Day 3 |
Jun 15, 2012

Kara Weller, Biologist 

By Vigur Island, Iceland

Co-ordinates: 66° 10 ’ N – 23° 14 ’ W
Weather: sunny
Air temperature: 5° C
Wind: 40 km per hour
Pressure: 1019 hPa
Humidity: 89%

On a morning like today it was not very hard to understand the irony in naming this country Iceland. The sun was shining, the seas were like a glassy mirror and not a breath of wind stirred the morning stillness and the warmth.

Our destination for the morning was Vigur Island – a tiny island inside Isafjardar Fjord and surrounded by steep cliffs and snowy-topped mountains. Home of the same family for many a generation, the people who live here survive by farming and collecting eggs and eiderdown from the lovely eider ducks that come to nest on this island.

Just after breakfast the first 2 Zodiac groups were called down to the side gate to take the short ride to shore and meet our 2 local guides who took us for a walk around the island. Birds were everywhere. Even just a few steps up from the little jetty eiders were nesting in nooks and crannies by the path, some settled comfortably on eggs, others with eggs in the process of hatching, and few with newly hatched fluffy chicks. The drab brown females blended in well to the surrounding landscape, and the showy white males swam and preened in the surrounding water.

An interesting historical stop on our walk was the old wooden windmill still standing near the shore. It is the only surviving windmill in Iceland. Other old building and farmhouses are still in use and date back to the late 1800s when this family first came to live in this charming place.

Due to the huge numbers of birds nesting all over the island, our walking was restricted and we followed a nicely mown path to loop around behind the farm buildings and look at the many birds that abounded here. Thousands upon thousands of arctic terns flew in circles around us as we came through their nesting territory, some shrieking with anger and dive-bombing our heads. Since they lay their eggs on the ground, they are vulnerable to theft by predators, and to being stepped on – hence the necessity for us to stay on the path. The local guides were prepared for the dive-bombing however and we were each handed a wooden stick with a small blue flag at the top. We held these sticks over our heads as we walked around through the tern colony as terns usually just attack the highest point. Instead of having our heads attacked (which can hurt!) their attacks fell onto the unfeeling ends of our sticks. The sheer numbers of birds was an impressive sight and the sound of them crying and shrieking was so loud that it was at times hard to hear each other speaking!

It wasn’t just terns and eiders that abounded on this island. Numerous black guillemots flew about and swam in the waters all around us as well. These nifty little birds in the auk family are closely related to puffins although they look far more elegant. Their plumage is all black with large white patches on the wings and bright red feet. The inside of their mouths is also bright red so when they open their beaks the color display on that jet-black body is quite impressive.

A few puffins could be seen as well – either flying past us in the Zodiacs or in the distance on shore. They dig burrows into the soft earth in which they lay their eggs and rear their chicks and thus are harder to see sometimes as they are either deep inside the earth or out at sea fishing for food. Nevertheless we enjoyed the sightings of these colorful and comic characters.

After our walk around the island we came back to the farmhouses and were invited inside for some tea and cakes. A few tables outside were pleasant for sitting in the sun and the generosity of this small feast was very welcome.

The wind picked up very, very slowly during the course of the morning, and towards the end of our landing it cut sharply through our clothes chilling some of us rapidly. The waves were short and sharp making the Zodiac ride back to the ship a bit wet, as spray was unavoidable. Back onboard we enjoyed the views of the fjord as we lifted up the anchor and slowly sailed back out to continue cruising in the afternoon up along the west and northern coast of Iceland in slightly more cloudy conditions.

The afternoon was spent onboard with lectures – first from Juan about Volcanoes and then from Peter about Vikings as we continued to cruise along the coast. There were magnificent views of the cliffs and snowy-sloped mountains of Iceland all afternoon on our starboard side.

Just as our recap was about to start some whales were sighted. A couple of humpback whales blew near the ship and the Captain turned towards them to give everyone a better view. More blows were seen in the distance and everyone crowded out onto the outer decks to get a good look. The wind was cold and after a few seconds outside most dashed back in to grab themselves a parka. And what a magnificent sight we had then – one of the humpback whales breached and its entire big bulk leaped nearly entirely out of the water in front of us to come crashing down with a massive splash. Recap and briefing were cancelled and everyone spent the extra time outside watching and admiring these impressive creatures further until the cold finally drove most back in and into the dining room.