I’m about to embark on a Wild Wonders of Europe mission in Northern Iceland and the target is the Gyrfalcon, the largest and most northerly of the world’s falcons.
To prepare for my mission I did a scouting trip in April to find out where there were breeding falcons this season that could be photographed. Not all falcon territories are suitable for photography because of travel distances and the nest locations. Gyr’s tend to nest on high cliffs, where they have the opportunity, but the occasional pair will make its nest on a small cliff, which is what I’m hoping for.
Iceland is thought to be home to about one fourth of Europe’s Gyrfalcons. Still it’s a small population of 300-400 pairs with most of them breeding in the northern part of the country.
Their main prey is the Rock Ptarmigan and they are indeed so dependent on the Ptarmigan that without them they could not survive. When the falcon chicks hatch the male Ptarmigan are still in white winter plumage making them easy prey for the falcons as the snow has melted from the ground and the Ptarmigan cocks are exposed in the landscape. When they eventually moult into summer plumage and blend into the environment the falcons switch to other prey, such as ducks, seabirds and waders.
On my scouting trip in April I was interested in finding out if a particularly light female falcon that is known to breed in the area was still in her territory. She started breeding there in 2000 and as Gyrfalcon starts breeding at about four years’ old she would now be in her 14th year. The oldest ringed falcon that was recovered in Iceland was 18 years old so they can live quite long. But it’s a harsh environment to live in and survival is not guaranteed.
I was very happy to find the light female in her territory and thrilled to see that she had chosen to lay eggs this year in an old Raven’s nest that is only a few metres from the ground. She had already laid one egg when I arrived and was sitting on the nest’s edge, or on nearby lava rocks, waiting to lay the next egg before she would start brooding.
In about two weeks’ time chicks will have hatched and the falcons will be busy feeding and caring for them. It’s an important time for the falcons and an exciting time for me, the photographer, that gets to observe and record the most precious and intimate time in the falcon’s year – the parenting.
Please note that blogs reflect our photographers' opinions and not necessarily those of the directors of Wild Wonders of Europe.