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