Flatey Island & Latrabjarg Cliff

Jul 17, 2019 - National Geographic Explorer

Against all odds, today we had incredibly good weather at Flatey Island. It was warm and sunny, and some of our staff members and guests were able to wander around in just t-shirts. That doesn’t happen every day in Iceland!

Flatey, where our day started, is one of the biggest islands of Breidafjord, and we could really understand why this is mainly a “summer” island (most of its population leaves during the winter months). Birds crowed every inch of the island: phalaropes, snow buntings, Arctic terns, puffins, kittiwakes. For an ornithologist, it was heaven on earth! There were also many flowering plants, and our personal Renaissance woman Karen walked us through the main species.

Our expeditioners walked all around the island, enjoying the plants, birds, sheep, and also…the church. Built in 1926, it features some paints and murals from the artist Baltasar Samper, a Spaniard holding Icelandic citizenship. The murals of the church feature some of the wildlife of the region, as the white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla), and an interesting representation of Jesus Christ, with a Nordic-sailor twist (e.g. Jesus represented in a turtle-neck jumper).

The experience at Flatey was already a pretty good one, but as the morning progressed it became even better! Mirra Ross, one of the most beloved and personal favorite Icelandic singers performed twice for us. Her melancholic, harmonic, and ethereal voice surrounded us, taking us on a journey through the Icelandic culture and tradition.

After that, we departed to explore the Latrabjarg Cliffs. Calm glassy seas welcomed us. Thousands of seabirds surrounded National Geographic Explorer, and we could identify fulmars, razorbills, guillemots, and puffins. A very shy shag flew by, toward its nest. Latrabjarg cliffs, aside from impressive, are one of the biggest razorbill colonies (Alca torda) on earth, with more than 40 percent of the world population of this species. Certainly, something to preserve for future generations.

After viewing the cliffs, it was time for dinner, which was shortened a bit by a group of humpback whales, which entertained our guests. A curious calf passed by the vow of the ship, letting us see his bright white pectoral fins.

When the light started to turn gold, most of us left to get some rest. Our expedition leader Lucho has prepared a day full adventures for tomorrow, and we certainly will need all our strength.

What a wonderful way to start our expedition in Iceland. More Arctic terns tomorrow!

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About the Author

Javier Cotin


Javier 's passion for birds and nature began as a child exploring the Pyrenees mountains with his father. The mystery that surrounds the Lammergeier silhouette triggered his curiosity and interest towards wildlife. Javier studied biology in Spain and Norway, and was awarded his PhD at the University of Barcelona in 2012, titled “Birds as bioindicators of pollution in terrestrial and aquatic environments”. Within it he mainly studied the trophic ecology and pollution levels of land and waterbirds, with a particular focus on how human activities affect bird populations and dynamics. His work provided important information for conservation management of wetlands and terrestrial habitats and the species that utilize them.

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