Deep North Episode 63: In Pursuit of Ptarmigan

ptarmigan hunting iceland

It’s 6:00 AM and the obsidian darkness lingers outside my windshield. I arrive in the Kársnes neighbourhood of Kópavogur, park my car, and hop into Kristján Andri Einarsson’s black Jimny. The hunter greets me with a boyish smirk, ready for today’s adventure. He is wearing a camouflage cap on his greying auburn hair. Until this day, I have never gone hunting, nor seen a real gun in my life. All that is about to change.

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In Pursuit of Ptarmigan

ptarmigan hunt iceland

It’s 6:00 AM and the obsidian darkness lingers outside my windshield. I arrive in the Kársnes neighbourhood of Kópavogur, park my car, and hop into Kristján Andri Einarsson’s black Jimny. The hunter greets me with a boyish smirk, ready for today’s adventure. He is wearing a camouflage cap on his greying auburn hair. Until this […]

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Balancing the Scales

escaped farmed fish iceland

Protest On Saturday, October 7, a tractor trundled through the streets of downtown Reykjavík with hundreds of protestors in tow. The procession was headed to Austurvöllur Square in front of Iceland’s Parliament for a demonstration.Several organisations – including Landvernd (the Icelandic Environment Association) and the Icelandic Wildlife Fund – had organised the event to protest […]

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Mycological Magic

guðríður gyða eyjólfsdóttir

On a grey afternoon in late August, a small crowd has gathered near the old hydroelectric power station in Elliðaárdalur, a nature area near the capital. Helena Marta Stefánsdóttir, a specialist in the Forestry Service, has prepared a lecture on mushroom foraging 101 for the amateur mycologists gathered here. But it seems to be the […]

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A Wealth of Water

natural resource iceland

Close your eyes and picture Iceland. What comes to mind? A powerful waterfall streaming down a cliffside? Bluish icebergs floating in a glacier lagoon? A hulking jeep fording a highland river? Or maybe a steaming hot spring or a neighbourhood swimming pool? Whichever image is most evocative of Iceland for you, there’s one thing they […]

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Biologists Ask Icelanders to Return Little Auks to Sea

seabird iceland

The winter storms that have swept the nation in the past week have also had an effect on wildlife, reports the Icelandic Institute of Natural History.

The little auk, a common seabird in Iceland, has been found far inland. The seabird averages about 20 cm [7.8 in] in length and 150g [5.3oz] in weight, and is not accustomed to long-range flight. Biologists have received updates from travellers on the South Coast of Iceland who encounter stranded birds far out of place.

Now, with some individuals stranded far from the coast after the storms, biologists are asking residents who happen upon little auks to return them to the sea.

In a statement to RÚV,  Borgný Katrínardóttir, a biologist at the Institute of Natural History, said: “We actually just received another update about another bird that was found by Sólheimar, so they can fly quite far inland. We should also keep in mind that there was a recent bird fluJust be careful and wash well afterwards. If the bird seems unharmed, just get it down to the sea as soon as possible.”

Little auks, however, have historically been a rather resilient bird. A relative newcomer to Icelandic shores, they were unknown in Iceland until the 19th century. Their conservation status is considered to be “of least concern.”

University of Iceland Researcher Studies Chick Development, Food Resources

plover chick in iceland

Postdoctoral researcher, Camilo Carneiro, at University of Iceland has spent this summer on a research project studying the development of several Icelandic bird species with regard to food resources.

The project has monitored some 110 nests, including whimbrel and plover. Laying dates and hatching success were recorded as part of University of Iceland’s ongoing monitoring of these species.

Because eggs change in density during the embryonic development, researchers are able to estimate the day of hatching with a high degree of accuracy. Once the chicks hatched, the parents were marked and measured with coloured rings.

Chicks were monitored and measured every 3 days. However, researchers have to wait until the chicks develop before also tagging them with rings, as their legs must be long enough to not interfere with their mobility.

Stool samples were also collected from the hatchlings to monitor their diet to better understand the relationship between food resources and chick development.

A particular interest in the study was the role of crowberries in hatchling diets. The berries were measured every 3 days, and estimates for the total fruit biomass available to the developing chicks were calculated.

In addition to traditional monitoring techniques, the study also employed GPS tagging to monitor their migrations patterns.

As can be seen in the above Twitter thread, once the hatchlings become independent (which generally takes around 4 weeks), they migrate non-stop to North Africa. Notably, the juveniles tend to stick together during migration.

Camilo’s research is supported by Rannís, the Icelandic Centre for Research.

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.