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Postcard from Orkney and Shetland (1 Viewer)


Botanical Birder
I set off early on 5th June for Kirkwall, Orkney, on what was a very hot day, and the last very hot day I was to experience over the next two weeks. It was a good job I had packed for all weathers, as that was what was to come! The first birds of interest were seen off the ferry from Aberdeen and included Fulmar, Gannet, Eider Ducks, Kittiwake, Guillemots and Black Guillemots, the first of many on the trip. After what was not the nicest of meals I decided to brave the wind on deck for about twenty minutes and I’m thankful that I did. I think I am one of very few people on board who saw the breaching Minke Whale astern of the ferry. This was a lifer for me and a good start to the trip. It breached on four occasions before disappearing leaving most, oblivious to its appearance. I arrived in Kirkwall at 11.30pm and on reaching my hotel at midnight was shown to my room by a guy from Hartlepool. I was in the rather posh new wing which had opened only the week before and still had a smell of paint, or newness as the porter suggested! I found later that if I contorted myself into strange positions I could have a view of the St Magnus Cathedral and a small bit of harbour. I was too tired tonight to contort my self into any position but a horizontal one on the king sized bed.

6th June. Now, the time on Orkney was to be devoted to archaeological exploration as much as nature and I had become a little concerned that I might tire of piles of stones. I needn’t have worried because as the week went on it became more and more of interest and time from the Neolithic period until the Second World War and beyond all began to fall into place with the help, knowledge and enthusiasm of a very good leader.

On the road out of Kirkwall we were soon watch two Short Eared Owls quartering the area and one of them at very close range as it flew in front of the vehicle. I have to say that my one and only complaint this week was the fact that the vehicle was hopeless for watching wildlife from. You would think that agencies charging high prices for tours would offer something better. I travelled with AIGAS. It’s no good the leaders having great views in the front whilst the paying customer can’t see! (We did have two leaders for six people) That’s my groan out of the way. Everywhere you looked held Oystercatchers and Curlew. We were put onto a Bearded Seal by one of the locals and we did have a long distance view of it. Sadly we had no opportunity to view this closely because we had to keep to a time at our first archaeological visit. The plan was to look later as no one could confidently say that they had identified the seal. It was certainly a rarity for the area and it would be a lifer for me so I left hoping we would get back.

Archaeological sites visited today included the 5,000 years old Neolithic tomb of Maes Howe together with some Viking runic graffiti (those Vikings were ‘cheeky’ boys), the standing stones of Stenness and the nearby Ring of Brodgar, and later in the day the Stone-age village of Skara Brae. The later very close to the sea and at risk of erosion which would be a great pity. I was well into the archaeology by now and enjoying learning so much.

Later in the day a visit was made to Yesnaby nature reserve which held a feast of botanical interest including Spring Squill as far as the eye could see. Other botanical interest included Butterwort, Milkwort, Mountain Everlasting, Heath Spotted Orchid, Northern Marsh Orchid, Wild Thyme, Lousewort and masses of Marsh Marigold which was to be with us throughout the trip. Sadly there was no Scottish Primrose in flower. It seems the timing of flowering of this plant is all to pot just now. The cliffs gave a hint of what was to come over the next two weeks and the first Arctic Skuas (both pale and dark morphs) and Great Skuas of the trip were found up close. At some point we found another Short Eared Owl taking us to three for the day and other birds seen included Fulmar, Shag, Lapwing, Ringed Plover, Redshank, Red Breasted Merganser, Common Tern, Wheatears (seen on almost every day of the trip), Hooded Crow, Raven and Reed Bunting. Also seen were Rabbit, Brown Hare, Common Seal and Orkney Vole.

Following a hearty dinner served at a speed to allow for plenty of conversation, I had a short walk in Kirkwall before heading to the horizontal position again.

7th June. We took the ferry to the island of Rousay which is approximately five miles x five miles. Another Short Eared Owl was seen before we left the mainland by ferry. The Westness Walk on Rousay contains some fine ancient monuments, the most famous being Midhowe Cairn or as it is also known ‘the great ship of death’. This is a 100ft long Neolithic burial chamber. Nearby sites include Midhowe broch, a Viking hall and cemetery, a late medieval hall and ruined 18th century farmsteads with an example of a corn drying kiln. We had all of this to ourselves. The steep walk down to the shore line had been comparatively easy, but after a pleasant lunch the climb back was exhausting.

