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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

At the junction of two continents, onthe outermost fringe of habitation,Iceland was born millions of yearsago from the depths of the ocean. Thisspectacular island sits astride the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, that great cleft in the Earth'scrust that runs north to south through theAtlantic Basin and which is slowly,centimetre by centimetre, widening theAtlantic Ocean and pulling the Americasand Europe/Africa apart. This irrepressibleforce of nature has created an islandblessed with some of the most spectacularlandscapes on Earth, a place wheregeology and geography text books cometo life and where the explosive processesof land formation can be watched in action. While Iceland's vast interior covers morethan 50,000 square kilometres and isdominated by volcanoes, glaciers andendless stony deserts, its coastal regionsare, by contrast, vibrant, colourful andproductive, and none more so than atOræfasveit in the south-east. Oræfasveit isone of the most beautiful and multifacetedregions in the whole of Iceland, isolatedand squeezed between the Atlantic'spounding surf and the enormity of theVatnajökull icecap. Although popular in thesummer, few travellers venture here inSeptember to enjoy the spectacularscenery in all its autumnal glory.Iceland is also one of the main staging-posts along the Atlantic 'flyway' for birdsbreeding further north, providing anopportunity to refuel on their long migrationsouth. The plaintive cries from flocks of Golden Plover drift over russet-colouredmoorlands, while Gyr Falcons patroloverhead and small parties of geese brieflyreunite, joining Whooper Swans to grazethe autumn grasses before continuingsouth. Along the coastline PurpleSandpiper, Sanderling, Dunlin and Knoteagerly feed and are joined from time totime by chattering flocks of Snow Buntings.The unambiguous sound of Great NorthernDivers enhances the otherworldlyatmosphere at Thingvallavatn, andBarrow's Goldeneye are often encounteredon the River Sog. We begin our holiday with a 3-hour flightfrom Heathrow to the international airport atKeflavik. From here we will drive, byminibus, through ancient lava fields to ourfirst hotel close to the most celebrated ofall Iceland's landscapes, Thingvellir. This isa very special place. Not only is Thingvelliran iconic place in Iceland's history (thesetting for the world's first parliament), butit sits astride the Mid-Atlantic Ridge itselfand is one of the few places where you canwalk from Europe to America in just a few steps! At the end of September theheathland is also awash with the subtlerusset-brown, yellow and fiery-red hues ofautumn. Gullfoss, one of Iceland's mostspectacular waterfalls, thunders nearby,while no visit to the region is completewithout time-watching the geothermalfeatures and boiling mud pools at Geysir. Next we head east along the south coast toSkaftafell, passing an inspirationallandscape of golden grasslands, softcushions of green and grey Rhacomitrummosses, weird black lava formations andlofty rhyolite mountains en route. It is nosurprise that the area surrounding Skaftafellwas declared a national park in 1967 and,covering nearly 5,000 squarekilometres, Skaftafell National Park is thelargest single protected area in Europe.Our hotel for the next two nights lies in theshadow of Iceland's highest mountain withviews of its dramatic snow-bound 2,200-metre peaks.One of the most majestic naturalspectacles in Iceland is the ice-lagoon atJokulsarlon on the edge of theBreidamerkurjokull Glacier. The lagoon isfilled with icebergs of every conceivableshape and size which have calved off theglacier and then become trapped.Jokulsarlon is renowned for its uniqueinterplay of light and ice and, since there isno better way to appreciate this spectaclethan from the water, our tour includes aboat ride on this amazing lagoon.All too soon we must retrace our journeyback to Keflavik, through a landscape ofcountless waterfalls that plunge fromtowering cliffs into the valleys below. Forour final two nights we will be staying at theaptly named Northern Lights Inn. We mustkeep our fingers crossed for clear skies sowe can make use of the hotel's newobservatory and watch for the etherealflickerings of the Aurora Borealis. Finally, onour last full day, we will explore the capitalbefore - weather permitting - taking awhale-watching cruise out of Reykjavik.This will offer an opportunity to enjoy someof the amazing marine mammals thatinhabit Iceland's rich coastal waters, aswell as an interesting variety of seabirds.Sightings usually include Minke Whale andWhite-beaked Dolphin, and perhaps evenOrca or Humpback Whale for the fortunatefew - a fitting finale to our time in Icelandbefore we return to Keflavik Airport for ourflight home. 83Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Keflavik and transferThingvellir.Day 2Thingvellir.Day 3/4Skaftafell National Park.Day 5/6Keflavik.Day 7Fly London.AccommodationComfortable hotels throughout, allrooms with private facilities.FoodAll included in the price except forevening meals. Allow £30 per dayfor these.GradingGrade A. Easy walks, althoughsometimes on rough terrain.FocusScenery, autumnal colours andwildlife.LeaderMalcolm Stott.Single room supplement£295.Web quick search: ISL03Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationIceland in Autumn - Glaciers,Icebergs & WaterfallsA 7-day holiday to southern Iceland focusing on the island's spectacular landscapes, migrating birds and the Northern Lights. Sunday 15th September - Saturday 21st September Cost: £1,595´KEFLAVIKREYKJAVIKBLANDAHVITATHJORSÀLAGARFLIOTJÖKULSÀSKAFTAFELLJOKULSARLONICELANDVATNAJÖKULL(ICE)BLUE LAGOONSNAEFELLSNESPENINSULATHINGVELLIRIce-lagoon, JokulsarlonWhite-beaked DolphinNorthern Lights