June 1st – 6th – Shetland   Leave a comment

A typical Shetland view. Long sea lochs or voes, sheltered harbours and scattered houses.


Weather was mainly sunny but some showers were heavy. Rainbow over Sumburgh Head.



I will post photos about the southern part of Shetland in this post and the northernmost isles in the next.

Margaret and I flew up to Edinburgh and then with just an hour to spare we caught the flight to Sumburgh. I nearly missed this flight as they tried to confiscate the bottle of whisky I had bought at Southampton airport as a present for Paul. In the end there was a compromise, I left that bottle behind and picked up a replacement one in Edinburgh duty-free. This all took time and I ended up running for my flight.

Paul met us at Sumburgh and we were soon enjoying their hospitality in nearby Virkie. I have known Paul since 1978 when he lived in Dorset and his wife Liz since the late 80’s. and it was great to visit them again.

At 60 N the sun doesn’t set in Shetland until after 11 pm in June


The residual twilight is known as the ‘Simmer Dim’ and lasts until the sun rises some time before 3. It is bright enough to read a book by. This is the view from Paul and Liz’s house over the Pool of Virkie and Sumburgh Head. The island of Fair Isle lies to the right just off the picture.


We saw this Long-eared Owl on our first evening on Shetland


Our first port of call on the 2nd was Quendale, where we searched for and briefly saw a Subalpine that had been there for the last few days. we then crossed three islands (by bridge) to reach East Burra where an adult Long-tailed Skua has been present for the last few summers. The bird appears to be paired with an Arctic Skua. This is by far the rarest of the four skuas to occur in the UK and apart from one site in the Hebrides is known only from autumn seawatches in the south-west, I have only seen two birds in the UK both juvs and I was really keen to see this adult. The bird flew right over our heads and gave fantastic views. Definitely the best bird we saw in Shetland and one of the best of the trip.


Easy to separate from the dark phase Arctic skua (top) in this photo, Long-taileds are harder to separate from pale phase Arctics, or when both are in juvenile plumage. Note the differences in structure in this photo and that juvs don’t have the long tail


Smaller, daintier and less aggressive than other skuas, Long-taileds are sometimes described as feeding like terns.


With a circumpolar arctic breeding distribution and a pelagic winter range, Long-tailed are hard to get to grips with. The two pale white shaft streaks best seen when the wing is in shade (see above) is diagnostic for this species.


A few pairs of Whooper Swans nest in Shetland, the only location in the UK. Aggressive when breeding, they have been known to kill sheep that wander close to their nests. This pair had five cygnets, three of which are visible here.

Arctic Terns are abundant (but declining due to the shortage of sand eels) and like skuas are aggressive in defense of their nests.


Great Northern Divers breed no closer than Iceland but several summer plumaged birds remain in Shetland waters for the summer.


Ancestors of the domestic or feral pigeon, wild (and hopefully genetically pure) Rock Doves are common.


Wheatears are common breeding birds.


Sanderlings in breeding plumage are still migrating to their high arctic breeding grounds in early June

Sanderlings in flight


There is a large colony of Guillemots at Sumburgh Head ….


… whilst Puffins sit by their burrows at the top of the cliff.


Fulmars nest in abundance on the rocky cliffs. They have a habit of spitting a foul-smelling oil at intruders as all seabird ringers and cliff climbers know to their cost.


Closely related to albatrosses and shearwaters, Fulmars only superficially resemble gulls.


Paul, Margaret and Liz at Lea Gardens. Perhaps the most remarkable thing we saw in Shetland were these gardens belonging to Paul’s friends. With low temperatures, constant gales and high salt spray it is difficult to get anything to grow on these islands, but they have shown what can be done with time, effort and a lot of skill. It’s also a great place for Mealy Redpoll.


Posted June 21, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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