Wildlife in Shetland Islands

July, 2013

This year our full attention was focused on photographing adorable puffins - “little brothers of the north" as their Latin name “Fratercula arctica” means. Fair Isle is a brilliant place for puffins.

Fair Isle is a very quiet and remote location, in fact it is the most remote island in the United Kingdom. The island is tiny as well:  only 5 kilometers length and 3 kilometers width. It is inhabited by thousands of seabirds but only by 60 people. Fair Isle is a magical 'get-away-from-it-all' destination, not overcrowded with tourists. But most important it is one of a few places where you are able to stay overnight on the island, which allows you to photograph birds in the morning and evening light. 

Fair Isle can be reached from the Shetland mainland either by a cargo ship "Good Shepherd" for 12 passengers or by 8 - seater “Islander” aircraft. Accommodation wise, the ideal place to stay is Bird Observatory & Guesthouse. The main puffin colonies are located just minutes from the observatory.

If you travel around Shetland islands, we would advise to visit Hermaness Nature Reserve. The cliffs are home to numerous nesting seabirds including fulmars, shags, gannets, puffins and kittiwakes. It's about an hour walk from the car park to the cliffs.

Another must visit destination is Noss. Noss is a small (313 hectares), previously inhabited island off the east coast of Bressay. Last year we could not make a trip to this tiny island because of the poor weather and rough sea. This year luckily we have managed to cross a narrow, 150 metres wide sound by a ferry - an inflatable boat. The earliest time to reach the island is 10 am and the last ferry is at 5 pm. So there is no possibility to get morning or evening light.

A small information centre is housed in an old farmhouse on Noss where you can find a more detailed information about 10 km path around the island which is a National Nature Reserve and part of a sheep farm.

In Noss years of wind and ice have created thousands of ledges in sandstone cliffs. Over 80000 seabirds of 13 different species come to breed here every year. 

Photographing Northern Gannet was our main target. Noup cliffs at the south-east of the island rise up to 181 metres and hold big numbers of gannets. Although it is not the largest gannetry in Britain, Noss is fairly easy accessible one, combining large numbers of birds with a spectacular scenery.

Northern Gannets nest very close to each other.

Neighbouring birds are aggressive and quarrelsome, they may attack and even kill unguarded chicks.

Adult gannets leave the colony between August and October and fly 800 - 1600 km from the breeding grounds. Each bird returns to it's own particular nest site for its entire life.

During the breeding season cliffs at Noss are full of live. They provide ideal nest sites for Common Guillemots,  Kittiwakes, Shags, Razorbills.

And of course puffins... We have spent lots of time with this adorable bird on Fair Isle but still could not resist a temptation to photograph them in Noss. 

Great Skuas, known as Bonxies or pirates of the seas, are aggressive birds and famous for dive-bombing. Noss holds the 5th largest great skua colony in the world with over 350 breeding pairs.

There were lots of times when we have witnessed Great Skuas chasing the birds until they drop food but for the first time we've spotted a Bonxie feeding on a dead rabbit on sandy coast. 

Noss with it's moorland, grazing lands, sandy and boulder beaches supports a variety of wildlife. One of our favourite encounters was with a Common Ringed Plover.

Another highlight - spotting a Twite.

By going down the cliffs we've discovered good possibilities to photograph Common Eiders and Seals.

Another highlight was spotting a Black Guillemot on the  lower cliffs of Noss.

We were very surprised to meet this well camouflaged little rabbit just by the coast.

Definitely Noss is a great place.  Surrounding fields in Bressay hold a variety of birds. Photographing a Dunlin was a highlight for us.

Last year we were lucky to have a brilliant possibility to photograph Golden plover.

A tiny island of Mousa was our next destination. It lies just 14 miles (22.5 km) south of Lerwick and is famous for a noisy colony of Storm Petrels which is possible to see during a night boat trip. Our target was Black Guillemots.

Visiting time in Mousa is very restricted. We came to Mousa by boat at 10.30 am. and had only 2.5 hours to explore the island. Over this time, we've spotted three Black Guillemots. This one with a catch was our favorite. 

Black Guillemots dive for fish and can stay underwater for up to 2 minutes and 20 seconds.

While waiting for the ferry we were watching graceful Arctic Terns soaring above our heads.

The last day of our visit in Shetland islands we've spent in Sumburgh. Sumburgh Head is well known for large numbers of seabirds including guillemots, razorbills, fulmars, kittiwakes, puffins. 

But we just loved farm fields at Sumburgh as they hold a variety of birds. Shetland Wrens often can be spotted  on lichen-strewn stone walls by farm roads.

Northern Wheatear, Meadow pipit, Oystercatcher were common too. Curlew was seen from time to time. 

There is a small selection of the images from our second trip to Shetland islands. Lots of beautiful memories from a truly amazing place.


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