Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Iceland 2.5: Grundarfjörður, Ólafsvík and Ríf

The following day dawned dark and gloomy, although - mercifully - the wind had dropped overnight. Having failed to see the Snæfell volcano on our last visit, I was resigned to it being no different on this occasion.  Luckily I was to be proved wrong.

As part of the hotel checkout process, I followed the instructions on the bell.  Well, it would have been rude not to, wouldn't it?  It turned out that the proprietor was a Kiwi who had lived most of her life in Iceland and ended up marrying a local.  She was full of valuable information about places to visit, and pointed me at a place called Ríf - just along the coast - which is reputed to have the largest Arctic tern colony in the whole of Iceland.  Oh goody: an opportunity for yet more gratuitous avian violence...

Before leaving Grundarfjörður I was determined to re-visit a field full of orchids which we'd discovered on our previous visit after getting lost.  Every cloud, and all that.  Well, I managed to get lost again, but eventually found the elusive orchids.  As well as having literally hundreds of flowers, the location was a good place to look down on the town and see its almost perpetual blanket of heavy cloud.

Although I took a 100mm macro lens with me for the Canon, in the end I didn't need to use it.  The Fuji XF 23mm f/1.4 lens focused sufficiently close that I was able to capture both the flowers and some of the environment in which they grew.

Miraculously the cloud broke for a short while, so I decided that - perhaps - things were looking up for the day.  Before moving on, however, I re-visited the church (only to find it locked).

The next town along the coast is Ólafsvík, also built on the fishing industry, and I stopped off there for a short while to take a look around.  I rather like the eye-catching modern church, but top marks must go to the spectacular location of the local football pitch.

Shortly after leaving Ólafsvík I drove through the tiny hamlet of Ríf, searching for the Arctic tern nesting grounds.  I needn't have worried because, 500m beyond the settlement, the birds were absolutely everywhere.  Road signs alerted drivers to the watch out for birds on the road; and, indeed, I had to stop on a couple of occasions to allow a tern chick to cross.  Rather than walking with it, the adults simply dive-bombed the unsuspecting youngster - presumably to terrify it into getting to the other side.  And no, I didn't ask why the tern crossed the road...

A little further on was a large, but empty, parking area off the road where I pulled over.  A footpath led through the tern colony, and a notice told me I was permitted to use it so long as I didn't go off piste and disturb the nesting grounds.  Nobody seems to have told the terns I was allowed to walk along the path, however, and I soon had to take emergency precautions to avoid being dived-bombed to death.  As well as the inevitable - and painful - "beak on the top of the head" manoeuvre (which terns can execute par excellence) I discovered later that they'd also attempted the "guano down the back of the neck" tactic.  Because I had my hood tied tightly around my face I didn't notice this until later, but it certainly explains the looks of amusement I received from a couple of cars which had turned up.  Needless to say, once the occupants saw what the terns were doing to me, they decided to stay inside with the doors and windows firmly shut.  Chickens!

As can be seen from the pictures, while I was being attacked mercilessly by the terns the sky cleared and the sun came out.  Maybe I was going to get that elusive view of Snæfell after all?

I'm not quite sure what the terns were doing in the last two shots - catching insects, perhaps - but it's clear that they were amazingly graceful acrobats in the air.

Suffering from shell-shock (well, beak-shock anyway) I got back in the car and headed towards the lighthouse at the tip of the peninsula.  It was at this point I realised that I had lost one of the lens caps from my binoculars - probably while avoiding  a particularly vicious period of dive-bombing - so I headed back to Ríf to look for it.  Needless to say, despite walking the full length of the footpath in both directions (all the while being bombarded and pooped-upon), I failed to find the offending item.  I think we can safely chalk this one up as a victory to the terns!