a day for the birds

1_Myvatn_MuseumFuglasafn Sigurgeirs Entry on the Shores of Myvatn

The next morning as we plan our day, we discover that Myvatn, the mineral spring lake in the Golden Circle, is also one of the finest bird-watching spots in the world, especially in summer. The local listings at Guesthouse Stong recommend a visit to Fuglasafn Sigurgeirs, a famous bird museum on the shores of Myvatn. We GPS our way to the bird museum, thrilled to suddenly see the other side of the Queen of the Mountains, Herðubreið, and her court of various table mountains viewed from the south this time. She is a beauty even from the warm side of the region, but I must admit that travelling across the arctic expanse of fierce weather in the Highlands, seeing Herðubreið from the north in her frigid glory, was a highpoint of the tour so far.

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It was the finest moment of Iceland feeling like the Land of Ice. Then, as with California and the High Sierras where winter temperatures are ever-present, we drive to lower altitudes and spring temperatures. I often tell friends that California has “optional winter,” with the ability to shift from winter to summer temperatures within a few hours up or down the Sierras. The snow-capped peaks of the North Central Highlands delight us all around Myvatn with stunning vistas in every direction. Billowing layers of clouds overlay what begins as a sunny morning in true Icelandic style.

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The museum is a wonder of modern architecture and a vast collection of species packed into a small and elegant space. Visitors walk across a glass bridge with an active creek flowing beneath, emphasizing the importance of ecological balance in this fragile environment, assaulted with an explosion of tourism. We spend easily two hours talking with the docent about birds, environment, the challenges facing Iceland, and migrating birds. We are drawn to cases of raptors, swans, and puffins.

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Several outbuildings house a series of museum collections of local history, agricultural artifacts, regional folklore, and a sweet collection of handmade dories, used for ferrying locals across Myvatn back in the day before roads were carved everywhere. We stop along the roadside and photograph migrating birds feeding in the estuary pools. It’s easy to see the overlay of habitat for the natural world in Iceland, water for migrating birds. We must come to re-cognize that every inch of this planet, whether urban mall or Icelandic plain, is shared habitat for all the living things relying on earth, air, wind,  water. We’re the ones with the responsibility to keep it clean, to respect equity of access for all. It’s good to live in California where the awareness of land impact is becoming a norm in planning for development. Today, more than ever, we need an expanding Environmental Protection  agency as well as mindset. It is the protection of us all.

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