We were thrilled to recently receive a very special award from Tripadvisor, an award only given to 1% of businesses across the tourism sector! We were left literally speechless  – what an accolade! We take such pride in our Noss Boat wildlife tour experiences and customer service as well as our original, inspired and expanding business branding. We have been leading the way as the eco-focused, No.1 Noss Boat since our beginnings as a local, family run business back in 2016 and have been amazed at how the business has grown and managed to ride the covid wave to come out stronger than ever. Being owned and run by partners of nearly 20 years, Phil Harris & Rebecca Nason who are both lifelong birders and conservationists has really helped keep us focused and given the business a strong platform. We have thoroughly enjoyed sharing the spectacular marine wildlife around Noss with thousands of passengers each year, and thank everybody for such incredible feedback and support. THANK YOU!

 

“Congratulations to the 2022 Tripadvisor Travelers’ Choice Best of the Best Winners,” said Kanika Soni, Chief Commercial Officer at Tripadvisor. “The Travelers’ Choice Awards recognize the best in tourism and hospitality, according to those who matter most: your guests. Ranking among the Best of the Best is always tough — but never more so than this year as we emerge from the pandemic. Whether it’s using new technology, implementing safety measures, or hiring outstanding staff, I’m impressed by the steps you’ve taken to meet travelers’ new demands. You’ve adapted brilliantly in the face of adversity.”

Tripadvisor, the world’s largest travel guidance platform*, helps hundreds of millions of people each month** become better travelers, from planning to booking to taking a trip. Travelers across the globe use the Tripadvisor site and app to discover where to stay, what to do and where to eat based on guidance from those who have been there before. With more than 988 million reviews and opinions of nearly 8 million businesses, travelers turn to Tripadvisor to find deals on accommodations, book experiences, reserve tables at delicious restaurants and discover great places nearby. As a travel guidance company available in 43 markets and 22 languages, Tripadvisor makes planning easy no matter the trip type.

We continue to be genuinely concerned for the welfare of our seabirds here on Shetland and in many other parts of Britain, Europe, the world, in the face of the fast spreading, avian flu and the horrifically significant bird mortality rates associated with it. This is one of the most disastrous, real threats to our seabirds we have ever experienced and are ever likely to see in our lifetime.  There is no easy solution to actually help the seabirds who have it, leaving many feeling utterly helpless, with no obvious answer to stopping the current trend and spread. We can only hope that the spread of the disease will plateau and the rates of infection will decrease over the breeding season, but these are factors we have no real control over. The only real solution is to hit the original source of this epidemic, a man-made disease as a result of several unacceptable factors/practices within the poultry industry. Without significant change at source, these diseases will continue to develop and leak into our already fragile, sensitive wild bird populations and spread like wildfire. This should be a significant wake up call …..

We have noticed a slight dip in adult mortality both on the cliffs of Noss and in the waters around Noss over the last few weeks. We hope that this will continue. The same cannot be said for other internationally important seabird populations, both on Hermaness, the Isle of May, Bass Rock among them. We wonder if the style of nesting which is structurally vertical and more spaced out on Noss compared to flatter, horizontal and more compact nesting colonies in some other locations may play a factor in this.

We are often being asked if our business is being affected. No it isn’t, the boat is as busy as ever, more so perhaps with the recent closure of Noss NNR by land. We continue to offer one of the most spectacular seabird wildlife spectacles in Europe and showcase what incredible marine life we have here on the islands safely by boat. Luckily so far, the mortality levels in the massive 25,000 northern gannet population at Noss still remains relatively low. We are certainly seeing less bonxies (Great Skua) than usual, though they do not breed on the cliffs so we are not witnessing the large scale destruction of this globally important seabird during our boat tours. The Great Skua population has been hit really very hard, and is very obvious on sites such as Hermaness and Fair Isle. Seabirds bring sheer joy to us and our thousands of passengers each year, we must call for urgent action and put our wild bird populations at the top of the organisations/authorities agendas.

Please note that both NOSS NNR BY LAND ONLY & THE ISLE OF MAY Reserves have now been closed to the public.

See Isle of May post here:

NatureScot’s Isle of May and Noss National Nature Reserves (NNRs) will be closed to public landings from 1 July to help protect vulnerable seabird populations from avian influenza.

