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

Author: Terry Whittaker

Professional photographer specialising in wildlife, conservation, the environment and culture. Extensive collection of stock photography available for rights managed licence. Adventure wildlife photography tours to Iceland and elsewhere.