Tag: seabirds

 

We are delighted to announce that we have yet again won an award, this time in the Travel & Hospitality Awards 2024……more coming soon with a press release. THANK YOU!!

 

 

 

Why not give you’re loved ones a very special Christmas present this year, with a boat tour with seasoned professionals to enjoy one of Europe’s finest wildlife spectacles – the sight, smell & sound of over 25,000 northern gannets & a wealth of other seabirds & marine life around the towering Noss cliffs & around Bressay. Whether you are already on Shetland or planning a holiday here – make sure you add this exciting, popular, top Shetland visitor attraction to your visit today ……… Merry Christmas!

 

 

Call – email or text us today to order a NOSS BOAT gift vouchers for Christmas!

 

Shetland in spring.
25/05/2023
Rebecca Nason/SHETLAND SEABIRD TOURS – THE NOSS BOAT
Shetland in autumn is a special place for local and visiting birders. It is undeniably the place to be, sharing its gold status only with the warmer, comparatively tropical and long-established destination of the Isles of Scilly, in the extreme south-west of Britain (see Birdwatch 351: 42-44). But Shetland is now on every birder’s radar as the leaves curl brown, and exciting, volatile weather systems start to form.

Shetland’s ‘mega’ status in autumn has developed over the years due it to producing unparalleled extreme vagrants, from both Siberia and North America. Being a string of more than 100 small islands isolated in the North Sea, it is the perfect location to host off-course, lost vagrants and create a hotbed of excitement for anyone out looking for them. Of course, the islands are also landfall for more expected common and scarce autumn migrants, often in large numbers, moving to warmer climes and more accessible food sources further south, away from the harsh northern winters.

The number of birders visiting Shetland in autumn has never been higher – partly because of its illustrious recent birding history, which serves as a magnet for teams to undertake annual pilgrimages north, but also as a welcome movement for more ‘local’ travel over long-haul destinations with the climate crisis firmly on our minds. There was also the knock-on effect of more enforced localised travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic, whether through restrictions in travel, logistical difficulties or a new-found sense of enjoyment, with what’s on our doorsteps with ‘staycations’ favoured over foreign birding. Shetland has never seemed more appealing as a get-away destination for those wanting to enjoy some quality autumn birding. But it shouldn’t only be synonymous with autumn. Perhaps not as widely known about is that we do spring here, too – and it can be rather more spectacular than you might imagine!


A classic Shetland scene: a Puffin, with sandeel snack, sits pretty against the looming backdrop of the cliffs of Hermaness. Late spring and early summer can be brilliant for producing rare migrants across the isles, with the added bonus of thousands of breeding seabirds to marvel at (Rebecca Nason).

If you think you know Shetland from your previous autumn visits, think again – experiencing the islands in spring is a world away from the ‘fifty shades of brown’ you might be used to. The whole ‘feel’, as well as climate, are different, making it seem like a totally separate destination and experience. From May onwards, the islands are an explosion of colour, of seabirds, of waders and – of course – exciting migrants to keep all who visit on their toes and with hands firmly on the binoculars.

Seabird Central

More than a million seabirds call Shetland home in the relatively short summer season. The islands become a raucous hive of activity with 22 breeding seabird species, 18 of which are found in internationally important numbers. Shetland’s vast coastline and rich, highly productive waters create the perfect breeding grounds and a wildlife spectacle hard to beat in Europe, if not the world.

May is the month that seabirds return in big numbers and when breeding activity starts in earnest, reaching fever pitch into June. The cliffs burst into colour, with pink Thrift and blue hues of Spring Squill lightly swaying on the warm sea air. There are few stretches of coastline without Northern Fulmars cackling as they enjoy the air currents, and several hot-spots will see you eye-to-eye with Puffin, Razorbill, Guillemot, Kittiwake, Arctic Tern, Great and Arctic Skuas, plus the resident Black Guillemot.

The majority of seabirds have, as elsewhere in the UK, suffered declines in recent years, in part at least due to the lack of sandeels, on which many depend. Conversely, Northern Gannet and Great Skua numbers have increased across the isles, due to a less restrictive diet and ability to adapt in the face of increasingly fast environmental changes. Shetland still remains a stronghold for many seabirds and these form at the very least a background highlight for any birder’s spring trip.


