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  • Photograph of Atlantic Puffin

    Atlantic Puffin with sandeels, taken by Steve Garvie.

    SHETLAND

    Best Wildlife in Shetland

    Mammals
    (Eurasian) Otter, Harbour Porpoise, Common and Grey Seals, and Arctic Hare. Also a chance of Killer and Minke Whales, and Risso’s, White-beaked and White-sided Dolphins.

    Birds
    The species listed here are usually present during the northern summer.

    Specialities
    (European) Storm Petrel, Red-necked Phalarope (late May to late July), Great Skua (‘Bonxie’), Arctic Skua (‘Skooty Aalin’), (Atlantic) Puffin (known as 'Tammie Nories’ locally), Black Guillemot (‘Tystie’) and ‘real’ Rock Dove. Also a chance of King Eider and Long-tailed Skua (a bird spent the summers of 2009-11 at East Hogaland, Burra).

    Others
    Whooper Swan, Common Eider, Red (Willow) Grouse, Red-throated Diver (Loon), (Northern) Fulmar (‘Maailie’), (Northern) Gannet, (European) Shag, (European) Golden Plover, (Northern) Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit (islandica subspecies), (Eurasian) Curlew, Whimbrel, (Common) Snipe, Redshank, Dunlin, (Black-legged) Kittiwake, Arctic Tern, Common Guillemot (Murre), Razorbill, Hooded Crow, (Winter) Wren (zetlandicus subspecies), (Northern) Wheatear, Rock Pipit and Twite. Also a chance of Long-tailed Duck, Great Northern Diver (Common Loon), Black-throated Diver (Loon), Manx Shearwater, Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl.

    Rarities
    Rare birds turn up regularly during the spring (usually to mid-June at least) and have included Black-browed Albatross (at Hermaness every summer 1972-1995 except 1988-89), Caspian Plover, Pallas’s Sandgrouse, White-throated Needletail, Ruppell’s Warbler and Common Yellowthroat. It is not surprising then that the Shetland list of birds is over 430. For all the latest news on birds and mammals, including Killer Whales, see Nature in Shetland.

    Plants
    The flora includes Bog Bilberry, Crowberry, Butterwort, Lousewort, Moonwort, Early Purple, Frog and Northern Marsh Orchids, Oysterplant, Stone Bramble, Sundew and the endemic Shetland (Edmonston’s) Mouse-Ear Chickweed. Arctic-alpines include Arctic (Norwegian) Sandwort, Moss Campion and Northern Rock Cress.

    Best Sites for Wildlife in Shetland

    Best Times for Wildlife in Shetland

    Mid-May to late June is the best time to be in Shetland for birds, late May to the end of July for Red-necked Phalaropes. Puffins are usually present from mid-April to early August but the young usually hatch in June so the parents visit the nesting burrows more often. Average temperatures in June range from 7°C to 13°C so it’s not very warm and the weather can change quickly so warm, windproof and waterproof clothing is recommended.

    The cliffs at Hermaness and at other places in Shetland are very dangerous. Be careful not to go too near the edge, especially when the mist or rain rolls in. It can also be wet and windy but wearing waterproof trousers is not recommended near the edges of these cliffs because it is much easier to slide over the edge of them with such gear on. Also, watch out for the Bonxies on the walk from the visitor centre to the cliffs at Hermaness. These birds may fly fast and close at visitors who enter their territories but rarely make contact. For peace of mind visitors may wish to carry a stick or wave their arms to keep the birds at bay.

    Recommended Books etc. for Shetland

    Collins Bird Guide by L Svensson et al. Collins, 2010 (Second Edition).

    RSPB Handbook of Scottish Birds by P Holden and S Housden. Featherstone Education, due May 2016 (Second Revised Edition).

    Birds of Europe by L Jonsson. Helm, 1999.

    Where to Watch Birds in Scotland by M Madders and J Welstead. Helm, 2002 (Fourth Edition).

    The Birds of Shetland by M Pennington et al. Helm, 2004.

    A Naturalist’s Shetland by J Laughton Johnston. Poyser, 1998.

    Mammals of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East by S Aulagnier et al. Helm, 2009.

    The Butterflies of Britain and Ireland by J Thomas and R Lewington. British Wildlife Publications, 2014 (Third Edition).

    Wild Flowers of Britain and Ireland by M Blamey, R Fitter and A Fitter. Bloomsbury, 2013 (Second Edition).


    Apps etc.

    Collins Bird Guide.

    RSPB eGuide to British Birds.

    iBird UK & Ireland Guide to Birds.

    Birds of Britain and Ireland.

    Bird Id - British Birds.

    Birder - Guide to Birds of Britain and Ireland.

    Where to watch birds in Europe & Russia by N Wheatley. Helm, 2000.

    Don’t know which country/countries/regions to visit in Europe? Then it may be worth considering taking a look at this book, written by this website’s author. It is many years old of course but it still provides a starting point, an overview and a guiding light to the best birds and the best places to look for them in the region, and could save hours of searching for similar information on the internet. However, it is important to check more up-to-date sources for sites which have been opened up, sites and species which have been discovered, lodges that have been built etc. since the book was published.

    Trip Reports for Shetland

    Many trip reports, some for Shetland, are posted on the websites listed here. On some of these websites some reports are independent and some are posted by tour companies who organize tours to Shetland. These tour companies and others also post their own reports on their websites, which are listed under 'Some Organized Tours to Shetland' below.

    Local Guides and Tours in Shetland

    The costs of organized tours partly reflect the quality of the tour leaders. Some leaders are certainly better than others and many companies claim their leaders are the best but even the best rely at least to some extent on the exceptional skills of the local guides they employ. If you are travelling independently, employing such local guides will greatly increase your chances of seeing the wildlife you wish to see.

    Accommodation in Shetland

    Some Organized Tours to Shetland

    There are many tour companies who organize tours to see mammals, birds, other wildlife and other natural wonders. The cost of these tours vary considerably according to such variables as the airlines used, the number of days the tours last, the number of sites visited, the number of people in the group (an important consideration if you wish to see such wildlife as rainforest mammals and birds), the number of tour leaders, the standard of accommodation and transport, and the percentage profit the company hopes to make. Generally, where the number of days tours last and the number of sites visited are similar, the cheapest tours are those that use the cheapest airlines, accommodation and local transport, that have the largest groups with the least number of leaders, and that make the least amount of profit. The most expensive tours tend to be those which are exceptionally long, use the most expensive accommodation (ridiculously lavish in some cases, even for single nights) and which make the most profit. Some tour costs partly reflect the quality of the tour leaders. Some leaders are certainly better than others and many companies claim their leaders are the best but even the best rely at least to some extent on the exceptional skills of the local guides they employ.

    While tour companies organize tours with set itineraries many also organize custom tours for individuals and private groups who instead of taking a tour with a set itinerary want to follow their own itinerary to suit their own personal tastes, whether it be mammals, birds, other wildlife, other natural wonders or even man-made attractions, or a mixture of them all. Many organized tours with set itineraries are also fast-paced and target as many species as possible, whether they are mammals, birds or other wildlife or everything, which usually leaves little time to enjoy the best sites and individual species, but on a custom tour those taking part can specify the pace and the sites and species they wish to concentrate on. Custom tours also suit people who like to travel with people they already know, rather than with a group of strangers, and they are popular with people with partners with different interests. Individuals, partners and small groups will almost certainly have to pay more for a custom tour than an organized tour with a set itinerary but a large group of friends may be able to travel for less than the price quoted for a set tour.

    Tour companies who run organized tours to Shetland include the following. Many of these also offer custom tours.