Watch this audio slideshow about bird watching at Óshólmar, an area at the mouth of Eyjafjardará river just outside Akureyri in north Iceland, the largest Icelandic town outside the capital region. Not many tourists know about this attraction, which is perfect for a walk in the sun.
Photos and narration by Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir – [email protected].
Click here to download the slideshow.
(The information in the slideshow and in the article below is from signs marking the starting point of the walking path.)
There is much to see in Akureyri, the largest town in Iceland outside the capital region. Some of the attractions are well known and frequently visited, such as the Akureyri church, the local outdoor swimming pool, the ski resort in Hlídarfjall in winter, the Botanical Garden and the Nonni Museum, the home of author Jón Sveinsson.
Other attractions are not as common and even the locals might not know about them, such as the Óshólmar area at the mouth of the Eyjafjardará river. It lies approximately five minutes to the south of Akureyri, a little further than the local airport.
The area of Óshólmar has important biodiversity where the intention is preservation for the future. Emphasis is on preserving these important breeding grounds for birds and the distinct vegetation as well as providing suitable access for the public to the area for leisure and environmental education.
Cohabitation of unique flora and fauna, a popular recreation area, as well as some traditional utilization of the land all coincide in the area. Special importance is placed on providing access to the area without disturbing birdlife or damaging vegetation.
The area of Óshólmar can be divided into four principal areas:
The outmost area is mainly sand flats that flood regularly by seawater. The sand flats end in a steep bank that goes across Eyjafjördur to Búdargil in Akureyri.
Inward the sand flats are wetland where the river Eyjafjardará branches into many channels.
To the south the river is marshland and flat headland.
The southernmost area of Óshólmar is meadow since the soil there is dryer due to silting caused by the connecting rivers of Eyjafjardará.
Important routes have passed through the area of Óshólmar since settlement time, one of which is Thingmannaleid, the route from the fjord of Eyjafjördur east to the ancient assembly in Thingeyjarsveit.
The same principal route later became the national ring road number 1 and was the main connection across the fjord until the year 1985 when Leirubrú (bridge and road) was built.
From Akureyri, a much-traveled riding trail crosses the old bridges and branches east through Bíldsárskard to Fnjóskadalur and south to Melgerdismelar and more.
Environment, vegetation and wildlife
The area, Leirur, is mainly sand sand flats that the sea floods at every tide and where the river branches through countless channels. The sand is therefore constantly shifting which makes it harder for plants to grow in it.
However, the sand is far from lifeless and nurtures the life of microscopic life forms in-between the sand particles, e.g. sandworms and various species of bells.
Early in spring the area fills with seabirds like the Black-legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) and the Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus), then later with species such as the Common Redshank (Tringa tetanus), the Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus), the European Golden Plover (Pluvialis apricaria) and more.
Between the sand flats and the holms in the area that the sea only floods at high tide a very distinct eco-system is created which is now home to ten species of birds.
When the sand flats reach a certain height due to silting, they do not regularly get flooded and plants start growing. They then increase the silting of sand and mud at every high tide and so the land rises and dries more and more.
The soil is formed and the sand flat is transformed into a holm. The marshes foster a variety of insects such as larva, spiders, worms and more.
Around 33 bird species breed in the area, or over 40 percent of the breeding-bird fauna of Iceland. The most common species are the Black-headed Gull and Common Eider (Somateria mollissima).
Four endangered species are known to breed in the area: Graylag Goose (Anser anser), Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata), Northern Pintain (Anas acuta) and Mew Gull (Larus canus).
Vegetagion in the area has changed in recent years due to grazing preservation. Naturally-seeded large shrubs of willow (Salex phylicifolia) and (Salex lanata) are now dominant.
Wild Angelica (Angelica sylvestris) and Garden Angelica (A. archangelica) grow on flood banks and birch (Betula pubescens) and even poplar (Pop. Trichocarpa) is naturally seeded in the holms.
Tufted vetch (Vicia Cracca) and red clover (Trifolium pretense) are one of many nitrogen absorbing plants in the area.
Outdoor recreation area
The recreation area is a part of a flat 20-km long plain that extends to Melgerdismelar in the south of the valley, which is the bottom of the ancient fjord.
The plain which is composed of silt brought forward by the river Eyjafjardará has connected the rivers since the ice-age 10-12 thousand years ago, growing by approximately one km every 500 years.
At the time of settlement in 900 AD, the fjord extended as far as Kristnes, a settlement of approximately 50 inhabitants around a former tuberculosis treatment hospital and now a rehabilitation center, located less than ten kilometers to the south of Akureyri.