Yesterday, I made a trip back to my hometown in Northeast Arkansas and, naturally, I couldn’t resist stopping at Bald Knob National Wildlife Refuge on my way back to see what birds I could find.
I got lucky. Right off the bat, I found a Say’s Phoebe – which is rare to the area according to eBird.org. The Say’s Phoebe is a medium-sized flycatcher that is typically found in the western part of the United States.
For several weeks, a whooping crane has been spotted at Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge. I finally got a chance to go find him – and while I didn’t get the best photo – I am excited to say I’ve now seen my first whooping crane in Arkansas. Yay!
Whooping cranes, one of North America’s largest birds, are endangered. According to the Audubon Society, they were once pretty widespread on the northern prairies; however, they went nearly extinct in the 1940s. Strict protection has since brought the whooping crane population to over 100. When one is spotted in Arkansas, the birding community gets pretty darn excited.
Leaving at our usual time of 8 a.m., our first stop of the day was the 200-foot Seljalandsfoss waterfall. We were actually able to walk around and behind the waterfall – which was pretty neat and satisfying. I might have gotten pretty wet during the walk behind it but it was worth it.
Next, we traveled to the 197-foot Skógafoss waterfall, which is 82-feet wide. According to the nearby Skógar Folk Museum, legend claims that when the sun shines, a store of gold hidden by original settler Prasi may be glimpsed glittering behind the water. The waterfall is south of the Eyjafjallajökull glacier volcano, and flows through the Skógárgil gorge which has more than 20 additional waterfalls. Someone brought a traveling piano to the waterfall so we had music to go with the view.
We first learned of the museum through our taxi driver on Tuesday night. The taxi driver’s grandparents lived in one of the last old turf farmhouses (the typical one of the southeast has the household living above the cowshed) that was lived in. He stayed with them until he was 8-years-old, and his grandparents moved out of the home in the 1960s/1970s. The home was then donated to the museum, which moved and reconstructed the home on the museum’s site along with some other buildings.
The museum itself preserves the cultural history of the Rangárvallasýsla and Vestur-Skaftafellssýsla regions. It’s collections include old books, paintings, needlework, tools and equipment, boats, and outfits including three dresses around 100 years old. One was a black wedding dress with a veil.
Later, we drove along the natural reserve Dyrhólaey, which translates to door-hole island. The name comes from an arch created by the sea. During the drive, we also passed the Mýrdalsjökull glacier. The picture below is of the volcano that erupted in 2010.
We ate lunch in Vik at Halldórskaffi, a cafe located in a historic house called Bryde’s Store (Brydebúð). The Settler’s Cheese Pizza was delicious! It has a varieties of icelandic cheese and is served with a red currant jam.
Afterwards, we stopped by Icewear/Vik Wool to look around and to step onto the nearby black sand beach. We shopped a little before hopping back into our van to go to the nearby Reynisfjara Beach, which has black sand, a small cave and the Reynisdrangar basalt columns. The winds were as strong as the waves crashing to shore. Our driver warned us before we got there of two things: Don’t turn your back to the sea because the waves are too strong and don’t go into the water even to dip our toes in.
Tonight was our final chance to see the Northern Lights; however, our tour was cancelled once again due to cloudy weather. Getting back to Reykjavik at 7 p.m., we decided to instead go to Perlan, a modern interactive museum that had a Northern Lights planetarium show called Áróra. I did enjoy learning how the Northern Lights are created, and the roles it played in various cultures. We originally planned on going to the 8 p.m. show; however, we were 4 minutes late getting there so we had to wait until the 9 p.m. show. We spent our hour-long wait eating at the Ut I Blainn, which overlooks Reykjavik. I had the steamed cod with kale, onion, preserved lemons and beurre blanc. It was good, but I left still hungry – the same as one of my aunts who also had the steamed cod.
Today involved the Golden Circle and a Secret Lagoon – kind of sounds like a book or movie title!!
We started off at Þingvellir National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates are separating. One trail actually walked us down the middle of them. Þingvellir is also the site where the Vikings first assembled, and an important gathering place for various historical events for Iceland’s people.
My best purchase ended up being from here as well: an orange wool headband made in Iceland. The wind was so strong it was a godsend to have not only to keep my ears warm but to keep my short hair in place. You’ll see me wearing it in later photos!
