Day 1: Saturday - Arrival and transfer north to Unst
We fly Aberdeen to Sumburgh, then head north towards our base on the Island of Unst where we will stay for three nights. Driving through north Mainland and Yell, we birdwatch on the way perhaps seeing our first Shetland Wren or choosing to follow up on any recent bird or cetacean news.
Day 2: Sunday - Unst Wildlife
Birding on 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. We spend time at Hermaness NNR today, walking through the Great Skua colony and out to the high cliffs on the west side. Here we overlook the Gannet stacks and the lighthouse of Muckle Flugga and will likely encounter our first Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, Fulmars, Shags and Kittiwakes too! Later, we explore the Keen Hammar NNR where endemic wildflowers such as Edmonston's Chickweed are to be found in a barren moonscape habitat. Attractive bays and beaches are always worth checking for passage birds and we will plan to visit a replica Viking longboat and longhouse, as well as taking in Britain's most northerly everything - from the famous bus-stop to the lesser known village of Skaw.
Day 3: Monday - Fetlar
We take the ferry to Fetlar, known locally as the Garden of Shetland for its relative fertility. This green, partly low-lying island supports a high density of nesting waders in the rich pastures and is famous for its nesting Red-necked Phalaropes. Other northern breeders include Whimbrel, Golden Plover, Snipe and Dunlin with Merlin, Arctic Skua and Twite also likely. In sheltered bays, Great Northern and Red-throated Divers in smart summer plumage feed in the shallows and we have a good chance of picking up an Otter along the shoreline.
Day 4: Tuesday - North-west Mainland, transfer south and Mousa
Today we leave Unst, taking the opportunity to explore north-west Mainland as we transfer south. A truly vast and rugged corner of Shetland, we take time to scan the voes and inlets looking for Black Guillemot, divers, seaduck, waders and terns, seals and of course Otters. The cliffs at Eshaness are a must-see, and the short turf here is home to Raven, Rock Pipit, Wheatear, Twite and can often yield surprises such as a late passing Snow or Lapland Bunting. Perhaps the remotest part of Mainland, breeding Red-throated Divers and Whooper Swans feature on inland lochs and we will look for rare Oysterplant and other wildflowers. Upon reaching our South Mainland hotel, there will be time for a little rest before we make a late evening visit to the Storm Petrel colony on Mousa, a spectacular sight and sound show!
Day 5: Wednesday – Sumburgh and South Mainland
After our night with the Petrels we will have a later breakfast, and a leisurely morning gently exploring the South Mainland. At Sumburgh Head we watch Puffins and other seabirds at close quarters, while at Pool of Virkie southbound waders, many still in summer plumage feed on the incoming tide. Spiggie and Hillwell Lochs both hold breeding wildfowl, we explore the Jarlshof archaeological site and visit the picturesque St Ninian’s Isle with its superb tombolo. We will also perhaps visit the crofting museum at Boddam, where early returning Turnstone and Purple Sandpiper may be found roosting on the rocks.
Day 6: Thursday – Foula
Widely regarded as one of the hardest to reach places in the UK, a visit to Foula is a must for the most dedicated ‘Island bagger’. A first for Heatherlea, we enjoy a special boat trip out to this, the wildest of Shetlands offshore islands lying 20 miles off the west coast. It's waters can be good for cetaceans with Harbour Porpoise, Minke Whale, dolphins and perhaps Orca all possible from the boat. We plan to circumnavigate the island marvelling at the second tallest, and some of the sheerest sea cliffs in the UK. Meaning 'bird island' in Old Norse, we aim to spend half our time exploring the island on foot, walking (and ducking!) among the largest colony of Great Skuas in Britain. All the other expected seabirds breed, as do small numbers of Manx Shearwaters, Leach’s and Storm Petrels and we may see them while at sea. Foula might be a small island but with five peaks, its highest rising almost straight out of the sea to 418 meters it feels larger and a reasonable level of fitness is required to enjoy the island at its fullest. There are few marked paths and as one of the most remotely inhabited islands of Britain, Foula is still a very wild place leaving a lasting impression on all who visit!
Our boat trip will of course be subject to weather conditions. In the event of cancellation, we will attempt to reach another less visited corner of Shetland, or perhaps the island of Whalsay.
Day 7: Friday - Bressay and Noss
Driving north to Lerwick we take the short ferry crossing to Bressay. Continuing through the island we can explore here if time allows, but our main objective (and 8th island of the week) will be to reach Noss, where after catching the passenger boat we take a pleasant walk along the cliffs of the National Nature Reserve. Home to over 100,000 pairs of breeding Gannets, the sight, sound and indeed smell of so many birds wheeling about the skies and perched on ledges serves up a thrilling finale to our adventure. Returning to Lerwick, we anticipate some free time for a look around the town before heading over to Scalloway, the ancient old capital and home to the Shetland Bus operation, running covert missions to occupied Norway during the Second World War.
Day 8: Saturday - Departure
We transfer from our hotel to Sumburgh Airport for our flight home.