Fair Isle lies almost exactly halfway between Sumburgh at the tip of mainland Shetland and North Ronaldsay in Orkney, and is Britain’s most isolated inhabited island. The island’s track record of attracting rare and unusual migrants has no equal in Britain, and it even has its own endemic sub-species, Fair Isle Wren! This is one of the most exciting birding destinations in the UK, and everyone should visit Fair Isle at least once!
With the intense concentration of birders on this tiny island, it is hardly surprising that Fair Isle enjoys such a reputation for migrants and rarities. Our days are spent exploring, perhaps with an optional pre-breakfast walk to check for overnight arrivals, as migrants are blown in daily. According to the weather we may head to the crofts of the south, or more sheltered areas in the north. Birds can turn up anywhere, and we find and identify our own, and of course liaise with other birders during five full days. If migration is a little slow, spring offers the added benefit of tens of thousands of breeding seabirds at close quarters, including thousands of Puffin, making Fair Isle one of the best Puffin experiences in the UK, with a short walk after dinner allowing you to sit in and amongst these iconic birds. Puffins are just one species though, with 17 breeding species of seabird, including many Great and Arctic Skua, Arctic Tern and some impressive gannetries.
We stay at the new Observatory Lodge, which has comfortable en-suite accommodation. There is a licensed lounge and the dining room is a convivial place offering large portions of delicious home-cooked meals with freshly-baked bread and home bakes. A comprehensive bird-log is held every evening.
Your holiday begins at Sumburgh on Shetland, where your Heatherlea guide will meet you. Our office team will be very happy to arrange any extra services you might need, such as flights from Aberdeen - Sumburgh, and food and accommodation before your holiday begins.
Day 1 Saturday - Shetland to Fair Isle
We expect to gather mid-morning, though Heatherlea will liaise with you regarding exact timings before you travel. It is likely you will need to reach Shetland the previous day, as connecting flights can be delayed by bad weather, and flights on Saturday morning may not be as per timetable. If time allows, we will round-up any migrants in the south Shetland area, before flying to Fair Isle and settling in.
Day 2 - 6 Sunday - Thursday
Every day will differ, and we aim to cover all corners of this special place. We will spend our time wandering around the island, which is about 3.5 miles long by 1.5 miles wide. Fair Isle is Britain's most isolated inhabited island, divided geographically into two parts: the higher moorland areas and cliffs in the north, and the flatter, more sheltered and fertile land in the south.
Bird migration has been consistently monitored here since 1948, with very little change in methods. A whole island census is carried out every day by the Warden, Assistant Warden and Seabird Monitoring Officer, who rotate the 3 census areas (north, south-east, south-west) on a daily basis. Your Heatherlea Guide will liaise with staff before deciding which way to strike out each day, though of course the major thrill here lies in finding our own rare birds.
Late spring on Fair Isle offers very good chances of iconic migrants, such as Bluethroat, Red-backed Shrike, Wryneck, Ortolan Bunting, Common Rosefinch and a range of warblers from further south or further east. Vagrants from as far afield as Siberia and North America are annual here, and our track record on Fair Isle is excellent! Commoner migrants should be well represented, and are often made up of Spotted and Pied Flycatchers, Redstarts and a whole range of commoner and scarcer warblers, buntings and pipits. Rarities at this time have included Yellow-rumped Warbler, Calandra Lark and Collared Flycatcher; anything is possible!
Great birding starts often before even stepping outside, as the Wardens complete a walk to see what birds have arrived in the Heligoland traps overnight. All trapped birds are brought back to the Observatory ringing room, so you may see a Blyth's Reed Warbler or Long-eared Owl at close quarters before putting your boots on!
The daily census takes at least three hours to complete every day, and covers all the favoured habitats of migrant birds. Special attention is given to patches of cover, stone dykes, ditches, gardens and even steep cliffs. There are no secrets to finding birds on Fair Isle – common and rare migrants are found EVERYWHERE & ANYWHERE. Any migrant birds that are seen are recorded, and the results discussed at Bird Log in the evening. This is the official record, with the Warden having the final say on the totals that have been reported, to minimise double counting.
