Bird Migrates West From Iceland, East from Scandinavia

Red-necked phalarope migration patterns

An international study has found that red-necked phalaropes which breed in Iceland have a completely different migration pattern from their cousins in Scandinavia and Russia. While the Icelandic breeders migrate west to winter by the eastern Pacific, their Scandinavian and Russian cousins travel east to the Arabian Sea. Due to the challenge of studying small birds at sea, the migration patterns of the bird were elusive until recently.

Red-necked phalarope.
[/media-credit] Red-necked phalarope.

The red-necked phalarope is a relatively small bird, measuring around 18cm (7.1in) in length and weighing about 35g (1.2oz) on average. Remarkably, members of the species which breed in Iceland and other parts of the north-eastern North Atlantic migrate around 10,000km (6,200mi) oversea to their wintering grounds. Their Nordic and Russian cousins, however, were found to migrate 6,000km (3,700mi) southeast to the Arabian Sea, a migration route that lies mostly over land.

Longer migration, longer wings

Red-necked phalaropes that fly west to winter in the Pacific were found to have proportionally longer wings – unsurprisingly, perhaps, as their migration route is significantly longer. The species is one of the last to return to Iceland in the spring, where it is first spotted, on average, on May 8. The species is probably best known for its unusual mating system, with reversed sex roles where polyandry takes place and the male cares for eggs and chicks.

The results of the study can read online in English.

Bus Travel is Free in Reykjavík Today

Public bus in Reykjavík

Reykjavík’s public bus service Strætó is offering free trips on its buses today in an effort to reduce pollution. Riders can access a free day pass using the Strætó app (under the “My Tickets” tab). High levels of particulate pollution are expected in Reykjavík in the coming days.

“There is a big chance of air pollution exceeding health limits today,” reads a notice on Strætó’s website. Particulate pollution is often highest in Reykjavík during spring due to a combination of dry weather conditions and studded tires, among other factors. Strætó’s initiative is a pilot project intended to encourage Reykjavík residents to reduce pollution by leaving cars at home.

Jóhannes Svavar Rúnarsson, managing director of Strætó told RÚV it is undecided whether the initiative will be repeated. “It costs Strætó a considerable amount of money if it goes well, so we just have to evaluate it with our owners,” he stated. Jóhannes estimates today’s free trips could cost the company around ISK 3 million ($25,000/€22,500).

The City of Reykjavík aims to dust bind all major streets today and tomorrow to further reduce the likelihood of high pollution levels. Car owners are encouraged to swap out their studded tires as their use is banned after April 15.

Birds of a Different Feather Seen Flocking Together

Geese and swans were observed flying together in V-formation over Vík í Mýrdal in South Iceland on Thursday, RÚV reports. While it’s unusual to see two different species flocking together, according to a local ornithologist it is not unheard of.

Birna Viðarsdóttir posted the picture to a Facebook group dedicated to Icelandic bird life and it quickly garnered a great deal of attention, as well as a fair amount of skepticism – particularly since the photo was taken on April 1, April Fools’ Day. “A number of people have asked whether it’s been photoshopped,” she told RÚV, “but it wasn’t.”

Ornithologist Arnór Þórir Sigfússon says that it’s uncommon to see different kinds of birds flying together in V-formation, but it has been known to happen. Although swans and geese both migrate to Iceland from Great Britain around this time of year, Arnór Þór thinks it’s unlikely that this particular group of birds did so together the whole way, mostly because geese and swans fly at different speeds. He said he thought it more likely that the swans in Birna’s picture had joined a group of geese, rather than vice versa.

Arnór Þór also noted that different types of geese, such as graylags and pink-footed geese, are known to fly in formation together sometimes, but this is harder for an observer on the ground to see.

Centre Party MP Takes Second Leave of Absence

Centre Party MP and chair Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson has taken an indefinite leave from parliament, RÚV reports. Gunnar Bragi is one of the six Centre and People’s Party MPs who were embroiled in the recent Klaustur Scandal, having been recorded making sexist, ableist, and homophobic remarks about parliamentary colleagues at Klaustur Bar in downtown Reykjavík. This is the second leave of absence that Gunnar Bragi has taken since the scandal broke, although no reason has yet been given for his current departure.

Gunnar Bragi did not answer calls from RÚV’s news agency on Friday to give an explanation for the leave, and nor did fellow Centre Party MP and former Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson. (Sigmundur Davíð was also involved in the Klaustur Scandal.) Anna Kolbrún Árnadóttir, another Centre Party MP involved in the Klaustur scandal, said that she didn’t know anything about her colleague’s leave of absence except that it is being taken for personal reasons.

Anna Kolbrún continued by saying that the decision had been a quick one and that the party hoped that the party’s alternate chair, Bergþór Ólason, would be taking over that position at the start of the coming week. Gunnar Bragi’s seat in parliament will presumably be taken over by one of the party’s alternate MPs, either Una María Óskarsdóttir or Þorgrímur Sigmundsson.

Gunnar Bragi’s previous voluntary leave of absence was taken from late November, after the Klaustur scandal broke, until late January 2019.