Across the Mid-Atlantic Ridge: 5

Waterfalls Report

Iceland has a few waterfalls.

And we stopped for many more gorgeous cascades than I could photograph. I was chasing cliff-nesting seabirds at Seljalandsfoss, for instance. But I did get my camera out for a few of them.

plungingoh, there it goesGullfoss (the gull means “golden,” like the local beer, but I never got an explanation of why the name applies to these falls) is the mystery waterfall, as the water appears to disappear into a crack in the earth. Once you look back, you can see where it’s gone to.

quick stopFossá (“waterfall-river”) in the East Fjords region might be my favorite. It’s small, not spectacular, but it does what a waterfall needs to do. According to an interpretive sign at the site, the average flow is 8 m3/sec, but in spate the flow can exceed 150 m3/sec, and a peak in 1980 was measured at 395 m3/sec. A 30 kW power plant takes off some of the river’s energy.

the beastDettifoss, in the north, is nicknamed “the beast.” This one feels as powerful as Niagara.

cleanAt right is Jökulsá á Fjöllum, the outflow from Dettifoss. The river continuum model of stream ecology doesn’t really fit Icelandic rivers. There is very little vegetation along the banks to fall into the water, and thereby to feed shredders and other organisms. These cold-clean-rocky, often braided, streams are strange and quite beautiful.

the beauty“The beauty” to Dettifoss’s beast, so they say, is Goðafoss. I’ll buy that.

Mammals Report

my rented mountOn our first day of the bus tour, we stopped at Sólhestur farm for a short ride on the local breed of Icelandic horse. My ride, whose name I didn’t quite catch, patiently endured my clumsy mount and dismount. (I haven’t been on any kind of horse since summer camp as a kid, and I am sure that all equines compare notes on what I klutz I am in the saddle.) Only 3 of our busload of 14 opted for the ride, while almost all of us did the glacier. Hunh.

the farm and the backdropramblingThe farm is in the shadow of Ingólfsfjall. At left, you can see the no-barn solution to storing fodder for livestock: great bales of hay wrapped in plastic sheeting. At right, more horsey friends.

ready for usone more glacier shotAt the end of our three-quarter loop around the island country, we boarded the Hólmasól in Akureyri, to see some cetaceans. And perhaps some more glaciers, while we were at it.

the speckled oneOur guide turned up a small handful of Megaptera novaeangliae (Humpback Whale) in the fjord. It turns out that humpbacks can be individually identified by patterns on their backs and flukes. So, for instance, this whale has the nickname “speckled” (maybe “deckled”? audio quality on the boat was sub-optimal).

the hooked onethe hooked one's flukesWhile this fellow, a particular favorite of our guide, can be distinguished by the hook in the dorsal fin.

Across the Mid-Atlantic Ridge: 4

Glacier Report

at the baseSólheimajökull is a rather grungy glacier, as it scrapes off bits of the surrounding mountains on its way to the sea. Our guides impressed upon us how much this outlet glacier of Mýrdalsjökull had receded in the past century, in the past decade, in the past year, as a result of global heating. That thought followed us up and down the glacier, as the sounds of rushing meltwater on this sunny summer day were all around us.

Equipped with crampons and ice picks, we set off to climb a bit of it.

halfway upAbout halfway up our ascent of 200 meters, far in the distance we espied one of the other guides on his way down.

Viking push-upAt the top of our climb, some of us did a “Viking push-up” to get a drink from a meltwater pool.

looking backand yet more aboveAt left, looking farther up the glacier. At right, looking back down the valley. Time was, the ridge in the left part of the photo was an island in glacial ice, with another tongue of the glacier flowing around behind it. No more.

Gravelly snow and disappearing ice aside, this hike was the high point of my trip!


cleanerLater in the day, our bus stopped for a photo op with some more picturesque ice draped over Hvannadalshnúkur.

Birds Report: A Correction

A sharp-eyed iNaturalist community member correctly identified the birds on the wing in my photos as Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis). A closer reading of Sibley’s guide tells me that fulmars occur in light and dark forms, which accounts for the rather dark birds I saw at Reynisfjara. I’m still fairly certain that I also saw kittiwakes on this trip, but I don’t have the photos to go with.

Across the Mid-Atlantic Ridge: 3

Technology Report

dispenser 1Our first night on the road out from Reykjavík, I encountered this perplexing soap/shampoo dispenser with no visible affordances. Nothing to click or push.

dispenser 2I figured out that the one latchy thing on the bottom released it from its holder.

dispenser 3It still took a couple of minutes for it to dawn on me that you’re supposed to squeeze the entire container to get the gel to come out.


polisher toppolisher frontI saw shoe polishers in a couple of places, but nothing so vintage as this example in the Hotel Holt.


crampons 2crampons 1Crampons let you climb the the glacier. They strap on to your hiking boots with this intricate five-step process that our guide “S” explained.

crampons 3And they work! Here we are after a climb of 200m up Sólheimajökull.


GravelinesSigns in Reyðarfjörður honor French fisherfolk who once worked these waters.


white on bluedecaying white on redBack in Reykjavík, I found a couple of old-school building-mounted street name signs.

standardBut what I mostly saw were these no-nonsense, very legible signs. Out in the country, signs at crossroads (no pic) are rather low-slung. They wouldn’t look out of place next to an airport runway.


yellowLighthouses in Reykjavík are rather pedestrian, alas.

