As everyday life for humans slowly begins to grind to a halt, the arrival of Iceland’s cherished harbinger of spring, the golden plover, is a small reminder in uncertain times that nature’s cycle continues as ever.
The first Lóa, or golden plover, has been sighted on Icelandic shores according to an announcement made by the Southeast Iceland Bird Observatory last night. Although the bird’s distinctive shrill “tuu” calls were heard on Saturday, officials waited until yesterday’s sighting near Höfn to confirm the Loa’s arrival.
The golden plover migrates to the UK, Western Europe and Northern Africa during the wintertime, returning to Iceland in late March or early April and remaining until autumn. This year’s arrival is a couple of weeks earlier than in previous years. Although there is no official explanation as yet for the Lóa’s premature return, climate change seems a likely culprit. Much of Iceland’s rich birdlife has been affected in the last decade by rising temperatures. With little set to change in coming years, the early arrival of the golden plover may become a concerning new normal.
In summer months Iceland is home to a whole host of migratory birds, but none is quite as symbolic as the golden plover for Icelanders at this time of year. The Lóa’s arrival is said to be an indicator of better weather to come in Icelandic folklore, which after the brutal winter this year is eagerly anticipated by many. Whilst other European nations have traditionally hunted the Lóa, in Iceland the “vorboðinn ljúfi” or “sweet spring herald” is a protected species and has been a poetic muse for centuries.
Perhaps the most famous work the lóa has inspired is 19th-century poet Páll Ólafsson’s poem ‘Lóan er komin’:
Lóan er komin að kveða burt snjóinn
The golden plover has arrived to banish the snow
kveða burt leiðindin, það getur hún.
To banish the boredom, that it can do.
Hún hefur sagt mér að senn komi spóinn,
It has told me the whimbrel will arrive soon,
sólskin í dali og blómstur í tún.
sunshine in the valley and blooms in the meadow.
Hún hefur sagt mér til syndanna minna,
It has told me of my sins,
ég sofi of mikið og vinni ekki hót.
I sleep too much and don’t do any work.
Hún hefur sagt mér að vaka og vinna
It has told me to wake up and work
vonglaður taka nú sumrinu mót.
and full of hope welcome the summer
If poetry’s not quite your thing why not celebrate with post-punk rock band Grísalappalísa’s springtime banger ‘Lóan Er Komin’.
Or failing these two artistic expressions of the golden plover’s charm, see them with your own eyes this spring. As the weather warms you might be lucky enough to hear a melancholic “tuu” in Reykjavik from the lawn of Stjórnarráðið (the government offices) or on Arnarhóll hill. More committed twitchers can venture out into the plains of Iceland’s interior in hope of spotting the lóa’s distinctive white ‘s’-shaped markings.
The traditional arrival of spring in belligerently snow-covered Iceland brings with it a certain cruel irony, but all the same the plover’s migration is a welcome promise of better times to come.
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