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A wander around the Shetland Isles, Scotland (not rarities - lots of photos). (1 Viewer)

Andrea Collins

Former member - no longer active
Despite having been a regular visitor to the north west of Scotland and the Western Isles for over 30 years I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that I'd never been to Shetland until this spring/summer.

This wasn't strictly a birding trip; more a holiday with a friend to do some leisurely coastal walking, along with some general relaxing, a bit of birdwatching and other leisurely activities such as rock pooling and mooching about on the beach.

We caught the overnight ferry from Aberdeen and had a gentle crossing on smooth water throughout. The highlight was perhaps a small pod of Orcas about an hour out of Aberdeen.

On arrival we headed straight out of Lerwick and down to Sumburgh Head where we enjoyed a breakfast of omelette and coffee whilst watching Northern Fulmars, Black-legged Kittiwakes, Great and Arctic Skuas and a selection of auks.

After breakfast we set off on a leisurely walk, the highlight for me was being able to spend lots of time watching Black Guillemots outside their nest crevices on a small stack just offshore. The views were considerably closer than I get with my local north west of England population.

The next day was a bit poor weatherwise for a walk round St Ninian's Isle but there were some good views of breeding-plumaged waders on the beautiful tombolo beach. Again, the views of waders/shorebirds such as Sanderling were very different to the views of winter plumaged birds I get on my local beach.

A walk along Fitful Head and Siggar Ness the following day gave us some nice Great Skua encounters, and despite having a close look at a skua nest with eggs, the birds didn't seem particularly bothered by our presence.

In the evening we took a boat trip out to the island of Mousa to witness the late evening arrival of the large number of European Storm-petrels that nest in the broch. It was a particularly good storm-petrel night and we weren't disappointed by the display.

After that, we headed to the western part of Mainland* for a couple of short walks around two of the many peninsulas hoping to see some Eurasian Otters. Whilst we were having lunch on one of the clifftops, a large dog otter appeared just below us and we later had very close views of what appeared to be a female. We felt she was probably very close to her holt so we gave her a wide berth and headed well inland for a bit. This also seemed to be a popular spot for Arctic Skuas.

We then headed to the island of Unst and spent a few days at Herma Ness and the surrounding area. The Ness itself, Burra Firth and Loch of Cliff, and the surrounding moorland, provided excellent birdwatching and walking. Highlights included eight Red-throated Divers just off the beach at Burra Firth, and a pair of Golden Plovers having a stand-off with an Arctic Skua on the moorland. The gannet colony at the Neap, just south of Hermaness, was one of those places where it is difficult to comprehend the sheer scale of the place.

We returned to Mainland via Yell and had a very fine clifftop walk around Muckle Roe, followed by a fantastic early morning boat trip from Lerwick to the Noss seabird colony, which included some lovely intimate views of nesting auks, and a very enjoyable Gannet “chase” (Shetland Seabird Tours - early morning birders trip) as the birds followed the boat and dived alongside for the free handout of fish.

After that we headed to the north west of mainland for some fine coastal walking around Esha Ness and Point of Fethaland, before reluctantly heading back to Lerwick for a rather less than smooth ferry trip back to Aberdeen.

There was an awful lot of Shetland that we didn't see on this trip. We didn't go to Fetlar to see the breeding phalaropes, and judging by the reports from other people who did, the views of these birds were very fine. We weren't bothered by looking for rarities either which isn't our “thing”.

We enjoyed plenty of other delights including the excellent cafes in Lerwick, watching Common Seals and Red-throated Divers whilst enjoying a scone and a coffee, looking around the interesting Viking longhouse and longship replicas at Haroldswick on Unst, visiting the spectacular archaeological site of Jarlshof on Mainland, which was technically closed due to Covid, but there were some workmen on site who had left the gate open and suggested we help ourselves to a free tour, and enjoying the very informative exhibits in Lerwick museum whilst waiting for the ferry home (had to be booked in advance due to Covid). Elsewhere there were brochs to explore, beaches to sit on and just watch the waves, Whimbrels to watch from public roads on their breeding grounds (not included here due to their schedule one protected status), and plenty of wild flowers to keep my friend very happy.

Hopefully I'll be back before I get too old and next time I'll definitely be taking my sea kayak.

* "Mainland" here refers to the main island of Shetland, not the Scottish mainland.

(Photos to follow)

delia todd

If I said the wrong thing it was a Senior Moment
Staff member
Opus Editor
A wonderful report Andrea. If you get back you really would love Fetlar (we had booked for a weekend and stayed nearly a week!! I didn't want to leave LOL)

Andrea Collins

Former member - no longer active
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Northern Gannets fighting on water, Noss. Birds often take up to three days of sleeping to recover from these fights.
Common Guillemot/Murre with a somewhat larger than typical fish, Noss.
Great Skua trying succesfully to rob Northern Gannet of its catch, Noss.
Two Northern Gannets trying to claim the same fish - not unusual.
Northern Gannets plunge diving after fish thrown from a tour boat.


Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
You had me at "orcas" ... but how much more! Love the first otter and Black Guillemot pics, and the puffin who ate all the pies.

I also appreciate what may be a world first: pictures of alcids with fish ... that are NOT puffins! First time to see this in almost 40 yrs birding!

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Sandra (Taylor)

Registered User
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Northern Fulmar - St Ninians Isle.
Sanderling - St Ninian's Isle.
Mousa Broch just before the storm-petrels started arriving in large numbers.
Male Twite - west Mainland.
Eurasian Otter - west Mainland.
Very interesting report, Andrea. Never visited these islands. Mull & Skye are the only ones we've stayed on. But what wonderful photos!! Absolutely brilliant - the subjects, focus, clarity. Perhaps you're a professional photographer. I've given up photographing nature, as that or birding had to give - birding won! Thanks for your interesting posts.
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