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July 8, 2011

I’ve missed you, dear birdful readers! My husband and I took a trip to England and Iceland (we like to vacation in countries whose names rhyme, apparently) and while we were gone, something truly magical took place on this very blog! If you’d like to witness it for yourself, have a look at the comments on my last post about sparrows. There you will find two amazing, highly respected birders offering reading suggestions and weighing in on my ornithological development! I never thought my Avian Bildung was of interest to anybody! Wow — this is a true milestone in the life of a somewhat-birder!

Here is the highlight of my Icelandic bird sightings:

My husband and I saw Puffins (Fratercula arctica)! Thousands of them! We went on a puffin expedition (conveniently called the Puffin Express tour) off the coast of Reykjavik, to the islands of Lundey and Akurey and saw thousands of puffins twirling around their breeding island, fluttering above the water, flapping their wings wildly. Icelanders call puffins “little priests” because of their black collar-like coloring and the way they stand upright (the Latin name, fratercula, denotes this and means “little brother,” since the black and white plumage look like monastic robes). The little priests are fantastic creatures: they live an average of 20-30 years and are monogamous and the female only lays one egg per year! During breeding season, the male prepares two holes for his family: one for the nesting and the other which they use as a bathroom! How utterly civilized.

I couldn’t take my eyes of the Arctic Terns (not just because they were ubiquitous), especially when they showed off their amazing mid-air dance moves — the choreography was both rhythmically complex and aesthetically riveting!

(Photo from here.) I’ve decided I’d like to be an Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea) for a year. This bird *ONLY* lives in daylight! They summer in Iceland and winter in Antarctica! What a whole lot of traveling — roughly 40,000 km per year — for a 4 ounce (100 gram) bird! And I thought I had wanderlust…

And we saw Northern Fulmars, Oystercatchers and many other arctic species which I couldn’t identify and, to be honest, didn’t even try because I was entirely too busy falling in love with Iceland. I picked out the house I’d like to own (it turned out I have rather good taste, and were I to buy said house, Bjork would be my neighbor), the bakery I’d frequent, the coffee shop I couldn’t live without, the daily walk I’d take to the lighthouse, the thermal pool I’d swim in rain or shine, the amazing shoe store, and, of course, the brand new concert hall where I’d listen hear classical music to my heart’s content. Seriously, Reykjavik nearly gained a resident.

How is it possible to fall so deeply in love with a place I hardly know? It could have been the volcanoes, or the endless summer days, or the thermal pools, or the ocean walks, or the quiet, or the simple fact that we were on vacation, or the salmon and lamb, or the strange Icelandic alphabet that seems to possess a silent “r” and a letter for “dth”– ð — and “th” –þ– or the fact that Icelandic has thirty-two words for SNOW (because, as our tour guide told us, there are many different kinds of snow), but in any event I was smitten.

But it’s also great to be back home, and to know that we’ll be returning to Iceland before too long. (And yes, Iceland remains perfect in spite of the fact that its climate is too cold for my Tilley Hat!)

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