Category Archives: trips

Ducky’s Last Ride

About 10 years ago, we found Ducky sitting on a picnic table in a campground in southern Colorado. I put him on the dashboard of the truck, where he has ridden for years.

In 2015, at the last minute before leaving on a trip to Peru, I grabbed Ducky from the dash. Anytime he came out, he brought smiles to faces. I remember passing through security in a small airport, seeing bored guards light up and grin at each other as Ducky came through the scanner.

Ducky in first class

It was only natural that Ducky traveled with us to Iceland. For no good reason, he remained hidden much of the trip. However, the day I rode shotgun beside our guide and van driver, Daniel, Ducky took his place on the dash for the next few days.

Somehow, I forgot him. Somehow, no one noticed him on the dash. That is until Daniel was returning the van. I wish I had jumped in my rental car and braved the trip to Reykjavik to rescue Ducky, but I did not. I accepted too easily that he would be fine in Iceland, his ultimate migration. Sorry, old friend.

Ducky in his element
Ducky in his element

Birds of Iceland

Technically, our tour of Iceland was for more than birding, but birds became the focus. In June, 117 bird species were reported in Iceland, many of them nesting. We saw 78 of those species. Fifty-eight of those species were “life birds” for me (first time seeing them). The chance to see so many exotic lifers was reason enough for us to visit Iceland.

Of course, everyone everywhere love puffins, the smallest charismatic megafauna, oft maligned as “the clowns of the sea,” but undeniably charming. (And tasty, if old Icelanders are to be believed. Boycott restaurants serving puffin or whale.)

We spent hours on Heimey in the Westman Islands, so called by the Vikings who found the Celts — the West men — were already there).

But wait, there’s more. We went from never seeing a common eider to seeing why they’re called common. We saw ONE King Eider. We saw whooping swans on puddles. We saw gulls I still can’t tell apart from each other. At a distance, we saw a white-tailed eagle on its nest. Closer, we saw gyrfalcon. We saw a few of Odin’s own favorite Ravens.

If I had to pick one, it’s not the puffin, but the sweet little palm-sized red-necked phalarope, which were also almost everywhere. Earlier this year, we went to Bosque del Apache hoping to see the very-rare-there phalarope, not appreciating we were looking for such a tiny needle in such a large haystack. In Iceland, look anywhere, especially at your feet, and you may see a red-necked phalarope, my favorite.

For the curious, here is a link to the ebird trip report which includes ALL of the species the group saw. The link goes to those with photos taken by anyone / everyone (not just mine). From there, you can link to all species, all checklist, or individual members of the group.

Naturalist Journeys Iceland June 2023 – eBird Trip Report

A Trip to Iceland

In June, 2023, Merri and I joined a formal tour of Iceland organized by Naturalist Journeys. Merri invited three friends to join us from Tallahassee and London. There were 14 of us including two guides, one of whom was our friend Dave.

We flew into Iceland a few days before the tour started. If you’ve never flown to Iceland, you may not know the sprawling under-construction international airport isn’t in Reykjavik but in Keflavik, about 40 minutes away by shuttle bus. Ground transportation was easy.

We stayed at the Centrum in downtown Reykjavik, past numerous murals. We walked all over the area, including a series of ponds, the waterfront, and the most beautiful cemetery I’ve ever seen.

Hólavallagarður cemetery
Hólavallagarður cemetery

The weather was drier and warmer than we expected, with a few exceptions. That’s not a plausible complaint, but, still, as a desert dweller, I savored the few days of rain after the tour.

For the record, Iceland is an island smaller than Ohio. The population is less than 400,000. About 2/3rds of those live in the Reykjavik area. In June, some 250,000 tourists visit. An additional 50,000 foreign guestworkers serve them (us). Over 100,000 tourists take cruise ships around the island each year.

The heart of Reykjavik never felt crowded. Elsewhere in the country, at a few busy sites or restaurants, we encountered crowds but fewer than most touristy places we’ve been. Outside of those areas, Iceland is emptier than even New Mexico.

The land is volcanic (actively so), coastal (all those -viks, “coves”), and deeply convoluted with glacier-topped mountains split by waterfalls and fjords. The landscape reminded me of the best of Colorado and the Rockies in Canada.

waterfall in Iceland

Iceland is circumscribed by the Ring Road, which is about 850 miles long. Over 10 days, our tour with Naturalist Journeys took us clockwise around part of the Ring Road and down the middle of the country.

We spent 3 nights on the Snæfellsnes peninsula on the west coast. We stayed at the lovely, remote Kast Guesthouse (my favorite). From there we made daytrips to the coast for whale watching and birding.

