Quest for the Arctic Fox
16-21. July

Come and watch the only original land mammal in Iceland in its natural habitat. Hornstrandir Nature Reserve is the only area in Iceland where the Arctic fox is protected. Some of the foxes get quite relaxed around humans and are perfect models for great photographs and getting-close-to-nature experience. On this trip we'll be accompanied by a wildlife specialist from the Arctic Cox Centre of Iceland that knows where the dens are and can recognize the foxes by names.

Quest for the Arctic Fox
In the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve in the West Fjords of Iceland nature rules unchallenged. The last permanent residents moved away in 1952 and now there are only summer houses, no roads are anywhere in this area and only access is by boat or foot. The landscape is dramatic, with majestic bird cliffs and lush valleys. The wildlife is rich with almost 50 species of breeding birds, seals, whales and porpoises. The great bird cliffs of Hælavík and Hornvík are home to 3-4 million seabirds such as Guillemots, Razorbills, Puffins, Kittiwakes and Fulmars. The Nature Reserve is also home to the only native terrestrial mammal in Iceland - the Arctic Fox - and the only area in Iceland where all hunting for foxes is banned. In this trip we will be accompanied by an expert guide on the wildlife of the area such as Ester Rut Unnsteinsdottir director of the Arctic Fox Center in Sudavik and a leading expert on Arctic Foxes. Using the comfortable expedition yacht AURORA as a mothership gives us flexibility in itineraries and enhanced safety.

Trip itinerary

Day 1 - Monday
Departure from Ísafjörður at 19:00 on our sailing yacht AURORA. 1-2 hour sailing to Seyðisfjörður fjord and anchor either at Eyri or Folafótur.

On the way there and/or with a short walk onshore we have an opportunity to see different species of birds such as: Puffin, Black Guillemot, Whooper Swan, Eider, Fulmar, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Golden Plover, Common Snipe, Common Redshank, Glaucous Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Arctic Tern, Pied Wagtail, Redwing, Raven, Cormorant, Shag and many others.

We will keep an eye open for the Arctic Foxes that live on the Folafótur peninsula and quite likely hear them calling each other as we go to sleep onboard AURORA.

Day 2 - Tuesday
Short sail to the small island of Vigur where we will go ashore. This is a very unique place where man and nature have coexisted in balance and harmony and where thousands of seabirds come ashore to breed during the short summer.

There are large colonies of Eiders, Puffins, Arctic Terns and Black Guillemots. Apart from these birds there are a few passarine species such as Snow Bunting, Pied Wagtail and Meadow Pipits. With luck a White Tailed Eagle or Gyrfalcon can be spotted. It may also be possible to spot King Eiders. They often pair with common Eider females, producing exquisite looking hybrids.

The island also has a cultural and architectural history worth exploring. There is the only windmill in Iceland and the oldest house on the island is the recently renovated Viktoría House, built in 1860. Vigurbreiður is a rowing boat for eight people, over 200 years old. We will spend 3-5 hours walking around the island and stop for coffee and freshly baked cakes in the Viktoría house.

We'll set sail in the early afternoon and sail along the coast of Snæfjallaströnd and around the headland of Bjarnanúpur. There we will be in close proximity to cliffs with large Fulmar colonies and meet other birds on the ocean such as Kittiwake, Arctic Tern and Guillemots. We will sail along the coast of Grænahlíð. There we may see remains from wrecks of two British and one Icelandic trawlers that ran aground there in the fifties and sixties.

We will sail around the headlands of Ritur, Straumnes and Kögur and anchor off the old settlements in Hlöðuvík.

We are now in the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve where nature rules. The vegetation is surprisingly lush. Over two meter high Angelica grows down to the coast and the lowlands and slopes are decorated by spreading patches of Wood Crane's-bill, Fleabanes, Cotton grass, Lady Smock and other wildflowers. In the rocky and sandy areas we also have flowers such as Wild Thyme, Oysterplant, Arctic Poppy, Roseroot, Moss Campion and Thrift. In the hills we can find Crowberries (Blackberries) and Blueberries (Bilberries) later in the summer.