It had been wet early on, but the rest of the day was dry making for a pleasant exploration of the island and its more recent history. Birds seen today included Common Tern, Arctic Tern, Fulmar, Mute Swan, Whooper Swan, Greylag Geese, Shelduck, Snipe, Kittiwake, Guillemot, Black Guillemot, Razorbill, Sedge Warbler, Wren and Linnet. Both Common and Grey Seals were seen. The light was wonderful as we returned to the mainland by the ferry having had a look around a very interesting information centre on the island.

8th June. Today was to be spent largely around the Scapa Flow area. I have to confess despite the importance of this area during time of war I was only vaguely aware of detail until this trip. The East Mainland is joined to the southern islands by the Churchill Barriers which divide Scapa Flow from the North Sea, and we travelled along these narrow barrier roads. Such a massive area of deep water.

Much of the birdlife was as previous days, but we did add Wigeon when visiting extensive wetland areas and also saw Snipe again. Puffin and Rock Pipit was also added to the list.

I was fascinated by the history and it helped knowing that our leader was in fact related to the guy who had been involved in initially blocking Scapa Flow for protection of shipping during the Second World War. Some of the block ships are still visible. I guess most people realise that a German U Boat managed to enter the flow and torpedo the Royal Oak which sank within thirteen minutes and that the lives of over eight hundred seamen were lost. It was thought that the U-boat was on a suicide mission, but it managed to escape and gave Germany a massive propaganda boost so early in the war. Where the Royal Oak sunk is marked by a buoy. Very thought provoking, as is beautiful Italian Chapel built by Italian POWs in a Nissan, hut. I’m not especially religious, but these things do make one stop and think and these small projects have more effect on me than large churches and cathedrals. At least one of the POWs, Domenico Chiocchetti, was an artist and the work really is magnificent. Much of the material used was scrap!

The latter part of the day was very wet so we spent some time looking at tapestries made by a local Orcadian.

9th June Today we went to Birsay and the tidal island known as Brough of Birsay which has early Christian and Norse settlements. There is much moorland around the area with small lochans and on one of them we found a pair of nesting Red Throated Divers. I had been surprised that up to now we had not seen any divers at all, but this excellent sighting made up for it. The female was low on the nest to keep out of the wind. Ringed Plover and Common Sandpiper were amongst other waders found.

We later visited the Marwick Cliffs were a memorial stands to Lord Kitchener. The ship he was travelling to Russia on was sunk off these cliffs in what was rather a mystery. It was interesting to find the memorial to the ‘good’ Lord K, but no mention of anyone else who went down with him! Isn’t that typical?

These cliffs are designed to bring on the vertigo so I concentrated on the views and birds. I was becoming amazed by the numbers of Fulmar about the whole coast. I understand that they have taken over areas where other birds used to nest. Other sea birds seen were Shag, Eider Duck, Black Headed Gull, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Lesser Black Backed Gull, Great Black Backed Gull and large numbers of Kittiwake, Arctic Tern, Common Tern, along with Guillemot (including several bridled birds), Black Guillemot, Razorbill. Puffin, Great Skua and Arctic Skua. Some other birds included Raven, Rock Dove, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Wheatear and Reed Bunting. I certainly enjoyed my time on the cliffs today.
More post cards on their way, and it gets better and better

Photos 1)Orcadian Light 2)Ring of Brodgar 3)Northern Marsh Orchid 4)Heath Spotted Orchid 5)Arctic Skua, pale and dark morph


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10th June. This morning was a rather relaxed one as we concentrated on Kirkwall itself, which included a guided tour the magnificent sandstone Cathedral of St Magnus and the ruins of the Renaissance architectural ruins of the nearby Earls and Bishops Palaces. The afternoon saw me crawling into an underground Neolithic tomb at Cuween Hill on my hands and knees. Thankfully I was let out again. At this point we found a Common Buzzard, quite a rarity for Orkney I believe.

We also eventually found the Bearded Seal again with pup, but this time managed a close up sighting so there was no doubt what species it was. A rather comical looking animal, with a really long grey beard, which usually breed around the Svalbard and Arctic areas. I reckon it was quite a find and I count it as a lifer as from today, as my previous view was so poor it could have been anything! Common Seals and Brown Hare were also found. Then we were up into the hills after having had lunch at Scapa Beach..