Next, we drove to Akureyri, a large town in the north for another 3 nights. In this area, we saw our first puffins and other amazing birds. We also stopped at the first of many waterfalls.

a Barrow's Goldeneye kicks up its heels
a Barrow’s Goldeneye kicks up its heels

From there, we cut across the Highland to the south coast for 3 more nights in Hella (“Hekla”, a volcano that erupted in 1947). Thus, we skipped the eastern half of the island. The highpoint of this part of the trip was a day in the Westman Islands via rechargeable ferry.

on the electric ferry
on the electric ferry

Our last day took us around the Reykjanesbaer peninsula, past a volcano that erupted since that tour. The tour ended at the airport in Keflavik. Some of us stayed an additional night in Keflavik. John Stewart and I stayed 3 more nights. We drove a few hundred miles of south coast on our own (east of Vik, near the volcano Katla).

along the south coast
along the south coast

Throughout the tour, we ate good food, little of it as uniquely Icelandic as skyr yogurt. We had lots of fish and lamb. More than one good pizza. Will I ever again taste Icelandic Rye Bread Ice Cream?

best food of the trip

Though we spent too much time in an uncomfortable van, our fellow-travelers were good company. We saw amazing landscape and lots of birds (more on this later).

What can I say of the people of Iceland? Iceland has been called a nation of introverts. Our “bus driver ,” as he called himself — really, our guide and local expert — was Daniel Bergmann. Daniel is the best photographer I’ve ever met. Like many introverts, he compensated with a showy façade. He was well-versed in movies and a good mimic. He would talk at length about birds and Russian oligarch tourists, but less about his language, a particular interest of mine. A few times I got a sense of his ill-ease at his home being overrun by foreigners. Among other Icelanders, he appeared most comfortable. 

There was Thor, the red-bearded proprietor of a restaurant in Reykjavik. He’d lived a time in Arizona. He served lamb stew or fish stew in hollowed-out loaves of bread. Introverts can be gregarious and curious at times.

Also, Johannes, who sang beautifully for us before dinner at his family farm, now a guesthouse.

There was Luna. She is Polish and runs the place for Johannes. The family I rented a car from are also Polish. There were countless Greek waitresses. And Andi, originally Swiss and capital-E Extrovert, and Yuki, Japanese, now Icelandic citizens who own a unique guesthouse.

Everyone we met, local or foreign, was eager to please and hard-working.

It was the trip of a lifetime. I don’t expect ever to go back — or, for that matter, to get on an airplane again. However, anyone going should consider more than a few days in Reykjavik and Akureyri and a slow drive around the Ring Road. See lots of waterfalls. For god’s sake, don’t miss the puffins.


Merri has her own account with different photos. Check it out:

Iceland 2023, aka Puffin Paradise! | Merri’s Dance and Music eNews (

Ducky flies to Peru

We found Ducky abandoned on a picnic table in a campground near Alamosa, Colorado. That was the trip that was nearly ruined by millions of caterpillars falling from the aspens they were denuding. The same trip we saw hundreds of unrelated swallowtails wallowing in mud along the road.

Ducky was just sitting there. That’s his thing. You know his kind well. Perhaps, New Mexicans feel a stronger connection to his kind thanks to Bosque del Apache, or, more likely, the Deming Duck Race.

Since he joined the pack, Ducky has ridden on the dash of our truck. He accompanies us on the mundane daily trips and the longer escapes we live for. This is why I impulsively grabbed him to take to Peru.

I admit that I considered Ducky might fill the roll of the sock monkey and other peripatetic icons dotting photos on the Web. He might add some whimsy, I hoped. Early on, I was very self-conscious about pulling him out and posing him. I don’t mind being affected or eccentric, but I’m not that into him at home. He’s just along for the ride. By putting him in the frame, I brought him into our group, most of whom looked at me indulgently, at first.

These are the best photos of Ducky in Peru, from departure to return. I couldn’t photograph my favorite moment involving Ducky. As we passed through airport security in Cusco, I pulled Ducky out of my pocket at the last moment and put him on top of a pile of other items. I loved seeing the faces of the security personnel soften as they looked from Ducky to each other and smiled. The world craves more whimsy.

Ducky on his way to Peru
Ducky on his way to Peru.

I love you, man!
I love you, man!

The joy of birding.

On the Madre de Dios river in Manu, Peru
On the Madre de Dios river, Manu, Peru.

Watching macaws
Watching macaws.

Cloudburst and sunny smile
Cloudburst and sunny smile

Cloudburst and sunny smile. I was delighted when Melissa Wilson reached for Ducky. Seize the whimsy! The rain ruined one of our best birding  opportunities, yet gave me more joy than I can say.

long journey home

You can go home again. It just takes forever.

Most of my blog entries regarding the trip are on Ah, Wilderness! Follow this link to 170 photos from the 2 week journey.