Common Snipe is a common and familiar breeder across Shetland, with noisy birds displaying from fence posts (Rebecca Nason).

The biggest seabird colonies are found on Fair Isle, Foula, Hermaness on Unst, and Noss, which is off Bressay; the last two are home to huge and increasing Northern Gannet colonies set in breathtaking scenery. There are ample opportunities to enjoy seabirds at close quarters both as a birder and photographer in Shetland, not least by taking a walk up to the heady cliffs at Hermaness, where you will be greeted en route by Great Skuas and arrive to an amphitheatre of gannets and Puffins in spectacular surroundings.

As an alternative, taking the Noss Boat tours from Lerwick to experience more than 25,000 gannets from sea level, nesting on towering weathered sandstone cliffs and rocket-diving for fish around the boat, is hard to beat. The 2,000-year-old Mousa Broch monument is alive with European Storm Petrels at night during the summer months, most arriving back in May, and an evening Mousa Island boat trip is a special experience not to be missed.

For those seeking the most photographed seabird in the world, Puffin, then Sumburgh Head is the best location, being a firm favourite site with locals and visitors alike thanks to the added bonus of a lighthouse, marine exhibition centre and café – and it can be a great place to find rarities!

 

Abundant waders

Away from the coast in spring, the moorlands and globally important blanket peat bogs take on attractive mauve tones, broken by swathes of Cottongrass and damp flushes. These wonderful northern habitats, and the historically less-intensively managed croft lands, are home to a wealth of breeding shorebirds.


A trip to Shetland in late spring and early summer should produce the delightful Red-necked Phalarope, which breeds in small numbers across the archipelago (Rebecca Nason).

You cannot fail to notice the sheer number of waders between May and the end of July. The densities are a reminder of what other parts of Britain were once like before widespread post-war agricultural intensification. Thirteen species nest in total, often in an abundance hard to match in other parts of Britain – 11 are found in internationally important numbers.

Common Snipe is a regular sight and evocative sound of a Shetland spring, from bold strategical fence-post podiums to the drumming vibrations filling the wide skies alongside displaying Northern Lapwing, Common Redshank, Eurasian Oystercatcher and Eurasian Curlew. Other moorland and peat bog sites, particularly in the outer islands, provide favourable habitats for breeding Dunlin and European Golden Plover, as well as forming the nesting grounds for more than 95% of the British population of Whimbrel. Ringed Plovers enjoy a plethora of undisturbed beaches and Common Sandpipers bob along stream fringes. Greenshank and Black-tailed Godwit are rarer breeders, with neither confirmed annually.

Red-necked Phalarope is an iconic feature of the isles that returns from wintering grounds along the west coast of South America in May, with the highest densities on Fetlar. A visit to Shetland in spring is surely not complete without a visit to see these stunning waders. If you are lucky, you may come across phalaropes at other sites in the isles, particularly on ‘feeding lochs’ as they make their journey back to Fetlar and other isolated breeding localities. The RSPB has been highly successful recently in improving targeted habitat management for these birds at key sites, particularly at its flagship Fetlar reserve.

On the multitude of lochs across the isles, two other rare breeders are quite easily encountered. Red-throated Diver is perhaps the most enigmatic Shetland breeding species in summer, with many paired up on lochs by late May or commonly seen fishing offshore. Whooper Swans also nest in small numbers.


Northern Gannet is one seabird species that is thriving in Shetland, with particularly impressive colonies on Unst and Noss. Boat trips give brilliant opportunities to see them up close (Rebecca Nason).

So, with a backdrop of frenetic breeding-bird activity across the isles, visiting birders in spring and early summer will have plenty to occupy themselves when migration is slow or winds are unfavourable. With so many birders taking to photography these days, there is a bounty of opportunity at every turn. Another big plus in spring is the light, with very long daylight hours when compared to the frustratingly short days of autumn. Light combines with more settled weather to provide a real advantage – even doubling field birding hours compared to the autumn. You can bird until teatime and well beyond!

