Birdlife

At least 53 species of birds have been found breeding in the area, of which 47 nest on an annual basis. Seabirds, waterfowl and waders are characteristic for the area. Some breeding species have disappeared from the area in the last few decades, e.g. Slavonian Grebe (Podiceps auritus), while others have colonised the area, e.g. Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna).

Most of the birds are to be found along the coastline, where water-, sea- and shorebirds dominate by far. Rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta) and Purple Sandpiper (Calidris maritima), which are characteristic for the area, are found breeding in some of their highest densities in Iceland.

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Purple sandpiper – Photo: Yann Kolbeinsson

The only seabird cliffs are located at Rauðinúpur, which holds one of two colonies of Northern Gannets in North Iceland. It held 459 breeding pairs in 2008. All other typical cliff- nesting seabirds are also found at Rauðinúpur; Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis), Black- legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla), Common Guillemot (Uria aalge), Brünnich’s Guillemot (Uria lomvia), and Razorbill (Alca torda).

The geographical location of Melrakkaslétta and its rich shorelines are particularly important for migrating waders on their way to breeding sites in Greenland and arctic Canada in spring. The birds use the shores to rest and refuel by putting on fat reserves for their continued migration farther north. Most conspicuous of those are the Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula), Red Knot (Calidris canutus), Sanderling (C. alba), Dunlin (C. alpina) and Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres), with the Red Knots and Ruddy Turnstones being by far the most numerous species. It has been estimated that as many as 20.000 high arctic waders use the shores of Melrakkaslétta, in addition to the locally breeding birds. Therefore it is safe to assume that the shores of this area are the most important area for waders in spring in northeast Iceland.

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