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.

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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