Iceland Arctic Fox Photography Tour – Winter 2020 Trip Report

Isafjordur just waking up on our first morning of the trip. Our day started with breakfast at the excellent Heimabyggð cafe.

It doesn’t have to be very windy for flights into Isafjordur to be cancelled. Just blowing from a certain direction as it’s a tricky landing due to the airport being tucked away in a narrow fjord. Before our flight from the UK had even reached the gate, everyone’s phones pinged with a text telling us our afternoon flight to Isafjordur was grounded. At the domestic airport in Reykjavik we were told that not only was this afternoon’s flight cancelled, so was the next morning’s. Air Iceland Connect offered to put us up in a hotel for the night but as this would cost us a day, possibly longer if the next afternoon flight was also cancelled, we decided to rent a vehicle and drive up. Luckily the road over the mountain was clear and 450 km later we made Isafjordur that evening with everyone still in good spirits despite the inevitable “are we nearly there yet” gags . Digs sorted we were enjoying beers and an excellent dinner at Húsið by just after eight.

I swear it’s the Route 1 roundabouts out of Reykjavik that take the time!
Kviar Lodge from across the river.

After an excellent breakfast at my favourite cafe, Heimabyggð we were ready to board the boat for a nice calm crossing to Kviar. Rooms sorted, bags stashed, a cuppa and we were ready to go.

This was my fifth year at Kviar and it’s fair to say that every year is different. The current resident breeding pair have been in place for at least the last three years but their behaviour is different each trip as it is with the other foxes that pass through the territory. In 2017 and 18, the resident male was extremely bold and we spent a lot to time photographing him with visits from both his mate and two other females. In 2019 the male was much more reticent and although we photographed him we spent much more time with a non-breeding female who is particularly reddish-brown in colour. We also photographed her interacting with the resident male whilst the resident female held back. This year we only saw the non-breeding female a couple of times and mostly at a distance but the resident female was an almost constant presence. There is a white morph female in the next territory along the fjord but this year we only saw her though binoculars a kilometre away. We photographed her nicely in 2018.

One morning we had a nice sunrise over the fjord creating lovely backlight as a fox came along the ridge.

Same with the weather. In 2018 we struggled a bit with not having much snow but by moving up the hill a wee bit we managed some on snow shots but it did mean that we were able to spend more time on the beach to photograph the foxes foraging along the shoreline at low tide. The clear nights also meant we had good aurora. This definitely wasn’t the situation for the last two trips where we had as much, possibly more, snow than we needed. When it’s snowing quite heavily and particularly combined with wind to create whiteout conditions we don’t move far from the house and photograph the foxes on the snow banks above the beach. This year in particular the conditions meant that the snow cliffs along the beach were particularly unstable, and moving around was quite difficult so we spent little time down on the beach. One morning we had a really nice sunrise and Danny, who recognised the potential unfolding, got us in to position for some really nice backlit shots as the resident female approached along the snow ridge across the river.

Due to the amount of snow we had over a few days, the beach snow banks were spectacular but unstable.
Arctic fox female in one of several days of blizzard conditions we had.
The resident pair of foxes were not quite ready for mating which didn’t stop the male from trying.
Resident female fox crossing the river on the beach.
The resident female is a particularly beautiful fox.
Resident female fox on our last morning. She was still there as the boat arrived to pick us up.

So as another great trip drew to a close the weather decided to get serious. Although the forecast was for the real weather to hit the following day, we had an interesting changeover with the student group coming out to Kviar and a somewhat lumpy ride back to Isafjordur. Another course of beer and burgers at Húsið and all was well in the world. The next morning there was no problem with flight back to Reykjavik and clear skies meant beautiful views of the the spectacular Westfjords scenery as we flew south.

In 2021 we have have two tours back to back and there are places available. Why not join us?

Smári who looked after us at Kviar and who worked tirelessly to keep things running smoothly in pretty difficult conditions.
Just above the beach, waiting to board the boat for home.

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.