My biggest disappointment from my first trip to Iceland in 2006 was that I only saw puffins at a great distance, out at sea–they generally leave by August 20 or so, but that year had been a bad puffin year. When I visited the Westmann Islands, they were pretty much gone, although normally that would have been a great time of year to see them heading out to see.
This trip we started a bit more than a week earlier, which I think helped, but it was also a better year–our best look at puffins was actually at the end of the trip. But we decided to try to see puffins early on, so on the third day we took one of the puffin-watching boats out into Faxaflói Bay, where a number of small islands host large puffin colonies. The puffin boats are usually a little smaller than the whale-watching boats, but we still weren’t able to get terribly close to the islands. Still, the sheer number of puffins even late in the season was impressive, and there were many other seabirds out and about.
As we headed out into the bay we passed Harpa, the spectacularly modern concert hall.
Here’s a typical island in Faxaflói Bay–I’m not sure which one this is, but it might be Viðey, the largest of the islands:
You can see how columnar basalt comprises a lot of it. Columnar basalt is very common in Iceland, and I’ll talk more about it in a later post.
Flocks of Atlantic Puffins (Fratercula arctica) scattered in front of the boat:
The bird cliffs were also home to large numbers of Kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla), as well as Arctic Fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis) like this one:
Despite it being fairly late in the season (puffins spend the winter far out at sea), there were still quite a few puffins hanging around the nesting areas on the cliffs:
I was happy: we saw puffins, and they were close enough to be recognizable. But later in the trip, we got even luckier…