatnajökull National Park, which has the famous Dettifoss waterfall. Dettifoss waterfall is said to be the most powerful waterfall in all of Europe. Visiting these gorgeous sites to witness the majestic Gyrfalcon take flight is a memory of a lifetime.

Birds of Iceland national bird Gyrfalcon

Bird Watching in Iceland 

There are over 330 species of birds you can enjoy beyond the popular puffins and the national bird. Bird watchers should be excited to see the brightly colored Golden Plover because it signifies spring has arrived. They usually appear from mid-March until late September. The cheerful Golden Plover, loud Long Tailed Duck, colorful Harlequin Duck, and graceful Whooper Swan can all be found in one place. By the bird watching paradise called Lake Mývatn.

Red-Throated Diver is another common bird that is easily seen throughout spring and summer. They have a red throat during breeding season but then are grey in the winter. They can found throughout Iceland.

White-Tailed Eagles are the largest birds in Iceland with a 2.5m wingspan, which is just over 8 feet. These regal birds feast on fish, other birds, and even lamb. They faced extinction but then protective actions were taken to preserve the species. The preservation center is in the West Fjords. Unfortunately, the Great Auk wasn’t protected and is now extinct.

The steady Rock Ptarmigan lives in Iceland year-round and prefers walking instead of flying. Their protection comes from changing their plumage with the seasons, white in winter and brown in summer. They are a popular holiday dish for Icelanders and can only be hunted for a few days in the year. They can be found in the sprawling Skaftafell Nature Reserve and Hrísey Island.

Bird watching is a popular activity for a reason, you can witness nature in motion, and learn something new. Now take out your camera because your bird watching adventure is waiting.

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Friday, 3 January 2020

Okjökull Glacier Extinction: A Warning to Future Generations

One of the biggest threats we face in the 20th century is the growing climate crisis.  It's something that has been in the back of our minds for a while now. The increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has led to steadily increasing temperatures and a more visible impact on the environment. Okjökull glacier is the first Icelandic ice sheet to lose its status as a glacier.

Okjokull extinction and melting glaciers in Iceland

Okjokull Glacier 

As you can imagine, it was quite a shock to have a glacier lost to climate change. In the 1890s, the ice cap covered 16 square kilometers (6.2 square miles.). This number was reduced to just over half a square kilometer in 2012.

The melted ice of Okjokull glacier is symbolic of a larger problem that is an imminent threat to our future. Glaciers are expected to continue melting at faster and faster rates. This rapid decline requires action, and fast. Climate scientists estimate that in 200 years all our country's glaciers will follow the same path as this former Icelandic glacier.

Iceland Glacier Retreat 

It is the sincere hope of many that Okjokull will be the last Icelandic glacier to lose its official status. With Iceland losing around 11 billion tons of ice every year, Rice University professor Cymene Howe estimates everything will disappear by 2200. That’s more than 400 glaciers which will either become dead ice or disappear completely. This is a scary and sobering prediction, especially since glaciers currently cover around 11% on a map of glaciers in Iceland.

Ice caps around the world are either dying or being lost to warmer than average temperatures and we must take action soon. Icelandic Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir has heard the warning call. The glacier was officially declared extinct by Iceland geologist Oddur Sigurðsson in 2014. We generally don't see the day to day effects of climate change. But the loss of this Iceland glacier is a very real, very visual reminder that it is happening.

As a way to shine a light on the topic, Icelanders and climate change activists held the funeral for the fallen glacier. They commemorated the loss with an event held on August 18th, 2019. Around 100 people gathered in Western Iceland on the site of the barren terrain which was once covered by the massive ice sheet. Not ironically, the ceremony took place just following the warmest July ever recorded.

The Funeral for an Icelandic Glacier 

A bare rock was chosen as the symbolic home for a bronze plaque which contains a letter to the future. In both Icelandic and English it states:

“In the next 200 years all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it”.

Author Andri Snaer Magnason was tasked with writing the eulogy for this Icelandic glacier.

The monument is to acknowledge that humanity is at the tipping point. We hope to actively engage and work together to solve this serious problem together. Some attendees were the aforementioned prime minister of Iceland along with former Irish president Mary Robinson. Ms. Robinson has also worked as a UN Human Rights commissioner. They were joined by some local scientists and researchers along with some American colleagues who pushed for the commemoration project.

How do melting glaciers affect the planet? 

The effects of melting glaciers may not be seen as they happen quite slowly over time. But when looking at before and after satellite photos of ice caps, it's clear that the ice is slowly disappearing. It's a sad and shocking sight that will turn even the most ardent climate change denier into a believer. They can see it with their own two eyes.

Okjokull glacier has melted like others as climate change displaces polar bears

And of course, we've all seen those poor, suffering polar bears. They're either unable to find ice to walk on or we can see their bones because they are starving. As they fail to adapt to their quickly changing environment, the potential extinction of these gorgeous creatures is one of the disastrous consequences of melting glaciers.

Another significant problem is the rising sea levels that link directly back to excessive fossil fuel usage by the human population. As the ice melts, it flows into the ocean and inch by inch towns and coastal cities are slowly overtaken. The sea is currently rising at around one-tenth of an inch every year. While this rate may not seem like a lot, it adds up quickly and accelerates over time.

Shorelines move further and further inland and millions are impacted around the globe. Not only are people being displaced from their homes, but cities are also being submerged, food and water supplies are threatened, and the global economy is disrupted.

As carbon dioxide (CO2) continues to choke our planet, things will only continue to get worse. The youth of today are even stating that we need to declare a global public emergency and take drastic steps. After all, it is future generations will feel the disastrous consequences of climate change the most strongly.

Pollution and climate have melted Okjokull glacier

The Okjökull Glacier Extinction 

We are living out climate change in real-time. Events like the Okjökull glacier extinction act as the canary in the coal mine to remind us that we don't have forever to change course. While places like Iceland are the first to feel the effects, other, less direct events like strong hurricanes and wildfires also linked directly to global warming. If our politicians aren't willing to do something about it, we the people need to take things into our own hands and take action.

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