Birdwatching in Paradise
Birding sites around Lake Mývatn
Mývatn is a shallow and highly fertile lake with powerful fresh water springs and extensive areas of geothermal heat. Invertebrates thrive in the lake and they provide the food for the huge number of birds living in the area.
Mývatn is one of the best known birdwatching sites in Iceland and is also a Ramsar site. Fifteen species of ducks breed regularly at Mývatn and the River Laxá, and there are few places in the world with such a diversity of breeding wildfowl. Barrow’s Goldeneye is the area’s flagship species and the greatest density of breeding Harlequin Duck in the world is found in the upper reaches of the River Laxá; these species breed nowhere else in Europe but Iceland. The same is true of the Great Northern Diver, which also breeds at Mývatn. Other species which breed at Mývatn include Whooper Swan, Greylag Goose, Pink-footed Goose, Red-throated Diver, Horned Grebe, Gyr Falcon, Merlin, Rock Ptarmigan, various waders, including large a population of Red-necked Phalarope, Black-headed Gull, Arctic Tern, Short-eared Owl and Eurasian Wren. Almost 120 species have been recorded at Mývatn.
Take a Tour from Reykjahlíð
Let’s take a tour clockwise around Mývatn, approximately 35 km by road, and visit a few of the best birdwatching sites. Just below the old hotel at Reykjahlíð is a pretty stretch of the lakeshore with a numb
er of small islets. Horned Grebes breed commonly here and various dabbling ducks can be seen here too—sometimes Northern Shovelers are present. It is a very pleasant place to go birdwatching.
Just south of the village of Reykjahlíð, there is a bay called Helgavogur. The bay is ice-free in the winter and often attracts large numbers of birds at that time of year. In winter the water often gives off a lot of steam owing to the presence of geothermal heat and it sometimes makes for an impressive sight. In winter it is one of the main sites for dabbling ducks at Mývatn; in summer all species of dabbling duck which breed in Iceland can be found here, including the rarest, the Northern Shoveler. Other species breed here, including several pairs of Horned Grebe, and waders and gulls can often be seen on spits of land jutting out into the bay.The Dry Rocks of Dimmuborgir
Dimmuborgir is a special place. Apart from the lava formations and bizarre landscape, the bird life here differs from elsewhere around the lake. It is a very dry place and cliff-nesting birds such as
the Common Raven, Merlin and Gyr Falcon all breed here. Redwing and Eurasian Wren are conspicuous in the scrubland.
At Höfði, there are native birch woodlands with patches of rowan, and numerous introduced species have been planted. There are a variety of birds, with a range of passerines, including Eurasian Wren, Redwing, and Common Redpoll. In the bay to the north of Höfði there are large numbers of ducks and Barrow’s Goldeneye breeds in the lava formations; there is often a great commotion in the spring when the females are fighting over the best nesting sites and chase each other around and are then joined by the males. Around the Klasar Rock Pillars
Along the shore at Ytrivogar there is a path leading to the Klasar rock pillars, which must feature on every second postcard of Mývatn. There are various birds along this path, including Horned Grebe which breeds in the reeds right by the path, and a range of breedi
ng ducks. There are often a lot of birds at Birtingatjörn, on the other (eastern) side of the road but unfortunately there is nowhere to stop the car to watch them.
Lake Stakhólstjörn forms part of the protected area around the pseudocraters at Skútustaðir. The islet in the lake is home to nesting Great Northern Divers. You can often hear the haunting call of the divers on beautiful spring and summer evenings.
Kritartjörn is separated from the lake by a long, narrow spit of land. To the south and west there are large expanses of sedge, which are home to Horned Grebes and numerous dabbling ducks. There are often lots of Whooper Swans here and at Álftagerði, near Skútustaðir, the bay is often teeming with birds. A Parade of Harlequins
The River Laxá in the Mývatn area is one of the best known breeding sites for Harlequin Duck in the world. Food is plentiful and the birds dive to the bottom of the river to catch black fly larvae. It is also one of the best sites for brown trout fishing in Iceland. In years when there is little food in the lake itself but there are still plenty of black flies, lots of other birds come to the river. Barrow’s Goldeney
e raise their young here and the river hosts plenty of other ducks. On the western side of the lake from Vagnbrekka to Neslandavík there are numerous good sites for birdwatching. The road closely follows the lakeshore. As this is a protected breeding area from May to July, it is not recommended that you leave your car or walk around here—it is much better to watch the birds from your car. There are often flocks of dabbling ducks, diving ducks, Great Northern Divers, geese, Horned Grebes, waders, gulls and Arctic Terns here. The western shore is the best place to find Common Scoters at Mývatn. It is less common on the eastern shore but can be found there too.
The bird museum at bay Neslandavík is one of the best birdwatching sites at Mývatn. A flock of several dozen Whooper Swans moult there and in late summer you can find hundreds, if not thousands, of ducks on the bay. Horned Grebe, geese, ducks and various other birds breed around the bay.Mývatnsstofa
Hraunvegur 8 • 660 Mývatn
+354 464 4390