My husband, Rich, really wanted to see a puffin while we were on vacation this summer. He booked two tours for us in Iceland so that we would have a couple opportunities to see this cute bird.
Our first tour was to Vigur Island via boat from our cruise port in Isafjordur, Iceland. We arrived to the island and were greeted by 4 puffins sitting on a tall rock right by the dock. They let us take a few pictures, but then flew off due to the noise from crunching rocks beneath our feet. We had to learn to be quieter if we wanted a chance to get close to the puffins. We saw a few more puffins on rocks by the rocky beach, but they always flew away as we approached. The highlight of this tour was avoiding the arctic terns. It is their nesting season, so they are very protective of their nests filled with eggs and try to chase away anything that comes close, including humans. We had to hold up colored, wooden sticks, so that the terns would attack the sticks and not the top of our heads. I held up a stick for Rich so that he could still take pictures, but that meant we could not stray too far from each other. It was fun walking along the path and having the terns hit the stick occasionally. As we were getting ready to depart the island and head back to the cruise port, Rich and I went back to the tall rock and found a few more puffins that allowed us to take pictures of them without flying away. We made sure to be quiet as we approached them and sure enough they just stayed on the rock. They were still pretty far from our cameras, but we zoomed in as much as possible to capture their cute faces as they looked back at us.
The next day we docked in Akureyri, Iceland. We ventured about 90 minutes from the cruise port and met up with our tour boat in Skagafjordur. We traveled to Drangey Island, about 30 minutes away, with 14 other people. Leading the tour was a father-son team. We docked at the bottom of the island and prepared for our trek up the semi steep route to the top. I led our group up to the top and paused along the way to take some pictures of the puffins. There were tens of thousands of puffins on this island, maybe more. They let you get about 1 meter away from them before flying away. As I took their picture they would tilt their heads and look back at me. Almost as if asking what I was doing, but in a bird type of way. We had to climb in a single file fashion, as there were parts of the journey that required us to use a rope to help us continue our upward climb. We finally reached the top of the hike and were led to a small house that was built on the island. Here we were offered refreshments, but we declined, as the island did not have a restroom. Our guide told us a fun story about Grettir, the Icelandic outlaw.
We also learned that puffins migrate to Greenland, and then Canada in the winter. Puffins mate for life and the male takes a few years to properly build and take care of the burrow. Having a clean home is a draw for a female puffin. The males brightly colored head and feet also help with the mating process. If the burrow is not clean when the female returns she will seek out a new mate. Puffins only have one chick each season, so it is important for them to reproduce when they arrive back to Iceland. With all this puffin knowledge, we set off on the top of the island to search for more colonies. As we approached the edge of the island our guide had us all line up and walk quickly together. This alerted thousands of puffins and we saw multitudes of puffins flying all across the sky! As we made our journey back to the path to descend, Rich and I saw a few puffins with a beak full of fish. Rich was able to take a few of this iconic scene and was thrilled that we had such perfect weather for photographing the puffins.
We made our way back down the narrow path, which is always harder than going up. We boarded the boat and made our way back to the mainland, where our guide was waiting to take us back to our cruise ship. I had requested to see Icelandic horses if we passed them and had time to view them. He told me that Skagafjordur was the area in Iceland with the largest population of horses, but that most of them would be in the mountains at this time of year. The ones that we did see during our drive were the horses that the families kept to work on the farms. The younger horses were allowed to roam up into the mountains each summer, just like the Icelandic sheep.
Now, we don’t just love birds, we also enjoy seeing animals that run on land like we do; so what better animal to see next than the Alaskan Husky in Norway. These dogs are most commonly seen as sled dogs racing in competitions hundreds of miles long. They pull the sled and the musher as a team and are kept together in the dog yard. They must be able to interact with each other and socialize with their trainers and visitors. A very excited team of dogs greeted us at the Tromso Wilderness Centre. The team is set up so that the lead dogs, usually female, are in the front and guide the sled by listening to the directions of the musher. Next you have swing dogs, which can be one or more dogs depending on the size of the team and the length of travel. These dogs are the cheerleaders of the team. They encourage the lead dogs to keep going and are also usually female. The final type of dogs is the wheel dog, and these are typically the larger male dogs. The power and strength comes from these dogs and it helps that they like to chase the female dogs that are in front of them. After seeing many of the dogs in the dog yard and the racing dogs we were shown a short video about what it is like to complete a dog sled competition. Finally, we were taken to the puppy playground and were able to interact with three puppies that were four months old. Then we were able to hold puppies that were 2 weeks old! The puppy I held fell asleep in my arms. While I very much wanted to take the puppy home with me so that he could continue to sleep I knew he would not survive in the Atlanta weather. So I had to put him back with his mother and head back to our ship.
Our next encounter with animals was while we were hiking in Geiranger, Norway. Rich and I decided to be adventurous and go a self- guided hike up into the mountains surrounding the beautiful fjord. It was a little muddy and we had changes in weather all along the hike. It would rain, be windy, and then the sun would come out. We followed little markers all the way to the top and then began the much harder descent. While hiking down we saw lots of black slugs on the path or right to the side. Being the curious people that we are I took a video of one of the slugs moving for about 2 minutes. In this time the slug moved its whole body about 1 inch. This rough distance was determined by Rich putting the first part of his finger next to the slug. We also saw alpacas on our journey, but they were not happy to see us. We took some pictures and continued trekking down so that we did not disturb the alpacas anymore.
We always have so much fun seeing animals in their natural environments. We also love interacting with animals when the chance presents itself. Seeing an animal is always awe inspiring. Being able to learn about them and their behavior, really makes you stop and think just how fascinating and instinct driven these creatures are.