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A few days in Shetland

A few days in Shetland


Postby EmmaKTunskeen » Mon Jul 04, 2022 7:26 pm

Date walked: 03/06/2022

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3rd June - ferry to Lerwick

We were celebrating a significant birthday this year, so a treat was in store. Neither Euan nor I had ever made it to Shetland, so this was to be our first foray.

We hired a cottage on Yell, and decided Yell, Fetlar and Unst would be our focus as well as a quick explore of some of the mainland on the day we arrived. Of course, we're in the midst of this devastating bout of avian flu, so we knew we'd be seeing some tragic sights, and sure enough it was the talk of the islands, everyone feeling wretched and helpless in its wake.

On our ferry crossing from Aberdeen, which was smooth as smooth can be, we watched guillemots, gannets diving and following the boat, dolphins too, but we also saw the occasional gannet, stock-still on the water, its beak pointing to the sky as it awaited its fate.

Image011 Immature gannet and turbine

Image012 Dolphin

Image008 Poorly gannet

Down this way, we've been all too aware of the geese suffering at the Solway Firth, and I've come across poorly gannets on our south Ayrshire coast, while up in Caithness and Sutherland we've seen guillemots in rising numbers that have come a-cropper. Just horrible.

4th June - some Mainland exploring

Image002 Fishing boat and Fair Isle

Image004 Approaching Lerwick

Our first stop on arriving on a sunny morning at Lerwick was to head south to St Ninian's. (https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/shetland/st-ninians-isle.shtml)

Down at the tomobolo were various little waders scurrying about, the most charming of which were the sanderlings chasing and running from the little waves.

Image009 Sanderlings

Image011 Tombolo to St Ninians

All around, fulmar were nesting, and as we walked round the island's perimeter, past black rabbits, brown rabbits, arctic terns and the most resourceful, hardy starlings I've ever seen, the fulmars, we realised, were accompanied by puffins.

Out in the sea, we could just make out the fins of a basking shark, once plentiful around where we live but not any more, so it was a joy to find one out here.

Image012 Fulmar

Image017 Turnstone

Image024 St Ninians rabbits

Image034 Shetlands enterprising starlings

Image039 Puffins

Image046 Puffin and fulmars

Image050 Shag with feather

Image055 Razorbill

Image063 Gannets and shark

Image062 Basking shark

The landscape was breathtaking, from the elegant sweep of the tombolo itself to the skerries and voes, it was a superb welcome to the week's visit!

Image026 Tombolo

Image032 St Ninnian skerries

After a wonderful walk, we were back at the tombolo and dropped into the chapel grounds for a nosey. I couldn't help thinking how thrilled the schoolboy must have been when it was discovered what he'd found in the little wooden kist.

Image068 St Ninians chapel

From there, we headed to Jarlshof...

Image071 Shetland ponies at Jarlshof by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Image073 Looking over Scat Ness to Fitful Head

... which was such an excellent example of good archaeological decision-making, I was reeling. I mean, the self-control to leave Viking period buildings excavated to a degree and not dig further down to see what's underneath - not sure I have that :lol: .
Info here: https://www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/places/jarlshof-prehistoric-and-norse-settlement/

Image072 Viking longhouse and settlement

We spent a long time here, and I can't recommend it highly enough. It put me in mind of Delos (of all places!), just because it's been such a thriving settlement for so many cultures at so many times with so many international connections. And as for making bronze weapons up here, when the nearest tin is in Cornwall and your boat is fairly rudimentary - impressive.

Finally, it was up to Toft to get our ferry to Yell. And here we saw our only bird of prey for the week. A white-tailed eagle being seen off by some geese, overhead at the ferry terminal.

Image077 WTE and geese

Image078 WTE

(...and another arctic tern with sand eel).
Image080 Arctic tern and sand eel

5th June - Fetlar and the Hunt for Red-necked Phalarope

The red-necked phalarope breeding season was what dictated our timing for this trip. For the rest of the year, they're pelagic, and although they occasionally fetch up on Scotland's mainland and even Norfolk, Fetlar's a pretty sure spot for them, and for some reason Loch Funzie in particular. Quite what Loch Funzie offers that other Shetland lochs don't I have no idea, but there we are.

