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Iceland Photography Tour - Birds of the Arctic

Iceland, Europe

Greg Downing
Jóhann Óli Hilmarsson
Alan Murphy
Photography Tour with Greg Downing, Jóhann Óli Hilmarsson, and Alan Murphy
10 people maximum
13 days
During a new Iceland photography tour, enjoy an itinerary mainly focused on Arctic bird photography including 4 nights at Grímsey Island in the Arctic Circle.

Trip Highlights

  • Main focus on Arctic bird photography with a great variety of nesting Arctic species and the opportunity to see other vagrants.
  • Spend 4 nights at Grímsey Island in the Arctic Circle.
  • Photograph the best of Iceland’s birds with other incredible sights such as volcanos, waterfalls, and landscapes.
  • Days are scheduled to avoid crowds.
  • Flexible daily schedule to visit amazing locations during the best light.

Dates

Main Trip, 0 people maximum

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    Cost Per Person (USD)

    Price from $999,999,999,999
    Full details

    Iceland photography tour © Greg Downing

    Featuring a wealth and wide variety of incredible photography opportunities, northeast Iceland is one of the best places on Earth to photograph cliff-dwelling birds such as colorful and comedic Atlantic puffins, razorbills, murres, gannets, fulmars, and many other seabirds.

    At Grímsey we will be right on the Arctic Circle, spending time searching for and photographing nesting Arctic species and vagrants. As your group works east and northward from your starting point in Reykjavík, you will marvel at the beautiful sights at every turn. Only our Iceland photography tour shows you the best of Iceland’s birds with other marvelous sights such as volcanos and waterfalls.

    Join Us for a Remarkable Itinerary You Won’t Find Elsewhere!

    Featuring 3 Days at Grímsey Island in the Arctic Circle

    There are a few companies that offer tours to the Grímsey Island portion of the trip, but this is just one of the many places you will visit with us so you won’t feel as though you are missing out on anything. Since your group will take a ferry to Grímsey Island, it would be a lot of effort to travel all that way to only visit there and not spend any time photographing the birds and locations of Iceland’s mainland too.

    An Unforgettable Iceland Photography Tour Arranged by Light

    During this time of year in Iceland it never gets dark, thus we will have 21–22 hours of daylight which means many potential hours of sweet light! Your days will be scheduled to avoid crowds and take advantage of amazing locations during the best light, often shooting late into the night after dinner or even before breakfast. Then we will balance our down time with the remaining hours of daylight.

    Mývatn kvold © Jóhann Óli Hilmarsson

    Travel with the Best Leaders to Iceland’s Top Bird Locations

    An Iceland photography tour focused on birds wouldn’t be complete without world-class leaders by your side helping you locate species. This exciting adventure will be led by renowned bird photographer Alan Murphy, NatureScapes Founder and photographer Greg Downing, and lifelong Iceland resident, ornithologist, and photographer Jóhann Óli Hilmarsson.

    “Grímsey Island was wonderful. To have all those birds just seconds from the front door was a big plus.”

    Dawn O.

    Itinerary

    Day 1, July 10
    Arrival in Iceland

    On the first day of your Iceland photography tour, you will arrive at Keflavík International Airport and transfer to your hotel in Reykjavík. After getting settled in you may opt for a self-guided city tour or some rest and relaxation. Vehicle rentals are available close by or instead you may opt to take a taxi to the center city and back. It’s very safe to walk around Reykjavík, exploring at your leisure with or without a camera and small lens. You’re also welcome to just relax at the hotel and energize yourself for the next day’s journey northward.

    In the early evening you and your group will attend a meet-and-greet to get to know one another and discuss the plans for the following morning’s departure. Afterward, you will enjoy a group dinner to close the evening.

    Overnight at hotel in Reykjavík.

    Day 2, July 11
    Depart Reykjavík

    After breakfast you will depart Reykjavík in our private tour bus and drive east along some majestic mountains and other sights, such as the infamous Eyjafjallajökull volcano. You will also pass beautiful waterfalls and spend time photographing them as time allows, arriving at your next hotel by dinner.

