Birdwatching Hut Opens in North Iceland

birdwatching hut skagaströnd

A new birdwatching hut in North Iceland’s Skagaströnd region is not for those afraid of heights. It is securely fastened to the edge of a cliff in the Spákonufellshöfði nature reserve, providing a unique and sheltered vantage point to observe the area’s plentiful birdlife.

The crystal of a prophetess

The hut was designed by the firm ESJA Architecture and built with the help of grant funding from the Icelandic Tourist Board. According to ESJA, the hut’s crystal-like shape was inspired by a legend from the Viking Age. Spákonufellshöfði, the name of the site, means “Prophetess Cape,” presumably referencing the area’s first resident who is known by name, Þórdís the Prophetess. Þórdís lived in Skagaströnd in the late 10th century and is referenced throughout the Icelandic Sagas.

Nesting bird species plentiful

Naturalist Einar Ólafur Þorleifsson told RÚV he expects the hut to attract both locals and foreign tourists. The location of the hut is not only ideal for birdwatching but also for observing the area’s volcanic rock formations and interesting plant life.

The bird species that nest within the hut’s sightlines include fulmars, ravens, ptarmigans, arctic terns, eider ducks, and black guillemots. Harlequin ducks are visible in the sea year-round and long-tailed ducks are also a common sight. Cormorants, falcons, merlins, and even eagles can also be spotted there, according to Einar. At this time of year, as migratory birds return to Iceland to nest, flocks of geese pass by the site as well as swans.

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Landing on Frozen Lake Led to Fatal Crash

plane crash

It is not clear whether the pilot of a plane that sank in Þingvallavatn in 2022 landed on the frozen lake intentionally or not. The landing is believed to be the cause of the accident, however. The crash resulted in the death of the pilot and all three passengers, who were all content creators or influencers. The Aircraft Accident Investigation Board published its extensive report on the incident this morning.

Over 1,000 took part in search

On February 3, 2022, a Cessna 172N aircraft went missing in Iceland after setting off on a two-hour sight-seeing trip with three passengers. Over 1,100 people took part in an intensive search operation that eventually located the plane in Þingvallavatn lake. The deceased were identified as Icelandic pilot Haraldur Diego and three passengers from the US, Netherlands, and Belgium: John Neuman (22), Tim Alings (27), and Nicola Bellavia (32). The bodies and the wreckage were eventually recovered from the lake.

Drowning was cause of death

“The cause of the accident is attributed to the intentional or unintentional landing on the frozen lake, as the ice did not support the weight of the aircraft, the aircraft broke through it and crashed into the lake,” the report summary reads. The bodies of all of the deceased were recovered at some distance from the aircraft, indicating that they had tried to swim to land. It was unlikely that they would have been able to do so, however, at the water temperature was around freezing and the distance too great. Autopsy results indicated that drowning was their cause of death.

Content creation a factor in crash

According to the report, the pilot knew the area well and had often landed on frozen lakes or flown over them at low altitude in order to facilitate photography. The board expressed their belief that “it is likely that the purpose of the flight, to create reality content, was a factor in the pilot lowering the flight over the lake.”

Investigation of the aircraft revealed that it had sufficient fuel and did not reveal anything that could explain the cause of the crash. The aircraft did not contain a “black box,” as such equipment is not standard on Cessna 172N models.

Recommendations for future prevention

The board made several recommendations to authorities in order to prevent similar accidents occurring in the future. They include implementing ADS-B transmitters in all manned aircraft flying in Icelandic airspace, as well as directing pilots to respect flight rules regarding minimum altitude and to avoid landing outside runways without ensuring that conditions are safe.

The Board’s reports are, by law, intended to shed light on the cause of accidents for the purpose of future prevention and not to apportion blame or responsibility. They are not to be used as evidence in court proceedings.

Halla Hrund Leads Polls in Presidential Race

Halla Hrund Logadóttir is enjoying a significant lead in Iceland’s ongoing presidential race, with nearly 30% support among voters. Former Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir is in second place with just over 21% and Baldur Þórhallsson in third with just over 20%, though the difference is not considered statistically significant. Former Reykjavík Mayor Jón Gnarr takes fourth place with just under 15%.

