Meet us in Shetland, join us at Aberdeen Airport or travel free by minibus from our hotel in Nethy Bridge to Aberdeen airport. Flights to/from Shetland are not included in the holiday price. We can arrange these for you at cost.
Day 1 Saturday 25th January - Arrival
Transfer to Shetland via Aberdeen, arriving Sumburgh. We may have time for a few hours of birding en-route to our accommodation, perhaps with a visit to the Shetland catch in Lerwick or following up on any cetacean news.
Day 2 Sunday 26th January - Mainland Shetland
Today we head off into north-west Mainland, a corner of Shetland which can feel vast and desolate yet which offers superb wildlife encounters in stunning scenery. The basalt cliffs at Eshaness are dramatic, and a must-see with the wild Atlantic lashing at their base. Twite, Rock Pipit and often Snow Bunting can be found feeding on the short turf, as Raven and Pergrine patrol the skies and seabirds including Gannet pass by offshore. Eider, Long-tailed Duck, Great Northern Diver and wintering auks occupy sheltered voes and inlets, and Turnstone and Purple Sandpiper may be found on the shore. Shorelines are great for Shetland's thriving Otter population and this is one of the best areas to search for them. Grey and Common Seal should both be seen today, and we look for Mountain Hare in white pelage standing out on dark moorland where snow rarely settles. Any goose flocks we encounter will be checked for rarer species while the fish and mussel farms can attract interesting gulls. Shetland can be a great place to see the Northern Lights and if conditions are favourable we will get out to a suitable dark sky location in the hope of seeing the Aurora.
Day 3 Monday 27th January - Unst and Yell
We catch the morning ferry for Yell continuing via a second ferry to Unst. Here we’ll spend the day exploring the most northerly part of Shetland, another prime location for Otter. Any suitable bays will be checked, and we’ll be on the lookout for wildfowl, divers, grebes, Black Guillemot and Little Auk in sheltered bays. Hardy Whooper Swan and geese may be found in the fields while freshwater lochs on the islands can hold diving ducks which might include Smew, Ring-necked Duck and Lesser Scaup. A look around the Viking longhouse and replica ship at Haroldswick should help get us in the mood for the next day’s festivities!
Day 4 Tuesday 28th January - Up Helly Aa festival
Today sees the arrival of Up Helly Aa, an elaborate Viking fire festival held annually in Lerwick, and a celebration of Shetland’s history and culture originating as long ago as the 1880’s. We spend the day on the streets, beginning with the morning parade of chief guizer Jarl and the Jarl Squad. A galley (longship) is built annually, impressive in design but ultimately doomed so now is the time to admire it. During the main part of the day a range of activities will be available, from a look around the fantastic Shetland museum (where the Jarl Squad visit during the afternoon), to birding at Shetland catch once more. As darkness falls we’ll return to the streets as a mass of torches are lit and the evening parade gets into full swing. A wonderful spectacle of light and sound as Norse songs cascade all around and the glow from flames bounce off the buildings. Depending on how you feel, there may be the chance to continue our enjoyment of the festival into the night with local music!
Day 5 Wednesday 29th January - Sumburgh and Loch Spiggie
After a busy night, a little lie in before birding around South Mainland. Sea-watching from Sumburgh Head may produce Little Auk and if conditions are calm perhaps cetaceans. A range of waders at Pool of Virkie will help to boost our trip total as will a time at nearby Loch of Spiggie. The largest freshwater body in the south, Whooper Swans and geese can often be found here or in adjacent fields. Hunting Hen Harrier or Merlin are possible, while recent rarities have included Pied-billed Grebe. Scatness, Grutness and Vest Voe of Sumburgh also have potential at this time of year and may be visited today.
Day 6 - Thursday 30th January - Scalloway and South Mainland
Our last full day and we head slightly further north to explore Scalloway, Shetland's ancient capitol until 1708. The harbour isn’t as busy as it used to be, but we should find gulls, Black Guillemot and Eider and the fabulous museum and castle are must-visit sites. Tingwall loch and valley offers good wildlife watching, as does the Kergord area where we may add new species including Red Grouse if missed earlier. We may choose to spend the last of our time searching for known rarities or Waxwings or mop up anything we might have missed before a final evening and meal together at our comfortable hotel.
Day 7 Friday 31st January - Departure
Any opportunity for final birding will depend on flight times but if we have an hour or two spare we’ll visit local sites before returning to Sumburgh Airport where our holiday ends. Return travel to Nethy Bridge to your vehicle or connect with trains is available, please check and confirm with our office.
Please note that we do not visit Mousa, Noss nor Fetlar on this itinerary, please see the Shetland Island Explorer or Shetland and Orkney holidays for these spring and summer experiences.
This holiday can be combined with:
NEW! Birders Blast or Short Breaks
Thanks to Chris Hughes for use of Up Helly Aa fire festival pictures