I never thought I’d say this, but I found a bird I hate.
It was a moody, beautiful day when we landed on Grímsey on our Iceland Circumnavigation expedition trip. A little island 40 kilometers north of Iceland, the only part of Iceland that sits within the Arctic Circle at 66° North. The rest of Iceland sits just below the Arctic Circle.
This is probably the main draw card for those visiting Grímsey, but I’m just here for nature and the birds.
I also love visiting off-the-beaten-path locations, and in a country as popular as Iceland, those can be hard to find. Rest assured, Grímsey is still pretty far off the grid. The great part about exploring Iceland by sea with Adventure Canada is that we can rock up almost anywhere, disembark with zodiacs, and explore on the water anytime. That’s infinitely harder to do if you’re traveling independently.
And let me say that tourism has changed drastically in the decade since I last visited Iceland. Luckily, with the ship, we could actually plan to be in places when they were quiet or avoid clashing when other large cruise ships were in port. We often had spectacular places all to ourselves. And this was definitely the case with Grímsey.
Grímsey is wild and beautiful. With steep cliffs covered in nesting seabirds and puffins to rolling green hills to the most perfect Wes Anderson orange lighthouse, Grímsey is like something straight out of a travel guidebook but without the tourists.
But I will always remember Grímsey as the place where I got bonked on the head four times by Arctic terns – my new bird enemy.
Not once, but FOUR TIMES!!! What the hell!
Now listen, guys. I’m enough of a bird nerd to know that most birds become aggressively protective when nesting. That’s normal. And since I adhere to the no interference rule, I don’t generally go anywhere near nesting birds. Adventure Canada is exactly the same – leave no impact on nature. Just observe respectfully.
But Arctic terns take this to a whole new level. It doesn’t help that they nest on the ground, and there are millions of them.
Grímsey is home to one of the largest breeding colonies of Arctic terns in Iceland. And they’re inescapable. Mating for life, they nest wherever they want, alongside the main (and only) road. About 55 people live on Grimsey. And to get anywhere, you can’t escape the terns.
I opted to check out the lighthouse and the beautiful bird cliffs, accessed by the main road. It was an amazing walk, minus one section where you had to run for your life past all of the terns who made it their mission to divebomb everyone. It’s why I don’t have any photos from that particular stretch of road.
Arctic terns actually hold the world record for the longest migration of any animal in the world. Traveling over 70,000 kilometers on average twice yearly, Arctic terns migrate between their summer breeding grounds in the Arctic to the austral summer in Antarctica.
The average arctic tern can live to be over 30 years old and will travel the equivalent of over three round trips from Earth to the Moon during its lifetime. Pretty impressive.
And if you can look past the fact they might try to bop you on the head repeatedly, they are beautiful birds. Elegant with long wings and forked tails, their silhouette makes them easily identifiable.
There are plenty of other beautiful birds to be found on Grimsey, as well as some large breeding colonies of sea birds. Here in the summertime, you’ll find plenty of black-legged kittiwakes, puffins, razorbills, and guillemots.
In fact, seabirds outnumber humans on Grimsey at around 10,000 to one. There are also no foxes on the island, which makes it particularly safe for nesting birds. The best season for birdwatching here is from April to August.
For me, I really enjoyed watching the large colonies of puffins around the island. I could watch them for hours. Tiny and cute, puffins were just about everywhere. Seeing them plopped down amongst the flowers was ridiculously cute. I’m still trying to get the shot of one with a beak full of fish, but man, it’s hard! I think I need a bigger telephoto lens. The talented photographer on board with us, Steve Rose, managed to get the puffin shot, though!
Stepping within the Arctic Circle is pretty high on the bucket list for some travelers, and Grimsey is the only place in Iceland where you can do that.
The Arctic Circle runs through the little island, though I found it fascinating that it shifts northward year to year. By the middle of the 21st century, it’s expected that the Arctic Circle will no longer pass through Grimsey. So now’s your chance.
For the rest of the group that didn’t feel like getting bird PTSD, they walked in the other direction on Grímsey to see the iconic monument “Orbis et Globus,” a three-meter, eight-ton stone sphere that marks the location of the Arctic Circle on the island. Because it’s a sphere, it gets moved every year in line with the changes in the Arctic Circle.
When I reflect on all of the amazing places I was able to visit in Iceland, Grímsey sits high among my faves. A silent underdog, the quiet beauty of Grímsey combined with epic birdlife made it unforgettable.
While the Arctic tern has officially moved down on the list of birds I love, it was still pretty incredible to see them in large colonies – from a distance.
Have you heard of Grímsey? Is this a place you’d like to visit in Iceland? Share.
Many thanks to Adventure Canada for hosting me in Iceland – like always, I’m keeping it real – all opinions are my own, like you could expect less from me!
The post Arctic Iceland – visiting the island of birds on Grímsey appeared first on Young Adventuress.