Day 1: Saturday - Arrive in Shetland and explore South Mainland
We fly Aberdeen to Sumburgh and transfer to our comfortable base. We explore South Mainland, including a seawatch at Sumburgh Head where we will see Puffins, other seabirds, and have a chance of Minke Whale, Harbour Porpoise and White-beaked Dolphin, or possibly even an Orca. A visit to freshwater lochs should produce Red-throated Diver and skuas, breeding Snipe, Redshank, Lapwing and Curlew, ‘real’ Rock Dove, Black Guillemot (known as ‘Tysties’ in these parts). Shetland Wren can also be expected. If the weather allows, we make a late evening visit to the Storm Petrel colony at the broch on the Island of Mousa, for a naturally spectacular sight and sound show! Overnight Sumburgh for one night.
Day 2: Sunday – North Mainland
North Mainland’s cliffs and bays offer some of the most spectacular scenery within the archipelago. Today as we transfer north, we plan to visit Urafirth, Hillswick, Ronas Hill, and Voe and the basalt cliffs at Eshaness, where the Atlantic Ocean hammers into the stunning, rugged coastline. We observe Red-throated Diver respectfully on their breeding lochs, nesting waders will be in great abundance and commoner passerines including Twite and Wheatear may be found on the clifftops. Scarce plants including Oysterplant can be found on a few beaches and higher ground is favoured by Mountain Hare. Sheltered Voes can be great for Otter, while Common and Grey Seal and cetaceans including Orca, Risso’s Dolphin and Harbour Porpoise may also be encountered. A great day exploring one of the less visited corners of Shetland. Overnight North Mainland for three nights.
Day 3: Monday - Fetlar
After a ferry crossing and driving through the island of Yell, we take a second ferry to Fetlar, where we spend the rest of the day. We will have topped up our list with seabirds on the crossings and at the ferry terminals, but the main delights are on Fetlar, an island famous for its Red-necked Phalarope population. With a supporting cast of Red-throated Diver, Whimbrel, Golden Plover, Great Skua, Arctic Skua and Twite we are sure for a good day. We have a good chance of Otter along the shoreline too, plus seals and cetaceans on the ferry crossings. Known as the garden of Shetland, Fetlar is wonderfully fertile with superb flowers and a high density of breeding birds.
Day 4: Tuesday – Unst
Today we travel to Unst and visit the world renowned Hermaness NNR and seabird colony. A walk through the world’s second largest Great Skua colony takes us to the northernmost cliffs of the British Isles. The moorland itself should give us close Dunlin, Golden Plover, Snipe and Skylark too. From the 400ft high cliffs, we overlook the lighthouse of Muckle Flugga (Britain's most northerly point!) with around 140,000 breeding seabirds below us, with Gannets the most obvious feature! The sight, sound and smell of thousands of Gannets is something to behold! We visit sheltered bays and sealochs, checking for waders and if time allows we will also visit the spectacular moonscape of the Keen of Hamar NNR, where endemics like Edmonston's Chickweed are found, along with many orchid species.
Day 5: Wednesday – Yell, Unst and/or Mainland
Today we have options, your guide may choose to return to Unst or spend time exploring Yell, a great and often under-watched place for breeding birds and Otters. Once we head south through Mainland, we plan to visit Lerwick and Scalloway, the two main towns of Shetland, with a chance to explore on foot a little to soak up the history and culture. Natural history walks are available in both towns too - Orca being seen in Bressay Sound from time to time - and migrant birds in the woodland cover of established gardens. Other sites today may include the fertile Tingwall valley with lochans frequently holding breeding Whooper Swans and rare ducks. In the evening we also have another chance to visit Mousa if the weather was unsuitable on Saturday. Overnight South Mainland
Day 6: Thursday - South Mainland
oday we explore more of the South Mainland, with lots of options for walks and natural history whatever the weather. A visit to Sumburgh Head will produce more seabirds including confiding Puffin, other auks and more skuas. The Pool of Virkie is always productive if checked at the right tide, where we will check the shorelines for passage waders and gulls and visit some of the freshwater lochs in search of wildfowl. If the weather is kind, a walk along the tombolo of St Ninian's Isle is well recommended. We also hope to allow time to visit the superb archaeological site of Jarlshof, a site that covers 3,500 years of history. Overnight South Mainland.
Day 7: Friday - Mainland Shetland
Our final day on Shetland. We explore sites not yet visited in South or Central Mainland, targeting any wildlife which has so far eluded us and new locations for better views of that we have already seen. Late-afternoon we head to Lerwick, take dinner on the ferry, with the option of birding from the decks in the twilight or ‘Simmer Dim’. After passing Fair isle, we come to Orkney arriving at Kirkwall its capital late on Friday night, before making the short transfer to our hotel. Overnight Mainland Orkney.
Day 8: Saturday - Orkney Mainland
A later start after a late finish, but we do have lots to pack in on the highlights tour of Orkney, visiting spots where anything can happen! Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl quarter the fields and moorlands in search of Orkney Vole, and Peregrine and Merlin hunt along the meadow fringes. Eight species of duck, including breeding Shoveler and Pintail, a similar number of waders, including the ubiquitous Snipe, Water Rail, and Greylag Goose can be found on inland pools. We will also visit some of the finest prehistoric archaeological sites in Britain. The six-metre high Standing Stones of Stenness and the 27 out of 60 stones that remain of the 5000 year old Ring of Brodgar, are close to our hotel. The settlement of Skara Brae is of course a 'must-see' whilst on Orkney. We also visit Maes Howe, considered to be one of the finest architectural achievements of prehistoric Europe, and one of Orkney’s largest and finest chambered cairns. We continue to search for wildlife around Orkney, with more breeding waders, divers and ducks inland, as well as having a good chance of Brown Hare, both Common and Grey Seal and with luck Otter. Overnight Mainland Orkney.
Day 9: Sunday - Orkney - Aberdeen
Before our late afternoon flight from Kirkwall to Aberdeen, we pass Scapa Flow, scene of First World War naval tribulations, the Churchill barriers, erected to protect Britain during the Second World War, and the Italian Chapel, built by POWs during the war. We explore both the archaeology and wildlife on the island of South Ronaldsay, and round-up any rarities en route to the airport.