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.

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