Scotland’s nature agency will also be advising visitors not to take direct access onto seabird colonies on other National Nature Reserves such as Hermaness.

The measure is the latest in response to growing concern over the spread and impact of the current H5N1 strain of avian flu, particularly in seabird colonies.

The virus is widespread across Scotland, with positive cases recorded in Shetland, Orkney, St Kilda, Lewis and St Abbs. Large numbers of dead and sick seabirds have also been reported from Aberdeenshire, East Lothian and the west coast of Sutherland.

Great skua and gannets have been hardest hit. Sample surveys of colonies show a 64% decline of great skua on St Kilda and 85% at Rousay in Orkney. Great black-backed gull, Arctic tern, common guillemot and puffin have also tested positive.

The decision to restrict access to NatureScot’s two island NNRs, which in summer are home to hundreds of thousands of breeding seabirds, has been taken to limit the spread of the virus through bird populations and give colonies the best possible chance of survival and recovery by reducing any additional stress. While avian flu has been confirmed in gannets at Noss, there have been no confirmed cases on the Isle of May yet.

At other coastal NNRs such as Hermaness in Shetland, NatureScot will ask visitors not to walk through seabird colonies but to enjoy the spectacle from a distance. Local signage will be in place at those reserves affected.

Eileen Stuart, NatureScot’s Deputy Director of Nature & Climate Change, said: “The decision to close these reserves has not been taken lightly, but we are increasingly concerned about the devastating impact avian flu is having in Scotland, particularly on our seabird colonies.

“Our island reserves in particular are a haven for internationally important bird populations. The situation has been rapidly evolving and deteriorating, and we feel at this time that restricting access to these sites, and reducing it at others, is a precautionary but proportionate approach that gives us the best chance of reducing the spread of the virus and its impact.

“We recognise that this will be disappointing for those planning a visit but we hope people understand that this is about protecting our precious seabird populations for the future. Visitors will still be able to enjoy the summer seabird spectacle at both island reserves by taking round-island trips without coming ashore, and at other reserves by viewing from a short distance without crossing through colony areas. We will be keeping the situation under regular review over the coming weeks.”

NatureScot, in discussion with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), has already suspended ringing and research activities in seabird colonies for the remainder of the breeding season, with the exception of essential surveillance of avian flu.

Surveillance monitoring is being coordinated at key sites and NatureScot is working at speed with the Scottish Government and conservation organisations to develop an effective overall strategy. Central to NatureScot’s role is gaining a better understanding of the changing situation, to inform action to help populations recover.

The current situation follows a large outbreak in Svalbard barnacle geese last winter where H5N1 is estimated to have killed 30-40% of the wintering population.

Avian flu has been found across species with positive reports from pink-footed geese, buzzards, mute swans, a red kite and a sea eagle for example. It is unfortunately amongst breeding seabird colonies where currently the most significant and worrying mass mortality events are occurring. Read this article ion their website here:

 

A couple of weeks ago we were chartered to take RSPB & NatureScot out to Noss so that they could film, interview and take in first hand the effects of avian flu on the vast seabird colonies of NOSS NNR. The video contains images of dead birds. Please see one of the videos made here below:

We will continue to monitor and offer any assistance needed from the sea, and keep in contact with both the RSPB here on Shetland and NatureScot on any new developments.

RSPB SHETLAND AVIAN FLU VIDEO – WITH SHETLAND SEABIRD TOURS – THE NOSS BOAT

How damaging is bird flu to our wild birds?

Since 2006 there have been several outbreaks of avian influenza in the UK, the vast majority of which have been on domestic poultry farms. There had been very few cases of the virus being detected in wild birds in the UK.  But this has recently changed with an unprecedented series of outbreaks – the largest ever in the UK.
In January 2022 there was a severe outbreak on the Solway Firth, Scotland, where more than 4,000 barnacle geese died. These birds, which migrate from Svalbard in arctic Norway, were seen falling from the sky in distress and lines of dead birds were washed up on beaches.
In June 2022 there have been reports of widespread deaths of great skuas on Shetland, Fair Isle, Orkney, the Western Isles, Handa, the Flannan Isles and St Kilda. Gannets have been hit at some of their key colonies, including Noss in Shetland, Troup Head in Northeast Scotland and Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth.
There are also reports of sandwich and Arctic terns dying as well as numbers of guillemots at a colony on the Mull of Galloway.