    After dinner you will have your first extended outing to explore the world-famous Jökulsárlón iceberg lagoon while photographing Arctic terns on ice. You will also photograph the famous black sand beach to capture ice that has calved off glaciers, washed out to sea, and then deposited itself back on the beach at low tide. The ice here has an sculptural beauty that dazzles in the light, offering beautiful landscape photography opportunities.

    During your time in this area, you will also visit some glacial sand flats which are the domain of the great skua, where you should be able to enjoy close encounters with this impressive bird.

    We will spend the night at a hotel near Skaftafell National Park.

    Day 3, July 12
    Journey Traveling East

    On this day we continue north and east, stopping at a few selected sites along the way. We do have a long drive today and we will most likely have dinner en route, arriving to Ytra-Lón by late evening and getting settled into our hotel for the night. We will have a couple of days to explore this area at our leisure.

    Our destination, Ytra-Lón on Langanes peninsula, is located as far from the Keflavík International Airport as you can possibly go on land.

    Overnight at a hotel in the middle of the Langanes peninsula where we base for 3 nights

    Abstract ice photography in Iceland © Greg Downing

    Day 4 and 5, July 13 and 14
    Langanes Peninsula, Sea Cliffs, and Bird Photography

    Langanes is an extremely remote, narrow peninsula located between Þistilfjörður and Bakkaflói that’s shaped like a goose with a very large head. This area is about as wild as coastal Iceland gets, making it perfect for exploring off the beaten path for birds like rock ptarmigan, snow bunting, and purple sandpipers, which are among the many breeders here.

    On the northern and southern tip of the peninsula we will ascend two steep sea cliffs, Skoruvíkurbjarg and Skálavíkurbjarg, which offer excellent views where it is possible to photograph northern gannet and other seabird species.

    Other breeds of birds that are common to see are thick-billed murre, common murre, razorbill, black-legged kittiwake, puffin, and others. The shores here are full of beautiful Siberian driftwood, adding an interesting element to your landscape photography.

    Overnight at a hotel in the middle of the Langanes peninsula.

    Day 6, July 15
    Melrakkaslétta Peninsula

    This day brings us exploration of Iceland’s far northeastern peninsula, Melrakkaslétta. This wildand remote area has an arctic feel and is a superb location for photographing many birds in the summer, with good numbers of red-throated loon, snow bunting, and purple sandpiper as well as a very healthy population of gyrfalcon, the largest of all falcons.

    The beaches here may still be hosting some lingering Arctic shorebirds, with other rarities regularly seen. This area is abundant with a variety of breeding waders, including whimbrel, black-tailed godwit, and European golden plover.

    During our time here you will also visit the stunning horseshoe canyon of ásbyrgi. The horseshoe shaped canyon formation of ásbyrgi likely started between 8,000–10,000 years ago after the last Ice Age, followed by further changes about 3,000 years ago. The geography here makes it a fantastic location for landscape photography.

    Overnight at a hotel in Mývatn where we base for the next 2 nights.

    Day 7, July 16
    Lake Mývatn and Surrounding Locations for Bird Photography

    Lake Mývatn (Midge Lake) is one of Europe’s greatest birding destinations. The midges, which are harmless chironomids, are the mainstay of life at this lake plentiful with birds and is home to thousands of breeding wildfowl with 15 species of ducks.

    Barrow’s goldeneye is a common sight here at its only European breeding site. It shares the lake with other ducks such as common scoter, gadwall, Eurasian wigeon, long-tailed duck, greater scaup, and tufted duck, while American vagrants such as ring-necked duck and American wigeon are recorded regularly at this superb site. The drakes are molting and in eclipse plumage during this time of the year. Harlequin ducks are common on the Laxá river which flows out of the lake, while horned grebes are highly photogenic on the lake itself with possible chicks to be seen. Common and red-throated loons provide natural background noise to set the scene, while arguably the main attraction at the lake, the gyrfalcon, can possibly be seen anywhere in the area. Several pairs of breeding gyrfalcons—the world’s largest and most powerful falcon—take advantage of the great numbers of rock ptarmigan, wildfowl, and waders. Its smaller cousin the merlin also breeds in the area, and if we are lucky we might see short-eared owl hunting in the 24-hour daylight.