So off we went, with car. One of its brake-discs had lost its shoe though, so we were driving on gears to avoid gouging too much metal out of the disc until we could get it back home and to a garage. Thankfully, you can do that in Shetland, pretty stress-free. On arriving at Fetlar we beelined to Loch Funzie where we were greeted first by dust-bathing larks and then by loads of drumming snipe. I've never been around snipe in such numbers, hurling themselves up in the air and making a mesmerising drumming sound as they descend. Have a listen: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gallinago_gallinago.ogg

Image027 Snipe in calling flight
Those little sticky-out tail feathers produce the drumming - fantastic.

On the loch were some red-throated divers, and like the snipe, they were fairly unbothered by us, but they too were breeding, so we kept our distance so as not to stress them.

Image006 Divers

Image007 Divers

They flew from Loch Funzie to the other little lochans uphill from the Loch, and we kept encountering pairs of them, swimming in parallel and behaving pretty much like great-crested grebes in their courtship dance. It was a grey day, but this quiet spot, which we were lucky enough to have to ourselves, was absolutely enchanting.

Image004 Greylags and lapwing

Then, very briefly, three phalaropes appeared, in a flurry of activity, two females (the more colourful ones) and a male trying his best to attract one - or maybe both.

Image012 Phalaropes

[We found them later in the day nearer to the ferry, though I'd left my camera in the car because it was raining. We came back another day and spent a while with them in the little lochan there - they're very 'tame' because they're never normally near any people, spending so much of their time out at sea.]

Image027 Female phalarope

Image015 Male Phalarope on Loch of Urie

We were also treated to arctic skua today, along with the great skuas.

Image023 Arctic skua

Image041 Great skua

Leaving the loch, we wandered to the hide along the burn and watched the divers and snipe from there, including some very cute snipe chicks.

Image031 Snipe

Image034 Snipe chicks

I saw a placque dedicated to Bobby Tulloch, who'd discovered snowy owls here, though they've long since gone, so we weren't going to see any today sadly. That would have been amazing.

Image028 Plaque to snowy owl man

So far the skies had been very grey and the light really poor, but we walked up to the cliffs and the weather began to clear.

Image049 Muckle Birriers Geo

Out at sea, I saw a minke whale doing its thing.
What a place.

Image055 Minke whale

Image056 Minke whale

Image060 Shags

Looking down I could see puffin, black guillemots, seal and fulmar on the water, including one casualty sadly, and looking up, red-throated divers flew over us.

Image052 Bird flu fulmar casualty probably

Image058 Black guillemots

Image065 Chillin seal

Image064 Diver in flight

Image070 Dunlin

And eventually we headed back towards the ferry, allowing some time for a walk along to the Loch of Urie, watching an otter swim/lollop along the rocks below us as we crouched, and phalaropes hanging out here too.

Image071 Phalarope at Loch of Urie [pic on phone camera]


6th June - Breckon Beach and Gloup Ness

Today was a much sunnier day, and we decided on a walk and a swim at Breckon Beach on Yell, a short hop from our cottage. There were a few dead gannets and guillemots on the beach here, but in the bay were two more red-throated divers (alive) and an arctic tern diving. We walked along the beach first and headed up to Inna and Mid Ness - a landslip blocking our route to Ousta Ness.

Image002 Wick of Breckon looking to Gloup Ness

Image004 To the beach

Image010 Red-throated diver at Breckon Sands

Image013 Arctic tern

Image014 Inna Mid and Ousta Ness

Over to our right we could see the north of Unst, and specifically the brilliantly named Muckle Flugga lighthouse.

Image017 Muckle Flugga lighthouse

And right here, the shoreline had its own dramas, and some unexcavated settlements.

Image019 Settlements

Image020 Birrier Stack

Image021 Brae Wick and Skaevi

Image022 Birrier Stack from southeast

Image023 Looking back to Breckon Sands

Then it was down for a swim, and bloomin' freezing it was too!

After our dip, we headed round to the Gloup peninsula, past a little bay I scrambled down to, but with more dead gannets, I didn't fancy another dip here.

Image025 Our mini-bay

Image026 Watermill burn and marsh marigold

It was glorious weather, helped by Breckon Sands area being nicely sheltered from southwesterly winds. The sun was picking out the spring squill and the orchids.

Image028 Spring squill

Image030 Marsh orchid

The clarity being what it was, you could see the gannets at Hermaness on Unst from here - a visit which awaited us the next day.

Image035 Muckle Flugga and gannets

We hugged the cliff edges, looking out for more sharky, whaley-type fins, but none were to be seen today.