What does this mean for our seabirds?

Britain’s seabird populations are of global significance. For example, the UK is home to 56% of the world’s gannet population and Scotland has 60% of the world’s great skuas.  These and other seabirds are already under massive pressure from climate change, lack of prey fish, deaths through entanglement in fishing gear and developments along our coasts. The impact of avian flu could hit them particularly hard as seabirds tend to live for a long time and take longer to reach breeding age. They also usually have fewer chicks. This means deaths from bird flu could further decrease declining numbers and that any recovery from the disease would take far longer.

What should UK governments be doing? 

The bird flu which is causing these birds to die is a highly mutable and deadly new form which originated in poultry farming.   

The RSPB are calling on UK governments to develop a response plan urgently. We want to see coordinated surveillance and testing, disturbance minimisation, carcass disposal and biosecurity to stop the spread.

In the longer term, we want much higher importance being given to prioritising and funding seabird conservation. This would help make our seabird populations more resilient to these diseases and the other challenges they face. 

Check out this worrying development, with Mark Avery reporting on avian flu working its way through the Roseate Terns at Coquet Island….posted today 1st July 2022.

Concern is mounting for seabirds on RSPB Coquet Island in Northumberland, the UK’s only roseate tern breeding colony, and across the UK, following confirmed cases of Avian Influenza.

https://markavery.info/2022/07/01/rspb-press-release-roseate-terns-and-avian-poultry-flu/

 

Another article today from a different perspective…interesting figures and suggestions for reducing the mortality costs within the poultry industry.

https://www.feednavigator.com/Article/2022/07/01/Largest-seasonal-HPAI-epidemic-ever-in-Europe-Is-lower-poultry-density-a-way-to-tackle-avian-flu

 

Our friends in the Netherlands are faring no better…..see here the obliteration of a Sandwich Tern colony this spring, just one example of the devastating impact this epidemic is having over there…….

 

https://www.dutchnews.nl/news/2022/06/largest-sandwich-tern-colony-on-texel-wiped-out-by-bird-flu/

 

This post is correct to the best of our knowledge, please do get in touch with us if you would like to point us to further details or highlight any areas missed ……

 

Rebecca Nason 1st July 2022

 

 

 

 

We were thrilled to find out in July that we were named as 1 of the top 10 best boat tours in the UK published in The Guardian & voted for my readers. Please click on the link below to see the article.

https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2021/jul/08/10-great-uk-boat-trips-scotland-cornall-london-chosen-by-readers

 

 

 

 

We are delighted to showcase our smart new logo for the 2021 season and beyond, featuring an additional Orca combined with our original double gannet logo. We think the combo works really well and highlights two very special marine wildlife species associated with our boat tours. We hope you like it! We are of course now open for bookings for the 2021 season (April-October) ……………

PURPLE PROS  with OLYMPUS

Purple Sandpipers or ‘purps’ as birders affectionately call them, are gorgeous and rather enigmatic waders that are a regular feature of Shetland’s coastline in the autumn and winter months…….

Purple prose, as Wikipedia describes, is often referred to it a literal sense as “text that is so extravagant, ornate, or flowery as to break the flow and draw excessive attention to itself. Purple prose is characterized by the excessive use of adjectives, adverbs, and metaphors. When limited to certain passages, they may be termed purple patches or purple passages, standing out from the rest of the work. Purple prose is criticised for desaturating the meaning in an author’s text by overusing melodramatic and fanciful descriptions.

Olympus E-M1X with M.Zuiko Digital 300mm F4 Pro Lens & 1.4 converter, hand-held. ISO 1600, 1/800 sec, F5.6. with C-AF (continuous mode).

Ah, okay, my lightbulb moment of naming this post Purple Prose will hopefully not flagship the meaning of the term in a literal sense…and yes, I am the first to admit I can be a little flowery in my writing at times and stray from the point in question. But in this instance, my purple patch is the current arrival of the delightful Purple SandpiperCalidris maritima, a wader that has been migrating to & through the Shetland Islands from their high arctic breeding grounds in the last couple of weeks. The storm battered beaches, strewn with seaweeds ripped from their sandy beds, and peppered with Dunlin & Turnstone, are now joined by subtly mauve-toned birds heading south, many for the first time, to escape the harsh winter ahead – my ‘purple passage’.