You may have noted that so far Hen Harrier is missing from the list. Well after no little looking today we did eventually find both male and ringtail, but with quite distant views. As we where watching the Hen Harriers another Short Eared Owl gave excellent views as it quartered the area before settling on a post near to us. It was difficult to know which way to look. We also found Kestrel.

We also found a significant number of Red Breasted Merganser today, Raven and Great Skua.

11th June. We were off to Hoy today. It rained quite heavily early on, but nothing stopped our progress and it was soon clear.

We visited the Dwarfie Stone a stone carved tomb in a desolate mountainous area. I didn’t crawl into this one! Fulmars called from the mountain side above us and I found some good specimens of Sundew. The Dwarfie Stone is a huge block of sandstone which is the only rock cut tomb in Britain dating from around 3000 BC. According to Sir Walter Scott it is the residence of a Troll. I think I have met a few of them in my lifetime!

One of the highlights of the week for me was a visit to the beautiful sandy bay at Rackwick which is below very high cliffs. I walked alone along by the sea and from underneath the cliffs there was a view of the Old Man of Hoy, if a somewhat distant view. There are large numbers of Great Skua in the area, and fewer Arctic Skua. I’d become quite surprised as to how close you can get to these birds.

The first Grey Heron of the week appeared and I seem to remember counting up to six Red Throated Divers some of them nesting. Stonechat was added to the list and Kestrel was seen again. The bird of the day had to be the Hen Harrier. This time we had both male and ringtail in close up. On the return to the hotel as everyone else seemed to have given up on the bird watching, including the leaders, and were chatting away, I caught site of another male Hen Harrier making it five for the week. We had five Short Eared Owls also.

I gave my after dinner walk to the harbour a miss tonight as there were gale force winds coming of the sea. Instead I prayed they would die out before the following night as I would be on the overnight ferry to Lerwick, Shetland!
12th June. It was going to be a long day as the rest of the group (they had been a friendly bunch) left for home and I was left to await a ferry that did not leave until 11.45pm. The hotel were happy to allow me to use their facilities and I decided to explore Kirkwall in some depth, including Tourist Information, St Magnus Centre (I even let the staff think I had been fascinated by the video!), St Magnus Cathedral again (anyone watching might have thought I had found religion, I spent so long in there) and the Kirkwall Museum (which is very good indeed). Spare time was spent eating and finding a reserve set of footwear as I had no faith that my boots would make it until the end of the following week as the stitching was falling apart! As luck would have it the Orkney Traditional Music Project was giving a free concert in the Cathedral so I spent a good hour listening to the kids aged from around eight to seventeen playing traditional tunes. They were excellent and I bought the CD! After dinner, come 11.45 I was on the way to Shetland not really knowing what to expect and I didn’t sleep too well such was the anticipation. Thankfully the wind had died out! More postcards on the way!

1)Rackwick Bay, Hoy 2) Great Skua 3)The Dwarfie Stone


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Superb report Brian. Orkney is on my Must do soon list.

Looking forward to reminiscing on Shetland now!

Excellent report Brian.My late Father served in Scapa Flow during WW2 and told me a lot about the area and the birds.

Shall look forward to the next report and photos. :t:
Nice report Brian. Great to see the skuas on land! Looks like they were pretty close to you. You've given me an idea.; my husband likes archaeological stuff and I like birds so it would be a good destination for us!
Thanks for your comments Delia, Ben Nevis and Joannec. My Shetland reports will be coming soon.

Joan...if your husband likes archaeological stuff he'd be in his elememnts on Orkney, and there would be plenty of birds for you.;)

B N.....Scapa Flow is a really interesting area both for history and wildlife, as you know. My father was friends with someone who went down with the Royal Oak. I understand that there is much oil still down there with the ship and seepage is still causing concern. I've added a photo of the Italian Chapel below. I understand that one of the Italian POWs tried to escape but was soon picked up trying to buy a map in a Kirkwall bookshop. Ties with Italy still remain very strong.

Lots of diving still takes place in the Flow and I found out that one of the members on the Shetland tour I joined used to dive there regularly.