Image037 Gloup walk cliffs

Ringed plovers were out and about enjoying the sunshine though. :)

Image038 Ringed plover

Image039 Alpine thrift

And on we strolled, up to the coastguard's hut - no longer in use - at the top.

Image040 Gloup Ness

Image041 Gloup Ness folds

Euan quipped he fancied an order of chips when we got to the top. Well, quite!

Image046 Not a chip-shop

Image048 Coastguard and Gloup Voe behind [That's not a Shetland jumper, surely.]

Image049 Jagged rocks

Image051 Shags nesting

After hanging about up here for a while, we moseyed back to cook an evening meal and enjoy a beer - nice easy day!

Image056 Hauled out seal


7th June - Hermaness gannets galore at Unst

The next day, another scorcher - but for the wind! - we headed to Unst and to Hermaness to see Muckle Flugga close up and have a gander at the gannets. I'd mentioned the boardwalk to Euan, but I don't think either of us appreciated quite how extensive the boardwalk is here, to protect the peatland and the many nesting bonxies. Apparently there were divers nesting up here too, but they were keeping an understandably low profile with so many hungry skuas around.

Image001 Hermaness boardwalk

Image005 Bonxies in flight

Also around were lots of dunlin, quite happy with the footfall here, and very unbothered by us as we passed.

Image007 Dunlin

Image008 Dunlin

On arriving at what must be Toolie, we hung a left to head rouind to Neap and Salto...

Image009 Info board

...and just WOW!

Image018 First view of massive gannet colony

Image019 Gannets

Image020 Gannet antics

Image026 Gannet antics

Image027 Gannets and rocks and grass

That was the view from Neap, and as we swung round the top to Salto, the smell of the guano rising up your nostrils up here on the cliff suddenly made even more sense.

Image031 More visible from Saito

Image032 On slope

Image034 Gannet windy cliff landing

Having had our fill, gasped our gasps, and trying not to think about the many poorly and ex-gannets that are inevitably down in the water, we headed back round and up to Hermaness Hill for a closer view of Muckle Flugga, passing many puffins at their burrows as we walked.

Image038 Flugga crags and puffin

Image039 Tammie Nori

Image042 Puffins

I love the one on the left resting its chin and contemplating... what, I wonder:

Image044 Snoozy puffins

I was surprised how few guillemot colonies we were seeing this week, and here we found just a tiny colony in amongst the noisy gannet neighbours.

Image041 Tiny guillemot colony

Soon we were up close to the lighthouse, past a superb natural arch...

Image047 Towards Muckle Flugga

Image051 Muckle Flugga

...and as we rose up the hill, we had a beautiful view of the skerries.

Image052 Da Waithing Skerries

Up at the top of the hill we found the remains of the old signalling station below Saxa Vord, and then a good view of the radar station itself.

Image055 Old semaphore signal station

Image058 Saxa Vord

Then it was back down the boardwalk towards the Burra Firth, past nesting bonxies, dunlin and co...

Image056 View down to Burra Firth and Harolds Wick

Image059 E above Burra Firth

Image060 Nesting bonxies together

Image062 Bonxie and cotton

... and a quick touristy shot of the UK's northernmost bus shelter, in jubilee-garb, on our way back to the ferry.

Image063 Bobbys bus shelter Baltasound

Image064 Bobbys platinum jubilee puffin


8th June - back on Fetlar, this time on foot with a walk round Urie

I failed to photograph the otter again. S/he gave us a good pose (she I think), and then slipped into the water - but birds and seals abounded.

These massive bulls were hauled out as we headed out on the ferry.

Image003 Huge grey seal bulls and family

Image004 Grey seal family from ferry

Image008 Four sanderlings

This grey seal watched us at Loch of Urie and then followed us round the coast for most of the day.

Image010 Bottling grey seal and whiskers

But mostly we'd come to revisit the phalaropes and co.

Image012 Phalaropes

Image019 Dunlins

Image020 Gannets trysties and co in feeding frenzy

Image022 but no fins

Image024 Six phalaropes in loch

Image028 Female phalarope feeding

They're called peerie deuks, because they spin to stir up their food to the surface, but they were managing without doing that today.

Image030 Shetland curling stone

Image031 Preening female phalarope - see its lobed foot

I took tons of photos of the phalaropes, but won't repeat them all here!