Olympus E-M1X with M.Zuiko Digital 300mm F4 Pro Lens & 1.4 converter, hand-held. ISO 1600, 1/250sec, F5.6. with C-AF (continuous mode).

In fact around 7% of Britain’s Purple Sandpipers actually over-winter on Shetland, not that you would realise this when out in the field, with so many areas of suitable habitat for these waders in inaccessible remote rocky islets & geos. Many high arctic breeding waders travel a long way south for the winter, but Purple Sandpipers are not known as long distance migrants, remaining as far north as possible in the winter months. They are very conspicuous on the sandy beaches where they loosely associate with other tideline shorebirds, though less so on their favoured rocks where they become incredibly camouflaged.

When time has allowed & with social distancing not a problem on these wild Shetland beaches in November, I have enthusiastically headed out, camera on shoulder, to face the challenges of finding & then photographing the hardy, tidal zone dependant Purple Sandpipers. In the last two weeks I’ve encountered small groups from just a couple to over 20 on beaches in South mainland Shetland. Weather conditions of late, have not been pleasant to put it mildly; our neutral, overcast skies have been good but the heavy rain & very strong gales really put me off wader photography (actually any kind of photography) as I’m not too keen on sand in my face or my equipment!

Olympus E-M1X with M.Zuiko Digital 300mm F4 Pro Lens & 1.4 converter, hand-held. ISO 1600, 1/400 sec, F5.6. with C-AF (continuous mode).

High winds often put the waders off their usual feeding behaviour & with the birds on extra high alert, the opportunities to get close are minimal too. With favourable conditions however, waders here can be incredibly approachable given time and patience. Of my recent photo sessions, I ended up being no more than a couple of metres away from them as they soon lost interest in the thing on its knees in the seaweed edging towards them. With no shutter noise at all with my Olympus set up, there was a wonderful silence apart from the waders little peeping notes and the tidal flows.

Olympus E-M1X with M.Zuiko Digital 300mm F4 Pro Lens & 1.4 converter, hand-held. ISO 1600, 1/250sec, F5.6. with C-AF + TR (continuous autofocus tracking mode).

As well as being found searching for food amongst seaweed clad rocks or running the sandy tideline with other waders, Purple Sandpipers will readily take to the water as they did when I spent time with them, virtually swimming in the breakwater and effortlessly running through the foamy shallows, occasionally up to their necks. This provided me with some amazing opportunities to take images that reflected a different side to their behaviour.

Taking to the water…..Olympus E-M1X with M.Zuiko Digital 300mm F4 Pro Lens & 1.4 converter, hand-held. ISO 1600, 1/250sec, F5.6. with C-AF +TR.

Although planned photographic projects have taken a back seat this year, photography for me has in some ways been my most enjoyable for years due to changing to the Olympus mirrorless system back in January. Nature photography brings me such happiness, a strong sense of creative achievement and is a welcome mental sanctuary in a particularly anxious, chaotic world. Perhaps too, I’ve had a stronger awakening to appreciate and enjoy the environment and nature closer to home, on my very own doorstep, instead of hankering for far-flung destinations across the globe.

Purple Sandpipers are a regular feature of autumn and winter on Shetland along much of our wave-pounded rocky coastline.  I moved here in 2014, but it is only now I have found time to concentrate on finding their favoured haunts and on working with them photographically. It’s a reminder that we should take the time to appreciate what’s on our own doorstep  – I live in am amazing place and am surrounded by wildlife. I’m fortunate indeed.

Now for more on taking the shots……..

Olympus E-M1X with M.Zuiko Digital 300mm F4 Pro Lens and 1.4 converter, hand-held. ISO 1600, 1/250sec, F5.6. with C-AF.

The flexibility of the Olympus gear in the field is one of the biggest advantages for me. Walking a couple of miles along the coast to reach shorebirds with the E-M1X,  300mm f4 pro lens & 1.4 converter over my shoulder, I forget I’m even carrying anything. After time stalking through sand & seaweed bent low or on my knees whilst shooting, I feel no discomfort or physical limitations at all. With a rather weak back after years of flogging heavy gear around & with advanced osteoarthritis in my hips & knee, my ‘relatively young’ but worn out body revels in this new gear, allowing me to just keep on going, rather like a duracell battery! The only thing that halted these wader photo sessions was high tide when the birds retreated to offshore roosting spots.

