Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Stealing Fýlar Eggs

Denní really likes birds. He probably wouldn´t go so far as to say that, but considering that he used to let a pet goose sleep in his bed (another favorite local story) and that he knows pretty much everything about all of the local birds, I would go so far as to consider him a bird enthusiast. You may remember Denní from other adventures, including Dyrhólaey and the basalt columns, and the epic puffin hike. He is Æsa´s father and part of the local tough-man legends around these parts. So last night while he was taking me out for pizza and Víking, the subject of birds came up, as it usually does when you talk to me. I learned that fýlar lay a single egg (sometimes one more) each breeding season, and they are the first seabirds to lay their eggs each year. But since they are so fat, they are the last to fledge. Denní had gathered some eggs just a few days before to give to his friend, and I expressed a desire to accompany him on his next trip. We made plans for the following day and I could hardly wait.

We went to the nearby cliff (the one that looms over the gold course) to find fýlar eggs in the evening. Although it is not a high cliff, it does have some tricky spots, so my job was mainly holding the bucket and following Denní around as he scooped up eggs. A little more about this person: Denní was born at a farm perched atop a mountain close to here, and spent his entire life exploring the area in the way that only little boys with Viking blood can explore. The way he fearlessly traipses over precarious rocks, or slides down a steep, gravely incline would make a mountain goat jealous. Having in health insurance, I tend to err on the side of caution, and tenderly navigate my pathways...even refusing to jump over small creeks (my legs are very short and I don´t trust them). So I can only watch this guy do acrobatics around me and put my youth to shame.
He had fashioned an egg staff with what looked like a small harpoon, and PVC joint on the end that is just the right size for a fýll egg. Although fýlar do not build nests, and they hang out right in the open, they can perch on the most sheer cliff face and they are often difficult to get close to. Hence, the eggs staff comes in handy. You may also remember that fýlar are the birds that use vomit as a defense mechanism. I had been very interested to witness this, and I got many opportunities. Denní actually got puked on one time, on his pants, and the egg staff was pretty much soaked in it by the time we were done. The smell is hard to describe. It´s fishy and sweet and completely acrid. A sticky smell. It´s a thick, oily goo that they use to feed their young. I cannot imagine being forced to eat this, but apparently it´s very tasty because young fýlar eat so much that they are too fat when they leave the nest and have to starve for several days before they are light enough to finally fly out to sea.
So that´s what it looks like. Luckily they usually give you a bit of warning before they spew. It´s probably not too fun for them, either. 

We gathered 36 eggs, which makes for a lot of sad fýlar. I hope that some of them are able to lay another egg. Once when Denní was around the other side of a rock for a long time, I watched a fýll come back to it´s nest to find the egg missing. It looked completely stunned, and kept staring at the empty spot, at me, back out to sea, and back to the empty spot again. It didn´t move it´s body at all and it was impossible for me to imagine that it couldn´t be sad. But if some fýlar are sad about losing an egg, then surely some of them must be relieved. No more responsibility! Well, that´s what I will tell myself anyway.

The final step to gathering these giant eggs is to test them for life. We washed them all and then sunk them in water. The eggs that rise up have already started to form birds inside. It´s still very early in the nesting season, so maybe only the eyes have formed, but we separate them for boiling. Some people say that the eggs taste better when the bird is growing inside. They are sweeter. I marked a few of them and will boil one and blow the other two out to make hollow eggshells. I took six eggs to cook for myself and the rest will be distributed to hungry Icelanders. 

I´ll let you know how they taste!

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