Katrín’s support growing

The data is from the most recent weekly poll conducted by Prósent for Morgunblaðið. Halla Hrund showed similar support as in the previous week, whereas Katrín Jakobsdóttir showed increased support after dropping in the polls last week. In an unprecedented move, Katrín resigned as Prime Minister last month in order to run for the post.

Record number of candidates

Morgunblaðið notes that most of the responses were submitted before the televised debate that took place last Friday evening, which may impact current support. Respondents were also asked who they believed was most likely to win the election. Respondents considered Halla Hrund and Katrín to be the most likely winners, with neither favoured over the other in the data.

Iceland’s presidential election will take place on June 1. There are 11 official candidates running, a historic record. Current president Guðni Th. Jóhannesson is not running for reelection.

Calls for Better Mental Healthcare After Inmate Found Dead

Litla-Hraun Prison in South Iceland

An inmate at Litla-Hraun Prison was found dead in his cell yesterday morning, RÚV reports. There is no suspicion of foul play. Prisoner advocacy group Afstaða criticised the Icelandic government for not ensuring adequate mental health services for inmates in the country’s prisons.

Director General of the Prison and Probation Administration Páll Winkel stated that the South Iceland Police is investigating the death.

Mental health services lacking

In a statement published on Facebook, Afstaða, an Icelandic organisation that advocates for prisoners’ rights, called on “the government to wake up from its slumber and do something about prison issues, not least with regard to the mental health of people who are deprived of their freedom.”

Lack of mental healthcare for inmates has been a persistent problem in the Icelandic prison system for years. In 2018, there were only three psychologists and no psychiatrist serving some 1,000 people in the system, 75% of whom were believed to require mental health services. Between 2017-2019, two prisoners committed suicide, and their deaths were linked to the disarray in mental health services.

In December 2019, a specialised, interdisciplinary mental health team was established to provide prisoners across the country with mental health services, but more recent reports from international supervisory bodies point to continual issues.

Aging facilities

Litla-Hraun is one of Iceland’s two closed prisons. Its first building was completed in 1929 and was meant to be a hospital but was never used as such. In the ensuing decades, more buildings were added to the prison, but never with a holistic design strategy. A November 2023 Icelandic National Audit Office report stated that the prison does not fulfil modern safety requirements.

Litla-Hraun is set to be replaced by a brand-new facility in 2028. In an interview in February 2024, Þórunn Sveinbjarnardóttir, chair of the Parliament’s Constitutional and Supervisory Committee, stated that authorities cannot simply wait for the new facilities to improve conditions in Icelandic prisons. Þórunn stated that it was necessary to improve existing facilities and improve the prisoners’ environment so that it supports their rehabilitation.

Read more about prisons in Iceland.

When is whale watching season in Iceland?

whale Iceland hvalur

Iceland offers a great diversity of wildlife, and heading on a whale-watching tour is one of the main highlights of one’s stay on this island. Luckily, Iceland has a broad shoreline and can boast numerous whale-watching spots. But when and where is the best time and place to go whale-watching in Iceland? Read on and find out!

The best season for whale-watching

Undoubtedly, the best season for whale-watching is the summer months, from April to October. As many whale species migrate to Iceland during that time to feed in the nutrient-dense waters, this is the best time to observe an abundance of these cetaceans in the waters. If you are interested in reading more about which whales you can observe in Iceland, read our travel article here.

The weather also plays an important part in heading on a whale-watching tour. Most tour providers do not offer tours from November to January, as storms are quite regular, and heading on a boat tour would not be too pleasant.

The only species that is better observed in spring/early summer are Orcas. They are best spotted from March until early June, with the prime hotspot being in Ólafsvík, on the Snæfellsnes peninsula.

Top spots for whale-watching in Iceland

Generally, most places to go whale-watching in Iceland are in the western part of the country and in the North. Húsavík is commonly known as the “capital of whale-watching” and offers many tour providers and whale sightings every season – even tracking when blue whales, the biggest species on earth, come and visit the small town in the North.

Other spots in Iceland do not rank behind, and heading on a whale-watching tour from Reykjavík can also lead to great observations! Read more about whale-watching tours from Reykjavík here. You can check out this map below to see all the whale-watching spots in Iceland. 

If you’re interested in booking a whale-watching tour, you can check out these tours here.