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13th June. I was soon being taken to Brae and the Busta Hotel where I was to join the rest of the group for the next week. Incidentally Simon King stayed here at least some of the time he was in Shetland and you may remember he named one of the Otters, Busta! So don’t be kidded into thinking this guy roughs it all of the time! The local taxi driver had worked in Whitley Bay for several years and gave me some very useful information on Shetland during the journey. I have to admit I found the barren scenery very different from Orkney and took a little time to adjust to this and a very different mix of the group of seven. I did enjoy my breakfast before leaving on the first day’s excursion, and it soon became apparent that we had a very knowledgeable and enthusiastic leader in Phil Knott who presently works as a ranger on Handa Island. It was also immediately apparent that the vehicle we were using was far more appropriate for wildlife watching than the one used on Orkney and offered everyone good all round views. It was also very apparent that if it had been cold at times on Orkney, it was a damn sight colder up here on Shetland and it remained so for most of the week.

I have to admit that my first day on Shetland is remembered as an enjoyable blur now, because despite the day supposedly being a relaxing one, it turned into quite a long day in the field and I never did get my list done for the day. I wasn’t complaining about that of course as I hadn’t gone on this trip to sit around and relax, and as the week went on I realised I wouldn’t be doing so! I hope some photos will give a feel to the place and I did feel more at home by the time dinner was served. We did have an unexpected, but great view of an Otter on dry land, before it became spooked and headed for the water. I soon realised that if Orkney had lots of Fulmars, Shetland won hands down with numbers. We spent our time exploring central and east mainland and were never far from the coast so the most, if not all, the seabirds seen at Orkney were again recorded today. We also spent some time finding waders and their chicks.

Botanically speaking, I was very pleased with findings of Butterwort in flower and a very good display of Round-leaved Sundew. I had thought that there was a good deal of Marsh Marigold on Orkney, but this was to be surpassed on Shetland. Back at the hotel I found difficulty in re-finding my room such was the lay out in this fine old building. Once I did find it I was pleased that I didn’t have a cat, as I certainly could not have swung it in the bathroom! The meals and service were both top class however.

14th June. Today we were back on the ferries. Firstly taking us to Unst via Yell. After a drive through Unst we caught another ferry to Fetlar where we were to spend the day. Birds seen from the ferry included gulls, Fulmar, Shag, Guillemot, Black Guillemot and Razorbill. Common and Grey Seals were seen once again.

Fetlar has extensive areas of peat bog, grassy moorland, dry heath and herb rich grassland and offers ideal areas for breeding waders, and waders listed were Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Turnstone, Golden Plover, Redshank, Curlew, Whimbrel and Black-tailed Godwit. I was especially pleased to find Whimbrel on their breeding site and we watched these birds at some length from the vehicle. We had all heard Whimbrel fly over our heads the day before.

We found the Black-tailed Godwit along with Mallard and Teal on the small wetland reserve whilst we spent some time looking here and on the small lochan for Red-necked Phalarope. I understand that the small numbers of phalarope (90 per cent of the British population are said to be on Fetlar) are really struggling and may soon be lost altogether. Our results would seem to back this forecast up as we failed to find any of these birds, and this is the first occasion after several visits that the group leader had not found the birds. We found later in the week that the warden on Unst had not seen any of the birds on that island either this year. I had really hope to see Red-necked Phalarope as I have only ever seen them in Canada, but it was impossible to feel too disappointed when there was so much else going on around us and we had given it a good try. I’m pleased to say that our time wasn’t wasted in the cold around by the lochan as I had my best ever sightings of Red Throated Divers. Five of them in total, on the Lochan, and at times within a few yards of us, and showing every marking clearly. We later found two more Red Throated Divers in flight.

I saw my first Shetland Wren today and on returning on the ferry we found our second Otter of the week near the ferry terminal which I’m told is a good area to find Otters. On Returning to the hotel we had about twenty minutes to prepare for dinner so I gave the shower a miss tonight. It was a wonderful evening with really good lighting effects so some of us went out to look for more Otters without success. We did find large gatherings of seabirds on the waters and found more Common and Grey Seals on what was a quiet and relaxing evening. Wheatears were calling from what look like there nesting area. This was certainly one of a number of species of bird seen I think on every day of the trip. Meadow Pipit and Rock Pipit were also seen.

