Iceland Arctic Fox Photography Tour – Summer 2019 Trip Report

Adult female Arctic fox. Hornvik, Iceland.
Adult female Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus). Hornvik, Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, Iceland. July 2019

This trip was a long time coming. I first visited Hornvik with my daughter Megan in 2015. She’d been the year before with her friend Maria. They did it the usual way by getting the boat there and then hiking out over the mountains to be picked up on the south side of the peninsula. We got the boat there and back. The idea was to scope it out for a tour but it didn’t take us long to figure that wasn’t really viable. There was just too much hiking involved to get to to the most productive fox territories. Foxes do hang around the campsite looking for handouts and there is usually a den site not too far away but there are better opportunities further afield. And the trails to get to them can be a bit tricky. This combined with the basic campsite sadly made it a non-starter. But circumstances change. In the meantime we started running the winter tours to photograph Arctic foxes on the south side of the nature reserve at Kviar. At Kviar conversations with Rúnar, the local operator we work with, would come round to how to make a summer tour to Hornvik work. Rúnar operates a summer camp for hiking and kayak tours at Hornvik with new, all-weather tents and a state of the art base camp with heating, proper cooking and dining facilities and room to hang out in really bad weather. The addition of a Zodiac inflatable boat to be kept at camp all summer meant we were now in business. Wildlife film crews from the BBC Natural History Unit and Mara Media have been working at at Hornvik recently and both used this set up – and it worked perfectly for filming foxes. The time was right to try it out as a photography tour.

Hornvik, Hornstrandir, Iceland. July 2015
Megan Whittaker, Hornvik, Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, Iceland. July 2015
Hornbjarg with sea mist. Hornvik, Iceland
Hornbjarg with sea mist. Hornvik, Iceland
Arctic fox cub in flowers. Hornvik, Iceland.
Arctic fox cub (Vulpes lagopus) in flowers. Hornvik, Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, Iceland. July 2019
Arctic fox cubs. Hornvik, Iceland.
Arctic fox cubs (Vulpes lagopus). Hornvik, Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, Iceland. July 2019

I assembled a group of photographer friends who were interested in Arctic foxes – most had already been on the winter tour – and who I knew were up for up for an adventure and who also I knew would be cool if things didn’t quite go as planned. Always a risk on a new tour, and to be honest, when you’re this remote, any tour. So, this July saw a gang of the usual suspects meeting up at Bryggjan Brugghús in Reykjavik for lunch and a beer before our flight to Isafjordur. During lunch I got a call from Rúnar with the offer of the use of a family summer house instead of camping. This was a bit of a dilemma in that, although this house is closer to more fox dens (there was one within a few metres), and so a bit better situated than the campsite and has all the home comforts, it would mean we were not exactly trialling the camping aspect. But it was too good an offer to pass up. And we know the camp set up works fine from the film crews. By the way, it’s the red and white house on the right in the picture below.

Summer houses, Hornvik, Iceland
Summer houses, Hornvik, Iceland
Hornvik Bay, Hornstrandir, Iceland
Hornvik Bay, Hornstrandir, Iceland

A forty five minute flight and a four hour boat ride later we were settled into the house. Next job was to find some foxes. For most of the summer there had been a fox den with cubs just about 30 metres from the house but it soon became obvious they had moved. We knew the rough area of this territory, which was on several contours from the beach to about half way up the mountain where another pair of foxes took over. In fact they hadn’t moved far at all and we found the den around a couple of hundred metres away on the same level, just about ten metres above the beach. It wasn’t difficult to find due to the flattened areas amongst the boulders and the bones and feather scattered around. In summer these foxes catch a lot of kittiwakes which come inshore bathe in the freshwater streams and the white remains are easy to find.

Kittiwake wing found near an Arctic Fox den. Hornbjarg, Horstrandir, Iceland
White morph Arctic fox. Hornvik, Iceland.
White morph Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus). Hornvik, Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, Iceland. July 2019
White morph Arctic fox, Hornvik, Iceland.
White morph Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus). Hornvik, Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, Iceland. July 2019
Photographer on Hornbjarg. Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, Iceland
Photographer on Hornbjarg. Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, Iceland. ©Marco Scocco