Migration Season

What can you expect with spring migration across the isles? Movement starts in March, though only really picks up from the beginning of May onwards – spring is much later here in the far north of Britain. It’s also worth noting that there are smaller numbers of birds than in autumn, when many youngsters will be making their way south for the first time. However, the birds you do see have the added glamour of being in fine breeding plumage. Many will also show incredibly well, with limited vegetation cover and disturbance, meaning plenty of spring highlights can be enjoyed at close range and without the crowds.

On top of a host of common migrants, classic scarce overshoots by mid-May (given suitable weather conditions) could include Red-backed Shrike Bluethroat, Wryneck and Common Rosefinch, with regular visitors such as Rustic Bunting, Thrush Nightingale, subalpine warblers and Marsh and Icterine Warblers all tending to be much more regular here than anywhere else in Britain.

Spring Blyth’s Reed Warbler records have notably increased in recent years, too. Other scarce or rare migrants typical of this time may include Red-rumped Swallow, Hoopoe, Golden Oriole, European Nightjar, European Bee-eater, Woodchat Shrike, Citrine Wagtail and Paddyfield Warbler. Interestingly, the mega-rare Green Warbler has now been recorded five times in Shetland in spring or early summer out of a total of just eight national records.


A colourful array of typical late spring and early summer scarcities that may be found in Shetland include Red-backed Shrike (top) and Common Rosefinch (James Hanlon / Helen Perry).

The majority of Shetland’s scarce and rare spring birds are found after periods of south-easterly winds. Even light winds will bring in migrants, either propelled north from southern Europe or pushed west as they head for Scandinavia. But there are also increasingly regular records of American vagrants making landfall in Shetland in spring, just to add to the honeypot of possibilities!

Then there are the ‘big’ birds – the extreme vagrants that visitors may dream of. History tells us that they happen here with regularity. Who can forget the Pallas’s Sandgrouse at Quendale in May 1990 – a bird that was widely twitched from the mainland. Another very popular bird was the Blue-cheeked Bee-eater in June 1997, with other standout finds from various points of the compass including Caspian Plover at Skelberry on 3-4 June 1996, Rose-breasted Grosbeak at West Burra on 3-4 May 2016 and Black-and-white Warbler at Aithsetter in late May 2020.

Of course, Fair Isle and its constant coverage stands head and shoulders above the rest, boasting an unforgettable list of extreme vagrants in May that includes Brown-headed Cowbird, Thick-billed Warbler, Song Sparrow and White-throated Sparrows, multiple Calandra Larks and Collared Flycatchers, and Steller’s Eider. Migrants keep appearing well into June, with later highlights having included Cretzschmar’s Bunting, Hermit Thrush, Myrtle Warbler, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler and the famous Citril Finch of June 2008.

Spring birding days can be fabulously varied and frequently brilliant across the isles. The quotes below are surely enough reason to get the pulses racing and a spring trip to Shetland firmly on the staycation radar.

Rob Fray wrote in the Shetland Bird Report 2018: “All of this was a prelude to possibly the most remarkable 24-hour period in the long history of Shetland birding: late afternoon on 14 May produced Shetland’s first Marmora’s Warbler at Baliasta, Unst, a Black-faced Bunting nearby at Norwick, and Shetland’s first Eurasian Crag Martin on Fair Isle. By mid-afternoon on 15th a Song Sparrow on Fair Isle, a Terek Sandpiper at Virkie and European Bee-eater at Sandwick had been added to the roll-call (along with ‘also-rans’ such as a Garganey at Melby and the first of spring’s six Red-breasted Flycatchers at Sumburgh Head).”


Shetland has a long and enviable list of mega rarities that have appeared in late spring. Among them are these two gems from Fair Isle: June 2008’s Citril Finch (top), which was a first for Britain, and a Thick-billed Warbler in mid-May 2003, which the long daylight hours allowed for a twitch from the mainland on its first day (Rebecca Nason).

An extract from The Birds of Shetland: “Potentially one of the most exciting months of the year is May. A fall in May can be a colourful event, and it is all the more enjoyable as it is likely to occur in bright sunshine. Alongside the duller Tree Pipits, Garden Warblers, Willow Warblers and Spotted Flycatchers may be resplendent male Common Redstarts, Whinchats and Pied Flycatchers, or classic Shetland migrants such as subtly plumaged Wrynecks, bandit-masked Red-backed Shrikes and stunning male Bluethroats of the red-spotted form.

