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During the height of the Arctic summerthe dramatic volcanic island ofIceland is bathed in 24-hour daylight.As the summer sun sinks lower in the sky,however, and winter's icy grip graduallytakes hold, the nights lengthen and heavensdarken to reveal one of the natural world'sgreatest spectacles, the ethereal flickeringsof the Aurora Borealis, or 'Northern Lights'.The Aurora has been a source of wonderand mystery for thousands of years and,although we now understand the sciencebehind the spectacle, these mesmerising,other worldly lights still transfix all thatwitness them to this day. To enjoy the Northern Lights at their best wemust head north and position ourselvesbeneath the Auroral Oval, a 'doughnut-shaped' expanse of atmosphere that sitsover the Earth's magnetic north pole. Thisoval expands or contracts with the intensityof the solar wind, the stream of hot plasmaejected from the sun reacting with gasmolecules in the upper atmosphere tocreate the light display itself. When solarwind activity is high, the Lights often takethe form of dancing curtains which evolveand change continuously, each curtainconsisting of many parallel rays lined upwith the direction of the magnetic field. Atother times it may take the form of a slowlypulsing green, blue or red glow in the sky.To stand the best chance of witnessing thevery best of auroral displays we havecarefully timed this holiday to coincide witha new moon, to minimise light pollution,and, since the activity is generally higheraround the equinoxes, to run our final threetours in the early Arctic spring. In addition,we have based our tour in northern Iceland,not only because it lies further under theAuroral Oval, but because the weather istypically drier than in the south. Since thereis also plenty of daylight at this time of year,we will spend our diurnal hours exploringthe dramatic landscapes of northernIceland, enjoying the winter birdlife andgeothermal features of this geologicallyactive island. We begin our tour with a flight to Keflavikand one night at the Northern Lights Innwhich is located close to the famous 'BlueLagoon' geothermal pools and surroundedby rugged lava fields. The following morningwe take the short flight to Akureyri and driveeast to the beautifully positioned HotelM´yvatn which will be our base for the nextthree nights of the tour. Our hotel overlooksLake M´yvatn - far away from thedistracting lights of towns - and offers awonderfully open panorama from which toenjoy the Northern Lights. It is also on theflight path of one of the local Gyr Falcons!We will return here each evening to gazeupwards to the heavens in the hope that theskies will be clear and the Aurora on show.The Northern Lights can be active at anytime after dark, but activity tends to peakaround midnight. We can therefore expectlate nights on this tour, but no compulsoryearly mornings! During the daylight hours we will focus ourattention on the scenic delights of northIceland and the limited wildlife on offer atthis time of year. Lake Mývatn (one ofIceland's foremost birdwatching spots in thespring) is likely to be mostly frozen inFebruary and March, but there will be areasof open water. Here we will be looking outfor such ducks as Barrow's Goldeneye, andperhaps a few wintering Whooper Swans orgeese. Snow Buntings are often recordedaround the lake shores, whilst a little furtherinland Ptarmigan are common. The winterlandscape here is spectacular and we willstop frequently to take short walks and toadmire the cinder cone of Hverfjall, thePsuedo-craters and the peculiar lavaformations at Dimmuborgír. Iceland sits astride the Mid-Atlantic Ridge andis geologically active. One of the mostaccessible pockets of geothermal activity isfound at Námafjall and Krafla, a short distancefrom Mývatn. Here boiling mud pools andsteaming fumeroles create an alien landscapeof yellow sulphur deposits and swirling cloudsof steam. These are in turn surrounded byvast black rocky lava fields, some of whicherupted as recently as the 1980s. We will alsoventure north to the coast at Husavik insearch of birds such as Glaucous Gull,Iceland Gull and wintering sea-duck, includingthe beautiful Harlequin Duck.Whilst