Arctic Wings of Iceland
A bird photography workshop with Daníel Bergmann and Joshua Holko
May 25 – June 4, 2018 (2 places available)
A hovering Puffin at Grimsey island
Iceland’s bird fauna is unique in the sense that the island is a breeding ground for both Nearctic (North-American) as well as Western Palearctic (Eurasian) bird species, along with some true Arctic species that are at the southern limit of their breeding range. Combined with stunning scenery and almost 24-hours of daylight at the height of summer, Iceland is a fantastic destination for bird photography.
Our time on this workshop will be divide between two main locations – Lake Myvatn in the north and Grimsey island, off the north coast. Lake Myvatn arguably holds the largest concentration of waterfowl to be found anywhere and all of Iceland’s duck species breed at the lake and Laxa river system. To get close up images of ducks and other water birds we’ll be using hides (blinds) that will be set up by a pond near our hotel. We’ll also venture out into the moors surrounding the lake to photograph moorland birds such as Rock Ptarmigan, Whimbrel and Golden Plover. During our four days at Myvatn we plan to photograph a wide variety of ducks, divers, waders, passerines and possibly some birds of prey.
Iceland is also one of the best places on earth to photograph the Atlantic Puffin and our other main location, Grimsey island, is the finest in Iceland for Puffin photography. We’ll take a ferry out to the island and spend four days there. There are Puffins breeding at the cliff edges and slopes around the island and I’ve never been to a location that is as good for photographing Puffins in flight as in Grimsey. It’s also a great place for Razorbills and Guillemots along with other common birds. The northern part of Grimsey island is the only land in Iceland, which is within the Arctic circle and most of our Puffin photography will be at that part of the island.
Bird species encounterd
At Myvatn we’ll be photographing Barrow’s Goldeneye, Harlequin Duck, Common Scoter and other diving ducks (such as Tufted and Scaup) along with dabbling ducks, such as Wigeon. Also Horned Grebe, Red-necked Phalarope and possibly the two diver species (Great Northern and Red-throated Diver). In the moors and lava fields we’ll find Golden Plover, Whimbrel, Rock Ptarmigan, Snow Bunting and Northern Wheater. We may also encounter Merlin and Short-eared Owl and may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a Gyrfalcon as a few pairs frequently hunt near the lake.
At Grimsey island our main target is the sometimes comical and always delightful Atlantic Puffin. Other seabirds breeding on the cliffs are Northern Fulmar, Black-legged Kittiwake, Common Guillemot and Razorbill. We’ll also see and likely photograph Black Guillemot, Arctic Tern, Common Eider, Redshank, Common Snipe, Ringed Plover and Snow Bunting. Last year we saw high-Arctic vagrant species at Grimsey during our stay there; Sabine Gull and a pair of Red Phalarope, so anything can show up at this time of the year.
Barrow's Goldeneye at Myvatn
This photography workshop is about improving your photography as well as experiencing unique and exciting locations with fantastic birdlife. The leaders will be out photographing with you every day, helping you to realize the images you’re after and encourage you to capture birds in new ways. We are as passionate about photography as you are and participating in an intense photographic journey, with a group of like minded individuals, is a good way to grow as a photographer. As leaders and instructors we’re always at hand to assist with specific techniques and we welcome the opportunity to discuss the philosophical aspect of our art. If time will permit (as if the weather turns sour) we can work with individual participants on image selection and post processing. But this is first and foremost a field workshop where we’ll be practicing and perfecting field craft techniques rather than post processing.
Accommodation and food
We will be staying in single en suite rooms in a nice hotel at Lake Myvatn and in Dalvik and Akureyri, both before heading out to Grimsey and upon returning from the island. While at Myvatn we will be having breakfast and dinner at our hotel but will take packed lunch with us into the field or eat at nearby restaurants. All food is included and we’ll do our best to accommodate special diet requirements.
At Grimsey island we are staying at a guesthouse with a limited availability of rooms so while we are out at Grimsey there will have to be some sharing of rooms. Bathrooms are also shares in this guesthouse with one at each of the two floors. It’s a very homely and cozy place (the only accommodation on the island big enough for a group) and a great base camp for photography as the birds are literally breeding just outside the house. We’ll have a cook with us out to the island that will make us some gourmet food.
Arctic Tern in the midnight sun
The days are long in Iceland during this time of year with extended periods of soft and golden light. Birds are also most active during the late and early hours of the day so we’ll need to be prepared to be out photographing after dinner and before breakfast. The key to our success will be flexibility though and we’ll make the most of the conditions that we’ll be given and rest when we’ll have the opportunity.
At Myvatn we’ll have 4 hides set up by ponds near our hotel. With 8 photographers in the group this means that each photographer will get two mornings in a hide. The bird activity at the ponds starts as the sun begins to warm the area, or at around 5 am. So the photographers need to be in there at 4 am, to give the birds already on the ponds a chance to become used to people in the hides. The morning activity at the ponds is usually over before 9 am. So the morning programs will be that half of the group goes into the hides at 4 am while the other half goes on a drive to some other nearby lake locations at 5 am. At 9 (or before) we’ll return to the hotel for breakfast and a nap and will then head out again in the afternoon for some more photography. The hides will only be set up for morning sessions, but that’s the peak of activity with male ducks defending territory and fighting over females.
Although Grimsey island is not physically large the distances are too long between one end of the island to another to cover it with full photography gear. We’ll therefore take the truck with us out to the island and will drive to the main locations. There is also fantastic photography to be made just outside the guesthouse so the schedule at Grimsey will sometimes be quite loose and participants can control their time in the field.
As with all bird photography a long telephoto lens is necessary, preferably one that gets you to over 600mm of reach. This could be a 500mm with an extender, a 600mm or even longer. A 300mm with extenders could also work (if it can take a 2xTC to get to 600mm). Cameras with crop factors then increase the reach, which could be desired – especially for the Myvatn leg of the workshop.
Harlequin Duck at River Laxa, which flows out of Myvatn
The workshop starts and ends in the town of Akureyri in the north of Iceland. I will be at the Akureyri domestic airport to meet you and when everyone has arrived we’ll drive to Lake Myvatn (about 1,5 hour drive). Once there we’ll be at the same hotel for 4 nights, or until May 29th, when we travel to the town of Dalvik, from where the ferry departs to Grimsey island.
On May 30th we’ll sail out to Grimsey and stay there until June 3rd, when we sail back to the main land and overnight at Akureyri. Participants then start their journey home with a domestic flight to Reykjavik/Keflavik on June 4th.
I am a native Icelander, a professional nature photographer since 1999 and have been leading photography tours and workshops in Iceland for 15 years. Birds are my passion and I’ve been on the board of directors at Fuglavernd (BirdLife Iceland) for over a decade. I have spent a combined period of months at Lake Myvatn over the past two decades and have unique access to many of its private land, such as where I’ll set up the photography hides for the workshop.
Joshua Holko is Australia’s leading nature photographer. He concentrates on the Arctic and Antarctic regions and is widely awarded. He has been leading photography workshops in Iceland and other Arctic regions for many years. You can learn more about Josh on his website.
Date: May 25–June 4, 2018
Duration: 10 days/10 nights
Cost: $9,490 USD
Includes: Transportation in a large modified 4×4 Mercedes-Sprinter, ferry fees, use of photography hides at Myvatn, location fee, accommodation, all food and drink (except alcohol), guidance and tuition
Excludes: Domestic flight to and from the town of Akureyri in the north (where the workshop starts/ends), international flights, insurance, alcoholic beverages
Group size: 8
Leaders: Daniel Bergmann and Joshua Holko
Please contact me for further information and booking.