It also had a pretty cool waterfall, although it was discomforting to learn that drownings were a common way to execute people in the past.
Afterwards, we went to the Geyser Sprouting Spring. First, we ate lunch at the Geyser Center Restaurant and Coffeehouse. I simply had the ham and cheese panini and an apple pie, but one aunt had a fish stew that was delicious. Their fish soup was good but that’s not really something I’ve ever enjoyed so I’m happy it wasn’t my dish.
The Geyser itself has been inactive for years, but a smaller Stokkur sprouted frequently with one small burst and then a larger one.
Our last stop on the Golden Circle was the Gullfoss waterfall which is 32 meters two with two drops and an average flow rate of 140 cubic meters per second. It was extremely windy but beautiful! It was definitely one of my favorite stops so far!
We ended our day at the Secret Lagoon, which is the oldest swimming pool in Iceland. The geothermal area near Fluðir was made in 1891 and, according to the company, it was the site of the legislative body of the community until 1894. One thing: it’s an site to see people swimming while the lifeguards and people walking near it are bundled in heavy coats and clothing.
It was refreshing to swim in its hot waters. While I enjoyed the hot springs and the proximity to a small geyser that erupted about every 15 minutes (see above photo).
We were supposed to go on a tour to see the Northern Lights but it ended up being cancelled due to all of the clouds and slight rain we had. So, instead we tried the newly opened Flyover Iceland in Reykjavik’s Grandi Harbour District. It took us on a virtual flight of the island. I was skeptical of it at first; however, I ended up having a great time. The only thing I was disappointed in was that it showed no viewings of whales or puffins which I figured would have been obvious to include. It did picture Elephant Rock – a cool rock that is in the shape of an elephant off the south coast – that I won’t get to see this trip although I would have loved to.
We closed our night with a delivery from Domino’s. We typically try local places – but we were tired and hungry, and decided to just call it a night.
Last night’s tour to see the Northern Lights was cancelled and rescheduled for tonight (also cancelled due to weather). It was disappointing but, last night, we did find a great place to eat: the Hlemmur Food Hall. It is a reformed local bus terminal that hosts 10 vendors that offer a variety of food. It was pretty busy.
Of the vendors, we tried Kröst where I got a glass of Riesling and a plate of Grilled Fresh North Atlantic Cod with caramelized cauliflower, creamy lemon sauce, potato slices and thyme breadcrumbs. It was delicious! The grilled cauliflower and fried risotto balls were also a hit.
We also tried a coffee shop where my aunts (who are coffee addicts) got the fix of Americano coffee. They weren’t impressed with it.
I finally made it to Iceland!! We traveled overnight so I woke up on the plane this morning to a beautiful sunrise.
We arrived around 9 a.m. and, upon leaving the airport, was greeted by a rainbow. We immediately went to the Blue Lagoon where we tried silica face masks while relaxing in the geothermal seawater. We couldn’t check in to our apartment until 3 p.m. so it was a refreshing break!
The good thing about visiting Bald Knob National Wildlife Refuge is that I can usually find something for each member of my party (which typically includes family members). For my aunt, that means flowers. So, you can imagine we were happy to find these flowers this past May.
We went on one final walk before loading up to head back to Liberia for the airport.
While the beach resort had killer views and great staff, it’s not a place I plan to come back to. One person in our group created a list comparing what Costa Rica bird we’d seen each person would be. She said I remind her of the Lessen’s Motmot. I’m pretty happy to be back – I was greeted by my dad and nieces who will be spending the next few days with me while my sister travels for work. 🙂
Today was my final full day in Costa Rica. It was a “free” day for the group, although there was a guided ocean kayak and snorkeling tour to Chora Island planned for anyone wanting to go. I couldn’t say no. I pretty much spent the entire time at the island snorkeling.
I admitted to being extremely cranky yesterday and I’m embarrassed to say that I complained about the room I was assigned. When I arrived back to the hotel this afternoon, I learned that the hotel staff had switched me to another room to resolve my issue. It was sweet of the staff to help me, especially when they gave my roommate a choice of what rooms we could switch to and she picked the room that completely ignored my concern but had a better view.
We wrapped up the day with a group farewell dinner at a local restaurant.
I previously worked as a news and sports photographer. Recently I have been enjoying wildlife photography. My approach toward bird photos is similar to sports photography. I attempt to capture mostly action and hopefully a unique perspective.