15th June. The morning was to be spent in Lerwick to allow time for shopping! Shopping I ask you! Who goes on a nature holiday to shop? Well it seems some did and apparently it is a popular part of the trip. Not for me however, so I spent the time on a walk, which included the Knab headland, with Phil and another member of the group. I really enjoyed the relaxing morning and our biggest reward were numbers of Twite feeding close by on seed heads. Lunch today was from the fish and chip shop and taken inside the fortified walls. I’d enjoyed my time in Lerwick. The best of the day was to come however.

The afternoon was spent on Dr Jonathan Wills boat, Dunter111. Jonathan has studied the geology and natural history of Shetland for more than twenty years. We were to spend time around Bressay and Noss, with time to admire the precipitous cliffs. This area holds a population of around 80,000 seabirds and as well as examining the precipitous old sandstone cliffs we watched the populations of Gannet, Kittiwake, Guillemot, Black Guillemot, Artic Skua, Great Skua, Puffin and Razorbill, along with gulls and Common and Grey Seals. It was a beautiful day so perfect for this trip and taking turns on the high seats on the roof of the boat offered a great experience. I took some shifting from there! I may have said so already, but I love being out on the water and watching birds in such numbers is very, very special.

The boat has an underwater camera so some time was spent inside one of the caves watching some of the underwater life on the screen. Fascinating stuff. Just as fascinating were the caves themselves which I took some time in realising were housing a number of Shag nesting sites.
As we returned to Lerwick Harbour a small island covered in Red Campion was pointed out and Grey Seals approached the boat. This afternoon was the highlight of the trip fro me, and others I suspect, although other highlights were plentiful. Raven and one of the few butterflies seen on the trip, a Large White Butterfly, was seen today. I returned to the hotel with a glowing face! More postcards in the post!

1)Atmospheric Shetland 2)In cave with underwater camera 3) Noss Gannets 4)Noss 5) Atlantic Grey Seal approaches boat


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Oh! that's awful if the RNP's have gone. There were quite a few in 2002; we just had to sit in the layby beside the car and they were at our feet.

Oh! that's awful if the RNP's have gone. There were quite a few in 2002; we just had to sit in the layby beside the car and they were at our feet.


No, they haven't gone Delia. There was one seen feeding at the loch as we waited at the wetland. However I believe that there are concerns as to their long term viability on Shetland, and at least in part this has been related to climate change (isn't everything?:)) I'd read about watching the phalaropes at the loch in close up in some tour advertisments. I found that they were not so easy to see as suggested there. As I mentioned in my report however, it was the first time the group leader had not managed to see them.
Maybe I'll see them the next time I go, as I'm hoping there will be a next time.;)
16th June. Today was to be a long one, in fact taking us into the early hours of the following day. We were first to head to the south of the mainland. We were to take in the Tingwall Valley and its lochans and the old capital of Shetland with its castle and harbour, Scalloway which had been the centre of the Norwegian resistance on Shetland during World War 11. A monument stands in Scalloway to remember the bravery of the men and women involved in what has become known as the ‘The Shetland Bus’ operation. Later in the day we also visited Jarlshof, which dates back to the Bronze Age and also contains the remains of a Viking settlement and 16th century mansion house. Old Scatness broch and Iron Age village was also visited

The highlight of the day and for me one of many highlights of the trip was the stop at Sumburgh Head, the southern tip of Shetland mainland, where we took lunch before walking up to the lighthouse and gaining great views over the cliffs and close up views of many Puffins that nest here. Some of them being within touching distance. Once again the weather proved ideal for the walk. I initially thought we had been given too much time, here but in the event I just didn’t want to leave. Of course there was the usual daily list of seabirds along with Raven, Hooded Crow, Wren, Meadow Pipit, Rock Pipit, Skylark and Wheatear. A bony head of a Minke Whale lay in the area. This week had not proven a good one for watching cetaceans, but it just didn’t seem to matter greatly.

During the day we had also found Mute Swan, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye and Greylag Geese amongst other species. We visited the beautiful area of St Ninian’s Isle where an immense load of treasure had been found by a youngster, and I walked across the sand beach linking the isle to the mainland and just about had time to climb the sand dunes to reach the isle itself. My treasure was just being here!

