Iceland has the most wonderful and accessible Atlantic puffin colonies I have ever seen—anywhere! As one of my favorite birds, puffins also rank near the top of wildlife I love to photograph. In all of my travels to shoot northern seabird colonies, the name of the game has been to pick out the few puffins from the throng of other seabirds. But, in Iceland it is just the opposite. At this puffin stronghold, home to more than half the world’s Atlantic puffins, it is possible to visit colonies and see a thousand puffins in the air at once. At remote Latrabjarg, some of the puffins are so unwary that it is literally possible to touch them! Straddling the Arctic Circle, Grimsey Island is one of Iceland’s largest puffin colonies. No place else in the world compares to photographing Atlantic puffins in Iceland, and there are no better locations to photograph puffins in Iceland than Latrabjarg and Grimsey!—Joe Van Os
Located only a few degrees south of the Arctic Circle, Iceland attracts great numbers of colonial seabirds to nest on its precipitous cliffs and offshore islets. Each spring, millions of breeding birds converge on Iceland, forming some of the most spectacular nesting colonies to be seen anywhere in the world. We concentrate on two locations best-known for their impressive and highly unwary Atlantic puffin populations, where we also expect to photograph common and thick-billed murres, razorbills, black guillemots, northern fulmars, red-necked phalaropes, black-tailed godwits, arctic terns, black-legged kittiwakes and other nesting gulls, ducks and shorebirds.
Our trip is timed to coincide with the middle of the Atlantic puffin nesting cycle. Now, the chicks are hatching and some birds begin foraging for numerous small fish to feed their voracious hatchling dwelling deep in its underground burrow. During the course of the nesting season the parents may bring as many as 2,500 fish to their solitary chick. Others, awaiting the chick’s appearance, spend more time loafing on the cliff—and they allow prolonged shooting opportunities. At this time of year, puffins frequently stand just outside their cliff-top burrow, often among tiny but prolific bouquets of dwarf wildflowers, as they scan for predators.
On our way towards our first puffin shoot at the immense Latrabjarg bird cliff we photograph at the scenic Arnarstapi and Budir cliffs on Snaefellsnes Peninsula, and shoot birds and bucolic Icelandic landscapes nearby. Following a ferry ride to the Westfjords, we drive to Breidevik and use the next three full days on Iceland’s northwestern coast at the Latrabjarg cliffs. From a small, comfortable hotel we have a short commute to this extreme western tip of Iceland and experience its many moods during June’s long daylight hours.
We travel east and board a small ferry at Dalvik and set sail to Grimsey—a tiny island located 25 miles (40 km) off Iceland’s north coast and home to one of Iceland’s largest puffin colonies, as well as one of its largest Arctic tern breeding sites. Only 90 people live in Basar, the island’s small fishing village. A visit there is reminiscent of the rural life in times gone by.
If you’ve ever wanted to work on photographing one charismatic species (along with a variety of others to add to the excitement) with the time to thoroughly capture it with your camera, then this trip is for you. The photography and warm Icelandic hospitality, coupled with Iceland’s natural scenic beauty, the cry of the seabirds, and the smell of salt air blend marvelously in this concentrated “summer” photo shoot.
Depart from the US. Most flights from the US are overnight flights that depart in the afternoon or evening and arrive the following morning. However, some flights depart earlier in the day and arrive Keflavik Airport late at night, requiring an additional hotel night and expense, in Reykjavik.
Day 2 (Jun 16)
Typically, overnight flights
from the US to Iceland arrive at the Keflavík Airport in the early morning. Most flights from Europe arrive midday or later. Take the FlyBus or Airport Express shuttle to our Reyjkavik hotel. We meet for dinner this evening. (D)
After breakfast we travel the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. The major peninsular landmark is the Snaefellsjokull glacier which is renowned for its “mystical powers” that captured the imagination of people all over the world as the entrance to the prehistoric subterranean world in Jules Verne’s A Journey to the Centre of the Earth
published in 1864. At the extraordinary Arnarstapi seabird cliffs, kittiwakes nest on hexagonal columnar black basalt, common eiders patrol the shore, and numerous other birds and compelling landscapes may be photographed. (BLD)
We take the early morning ferry across Breidafjordur Bay to Brjanslaekur in the Westfjords and drive west to Breidavik, photographing along the way. Following dinner we have our first encounter with the Latrabjarg bird cliff and its unwary resident puffins—with the potential for shooting in soft light of the “midnight sun” as the sun does not set below the horizon. (BLD)
Allowing for a variety of weather conditions we spend these three full days at Latrabjarg—standing at the farthest western tip of Iceland. The immense cliff is more than eight miles long—and a stunning 1,500 feet high in some sections—and teems with birds.
Puffins are somewhat mysterious as to their daily schedule—usually dependent on wind and tide conditions—and it is possible to arrive at the cliff when only a few are present. At other times the top of the cliff is packed with birds! Whether they all decide to head out to sea to forage at the same time, or to just socialize offshore, there is no predicting when they are on the cliff en masse. So we have built in an ample amount of shooting time to make sure to hit the “mother lode!” Even if only a few puffins are present at times—when we return a few hours later the birds may all be there in big numbers. In the meantime we are occupied by photographing all the other local species of birds whose presence is a bit more predictable. Arctic terns, red-throated loons, red-necked phalaropes and black-headed gulls nest right on the expansive hotel grounds. There is always something to occupy our attention! (BLD)
Traveling east from Breidavik along the scenic Bardastrond we drive to Iceland’s north coast and reach Dalvik in the evening. Dalvik is the departure point for our ferry voyage to isolated Grimsey. If we find a good situation we may photograph some Icelandic horses along the way. (BLD)
The ferry delivers us by early afternoon of Day 9. After disembarking the boat we settle into our comfortable guesthouse and then begin our island exploration. Grimsey is a mere 2 square mile (5 square km) speck in the vast and tempestuous North Atlantic. Although Grímsey is located on the Arctic Circle, the North Atlantic Current brings warmth from the Gulf of Mexico, promoting a surprisingly mild climate despite its northerly position. This serenely beautiful bucolic island is ringed by one giant bird colony and puffins are easily photographed in numerous locations. Virtually all of Iceland’s colonial nesting seabirds are found here—in big numbers—as well as nesting oystercatchers, sandpipers, plovers, jaegers, wagtails, wheatears and buntings. (BLD)
We sail back to the mainland and then drive and overnight in Skagafjordur. (BLD)
One of the largest concentrations of Icelandic horse farms lies along the shores of the deep blue Skagafjordur. As we make our way south we visit one of these farms for a photo session with this iconic breed. In the afternoon we return to the Reykjanes Peninsula and stay in Keflavik near the airport. (BLD)
Day 14 (Jun 28)
Participants depart at any time today. (B)