The story of Heimaey Island in the south of Iceland makes geology class feel like a modern day adventure movie. As our ship sailed toward the narrow opening to its fishing boat harbor, a first look at the land bore witness to the 1973 volcanic eruption that nearly closed the harbor entrance. I’ve never before seen hardened lava looking like wet mud that just dripped and dried quite recently. Later, we learned that men battled the lava flow threatening the harbor with fire hoses in a successful and historically unique effort to cool the lava and shorten the length of its flow, preserving the harbor entrance and the way of life for the fishermen.
The fog that would settle in for the day and cancel our flight-seeing tour was descending on us as well. Nevertheless, this view from our cabin this morning was quite beautiful. As a backup plan, I walked on my own into the village.
The volcano that forced the 2am evacuation of all the island residents in January of 1973 erupted for six months. All residents were safely evacuated to the mainland on fishing boats that happened to be in the harbor due to a recent storm. The people had wait all that time before they could return and find out the status of their homes.
A paragon of resilience, the residents returned to Heimaey to rebuild and resume their quiet, communal lives. I strolled up the street past new homes to see the volcano, and to visit the Museum of Remembrance, where recorded voices of residents describe personal stories of what happened as they realized the volcano was erupting and gathered their families to flee toward the harbor.
Puffins are camera shy, as they flee when they see you coming — unlike many seabirds that I’m accustomed to in Florida. As soon as I spotted one, tried to creep a bit closer, framed the shot and focused — off it went. Most of my photos that afternoon on Vigur Island were shot a second too late. Charlie and I were a persistent team; he was holding high sticks to ward off the Arctic Terns who are apt to attack your head. He was watching the long grass in the hillside for puffin nests where the puffins briefly land to feed their chicks, and acting as my spotter.
“Over there,” Charlie whispered to me, pointing. I crept closer with camera poised, hoping to focus and shoot before the puffins took flight.
I kept my shutter speed high and my lens wide open, trying to freeze action on a flying puffin at the very least. I was working hard to get a good puffin shot before leaving Iceland. Having seen puffin photos in all the shops, I knew how cute the little birds are!
At last our teamwork paid off, and I captured this image of a puffin with a beak full of fresh fish for the chicks. The Nikon D800 with 70-200 lens and a 1.4 teleconverter gave me a sharp image even though we were about 10 meters away.
Vigur Island in the north of Iceland is a dynamic place to observe Arctic Terns and Puffins nesting. Talk about isolation? Only one farmer lives on the island with his family and his own electric generator. In the summer he hosts small groups of visitors coming from nearby Islafjordur.
We were among those lucky visitors last week, and we spent all our time meeting the great challenge of photographing these quick birds in flight. Both the arctic terns and puffins would catch some small fish in the sea, and then swoop onto the thick grass to feed their tiny chicks. Since the arctic terns have a way of attacking the heads of nearby humans, my husband held two yard sticks over our heads with little blue flags on the end, to deter any incoming attacks. He was successful, and so was I — getting a few action photos of these beautiful birds.
While traveling, we learned an amazing fact about the Arctic Tern. It is the longest migrating creature on Earth — traveling from nesting grounds here by the Arctic Circle 44,100 miles to the north Antarctic every year — in search of endless summer. I had to hear that fact more than once before I believed it. That’s a long distance to cover with just those two wings!
Here is a close-up of an Arctic Tern chick. The chicks had no fear of us, and luckily no instinct yet to attack our heads.
Stay tuned to this blog for some very cute Puffin photos coming soon!
My friend Tamra is leaving for a cruise to Alaska this week. I hope she gets to see lots of Alaskan Wildlife as we did when we sailed on Silverea’s Silver Shadow in 2004. We loved watching bears grab salmon from the stream and eat them, leaving leftovers for the bald eagles near Wrangell. July is a great time to visit Alaska.
Whales were bobbing and breaching as well near Juneau, and in Sitka, we observed some colorful starfish.
As for me, I’ll be departing for Iceland this week, where I hope to photograph the Puffins as well as many waterfalls and volcanic landscapes.
Just outside my back door, I found fraternal twins on my hydrangea bush: a pink and a blue blossom on the same plant. All the rain in the past few weeks are helping the blossoms last. Stay away, hungry deer!
The hydrangea may be my favorite flower, thanks to associations with my daughter’s June wedding as well as memories of seeing them on Cape Cod.
This waterfall from the Hawaiian Island of Maui is getting me excited about my trip to Iceland, which is just around the corner — next Wednesday. Waterfalls are plentiful in a volcanic landscape, so I expect Iceland to bear lots of resemblance to Maui, except colder.
I’m ready for rain, waterfalls everywhere, a black sand beach and a few extras like puffins, the midnight sun and some glaciers. I’m packing lots of lenses and guide books and layered hiking clothes, and I am hoping for lots of good photography to share with you.
Friday July 7 is a great evening for a one-time photography show in Pittsburgh. The ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers) photographers will be exhibiting their recent personal work in the Cultural Trust Building, 4th floor: 807 Liberty Avenue. We have an annual tradition of putting on this one-night exhibit. Each year the art is diverse and fascinating, and most of the artists are there to talk to. We start at 5:30 pm. Please come meet us and enjoy dinner in the neighborhood.
These five of my prints will be on display and for sale. Hope to see you!