Day 1: Saturday - Arrival and transfer to North Mainland
Transfer to Shetland via Aberdeen arriving Sumburgh early afternoon. From here we may investigate any rarities immediately available, or head directly to Sumburgh Head for our first of several encounters with Puffins and a whole suite of nesting seabirds, with regular Arctic and Great Skua. Sumburgh Head is a superb cetacean watching spot, and one of the best land-based watchpoints for Killer Whales in Europe. Later in the afternoon we will travel through Shetland to North Mainland where we stay for three nights.
Day 2: Sunday - Unst
Based in the north we have many options, and a flexible approach will certainly be to our advantage. Today we will plan to visit Unst, which as Britain's most northerly inhabited isle is truly special - we are closer to the Arctic Circle than we are to London and the breeding birdlist reflects that. After travelling north through Yell, we spend time at Hermaness NNR, a truly iconic destination with good numbers of nesting seabirds, including Great and Arctic Skua on the moorland, alongside nesting waders such as Golden Plover, Whimbrel, Snipe and Dunlin. Once at the cliffs we have an incredible view onto a bustling gannetry and seabird colony. The rest of our time will be spent investigating beaches and bays, gardens and plantations for migrants. All habitats offer potential, and any patch of cover can provide shelter and feeding for passerines. Unst has a fabulous reputation for rare and scarce birds and our Heatherlea groups have enjoyed some great days here before. Bluethroat, Red-backed Shrike, Wryneck, Short-toed Lark and Red-throated Pipit are near annual at this time of year, while our tour group struck gold in 2018 discovering the UK’s first spring record of Black-faced Bunting!
Day 3: Monday - Fetlar
Today we head across to Fetlar, known as the Garden of Shetland. This green, relatively low-lying island has a very high density of nesting waders in the rich pastures and is famous for its nesting Red-necked Phalaropes. We will spend time looking for these iconic birds, as well as exploring the many pools and wetlands for migrant waders or ducks. Red-throated Diver breed, and we will likely see them alongside stunning Great Northern Diver fishing in the island’s bays. Trees and cover are at a premium on Fetlar, passerines are often out in the open or much easier to find, with stock fences a favoured perch for shrikes, finches and buntings. Fetlar is also superb for Otter, and we spend time looking for them at favoured places along its long coastline and also have good chances of cetaceans on ferry crossing through the Bluemull Sound.
Day 4: Tuesday – North-west Mainland
Today we explore north-west Mainland, a truly vast and extremely rugged corner of Shetland. We will take time to bird many of the voes and inlets, looking for passage seaduck and divers. White-billed Diver and King Eider are near-annual and we will make sure we check everything we come across for these northern rarities! The cliffs at Eshaness are a must-see, and the short turf here is often to the liking of migrant passerines and waders, perhaps a late Snow or Lapland Bunting, a 'trip' of Dotterel or even a Buff-breasted Sandpiper – just like the one we found here in 2019! If the wind blows onshore from the west, we will tuck ourselves in for a seawatch as this is peak time for passage Pomarine and Long-tailed Skua. This part of Shetland is a real hidden gem, and any sheltered cover or bay is always worth checking. Another good area for Otter, Mountains Hare may also be seen around Ronas Hill (Shetlands highest point) and White-tailed Eagle and Snowy Owl have both lingered here in recent years. Later we travel through Mainland to Sumburgh where we stay for four nights.
Day 5: Wednesday – South Mainland
With an excellent road network we can quickly move around to all corners of the mainland, so we can plan our days meticulously according to the weather, tides and previous sightings. Pool of Virkie is one of the best locations in Shetland for waders, and among hoards of Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Sanderling, Knot, Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit and Redshank we search for scarcer species. Curlew Sandpiper, Temminck's and Little Stint are recorded near annually while more extreme rarities have included Semi-palmated Plover, Great Knot and Terek Sandpiper - the latter seen by our Heatherlea group in 2018. Sumburgh Head is another migration site with an enviable reputation and, we many also visit Quendale, Scatness, Boddam, Quarff and Levenwick. All are great sites, while this level of freedom gives us a great chance of boosting our birdlist and covering other nearby areas not often visited by other groups or birders.
Day 6: Thursday – Central Mainland or another island
Today we travel to central mainland including the Tingwall Valley, Scalloway and Nesting Bay all of which offer chances for wildfowl including breeding Whooper Swan, waders including breeding Whimbrel and seabirds. Visiting another island outpost such as Whalsay, Outer Skerries, Bressay or Noss may also be possible, be it to search for a known rarity or to explore pastures new for our own birds.
Day 7: Friday - Mainland
Our final day, and we will cover the best birding areas in South and Central Mainland today, taking in gardens, croftland, wetlands and shorelines amid stunning scenery. Rarities are the top target on our final day, and our track record is enviable here!
Day 8: Saturday - Departure
We transfer from our hotel to Sumburgh Airport for our flight home.
Please note that we do not visit Mousa or Noss on this itinerary, please see the Shetland Island Explorer or Shetland and Orkney holidays for these experiences later in summer.
This holiday can be combined with:
Birding the Highlands in May
North Ronaldsay in Spring for birders, Outer Hebrides in Spring, Shetland Island Explorer