Image039 Turnstone camouflage

As we headed back, we came across a lost gosling, whose parents had taken the rest of the babies into the sea. It was dangerously visible, with bonxies flying about all over the place, so I'm not sure I fancied its chances much, but we didn't hear any squealing...

Image040 Lost gosling

And inevitably, there was a lot more of this:

Image044 Dead shag or diver

Back at Loch of Urie we met a couple who were hoping to see phalaropes, but hadn't, so we showed them where they were, had a lovely chat with them and then left them to it.

Image047 phalarope corner

Image052 Six of eight phalaropes

Image050 Puffin

Image054 Three seals hauled out

Back at the ferry terminal, the otter was jumping about in the sea, fishing - and again, disappeared before I could catch her on camera. So it was back on the boat for us, and a beer with our dinner at the cottage.

Image056 Guillemots


9th June - by the Horns of Hagmark!

Our last walk of the week was back on Unst for another cliff-walk up to the Horns of Hagmark. At the Gutcher ferry in Yell, we watched merganser, swans, eider and gulls and then we were off.

Image002 Merganser at harbour

Image004 Swans at Gutcher ferry

Image006 BHG and eider at Gutcher ferry

At Unst, we parked at the Kirkaton Cemetery and headed off, through the farmland - the track well signposted so we could avoid the sheep - and up the hill, hugging the cliffs and exploring the geos as we went.

Image007 Cliffs at Hagmark

Image008 Geo

Image009 Geo

I was a bit mystified by the rusty brackets attached to the rock. The first one looked like an anchor for abseiling, perhaps (?). But the second was higher up, so what do I know.

Image010 Climbing anchor above geo

Image012 Mystery anchor higher up

Image016 Precarious rocks

Image017 Sphinx and people

Image019 Hovering fulmar

Image022 Moss campion

At last the horns appeared, and I could see how distinctive they'd be from the sea, like a punky little crest.

Image024 Horns of Hagmark jumpy pano

Image026 Fulmar nesting in horns

Quite entertainly, if you're feeling vertiginous and want to hang back from the edge up here, tough. There's a fence with an opening that pushes you seawards.

Image027 Surprising fence opening

Image028 Horns of Hagmark from behind

Above the horns we saw the trig, and wandered up to it for some coffee and a bun.

Image031 Trig ahoy

The cloud was coming in, but we could just get a view of the landscape around from up here on Clibberswick hill. Below us was the island of Balta, and I think I'm right in saying that I saw something in the Unst fishing museum later that day that said the herring girls called it Alcatraz, or maybe "Baltatraz" - I don't think I've made that up!

Image034 Alcatraz from Clibberswick hill

With the views disappearing, we drank our coffee and headed down, lucky enough to catch a quick glimpse of a whimbrel on or way, and having a peek into the kale yards on the hillside.

Image036 Whimbrel

Image041 Kale yard

Geese, curlew and co saw us into the fishing museum where we spent an age before heading to the tea shop and then to the Viking ship and longhouse at Haroldswick before our final farewell to Shetland.

Image043 Greylags over Norwick

Image044 Curlew and mallard at Haroldswick

Image050 Seal and eider chicks

Image076 Half eleven pm
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EmmaKTunskeen
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Re: A few days in Shetland

Postby Sgurr » Mon Jul 04, 2022 8:58 pm

What a great holiday. Lovely bird pictures...but did you not see any Shetland ponies? There was some talk of keeping the actual summit of Saxa Voord outside the fence , but I am not sure what the situation is now. Do you know? It used to be Scotland's only forbidden Marilyn. They were working on it when we went, with the gate open, and I pulled the pathetic pensioner card when they came to block our way. "I did so want to climb my 1000th wee hill on my birthday*." "I'm ushering you OUT, I don't care which way you go OUT, the trig's over there."


* Both lies, I'm afraid. :oops:
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Re: A few days in Shetland

Postby John Doh » Mon Jul 04, 2022 11:28 pm

This brought up nice memories of Hermaness, one of my favorite places in the world.
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Re: A few days in Shetland

Postby EmmaKTunskeen » Tue Jul 05, 2022 7:17 am

Sgurr wrote:What a great holiday. Lovely bird pictures...but did you not see any Shetland ponies? There was some talk of keeping the actual summit of Saxa Voord outside the fence , but I am not sure what the situation is now. Do you know? It used to be Scotland's only forbidden Marilyn. They were working on it when we went, with the gate open, and I pulled the pathetic pensioner card when they came to block our way. "I did so want to climb my 1000th wee hill on my birthday*." "I'm ushering you OUT, I don't care which way you go OUT, the trig's over there."