The weather was extremely kind to us by Westfjords standards. Almost no rain and little wind. The only problem weather-wise was sea mist in the mornings which extended well up the hillsides. The upside of this was a couple of beautiful midnight sunsets with sea fog. We photographed three of the nearby five fox families, mostly by sitting in the vicinity of a den a respectful distance away, and waiting for the foxes to come close enough to photograph. It’s interesting how some of the foxes were completely relaxed about our presence while others required much more distance. I didn’t have any camera traps with me this time but was able to get some good wide-angle, environmental type shots with remote cameras triggered by Pocket Wizards. We would often encounter individual foxes on the trails, including the white morph fox from the territory high on Hornbjarg. The trail along Hornbjarg, climbing up, along and over Miðfell led to spectacular views of the peninsula in every direction. At midnight with the sun skimming the horizon and sea fog rolling in was an incredible experience. As recces go it turned out to be an excellent trip. We’re back there in July 2020 and there are still a couple of places free. Do get in touch if you’re interested in joining us on this adventure. There’s more info in this post: Summer Arctic Fox Photography Tour, Iceland – 2020

Arctic fox cub in flowers
Arctic fox cub (Vulpes lagopus) in flowers. Hornvik, Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, Iceland. July 2019
Adult female Arctic fox, Hornvik, Iceland.
Adult female Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) carrying a fish scavenged from the beach. Hornvik, Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, Iceland. July 2019
Arctic fox cub with fish
Arctic fox cub (Vulpes lagopus) with fish scavenged from beach Hornvik, Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, Iceland. July 2019
Arctic fox, Hornvik, Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, Iceland.
Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) cubs with a fish scavenged from the beach. Hornvik, Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, Iceland. July 2019. Photographed by remote, radio-triggered camera.
Adult male Arctic fox and cubs. Hornvik, Iceland.
Adult male Arctic fox and cubs (Vulpes lagopus). Hornvik, Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, Iceland. July 2019. Photographed by remote, radio-triggered camera.
Adult male Arctic fox and cubs, Hornvik, Iceland.
Adult male Arctic fox and cubs (Vulpes lagopus). Hornvik, Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, Iceland. July 2019
Adult female Arctic fox. Hornvik, Iceland.
Adult female Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus). Hornvik, Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, Iceland. July 2019

Iceland Arctic Fox Photography Tour – Winter 2019 Trip Report

Arctic fox at the base of a snow bank. Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, Iceland

This year was the first time this tour was run as a Natures Images trip previously having been run under the Northshots banner. It’s exactly the same tour and was a seamless transition between companies. Richard and Eva were with us again. They’ve been on every winter Arctic Fox Tour we’ve run which is just about the best commendation possible. So for a tour that’s already billed as an adventure we had a little extra excitement at the end of this one. More of that later.

Moon rise over Jökulfjirðir

We were unfortunate in that we didn’t have northern lights this year but this was more than made up for by the amount of snow that fell during the last few days. So much that I was unable to run camera traps or remote cameras as due to the amount of driving snow and the fickleness of the wind direction, wherever I placed the cameras the lens would be covered in seconds. Fortunately I was able to get some nice camera trap images in the couple of clear, sunny days we had. I set them on the beach, just above the tideline, to catch the foxes using the broken and fissured snow banks to get from the hillsides to the beach.

Arctic fox climbing down móður, the steep edges created when the sea undercuts a snowbank.
Arctic fox at the base of a snow bank. Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, Iceland. Camera trap image
Arctic fox rolling in fresh snow. Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, Iceland
Arctic fox in a blizzard. Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, Iceland
Ravens are a constant presence. Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, Iceland
Glaucus gull beautifully lit by sunlight reflecting from fresh snow.
Arctic fox in fresh snow with the sea as background. Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, Iceland

Be careful what you wish for. You spend a fair amount of time hoping for fresh snow on this tour, then when it arrives, wishing there wasn’t quite so much of it. This is certainly what happened this year. A couple of days in it started to snow quite heavily and then the wind got up. For some of the time visibility was down to, well, zero. To their credit, the group stayed out in the blizzards, despite there being a cozy house just a few metres away with the big, copper kettle simmering away on the stove. Breaks in fox activity always resulted in someone nipping in to the kitchen to brew up for the group. There is a permanent hide we can shoot from if the weather gets too bad but it’s usually better to stay mobile to make the best of the spectacular setting – when you can see it anyway.