On the return journey the mist began to come down. Was this a good omen or not, I wondered, for our planned trip to Moussa this evening? We were to visit Moussa tonight to watch the thousands of Storm Petrels that nest in the broch and dry stone walls on the island. We left the hotel soon after dinner to catch the boat which was to take us and a number of other people to the island. Well wrapped up against the elements we set of for the twenty minute boat trip.

Everything seemed to work out really well because as we approached Moussa the broch could be seen looming before us in the mist, gradually becoming more clear. Because the days are so long on Shetland the mist proved to be of some help as the Storm Petrels fly in only as it darkens. Once landed at Moussa we set off for the fifteen minute walk to the broch, but before we got there we had the rather surreal experience of hearing the Storm Petrels calling from the drystone walls. It was a weird sound and experience. It was as if someone was in the walls making a noise with some kind of machinery and rather reminiscent in my mind to the sound of Nightjars. We then began to see the odd Storm Petrel fly in, but this was nothing to the experience at the broch where they began to fly in, in large numbers and some appeared to be within inches of our heads. We stayed in the area for quite some time before returning to the boat. As we returned we were serenaded from the drystone walls by the Storm Petrels. What an experience and certainly not one to be missed. I have seen petrels at sea on the South Atlantic but I have to confess that the European Storm Petrel was a lifer for me. What a way to add a lifer to my list and in such numbers. Fantastic, and this experience has to equal the experience on the boat at Noss cliffs! We arrived back at the hotel at 2.30am with the Blackbirds already singing, but they didn’t keep me awake! At least we had a short lie in this morning. A short one mind you as tomorrow was to be another exciting day!

17th June. W e were to visit the cliffs of Esha Ness on the north west mainland today, passing Mavis Grind where the waters of the North Sea and Atlantic almost meet and cut of the north mainland. This was where we had spent a time in the evening looking for Otters. Esha Ness proved to be an excellent walk along the basalt cliffs passing geos, stacks and caves and having excellent sightings of the sea birds especially Fulmars at close quarters. We also had good views of the ‘Drongs’ today. We had sightings of the usual sea birds. At least four Red Throated Divers were seen and more Whimbrel. Some interesting plants were found including Silverweed, Oysterplant and Sea Sandwort the latter two being new to me.
Must dash off to post my last card from the most northerly post office in Britain.


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Wonderful! Really enjoyed the mix of birds, plants and history and the sense of place - your enthusiasm is infectious.


10th June.

We also eventually found the Bearded Seal again with pup, but this time managed a close up sighting so there was no doubt what species it was.

I don't think the bearded seal has a pup, on my visit a few days before you there was no sign of one and as they pup in May I am sure I would have seen it.

Just checked Orkbirds and no mention of a pup on there either

Thanks a lot Phil and Mike. Glad you enjoyed the report.

It was very much the mix of birds, botany and history that made for such a fascinating trip Mike. Last bit coming up.
I don't think the bearded seal has a pup, on my visit a few days before you there was no sign of one and as they pup in May I am sure I would have seen it.

Just checked Orkbirds and no mention of a pup on there either


Thanks for correction Mark. I've just been talking to a friend of mine who was in Orkney a couple of weeks ago and he saw no pup either. Maybe I've misunderstood something as I believed a young seal had been pointed out to me. I'll seek clarification from the leader of the trip. Cheers
18th June. Not far from the Busta Hotel is the most northerly fish and chip shop in Britain. I assume the Indian Takeaway near by is the most northerly too. Because of the content of the meals at Busta I didn’t feel the need to visit either! Today we were also to see the most northerly lighthouse, post office and bus stop, that is if we were not blown away in the high winds! I better also give a mention to the many Shetland Ponies seen during the week. We were soon on the ferries to Unst. I had heard the wind during the night and wondered what the day would bring. It brought a wonderfully exhilarating walk at Hermaness National Nature Reserve and along the vertigoes cliff top where from you can see the lighthouse at Muckle Flugga, the top of the British Isles. Not to mention many thousands of birds. The Gannets were once again the stars of the show, especially when taking off en-masse from the cliff side below us and floating past us like a snow storm. This is a sight that will remain with me for a very long time. I seem to remember Phil mentioning that I was a bit close to the edge of the cliffs, especially in the strong winds. Not having a head for heights I must have been feeling brave and in awe of the birds and view.