* Both lies, I'm afraid. :oops:


:lol: Wonderful story - but I can't shed light on the current rules, I'm afraid, Sgurr.
Yes, many Shetland ponies - I popped in a pic of the ones at Jarlshof. Shuld have photographed the foals really - they were ridiculously sweet.
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Re: A few days in Shetland

Postby EmmaKTunskeen » Tue Jul 05, 2022 7:17 am

John Doh wrote:This brought up nice memories of Hermaness, one of my favorite places in the world.


I'm not surprised, quite overwhelming!
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Re: A few days in Shetland

Postby Anne C » Tue Jul 05, 2022 9:07 am

What a great report of a wildlife watcher's paradise! :clap: Basking sharks too - wonderful.There is an Orca pod around Shetland but I wasn't lucky enough to see them.
Lovely photos you got in particular of the phalaropes. Such relaxed divers too, love seeing them but they are usually some way off. Have only ever seen them unbothered by our presence on Iceland.
You're so lucky to have got Hermaness in such clear weather - the clag was down when I was there and I never saw the cliffs, though certainly smelled and heard them! A fantastic place - I was very impressed with that boardwalk too :D
Had lunch up there as the skuas fought or played with each other close by, not bothered a jot by my presence.
Never thought I'd ever read a WH report which mentions Delos :lol: - another stunning place.
On Snowy Owls, North Uist has had sightings over the years, occasionally. We saw one there many years ago, hunkering down beside a wire fence near Balranald RSPB reserve - unreal.
Sounds like you will be back to Shetland!
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Re: A few days in Shetland

Postby EmmaKTunskeen » Tue Jul 05, 2022 5:14 pm

Anne C wrote:What a great report of a wildlife watcher's paradise! :clap: Basking sharks too - wonderful.There is an Orca pod around Shetland but I wasn't lucky enough to see them.
Lovely photos you got in particular of the phalaropes. Such relaxed divers too, love seeing them but they are usually some way off. Have only ever seen them unbothered by our presence on Iceland.
You're so lucky to have got Hermaness in such clear weather - the clag was down when I was there and I never saw the cliffs, though certainly smelled and heard them! A fantastic place - I was very impressed with that boardwalk too :D
Had lunch up there as the skuas fought or played with each other close by, not bothered a jot by my presence.
Never thought I'd ever read a WH report which mentions Delos :lol: - another stunning place.
On Snowy Owls, North Uist has had sightings over the years, occasionally. We saw one there many years ago, hunkering down beside a wire fence near Balranald RSPB reserve - unreal.
Sounds like you will be back to Shetland!


A fellow Delos-fan, Anne! :D I kept my hopes low for Orcas in Shetland (and Aurora Borealis for that matter), though I think we missed a bull at Haroldswick by about half an hour. Your Snowy Owl sighting sounds good - I'd probably have mistaken it for a cat! :lol:
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Re: A few days in Shetland

Postby Alteknacker » Tue Jul 05, 2022 11:13 pm

What a fantastic wild-life fest - although the avian flu toll is very depressing.

It's clear to me now that I didn't focus adequately on the bird life when we lived there in the late 70s. Phalaropes are really something special, and I wasn't then even aware that they were present.

Loved the report. Much as I am addicted to mountains, I love slightly left-field reports like this, especially when they feature wild life. :thumbup: :thumbup: :thumbup: :thumbup:
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Re: A few days in Shetland

Postby Anne C » Wed Jul 06, 2022 8:03 am

'Your Snowy Owl sighting sounds good - I'd probably have mistaken it for a cat! :lol:'

That would have been a better guess than me- from a distance, I thought it was a white plastic bag which had blown against the fence :lol:
We only found it because the Ranger at the reserve told us roughly where to look for the owl as he'd spotted it earlier!
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Re: A few days in Shetland

Postby dogplodder » Mon Jul 11, 2022 12:41 pm

I've never been to Shetland and after seeing your photos am even more convinced I need to persuade other half we should go there! :D
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Re: A few days in Shetland

Postby HalfManHalfTitanium » Tue Jul 12, 2022 8:08 am

Fantastic photos. I showed them to my daughter, she was amazed that so much wildlife could be seen - she said "Where IS this place?"

Tim
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