Arctic fox in a blizzard. Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, Iceland
Arctic fox falling snow. Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, Iceland
Arctic fox in falling snow. Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, Iceland

We time this tour to coincide with the fox mating season which gives us the best chance of action, either pair behaviour or territorial interaction. Most of this takes place at distance. And when I say a distance, we often watch foxes chasing each other around the hillsides down the valleys and on to the beach covering the entire area we can see, which is huge. At great speed we’ll watch a resident chase of an intruder from one end of the valley to the other, a distance of a couple of kilometres. Of course, we’re heart in mouth hoping their route will bring them within range. Even in such a vast area, it’s perhaps surprising how often this happens.

Fighting Arctic foxes. Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, Iceland
Watching for the boat from Kviar Lodge. Note the fox tracks on the snow bank.

The last day of this trip started as usual with packing, cleaning up the house – not so much as we were the last residents for a while – while always keeping one eye out for an approaching fox, and later for the boat to pick us up for the first leg of our journey home. There’s an Icelandic saying: “Þetta reddast” (thetta reddast). It was about to come in handy. Basically it means: “every thing will work out in the end”. As the boat came in to pick us up it developed a serious mechanical problem which caused it to run aground hard on the beach. The Skipper was OK, which was the main thing, but this meant we, with a plane to catch and connections to meet, weren’t going anywhere fast. There was nothing else for it but to put the kettle on while we wait for another boat to be arranged. Þetta reddast. As protocol demands, the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue (ICE-SAR) soon arrived from Isafjordur in a fast RIB followed closely by their Arun class lifeboat. I’m always disproportionately pleased to see British-built lifeboats around the world. More surprising was the arrival of a Coastguard Super Puma helicopter. It hovered over the scene for a minute and just as we expected it to leave, landed beside the house. To our surprise, and it’s fair to say, more than a little excitement, the crew offered us a ride back to Isafjordur. This was really generous of them as with all our equipment it took two trips to deliver the group to town. So, all in all, another successful tour to Kviar. Looking forward to returning next February.

Waiting for the boat to take us back to Isafjordur. Kviar Lodge.
Coastguard helicopter coming in to pick up our group. Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, Iceland
Coastguard helicopter before our ride back to Isafjordur. Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, Iceland

Summer Arctic Fox Photography Tour, Iceland – 2020

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6th to 11th July, 2020. Group size 6 plus 2 guides.

Price on application. Tour starts and ends in Isafjordur. Price includes boat transfer to Hornvik. All food and accommodation at basecamp. Photography tuition and guiding. Camp Manager/Boat Driver.

Each day we will split the group to work in separate areas. Not only will this limit disturbance to the wildlife and reduce pressure on a fragile environment but will also allow us to accommodate people wanting to opt out of longer, more challenging hikes.

This is an adventure tour to the remote Hornstrandir Nature Reserve in the far north west of the country,  stronghold of Iceland’s only native land mammal the Arctic fox. Persecuted elsewhere in Iceland, here in the nature reserve they are fully protected and quite confiding, often walking through the campsite. From our tented basecamp we will explore the area on foot and by Zodiac to photograph families of foxes and other wildlife. During the summer the foxes feed primarily on seabirds along the huge cliffs and beaches around Hornvik bay. Although I’ve been running winter tours to photograph arctic foxes for several years, I’ve always wanted to run a trip to this amazing area in summer.  However the need to camp and long hikes to reach the most photographically productive fox territories put me off. Now the Icelandic operator we work with on the winter tours has developed a really nice, expedition-spec, tented base camp and provided an inflatable boat for getting around the area. In 2019 with a few invited photographer friends we trialled this tour to see how it would work out and it was even better than expected. We photographed several fox families with cubs of various ages as well as adults foraging along beaches and cliff paths. Longer hikes to visit the spectacular cliffs and landscape of Hornbjarg are optional but unbelievably beautiful, particularly in midnight sun.

It’s fair to say that this tour isn’t for everyone. You would need a basic level of fitness to get in and out of the small boat, sometimes on rocky shorelines and move around on slippery beaches and uneven trails. You’ll need a flexible outlook and a sense of humour for when things go wrong and be willing to pitch in with camp chores. Photo opportunities should be plentiful but we will always put the welfare of the wildlife first so sometimes your guide will pass on the chance to get closer, spend more time near a den or follow a fox.

For more information please get in touch by email: Here   Also check out my arctic fox gallery: Here  All the summer images were taken at exactly the area we are going to on this tour.

For people interested in the winter tour, click here: Arctic Fox Winter Tour

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