This is a prime place to locate the Arctic Fox dens and check out the cubs.

Night will be spent at anchor in Hlöðuvík.

Day 3 - Wednesday
AURORA will sail from Hlöðuvík and enter the bay of Hornvík under the huge cliffs of Hælavíkurbjarg. In these cliffs there are the world's largest colonies of Common Guillemot and Brünnich Guillemot but also major populations of Kittiwake, Razorbill and Fulmars.

We will sail close to shore with the 300m cliffs towering overhead. Weather and sea-state permitting we will sail through the narrow pass behind the cliff of Súlnastapi. This gives us a chance to see thousands of birds up close and interesting as well is to see many hundred birds diving under the boat.

In addition to the birds that we mentioned before we may also see others such as Puffins, Ravens, Gyrfalcon and Arctic Skua. More rare are Great Skua and Gannets.

We will continue towards the head of the bay and anchor there.  Hornvík is a prime location to see Arctic Foxes and a location for many research operations. Usually there are around six fox pairs on dens in the bay and a few single individuals.

There may also be an option for all or part of the group to hike between Hlöðuvík and Hornvík instead of sailing with the yacht.

Dinner will be onboard the yacht at anchor.

Day 4 - Thursday
Today there will be no sailing but we will focus on the magnificent birdcliff of Hornbjarg to check out the seabird colonies there as well as look for the Arctic Foxes. We will hike up to the edge of the cliffs and along the length of the cliffs. This is a hike of 3-5 hours. The birds we will see in the cliffs are primarily Common Guillemot, Brünnich Guillemot, Razorbill, Fulmar and Kittiwake.

It is estimated that there are about 1 million breeding pairs of Guillemot in Hornvík and Hælavík.

Twice every day huge flocks of Kittiwake gather for a fresh water bath in the river and in one particular lake. This is a very interesting sight and we will try to make time for a short walk into the valley to see this. There we may also see Whooper Swans, Ringed Plover, Arctic Skua, Snow Bunting, Purple Sandpipers and Red Necked Phalaropes.

We will have dinner onboard the yacht at anchor.

Day 5 - Friday
We will leave in the early morning and sail back to the Glacier Fjords (Jökulfirðir) area and the old abandoned village of Hesteyri. There are a few options for people to hike across the mountains instead of sailing with the yacht.

We will arrive  in the afternoon at our anchorage off the Hesteyri village. The last residents moved away in 1952 but many of them maintain their old houses and use them as summerhouses..

We may have time to explore the old village a bit and walk along the nice sandy beaches. We´ll keep our eyes open for the Harlequin ducks. Iceland is their only breeding grounds in Europe and they are both beautiful and fun to look at. Of course we will keep a sharp lookout for the Arctic Foxes.

The night will be spent at anchor off Hesteyri.

Day 6 - Saturday
This last morning we have a few options of wonderful walks/hikes.

We can walk to the ruins of the old whaling station where Norwegians processed around 12.000 barrels of whale-oil between 1894 and 1915 when the Icelandic government passed a law on the protection of whales in Icelandic waters. Later Icelandic companies processed herring in same plant until it was finally shut down around 1940.

We can also hike to the old farmstead of Slétta out on the headland. This is an easy hike but with fantastic view of the fjords.

In the early afternoon we board AURORA for a leisurely sail back to Isafjordur, arriving at the dock around 16:00. This will give people enough time to make the afternoon flight to Reykjavik if they so choose, but we would of course reccomend an easy afternoon in Isafjordur and a relaxing night in one of the hotels or guesthouses in town.

Borea Adventures - Hlíðarvegur 38 - IS 400 - Ísafjörður - ICELAND - info@boreaadventures.com

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