As we walked to and from the cliff edge, not an easy walk in the wind even with the specially lain pathway, we passed many Great Skuas, the odd Artic Skua, Dunlin, and Golden Plover. The Great Skuas were special, and at one point, at least fifty/sixty lifted up into the air above us. Other birds seen had included Guillemots, Razorbills, Puffins, Kittiwakes, Shags and gulls. This had been another unforgettable experience.

Later in the day Oystercatchers, Ringed Plovers, Dunlin, Redshank and Curlew were all seen in some number, many with chicks. Also seen were the daily Ravens, Wheatears, Meadow Pipits and Rock Pipits.

We also visited the Keen of Hamar National Nature Reserve to look at the rare flowers. This is a bit of a moonscape area. It did bring some wonderful results however. Flowers found included Moss Campion, Early Purple Orchid, Frog Orchid, Norwegian Sandwort, Kidney Vetch and Sea Plantain. The star prize went to the Edmondston’s Chickweed however, which is endemic to only the island of Unst. Edmondston became a professor early in life, but sadly died in his early twenties.

We did find a rare breeding Whooper Swan today, but not the hoped for Red-necked Phalarope. Not even the warden on the island had seen anything of this species recently. On return we spent a little time on the island of Yell hoping for Otter sightings, but had no luck with that.

We were soon back at the hotel for our final large dinner and some packing, after an action filled and exciting day. I decided that my boots that have served me so well over many years had reached the end of their days, so they remain on Shetland.

19th June. It was time to say goodbye to the group and to Shetland today, but not before I had spent a windy and cold day in Lerwick waiting for the overnight ferry to Aberdeen. It did give me the chance to take a good very long look at another good museum and God forbid, do some shopping! There was also a bit of entertainment from some Vikings and a band during what was a festival. I was on the ferry shortly after 5.00pm and on the moves at 6,45pm. I had a meal, a pint of lager and watched as we passed Sumburgh Head where we had spent such a pleasant few hours earlier in the week. Then it was an early night, me by this point, being cream crackered.

Whilst on Orkney someone asked me if I would go back. I said probably not as there are so many other places to see. I’ve changed my mind on that one. I’d love to return, especially to Shetland. So many highlights its really impossible to choose one above others, but the real rewards were being in the wild areas and on the sea with such magnificent cliff scenery and thousand upon thousand of birds. I’ve come home with the intention of learning much more about the history and natural history of these areas. This isn’t some after holiday whim, as I’m determined to do so. The determination comes from my experience and the inspiration given me by the leaders Robin, Elspeth and Phil. They have my sincere thanks. I learnt a lot over the two weeks.
I’m home now so no more postcards, at least for a time.

1)Close up to the Great Skuas 2)Cliffs at Hermaness 3)Muckle Flugga from Hermaness 4)Edmonstons Chickweed 5)Frog Orchid


This trip and other recent trips to Scotland and it's islands has made me review my traveling plans for the future. Over the past few years I have travelled quite a bit, over four continents (although I accept, not as much as many other people have). I've had some exciting times, but I'm begining to think there is much around Britain that I need to give priority too, and that there is as much excitment to be had there.

Regarding the queried Bearded Seal Pup. The following info is taken from the leaders trip report........................
We stopped next at Finstown for loos and another shot at spotting the Bearded Seal. The tide was right and it was hauled out on the pier, along with a pup. We headed around the bay and walked closer – just where some guys were strimming the verge! The seals were oblivious however, and we could clearly see the vertical whiskers that make up the ‘beard’. Bearded Seal come from the Arctic, Svalbard and Russia and is a rare vagrant to Shetland – to see two on Orkney is almost unheard of!

If the above is incorrect I'd be happy to pass that info on to the leaders of the trip.

Hope you have enjoyed the reports.


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Fantastic report Brian.I can feel the atmosphere of the area and you put the words together so well.Im now up past my bedtime ;) but it is worth it,just to read about your experience. :t:
Didn't the Skuas dive-bomb you Brian? Perhaps they weren't nesting too near the path this time on your way out to Hermaness!

Moussa is a lovely island and I'll never forget the Broch, some structure that. Unfortunately we couldn't get across for an evening session so missed out on the Petrels but had a lovely afternoon wandering around.

You'll be back!:-O

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