Waders often show well in spring, and are in their summer plumage. Guests especially enjoy seeing Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone and Sanderling in plumages not normally seen further south, with Godwits, Whimbrel all expected in small numbers. Fair Isle does rely heavily on the weather to produce large falls of birds, but as many visitors will know, anything can turn up at any time………!
Day 7 Friday
A last chance to bird the island before our flight back to Shetland, where the holiday officially ends.
This holiday can be combined with:
Birding the Highlands in May, High Season across the Highlands.
SCOTTISH ISLAND ADVENTURES
Shetland in Spring for birders, Shetland Island Explorer. NEW! Arran & Ailsa Craig, Islands on the Edge.
You need to be reasonably fit and active to enjoy this holiday to the full, as we cover several miles each day over what can be rough and wet terrain. Expect a wide variation in weather conditions, which can be wild and unpredictable. Sunshine, rain and strong winds are all possible, and you will probably experience a bit of everything. Biting insects are not expected. Please bring wellies or good walking boots, fully waterproof clothing and a small rucksack. We are often on our feet for most of the day, breaking for a wonderful sit-down lunch at the Obs in the middle of the day. We take things at a slow pace, though will cover many miles of walking on road and through fields each day. We aim to cover all corners of the island during our stay, including the north, which is rough and rugged. Our planned excursions are on good trails, though rare birds are often found in inconvenient locations, involving several gates and stiles or long and steep walks in exposed locations, often peering down gullies and into ditches. The Observatory run a famous "Red Flag" system where rare bird news is quickly disseminated and transport may be provided to the closest road access to the rarity, though there still may be a distance to walk as there is only one road! All of these exciting excursions are optional and the Obs and its extensive library are a great place to relax if you wish to sit out any parts of the birding. Visits to the museum or local crafts and knitwear are available and bookable through the Observatory, though guests will have to opt out of a birding excursion to take part.
What's included in your Fair Isle holiday price
• Six nights comfortable en-suite accommodation at Fair Isle Observatory. A limited number of single rooms are available. All rooms are en-suite. Full details with your joining pack.
• Full Scottish breakfast and dinner from Saturday evening till Friday morning, sit down buffet lunch or packed lunch daily.
• Return flights Shetland - Fair Isle
• Guidance from a professional Group Leader.
What's not included in your Fair Isle holiday price
• Travel to and from Shetland. Heatherlea can arrange these at cost, please ask on booking.
• Insurance, drinks and other items of a personal nature.
WHY CHOOSE HEATHERLEA FOR YOUR SCOTTISH ISLAND ADVENTURE?
Heatherlea is THE company for top quality birding holidays in Scotland, chosen by more and more birders each year. Relax and enjoy first-rate birding with Scotland’s best guiding team, as we do all the planning! Our fully inclusive guided holidays concentrate on the real experience, and we take time to ensure that each of our guests enjoys everything we do. Above all, we make it our business to show key wildlife to you.
These popular holidays are carefully designed to explore the beautiful and wildlife-rich Scottish islands and far west coast. Many itineraries are unique, designed to give you the best of island wildlife at the best time of year. All are run at a leisurely pace, though we might move a little faster when rare migrants and vagrants are in our sights!
* We have been organising birding and wildlife holidays for 27 seasons, and have a highly experienced and capable team. We also offer a telephone and email service outside normal office hours.
* Heatherlea Scottish Island Adventures have a maximum ratio of 7 clients per guide, putting the emphasis on personal service, and helping you get the best possible experience.
* Heatherlea are Mainland Scotland’s FIRST ‘5-Star Wildlife Experience!’ This is the highest available grading, classified as ‘exceptional’ by visitScotland.
* Single guests are never expected or invited to share.
* Our holidays often include things which others might invite you to pay yourself, for instance packed lunch and tips to hotels.
* Heatherlea hold full Tour Operator Insurance for your added protection.
* Heatherlea is a limited company, registered in Scotland. We are also registered to pay VAT, which is included in your holiday price as quoted on this page.
* Once your holiday is confirmed in writing by us, we promise not to surcharge the price for any reason.
Enjoy an excellent birding and wildlife holiday with Heatherlea.
Mainland Scotland’s FIRST ‘5-Star Wildlife Experience!’