    With fascinating geology and geothermal sites around the lake Mývatn is like no other place in Iceland. Depending on weather and preferences we may also have the option to also visit Dettifoss waterfall, the most powerful one in Europe.

    Overnight at a hotel in Mývatn.

    Red-throated loon © Greg Downing

    Day 8, July 17
    Grímsey Island in the Arctic Circle

    You will leave Mývatn early to catch the 9:00 AM ferry to Grímsey Island, to which we will arrive around noon. Due to the ferry schedule we will likely have to wait a few hours to fully move into our accomodations in our private guesthouse. After getting settled in we will begin to explore the island and all it has to offer.

    For four nights we will have free reign of this amazing location, which will be ample time to get great shots of puffins and basically all the other species that inhabit this unique island along the Arctic Circle. While we will have transport for you and your gear between the main photography locations on the southern and northern tip of the island, if you do not want to walk, there are puffins literally right outside our front door.

    Overnight at a private guesthouse on Grímsey Island where we base for the next 4 nights.

    Day 9–11, July 18–20
    Grímsey Island in the Arctic Circle

    Grímsey Island is a small location bisected by the Arctic Circle, and is the finest location in Iceland for photographing Atlantic puffins, especially in flight as they soar near their nesting cliffs.

    There are a lot of puffins in Grímsey and at times the grass slopes are filled with them. It’s also a great place to photograph razorbill, Arctic terns, breeding common and thick-billed murre, black guillemot, black-legged kittiwake, and northern fulmar. You can also expect to see and photograph common eider, red-necked phalarope, ringed and European golden plover, purple sandpiper, and snow bunting among others. Grímsey Island also offers unique opportunities for landscape photography, featuring structural basalt columns and rock formations.

    Overnight at a private guesthouse on Grímsey Island.

    Day 12, July 21
    Grímsey Island and Akureyri

    After a full morning of photography, we will leave Grímsey Island in the afternoon and overnight about 30 minutes south in the town of Akureyri

    Overnight at a hotel in Akureyri.

    Day 13, July 22
    Drive Back to Reykjavík

    On the final day of your Iceland photography tour, you will drive back to Reykjavík while stopping at some nice photo opportunities en route. You will enjoy a final dinner with your group and stay overnight in Reykjavík.

    Overnight at hotel in Reykjavík.

    Day 14, July 23
    Departure from Iceland

    This morning you will enjoy breakfast at your hotel before transferring for your flight home. If you would like, you may opt to spend extra days in Iceland on your own or continue onward with our Iceland Highlands Tour for landscape photography.

    Razorbill © Greg Downing

    Includes

    • Lodging throughout 13 nights (double occupancy)
    • All transfers to and from airport and hotels
    • Professional driver/photo/nature guide
    • Private transportation in a spacious and rugged tour bus throughout
    • Transport at Grímsey Island and round trip ferry ride
    • Entrance fees for all described activities
    • Taxes on all services listed above
    • Breakfast and meet-and-greet dinner on the first day
    • Farewell dinner on the last day

    Does Not Include

    • Airfare to/from Keflavík International Airport (KEF)
    • Airport departure tax or fees (if applicable)
    • Meals and drinks unless specified
    • Gratuities

    Godafoss waterfall © Jóhann Óli Hilmarsson

    Dates and Cost

    Dates

    Main Trip, 0 people maximum

      Sign Up for Waiting List

      We're sorry, but this trip is sold out! Sign up for the waiting list and if any openings become available we'll email you. We will also email you when new dates are announced so you can be the first to know.