Olympus E-M1X with M.Zuiko Digital 300mm F4 Pro Lens & 1.4 converter, hand-held. ISO 640, 1/2000 sec, F6.3 with C-AF + TR.

With these wader encounters I had quality time with my subjects constantly passing me with repetitive activities and light conditions.  Subjects like this for prolonged periods enabled me, at last, a chance to try out and compare some of the exciting new modes and set ups that my mirrorless, hi-tech camera system has to offer.

You can read up on as many camera features as you like, but nothing beats getting out in the field and practising to really see what works best for you, your subject matter and style.  For bird photography, much of which is very opportunistic on Shetland outside of summer hide work, I shoot in (M) manual mode, often keeping the speed high whilst maintaining a low depth of field, usually around f5.6 to achieve my favoured out of focus, clean backdrops. Both these of course set against a manual ISO choice, depending on any given situation. I try and stay with low ISO’s but, particularly on Shetland, this is not always possible so anywhere between ISO 500-1600 is standard for me. I use Autofocus, with Continuous C-AF MF mode a favourite. However, these wader sessions gave me a chance to enjoy two other options, that of C-AF + TR tracking mode and Pro Capture.

Pro Capture (L) Mode ……Olympus E-M1X with M.Zuiko Digital 300mm F4 Pro Lens & 1.4 converter, hand-held. ISO 640, 1/1600 sec, F6.3.
Pro Capture (L) Mode. Olympus E-M1X with M.Zuiko Digital 300mm F4 Pro Lens & 1.4 converter, hand-held. ISO 640, 1/2000 sec, F5.6.

The C-AF Tracking mode produced many good, fast, sharp hits, particularly with running tideline waders, see this purple sandpiper in action. As long as the backdrops are pretty clean and uncluttered, this feature works very well and stays glued to the subject, tracking it seamlessly without being distracted. This feature takes the pressure off the photographer tracking the subject and makes the camera do most of the work. You can also select a subject to help your autofocus tracking within the cameras customised menu. The subject list is found by navigating through the custom menu to A3 Tracking Subject. (Intelligent Subject Tracking). Up to now I have practised using the airplane mode or having the tracking subject feature turned off. BUT . . . .Olympus has just announced an exciting new ‘bird’ tracking option to be added to the list through upgraded firmware available this coming winter!  There are already options for Trains, Motorsports and Airplanes but a new Bird tracking feature is bound to send professional and amateur nature photographers alike clambering for the upgrade.

Pro Capture (L) Mode. Olympus E-M1X with M.Zuiko Digital 300mm F4 Pro Lens & 1.4 converter, hand-held. ISO 800, 1/2000 sec, F5.6.

I like to think I’m quite quick on the draw with tracking my subjects after years of practise, but there are always times when you just miss that moment, maybe the sudden unprovoked attack of one wader to another as they pass each other on the shoreline, or the sudden perfectly still, raised-head-side profile pose between frantic head-lowered feeding. The Pro Capture mode allows you the ability to capture those moments which has already gone by holding images in a buffer zone whilst you half press the shutter and follow your subjects around. What a feature, a camera that can act faster than my brain can react and take shots I would otherwise have missed!  Fully pressing the shutter from half way to full down as soon as you see the action happening captures those shots from that instant as well as the images held in buffer from before you reacted. A massive bonus, especially with action and behavioural wildlife photography. I use Pro Capture Low which allows for continuous autofocus, a must when photographing birds on the move.

P.S Card Alert: Watch out for your memory cards filling quicker than they ever have before. Is there anything worse than an incredible photographic situation and the ‘card full’ flashing on the monitor? Even with space for two cards in the camera, you are not safe in Pro Capture mode and its whopping 60 images a second capabilities.  I’ll be ordering a couple more cards to add to my day bag ……

By Rebecca Nason – November 2020

Striking a Pose. Pro Capture (L) Mode. Olympus E-M1X with M.Zuiko Digital 300mm F4 Pro Lens & 1.4 converter, hand-held. ISO 640, 1/2000 sec, F5.6.