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Shetland Wildlife in Summer

A wide-ranging natural history holiday at the height of summer.

2024 Dates
  • 13 Jul - 20 Jul 2024
Duration8 Days
2024 Price
£2395 pp
£245 single supplement. Deposit £300
Max Group Size7

Please note this holiday starts and ends in Aberdeen or Sumburgh.

With so much to do and see, summer is a superb time to visit Shetland. On this wide-ranging natural history holiday there is something for all, and our varied itinerary will be of interest to birdwatchers, cetacean watchers, general wildlife enthusiasts, botanists and island baggers alike.

During the holiday you will see some of the most densely populated seabird colonies in the country; Gannet, Shag, Puffin, Guillemot, Razorbill, Black Guillemot, Kittiwake, Arctic Skua, Common and Arctic Tern are all represented, some in abundance. An evening excursion to the Storm Petrel colony on Mousa will be an exciting highlight, as will a special boat trip to wild Foula off the west coast. There, the waters offer much potential for cetaceans and we also plan to cruise under the sheer cliffs plus explore on foot the home of the largest Great Skua colony in Britain!

Freshwater lochans host breeding Red-throated Divers and we seek rare breeding waders including Whimbrel, Golden Plover and delicate Red-necked Phalarope. Shetland is a good place to see both Otter and Grey Seal and a range of cetacean are possible from Minke Whale to Orca! Rare plants could include Oysterplant and Edmunston’s Chickweed, the latter growing only on Unst! We take in all the flora and fauna we encounter, with plenty of opportunity for scenic photography as we go.

We intend to see as much of the rugged archipelago as possible, and this tour is definitely one for the island bagger, visiting eight islands, with dedicated trips to both Mousa and Foula. We also plan to visit Yell, Fetlar, Noss and Bressay, from our North and South Mainland bases.

This tour will run at a relaxed place incorporating some of the fascinating historical, cultural and archaeological heritage of the islands within Shetland. We plan to visit the Jarlshof site, Mousa Broch, a replica Viking longboat and longhouse on Unst and see the town of Scalloway, the ancient capital and home to the Shetland Bus operation during the Second World War.

With hotels in the best locations, those who wish to enjoy early or late wanders will never be bored, and in July, long evenings give way to an ethereal twilight known as the ‘simmer dim’, a fantastic experience in the long, northern summer.  

Although we may take a look at rare birds if they are convenient and nearby, this is not a '... for birders ...' holiday to Shetland. We offer spring and autumnal tours to the archipelago each year and these holidays may be more suitable for the birders. See Shetland in Spring for birders and Shetland in Autumn for birders.

Thanks to Shetland on Canvas for Foula images.

Flights to/from Shetland are not included in the holiday price. You will need to book these yourself, though we can advise times.

Day 1: Saturday – Arrival and travel to North Mainland
We fly Aberdeen to Sumburgh, then head north towards our North Mainland base. Driving through Mainland, we birdwatch on the way perhaps seeing our first Shetland Wren and other local breeders, or choosing to follow up on any recent cetacean news. If seas are calm, summer is a prime time to look, with Orca (almost) regular and other possibilities including Minke and Humpback Whale, Common, Risso's and Atlantic White-sided Dolphin and Harbour Porpoise. Overnight North Mainland for three nights.

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. After travel through Yell and arriving on Unst by ferry, 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 Puffin, Guillemot, Razorbill, Fulmar, Shag and Kittiwake 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 Phalarope. 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 Diver in smart summer plumage feed in the shallows and we have a good chance of picking up an Otter along the shoreline. If time allows, we will explore Yell on the return journey, an island often neglected yet has many wildlife delights, especially in summer.

Day 4: Tuesday - North-west Mainland, transfer south and Mousa
Today we explore north-west Mainland close to our base before transferring 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 where we stay for four nights, 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. Its 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 the 8th island of the week) will be 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.

This holiday can be combined with:

Eagles, Divers and DotterelButterflies, Dragons & Birds, Highland Mammals and More, Highland Wildlife in High Summer

Coll and Tiree in Summer, Orkney in High Summer, Mull & Ardnamurchan Wildlife Spectacular

Please note: all itineraries are given as a guide only. Actual holiday content may vary according to the judgement of your guide, and elements beyond our control (eg weather).

What's included in your 'Shetland Wildlife in Summer' holiday price

  • Seven nights comfortable accommodation on Shetland. All rooms are en-suite. Single guests are never expected to share, though a single supplement is payable as above. Single guests might be upgraded to double room accommodation at no extra charge.
  • Full Scottish breakfast, packed lunch, and a delicious dinner. Meals are included from Dinner on the first day until breakfast on the final day.
  • Six full days wildlife watching.
  • Guidance from a professional Group Leader.
  • All transport by comfortable minibus.
  • All ferry fees and boat trips, including chartered boat to Foula, Storm Petrel boat trip to Mousa, and ferry access.
  • A checklist specifically prepared for your holiday to record your sightings and notes.

What's not included in your 'Shetland Wildlife in Summer' price

  • Transport to/from Aberdeen..
  • Flights Aberdeen - Shetland - Aberdeen. You will need to book flights yourself, though we can advise times.
  • Meals, accommodation and transport outwith the holiday as described above.
  • Insurance, drinks and other items of a personal nature.

More holiday information

Accommodation is en-suite, in comfortable hotels.
Food - There is a choice of evening meal, and vegetarian, vegan and other diets are welcome. Breakfast may be chosen from a full Scottish menu. You don't need flasks for hot drinks.
Walking will be moderate, although at times will be uphill and on rocky, uneven and at times, wet terrain. Walking on Foula and at Hermaness requires a reasonable level of fitness. The walk to Mousa Broch is around half a mile over undulating and uneven terrain, and is taken in very low light. A walking pole and small torch may be useful.
Weather - Expect a wide variation in weather conditions. Blazing sunshine or rain are equally likely, and you will probably experience a bit of everything. Bring waterproofs, warm clothing, walking boots or shoes and warm clothing. Strong winds are a feature in Shetland on many days.
Biting insects are unlikely to be encountered.
Group size maximum 7 clients.
Optics. You should bring binoculars. A telescope will be useful, though your Guide will carry a scope for group use. A camera would be useful too!

Getting here is easy!
BY CAR/RAIL You may join this holiday at our Hotel in Nethy Bridge, and leave your vehicle securely parked free of charge. Transfer to and from Aberdeen Airport on the first and last day of the holiday is free of charge, subject to availability. 
BY AIR The group will meet at Aberdeen Airport. As an alternative you may meet the group at Sumburgh Airport (Shetland) or at our first hotel on Saturday afternoon.

Other birdwatching holidays in Shetland Isles


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 over 30 seasons, and have a highly experienced and capable team. We also offer a telephone and email service outside normal office hours.
  • This holiday has 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!’

Visit Scotland - 5 star Wildlife Experience

Visit Scotland

Tour Details

About Heatherlea Holidays

Contact Information

The Mountview Hotel, Nethybridge,
PH25 3EB Scotland

T: +44(0)1479 821248