Across the Mid-Atlantic Ridge: 1

I’m back from a week traveling in Iceland, most of my time spent on a 19-seater minibus making a three-quarter turn around the island from Reykjavík to Akureyri.

Birds Report

I’m pleased with the results from my birding, considering that our guide Elis made only a couple brief stops specifically to look at birds. Fourteen lifers and 28 species altogether. Just a few photographic records: Greylag Goose (Anser anser) and Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus) in Tjörnin hard by Reykjavík’s city hall, and Black-legged Kittiwake Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialus), photographed at Skogafoss.

foldedThe photo opportunities for the kittiwakes were better later in the day at Reynisfjara, but I was looking at other things at the time, like my first Northern Fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis) nesting on the cliffs.

wide viewcloserAs we were hotelling nearby, I had the chance to bird the other side of the mountain the next morning. In glorious solitude. The sea stacks, Reynisdrangar, are rather birdy albeit distant.

bitsNot a new bird for me, but I got excellent up close looks at Arctic Terns (Sterna paradisaea) perched up on the bergy bits in Jökulsárlón.

White Wagtails (Motacilla alba) seemed to be ubiquitous; I heard them in some quite inhospitable places.

Easiest life bird was a Common Blackbird (Turdus merula) outside my hotel room window in downtown Reykjavík. I worked hardest keying out Purple Sandpiper (Calidris maritimus) on the beach along Eiðsgrandi.

Mason and Bailey: 1

scouting 1scouting 2Scouting Rachel Carson Conservation Park for a nature walk. I think we’ll spend a good amount of time in the meadow, so long as something is still happening in September (persimmons ripening, maybe?). And then maybe a quick jaunt through the woods to Hawlings River.

I spent too much time trying to figure out and photographing the Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis ssp. astynanax) that I submitted to iNaturalist. At the pond, most of the Green Frogs (Lithobates clamitans) hopped in the water but one guy seemed to think he was invisible.

At the park: 104

From my final weekly report from Huntley Meadows Park:

A somewhat perplexing end to the season.

On 16 June, Kat and Chris reported that warm eggs remained in box #1. The odd thing is that we never did record hatch information for this box, which had eggs as early as 9 March. We observed a Hooded Merganser flush from the box on 7 April, and a Wood Duck on 9 June.

Also on the 16th, a bird remained in box #6; if she was incubating eggs, we didn’t get a count.

On 30 June, I checked box #68. There was evidence of a hatch, but not quite the residue of 8 hatched eggs that I would have expected. Possibly a partial predation?

All told, we fledged ducklings from 9 boxes. I will work up the count details and report them in a subsequent message.

Butterflies at Little Bennett Regional Park

on the lookoutTom Stock led a walk to several meadow-y and glade-y spots in Little Bennett Regional Park, most of them along Clarksburg Road. Sunny day, not beastly hot, a breeze from time to time.

I got some good looks at butterflies that I have seen before (some of them only once or twice), like Horace’s Duskywing (Erynnis horatius) and Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia) and Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus). No pics for the three lifers that I saw on the trip: Northern Broken-Dash (Wallengrenia egeremet), Dun Skipper (Euphyes vestris), and American Snout (Libytheana carinenta).

At the park: 103/a

muddy and greenmystery in box 5From my report on last Sunday’s monitoring work:


Our birds continue to surprise. We observed evidence of hatch in 5 boxes, plus another box that (#3) was either hatched or predated. We found a new clutch in box #68; a bird in box #6, which has already hatched out; and birds still incubating in boxes #1 and #10. So we will do one more work day next Sunday, 9 June. This will be a quicker spot-check day, where we only check boxes where we believe there is still activity. But if you’ve got the morning free, please join us.

Both Kat and I took tumbles into the mud.

Kat reports milkweed (Asclepias sp.) in the woods near box #13/#80.

A songbird, otherwise unidentified, has moved into box #5. No eggs or adult seen; the side entrance to the nest is a little unusual.

Rock Creek project: 2

Today’s walk went off pretty darn well. Pulling into the parking lot, I feared that there would not be sufficient spaces for my guests, but the second lot at the Nature Center was quite open.

As people were arriving, I was watching a House Finch in a treetop when Tracie called out, “hey, isn’t that a turkey?” Later, I happened to mention our Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) sighting to the interpreter in the Nature Center, and she was impressed. She said that she hadn’t seen one in the park in her 2+ years there.

Several of the wildflowers that I had scouted along the stream bank had gone by. We had one little remnant patch of Solomon’s Plume (Maianthemum racemosum). But on the whole, a success. I got to introduce the group to a couple of my favorites, and the Bearcorn (Conopholis americana) patch along Ross Drive was well received (it was vigorously flowering two weeks ago).

My time management was good; we got around in 2:00. We were paced by Cosmo the dog. Alas, I did miss the turnout for Fort De Russy on the way back.

bridge stopNear the Fort De Russy site is a patch of what I’m pretty sure is Umbrella Magnolia (Magnolia tripetala). (Both it and M. macrophylla are on the park’s species checklist.)

At the park: 103

From my most recent report:

Two boxes hatched (including 13 ducklings from little box #5) and one new nest is started. We have reports from the photography contingent that ducklings left box #6 on 15 April. Unfortunately, we had to give up on box #13, which accumulated a lot of eggs but no incubating hen. All told, we have observed eggs in 13 of out 16 boxes. We have 9 nests in progress that we will be checking on our next work day, on 12 May. We will check again on 26 May (Memorial Day weekend), and then in June just spot check anything that is still active.