Monday, 26 August 2013

Fowl misdeeds on Iceland's Ring Road

Splendid fjord views, geological marvels and in-car snacking on salted cod. I'm just back from driving Iceland's Ring Road, and it lived up to the hype.

A fjord-side stop-off in southern Iceland. Image © Anita Isalska. See more on my Flickr page.
The conversation in our rented VW was reduced to a series of appreciative murmurs as each new wonder came into view: the forbidding Vatnajökull glacier, the navy-blue waters of the eastern fjords, and Martian deserts that stretched off into the distance.

Following the Ring Road (Route 1) is also a lazy driver's dream. No risk of the sat-nav interrupting your reverie. You'll coast for scores of kilometres without a turnoff.

Colourful canoes in Seyðisfjörður, eastern Iceland. Image © Anita Isalska. See more on my Flickr page.

I had taken to Iceland's roads nervously. Unused to driving on the right and flummoxed by Icelandic road signs, I had an iron grip on the wheel. No pothole would go undodged, no speed limit would be exceeded. Rustbuckets might overtake me, but I planned to explore Iceland without incident.

Unfortunately, then came the bird.

The previous day, I had been exploring the magical Mývatn region in eastern Iceland. This geologically wild area of the country doesn't just hiss with volcanic steam, it teems with birdlife in its enormous lake and wetlands. Spotter's guides to the local wildfowl were everywhere in Mývatn, so when a plump bird emerged from the roadside shrubbery, I knew at once it was a snipe.

A snipe in safer surrounds. Image by Axel Kristinsson. CC BY 2.0
He was safely tucked in among the tall grasses on a roadside verge, and as I trundled along at the speed limit of 90km/h I had plenty of time to admire the speckled plumage and graceful beak from afar.

What I didn't know was that the bird was cursed with unfortunate timing. Or perhaps he harboured a darkness in his avian brain, the prospect of endless days foraging for worms stretching out pointlessly in his mind. Maybe he could take no more, after another unsuccessful snipe mating season. We may never know.

Deadly driving machine. Image © Anita Isalska. See more on my Flickr page.
In any case, a mere moment before my car could zoom safely past, the snipe launched himself into the air - and thunked directly into my windscreen with a queasy splatter. After the collision, the bird ricocheted over my car. All that remained after that split-second was a dark trickle on the wind shield. 

I whimpered queasily as the windscreen wipers slicked the gory evidence across the glass. 

Later, Icelanders reassured me that Iceland's thickets and lakelands overflow with these chubby, unobservant creatures. Uncomforted, I mused darkly on how northern Europe's higher suicide rate extends to its waterfowl. And I took a break from driving.

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