we have done our very best to ensurethat this tour is located and timed to givethe best chance of witnessing the NorthernLights, ultimately only 'mother nature' willdecide whether or not the show will takeplace. Aurora or not, a journey around northIceland during this season has much tooffer and we are sure to return hometransfixed, not only by the nocturnal lightdisplays but also by the spectacularlandscapes, wildlife and hospitality of thisunique, and far-flung, corner of Europe.Iceland - Gyr Falcons &the Northern Lights A 5-day holiday to northern Iceland timed to offer the very best chance of enjoying the Northern Lights, as well as Iceland's winter wildlife and spectacular landscapes. Friday 8th February - Tuesday 12th February Cost: £1,395Tuesday 12th February - Saturday 16th February Cost: £1,395Wednesday 6th March - Sunday 10th March Cost: £1,395Sunday 10th March - Thursday 14th March Cost: £1,395Friday 15th March - Tuesday 19th March Cost: £1,395Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking Information´´´ISAFJÖRDURKEFLAVIKTPINGVELLIRREYKJAVIKBLANDAHVITATHJORSÀLAGARFLIOTJÖKULSÀHUSAVIKAKUREYRIHUNAVELLIRMYVATNKRAFLAICELANDVATNA JÖKULL(ICE)SNAEFELLSNESPENINSULAOutline itineraryDay 1Fly Keflavik andovernight.Day 2Fly Akureyri and transferMývatn.Day 3/4Excursions from Mývatn.Day 5Fly London.AccommodationFor the first night we stay at theNorthern Lights Inn near Keflavikand then transfer to the HotelMývatn for three nights whichcommands a beautiful positionoverlooking Lake Mývatn. All roomshave private facilities. FoodAll included in the price.GradingA. Easy to moderate day walks. FocusBirds, Northern Lights and geology.LeaderMalcolm Stott.Single room supplement£150.Web quick search: ISL0281Northern Lights, IcelandGyr Falcon

Iceland lies at an avian crossroads! Themeeting place of Palearctic and Nearcticfaunal regions. Here we find the mostwesterly breeding grounds of both Wigeonand Pied Wagtail, and the most easterlybreeding populations of Great NorthernDiver, Harlequin Duck and Barrow'sGoldeneye. The variety of the island'sbirdlife may not be great, but many speciesare very much tamer here than elsewhere inEurope, and the sheer quality of Iceland'snorthern specialities has long attractedvisiting ornithologists. Mammals too, thoughfew, include Arctic Fox, Grey Seal and anexciting variety of cetaceans such asHumpback Whale, White-beaked Dolphinand Orca. Slightly smaller than England, slightlylarger than Scotland, Iceland holds apopulation of just 250,000 people. Whenyou consider that over half of these live inthe south-west corner of the country, youget some idea of the population density.Nearly all of Iceland lies south of the ArcticCircle - just! However, it is still far enoughnorth for us to benefit from as muchdaylight as we could wish for during thetime of our visit.We begin our holiday with a flight fromLondon to Keflavik, Iceland's internationalairport. From here we transfer to the capitalof Reykjavík to connect with the shortinternal flight to Akureyri in the north of theisland. Our drive east from Akureyri will notonly introduce us to Iceland's spectacularscenery and landscapes, but should alsoyield our first northern birds, includingPtarmigan, Redwing and Golden Plover. Wewill be based for the first three nights of thetour in the beautifully positioned NarfastadirGuesthouse, located in a wide valley full ofbreeding waders and within easy reach ofthe Lake Mývatn, Iceland's foremostbirdwatching site. During our stay, we willdevote at least one day to the explorationand appreciation of the birds of this greatlake, looking especially for Barrow'sGoldeneye and Harlequin Duck. Otherwaterfowl we usually see here includeWigeon, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Scaup,Pochard, Common Scoter, Long-tailedDuck, Red-breasted Merganser andWhooper Swan. We can also expect to seemany Ptarmigan near the roads, and havea good chance of seeing the splendid GyrFalcon. Additionally, we will be able toappreciate the spectacular geothermalactivity around the lake; in particular,awesome high-pressure steam vents andboiling mud! On another day we will drive north andeast to the sea at Husavík. Here, bothIceland and Glaucous Gulls are generallypresent, and