Iceland Travelogue: Day 3 August 10, 2016

View from Baldur Ferry in Stykkisholmur Harbor. Photo by Jamie Simo.

This morning we actually had some place to be on time so we had to set the alarm. From Stykkishólmur, we boarded the Baldur ferry for the West Fjords. Though you can drive up, it takes much longer. Even so, the ferry ride was 3 hours.

We got on at 9am and I spent a lot of time on deck braving the cold wind and drizzle to see Northern Fulmars flying around. I even saw a gannet and a few puffins.

At noon we put in and got our car then drove up to Látrabjarg, the western-most point in Europe. We hit up Raudasandur Beach, named for its red sand. The sight of the blue water with the sand and the lava cliffs beyond was beautiful.

We had dinner in Patreksfjörður and our hotel was a charming former school with the biggest room we’ve had yet. The decor wasn’t as spartan as our previous hotels and a dog came to greet us.

Atlantic Puffin at Látrabjarg bird cliffs. Photo by Jamie Simo.

After dinner we drove to Látrabjarg, the most famous bird cliff in Europe. We were told evening was best to see the puffins and that was perfect. We saw several immediately perched on the cliff edge quite close to the path. They’rev very used to people so we could get close to take pictures. There were also young Black-legged Kittiwakes everywhere and Northern Fulmar chicks that were still covered with down. It was spectacular and definitely my favorite part of the trip so far.

Tomorrow is a long driving day up north to get us closer to the Arctic Fox Center.

Welcome Jack Frost

Frost coating blades of green grass
Frost coating blades of green grass after sub-zero night time temperatures, close up background view Photo courtesy of:

This morning I woke up to frost on my bird feeders and deck railing, the first of the season. Poetically, frost is called “rime,” as in Coleridge’s poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (also a neat play on the word rhyme). But what is frost? Why does it show up almost exclusively in fall and winter?

Colorado’s Front Range has a semi-arid climate. It’s not a desert, but it only gets 14 inches of rain a year. In the summer, we talk about a “dry heat” and “low humidity.” This is in contrast to where I grew up in Virginia, where the average amount of rain in a year is about 3 times that and there’s a picture of the State in the dictionary under the word “muggy.”

Despite Colorado being so dry, there’s still some “humidity” (a measure of the amount of water vapor in the air) here. The higher the humidity, the more water. When it’s warm, water molecules are very energetic. You can see this when you boil water. Eventually, the water becomes so energized it escapes the bonds that hold one water molecule to the next and changes into steam. When air cools down, water molecules slow down and the steam turns back to liquid. This is called condensation.

Water boiling in a pan. The bubbles form as the molecules in the water speed up and eventually escape to form steam. Photo by Jamie Simo.

At night, when the temperature falls, the air can’t hold as much moisture as during the day because some of the water molecules in the air have slowed down enough to change back into liquid. That water then collects on surfaces. Have you ever noticed the grass is wet in the morning, but it hasn’t rained? This is called “dew.”

Frost is actually frozen dew. Remember that when you add heat, water molecules speed up? When you cool water down enough, the molecules that form it actually stop moving altogether and form a solid: ice.

So, while you’re scraping that frost off your car’s windshield this morning or some morning a month or two from now, pause to marvel at how amazing it is that it came to be there while you’re waiting for the defroster to really kick in.


Today was a lot busier than yesterday. We went to bed fairly early yesterday so I felt better rested when I got up around 5 this morning.  We had breakfast at the hotel, then drove along the coast along the route the desk attendant recommended.

Grey Seal at Ytri Tunga, Iceland. Photo by Jamie Simo.

It was cloudy and somewhat rainy this morning, but our first stop was Ytri Tunga where we were able to see several seals along with shorebirds. The most common seals here are Grey and Harbor.

We then headed to an old 19th century church called Budir. Sheep were everywhere and, like our friends mentioned, most of them were in groups of 3. What’s with that? [EDIT: the free-roaming sheep are all ewes with their lambs and sheep usually have twins.] There were a lot of birds too, especially Arctic Terns.

We stopped at a couple beach areas and got to see small cliffs for nesting birds, especially Black-legged Kittiwakes. I can’t wait to see the big bird cliff in the West Fjords. There was a crater we stopped at and a beach with an old British shipwreck.

Free-range sheep at Budir church. Photo by Jamie Simo.

One of the highlights was a gorgeous waterfall. After several false starts, I finally got a bird guide (they were sold out of English ones in Snaefellness National Park). Now I can keep track of what I’ve seen!

We take the ferry tomorrow to the bird cliffs and hopefully we’ll see puffins.