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Shetland Summer Holidays

September 01, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Time for an update!

This summer, I had a great opportunity to spend a few weeks on the Shetland Islands with a group of good friends. While primarily a holiday, the trip offered up a wealth of photographic opportunities so naturally all the camera kit went with me.

Having read about Shetland from a number of naturalists and photographers, most notably TV's Simon King, I knew I was going to be in for a treat.

Researching photos and locations on Flickr, birds were clearly going to be top of the list with the island of Noss being home to one of the largest Gannet colonies in the country.

GannetryGannetryNesting gannets on the isle of Noss, Shetland Islands

A trip up to Hermaness on the north coast of Unst, the most northerly of the Shetland Islands, allowed for some great views of a huge seabird that you'd struggle to see anywhere else - the Great Skua (or "Bonxie" to give it it's local name). Famous for being the pirates of the air and dive bombing smaller birds to steal fish, they make it quite clear who's the boss...

Displaying BonxiesDisplaying BonxiesGreat Skua pair, RSPB Hermaness on the north coast of Unst, Shetland Islands

And who can forget everybody's favourite, the Tammie Norrie, otherwise known to me and you as the Puffin.

Take time to smell the flowersTake time to smell the flowersKnowing that I was going to be spending some time on Shetland this summer, I skipped on my annual visit to the Farne Islands. The puffins at Sumburgh Head on Shetland Mainland didn't disappoint!

Topping all these, however, has to be the animal that's top of any wildlife enthusiast's visit to Scotland and the Shetland islands in particular. Like the "Scottish Play", one almost dare not speak it's name, lest it tempt fate and remain unseen. In the two weeks I spent on Shetland, I hoped I'd see an otter (there - said it!) but knew it was foolish to go in with any expectations. Sure, I could have paid for guiding and so on, and I'd seriously considered that, but the romantic in me was holding on to the thought that if I did my research, put some time in, kept my eyes open and just had a little bit of luck, I might just see one of them.

Out on a full day walk in a likely spot in the northern mainland, we managed two sightings - one slipping into the water out of sight almost as soon as we saw him, a fast-disappearing tail being the only clue he was ever there. And the second was a couple of hundred yards out on rocks, but by the time I'd got the camera up to my eye, he was off and swimming away as well.

So, a couple of days later, I thought I'd try rolling the dice again. One advantage of the Shetland summer is that the days are long and the nights are short, so if the weather's decent it gives you a reasonable window of opportunity to catch them at dusk.

A previous guest at our accommodation had written that they'd seen an otter fairly recently in the voe over the hill from the cottage, so I set off, again more in hope than expectation.

Scanning the shoreline as the light started to drop and twilight started to creep in, I spotted what I initially dismissed as a seal, but then he dipped under the water and resurfaced in a way that could only mean one thing.

He rounded the headland and started slowly swimming his way down towards where I was (now scrambling to keep my silhouette off the skyline and get as close as I dared). He came up on the rocks and I managed to get off a few shots, pushing the camera to the limits on low-light capability. There's plenty of better otter photos out there, but this was my record of a memorable encounter, and it means a lot.

Shortly afterwards, he moved downwind of me, got my scent and that was it - game over, and he was off!

... it was only after looking at the photos later on that it seemed likely 'he' was a 'she' - and possibly a rather pregnant she too...

Shetland OtterShetland OtterTaken on a recent trip to Shetland, I was on the lookout for otters but they were proving somewhat elusive.

I had one luck one evening when I spotted this one swimming just off a headland some way out. The light wasn't very good and it was getting dark but she (I think) came into the bay and went wandering around the rocks for a bit. A memorable encounter.

I'll be putting up other photos from the trip into my Shetland gallery, which you can find from the photography link on the home page, or on the menu bar above. Hope you enjoy them.



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