we will see the catches ofCod being laid out to dry on traditionaldrying racks. From here we will take awhale-watching trip. Minke Whales arenearly always seen, and frequently one ormore species of dolphin. On our last day inthis area we will travel west to Blönduósthrough beautiful valleys where we will bekeeping an eye open for Gyr Falcon.From the north-eastern corner of Iceland wenow drive west to the dramatic landscapesof the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. From ourbase in the attractive town of Stykkishólmurwe will head to the western-most point of thepeninsula to view one of Iceland's largerseabird colonies, home to Kittiwakes, Fulmarand no less than five species of auk,including the much sought-after northernspeciality, the Brünnich's Guillemot. This isalso a good area to look for the elusiveArctic Fox. En route we will pass the hugeshield volcano, Snaefellsjokull, the doorwayinto the planet's interior chosen by JulesVerne for his book 'Journey to the Centre ofthe Earth'. If time permits, there may also bethe opportunity to take a boat out fromStykkishólmur in search of seabirds,cetaceans and the magnificent White-tailedEagle.We next turn south for our final two nightsin south-west Iceland. We will be based inthe Northern Lights Inn, located on theReykjanes Peninsula close to the famousBlue Lagoon geothermal pools. From herewe will explore Iceland's 'Golden Circle',starting with a visit to Thingvellir, Iceland'sancient parliament which overlooksThingvallavtn, the island's largest lake.Thingvallavtn is home to Harlequin Duck,Barrow's Goldeneye, Red-throated andGreat Northern Divers, Whooper Swan andwonderfully confiding Red-neckedPhalaropes. Thingvellir is also of interest tothe geologist, for it sits astride the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the great cleft in the Earth'scrust that separates the Eurasian tectonicplate from the North American plate. Thejunction is marked by two series ofconspicuous parallel fault lines and sheerbasalt cliffs, separated by a wide sunkenvalley a kilometre or two in width. During our time exploring the 'GoldenCircle' we will visit the very best of thesevolcanic and geothermal landforms. Thesewill include Geysir, home to the original'geyser' (now sadly dormant), and othermore active geothermal spoutings and hotsprings, plus Gullfoss (the Golden Falls), aspectacular double cascade of meltwaterpopularly considered the most beautifulwaterfall in Iceland. Birds and other wildlifewill play an important part even on ourmore geologically focused excursions.Black-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Snipe andother waders all breed around Thingvellir,whilst down on the coast, past the mightywaterfall of Selfoss, we hope to find bothCommon and Grey Seals. Finally, after a thorough exploration of the'Golden Circle' and Reykjanes Peninsula,we must sadly make the short journey toIceland's international airport at Keflavik tocatch our return flight home. IcelandA 9-day holiday amongst dramatic scenery in search of the breeding birds (plus whales and other mammals) of this wild and beautiful land.Sunday 19th May - Monday 27th May Cost: £1,795(This tour can be combined with our 'West Greenland - Bowheads, Icefjords &Glaciers' cruise outlined on page 270)Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Akureyri, viaKeflavik. TransferNarfastadir. Day 2/3Excursions from Mývatn.Day 4Blönduós.Day 5/6Stykkishólmur.Day 7/8Keflavik and the 'GoldenCircle'.Day 9Fly London.Accommodation Comfortable hotels throughout,each with private facilities.FoodAll included in the price, except forevening meals (allow approximately£40 per day).GradingA traditional birdwatching tour,including plenty of gentle walkingexcursions. Grade A/B.FocusBirds, whales and geothermalactivity.LeaderMalcolm Stott.Single room supplement£295.ExtensionsArranged on request, with orwithout car rental. Web quick search: ISL0182Call now or visit www.naturetrek.co.ukfor your free Trip Itinerary´´BLÖNDUÓS´ISAFJÖRDURKEFLAVIKTHINGVELLIRREYKJAVIKBLANDAHVITATHJORSÀSKJALFANDAFLIOTLAGARFLIOTJÖKULSÀSEYDHISFJÖRDURHUSAVIKAKUREYRIHUNAVELLIRMYVATNDETTIFOSSICELANDVATNA JÖKULL(ICE)STYKKISHÓLMURSNAEFELLSNESPENINSULAGullfoss Harlequin Duck