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Watching Wildlife in Iceland in Summer

Not known for its abundance of wildlife, rather loved for its history and some animals, Iceland does have some wildlife that it is known for, such as the Arctic Fox or the Viking Horse. Some of these animals can only be seen during the summer, so read on to find out which ones and how to best increase your chances to see them!

 

Arctic Fox 

The only native mammal to Iceland, it came over during the last Ice Age and has hung around ever since. However, this also means that they are very well-adapted to life in Iceland and it can be hard to catch a glimpse of this small and shy animal. 

Their coat changes colour with the season. For some, it goes from a light brown to a snowy white or blue in the winter. For others, they are brown for the whole year, and their coat goes lighter in the summer.

To catch a glimpse of the elusive animal, you have a small chance in the Þorsmork valley, just north of the glaciers Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull. To increase your chances, you have to hike into the Hornstandir Nature Reserve in the northern Westfjords, where they are protected from hunting. You could also get a tour and the ferry from Ísafjörður.

Visiting during the summer is advised, especially if you are heading into Hornstandir, for your own safety.

To learn more about them, visit the Arctic Fox Center in Súðavík, Westfjords. 

 

Puffins

They are only present in Iceland during the summer months, and occasionally in the shoulder seasons of April and September. Clumsy and adorable, catching a glimpse of a puffin is always rewarding.

They are getting used to the presence of humans, so you may be able to get quite close, though please don’t disturb their nests, as they are slowly dying out. As with all the wildlife, don’t feed them or get too close.

To see them, you can get a tour from Reykjavik, but we advise seeing them in their cliffs. In the south, you can see the biggest puffin colony in Vestmannaeyjar. To get there, you need to take the ferry from Landeyjahöfn. In the west, Látrabjarg in Westfjords, and in the east, Borgarfjörður Eystri are remote so won’t be as crowded with other people.

 

Birds

Generic, but applicable, as there are over 85 types of birds that also have nests in the cliffs or live across Iceland.

Again, the variety of birds are found on the cliffs surrounding Iceland, and the Látrabjarg cliffs in the Westfjords are known for the variety of species found in a single place. The lakes across Iceland are also well populated, especially Lake Mývatn. The lakes have a wider variety of ducks, and their courting rituals signal the beginning of summer.

 

Whales

Iceland is one of the best places in the world for whale-watching and is a massive part of the country’s ecotourism. There are over 20 species of whale that visit the waters around Iceland, from killer whales (which are actually a type of dolphin) to the blue whale to humpbacks.

There are tours available throughout summer, and sometimes into the shoulder seasons due to the warming of the seas, and you can get a tour from most coasts. If you’re short of time, you can get one from Reykjavik. In the north, Húsavík is considered the whale-watching capital. Snæfellsnes Peninsula may provide sightings of orcas, and the longest fjord in the country, Akureyri and Eyjafjörður, also have some amazing tours.

Whilst out there, you may also catch a glimpse of some dolphins or seals!

 

Reindeer

Not actually native to the country as the reindeer were imported in the 18th century. They were supposed to be farmed, but now are mostly wild, and there is a controlled population of around 3 thousand in the east.

During the summer, they are commonly found in the highlands. When it gets colder, they head towards the coast for food. If you’re driving near Snæfell mountain you may see them in the distance, or crossing the road, so drive slowly!

If you really want to see them, there are reindeer safari tours available so you can catch a glimpse! If you do see them, don’t approach as that can risk both yourself and the reindeer.

 

Viking Horses

Not a wild animal, they are definitely worth keeping an eye out for as they often wander freely during the summer.

More pony-sized, with thicker fur during winter, and a gorgeous double-sided mane, the Icelandic horse are the only breed of horse in Iceland, as it’s illegal to import other breeds and horses that have left the country aren’t allowed back in, to minimise the risk of disease.

They can often be found in the farms along the road, though they have been known to cross or linger on the roads, so make sure that you are driving slowly. Adorable, they are the only animal that you are free to approach and pet, though make sure that the only thing that you feed them is grass and not human food.

 

Sheep

Also commonly farmed across the country, you will likely come across sheep, perhaps wandering across the road, so once again, be careful while driving!

Lambing season occurs in May and June, so you may be able to see some of the adorable lambs in the farms. Don’t approach or try to feed them, as they tend to be very skittish, and may harm either you or themselves.

You can see them anywhere you go in Iceland, so keep your eyes peeled and camera ready for these adorable animals!

 

So, head to Iceland during the summer to see some of these majestic animals! If you’re looking for a way to get around the country without paying for half a dozen different tours, consider renting a car to travel and reach the wildlife!

 
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