It was cold despite being midsummer. It was also light despite being late at night. The grey Icelandic sky yielded a faint and irritating drizzle. I was cold, damp and hungry and of course in Iceland. I should have been in Turkey, but instead there I was, creeping carefully forward flat on my belly, through scrubby vegetation towards a small glacial lake. The object of my attention was a diver. Not the scuba diving type but the feathered variety. I stopped and slowly brought the ancient pair of binoculars to my eyes. It was hard to make out all the details in the dull light but I was certain that what I was looking at was not a Great Northern Diver (Gavia Immer) a common sight in Iceland but The Black throated Diver (Gavia Artica). I was excited because as far as I could be certain, one had not been spotted in Iceland before. I crept forward a little further preparing to get that oh so vital photograph.
I should have been in Turkey, enjoying the warmth and exotic culture and smells with my old school friend Colin Evans. I should have been, but for some reason, Colin’s parents felt that I was an unsuitable travelling companion for their son, and no doubt influenced by Midnight Express and fears of drugs and squalid Turkish prisons, they banned him. That and an unfortunate incident back in February. I had driven over to Colin’s parent’s house near Bath for a few beers and arriving late and slightly irritated by the snow and narrow lanes greeted him in their kitchen with the words;
“Fucking hell Colin the lanes are fucking awful around here. I almost crashed three times. Why the fuck do your parents have live in this out of the way dump.”
Colin always quick to get embarrassed reddened and said in as matter of fact way he could;
“Simon meet my Mum and Dad.”]
Dr Evans and his wife peered sneakily round from out of my sight line and smiled painfully and introduced themselves to the foul mouthed youth that had so uncouthly invaded their kitchen and genteel privacy. So that I guess was the end of the Turkish trip and the hitching across Europe with all the opportunities for drinking and wild carefree behaviour that the trip offered. Colin the good dutiful son that he was, obeyed them, and instead went with a more suitable companion cycling around Denmark and Holland. I hope he got stoned!
So here I was. Not far from the Porisjokull Glacier, stalking a bird on a pond. A movement on the opposite shore caught my attention. Someone else was interested in our feathered friend, and he had one of those cameras that even in the late 1970’s looked sophisticated, space age and state of the art.
An hour later back at the team Land Rover and ignoring the scornful looks of the other team members, I and my fellow stalker sought each other out. He was quicker of the mark and launched into conversation about, I presumed, what he and I had been looking at. He was clearly excited. And I have no doubt articulate. The only problem was, that as far as I could tell he was speaking in German. I knew no German. I gesticulated and got him to stop.
“Do you speak English?” I said
“No” he lied and gesticulated in the way that foreigners do.
I pointed at the lake and said in that shouty condensing way that we English reserve for those unfortunate enough not to speak English;
“BLACK THROATED DIVER I THINK”
“Nein” came the reply. “Gavia Articia, Gavia Articia.”
This stumped me a bit. I had never had much time for the Latin scientific names. So I pulled out my field guide and realised that Gavia Articia was the scientific name for Black Throated Diver. We had seen the same thing, and it was a first for Iceland. I smiled showed him the book and he nodded and agreed.
Back at the Land Rover I listened to the sarcastic comments about the “Fucking duck” that I had wasted everyone’s time over. My explanation that it was a first for Iceland fell on deaf ears and the drive back to camp began in an awkward silence. Until we found a petrol station that also served beer, and tried to chat up the couple of young Nordic looking Icelandic girls that lived in the isolated little hamlet. This attracted the unwanted attention of the couple of Icelandic farm hands that lived and worked in the Hamlet so we retreated to the camp with a few beers and fitfully tried to sleep in the half light that passes for a summer’s night in Iceland.
Back in the UK I wrote to the Museum of Natural History in Reykjavik, enclosing my notes and sketches. I still have the letter somewhere. They could not recognise it unless I had some photographic evidence or it was collaborated by another. Obviously my German friend whose name and details I had omitted to obtain had moved on to different things and Gavia Articia still is not recognised as having been seen in Iceland.
Bugger there went my only claim to fame. So far.