      Cost Per Person (USD)

      • Trip:
      • Deposit: $0

      Trip Details

      Dates

      Main Trip, 0 people maximum

        Sign Up for Waiting List

        We're sorry, but this trip is sold out! Sign up for the waiting list and if any openings become available we'll email you. We will also email you when new dates are announced so you can be the first to know.

        Cost Per Person (USD)

        • Trip:
        • Deposit: $0

        Single Supplements

        Single supplement fees reflect our actual cost and are subject to availability. If you're a single traveler and we're unable to place you with a roommate, we will need to place you in a single room and charge a single supplement.

        Extend Your Experience in Iceland

        You may also be interested in our Iceland Highlands Tour with Nikhil Bahl the following week.

        Travel Ratings

        Moderate Activity
        Intermediate Photographers
        Based on Land, Sea
        Non-Photographers: Yes, Limited, No Discount

        Map

        Leaders and Guides

        Greg Downing

        Greg has been traveling the world teaching professional and amateur photographers for more than 15 years hosting his instructional workshops and...Continue reading

        Jóhann Óli Hilmarsson

        Jóhann Óli Hilmarsson, is a leading authority on the birds of Iceland and one of the country’s most experienced bird photographers. He has written...Continue reading

        Alan Murphy

        Alan Murphy, an award winning photographer, grew up in England and is an avid birder. Upon immigrating to the States Alan picked up a camera and...Continue reading

        Photo Gallery

        Atlantic puffin closeup © Greg Downing
        Atlantic puffin flying © Greg Downing
        Atlantic puffin in flight © Greg Downing
        Atlantic puffin portrait © Greg Downing
        Skua flying © Jóhann Óli Hilmarsson
        Razorbill group © Jóhann Óli Hilmarsson
        Red-phalarope © Jóhann Óli Hilmarsson
        Razorbill perched © Jóhann Óli Hilmarsson
        Pink-footed goose © Jóhann Óli Hilmarsson
        Northern gannets sula landing © Jóhann Óli Hilmarsson
        Northern gannets langanes karlinn © Jóhann Óli Hilmarsson
        Icelandic horses mountain © Jóhann Óli Hilmarsson
        Hvitserkur © Jóhann Óli Hilmarsson
        Selfoss waterfall © Jóhann Óli Hilmarsson
        Viti Iceland © Jóhann Óli Hilmarsson
        Myvatn kvold © Jóhann Óli Hilmarsson
        Hverfjall © Jóhann Óli Hilmarsson
        Grjotagja © Jóhann Óli Hilmarsson
        Godafoss waterfall © Jóhann Óli Hilmarsson
        Dettifoss waterfall © Jóhann Óli Hilmarsson
        Belgjarskogur Iceland © Jóhann Óli Hilmarsson
        Belgjarskogur Iceland landscape © Jóhann Óli Hilmarsson
        Atlantic puffin flying with fish © Jóhann Óli Hilmarsson
        Semi-palmated plover © Greg Downing
        Red-throated loon © Greg Downing
        Red-throated loon on lake © Greg Downing
        Razorbill © Greg Downing
        Oystercatcher © Greg Downing
        Northern fulmar © Greg Downing
        Jokulsarlon lagoon ice © Greg Downing
        Horned grebe pair © Jóhann Óli Hilmarsson
        Icelandic horses in pasture © Greg Downing
        Atlantic puffin on cliff © Greg Downing
        Iceland photography tour © Greg Downing
        Atlantic puffin © Greg Downing
        Atlantic puffin and flowers © Greg Downing
        Jokulsarlon Iceland © Greg Downing
        Icelandic horses in Iceland © Greg Downing
        Icelandic horse © Greg Downing
        Icelandic horse pair © Greg Downing
        Ice abstract, Iceland © Greg Downing
        Common redshank © Greg Downing
        Arctic tern, Iceland © Greg Downing

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