“Some extremely unusual birds have been found in early May, including three Dark-eyed Juncos, and Shetland’s only Black Stork and Marsh Sandpiper. But in the second half of the month, almost anything can turn up – American Kestrel, Common Yellowthroat, Myrtle Warbler or White-crowned Sparrow from North America, Black-winged Pratincole, Calandra Lark or Little Swift from southern Europe or south-west Asia, or even White-throated Needletail from Asia.”

It goes on to cite June as “an excellent month for extremely rare vagrants”, before naming Lesser Kestrel, Bimaculated Lark and Cedar Waxwing on an enviable and mouth-watering list of possibilities.

So, why not give Shetland a go in spring? There’s plenty of breeding birds to see at this vibrant time of year. Plus, if you’re in the right place at the right time, and with the right weather, who knows what you might find!

 

  • This article was published in the June 2022 issue of Birdwatch.

Shetland’s Late Summer Seabirds & Cetaceans

We have been good friends as well as work colleagues of Brydon Thomason for many years & been collaborating with his highly successful local wildlife tour company SHETLAND NATURE since we started our own business in 2016. We are delighted that The Noss Boat tours features in all his seasonal group itineraries, & for the first time this summer, we are part of his new Summer Seabirds & Cetaceans itinerary. Check out his website & some of the tour details below:

Holiday overview:

Seven nights’ all-inclusive accommodation

  • Small group size of just six to eight guests
  • Led by resident naturalist guides who live/work here all year round
  • Unique insight into behaviour and ecology of Shetlands Otters
  • Exclusive cetacean search boat charter with Shetland Seabird Tours
  • Exclusive boat charter to Gannets of Noss NNR with Shetland Seabird Tours
  • Peak season for inshore cetaceans such as Minke Whale, White-beaked & Risso’s Dolphin

NEW FOR 2023!

Saturday 5th – 12th August, 2023

We are delighted to launch this unique new tour itinerary, which focuses primarily on three of Shetland’s star wildlife attractions – seabirds, Otters and cetaceans. Focusing on these throughout the latter weeks of the summer is something we do every year on our day tours and bespoke holiday bookings, but this season, it feels particularly appropriate to add it to our holiday program.

Celebrating the amazing vibe and momentum throughout the UK nature community building around the incredible ‘Wild Isles’ series, this itinerary features three of the series headline acts – Gannets, Otters and hopefully – Orca!

For many of Shetland’s species the brief northern breeding season is already ending by August, yet for most, especially sea birds, the season is in full swing. Though Common Guillemot chicks have left their ledges and Kittiwakes are fledging, Gannetries are a raucous hustle and bustle of activity with chicks still a few weeks from fledging and on the clifftops and grassy slopes, Atlantic Puffins are still present in decent numbers, as are the mighty Great Skuas, which are still yet to fledge their chicks and Arctic Skua give chase to Arctic Terns in their dramatic aerial pursuits. This is also peak time for cetaceans, being the time of year we tend to see the widest range of species inshore, particularly those that are following the Mackerel, Herring and Saithe that amass in our waters in this season.

Itinerary

Day One – Arrival dinner and meet/greet

Our week adventure begins on Saturday evening when we meet and greet you at the Sumburgh Hotel. Over dinner as guests and guide become acquainted, we enthuse about the exciting adventure ahead and this is the perfect time to learn about the islands, the wildlife and indeed life in general in Shetland. This is something we feel plays a very important role in your Shetland experience and with all our core season team of guides being resident Shetlanders we take pride in this. Overnight at Sumburgh Hotel

Day Two – Sumburgh Head & Mousa

We begin our voyage of discovery in the South Mainland, at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) Sumburgh Head reserve, where we hope for our first Puffins of the week. Sumburgh is the ideal setting in which to start to get to know some of Shetland’s breeding birds, with many of our common species close at hand.

This is also the first of several cetacean watch-points that we will visit, where we keep a keen eye off shore for species such as Harbour Porpoise, Minke Whale, Risso’s and White-beaked Dolphin which are all regularly recorded here in late summer, with a decent chance of Orca too. This is also been the peak time to see Basking Shark here too, which will also be on our radar at all watchpoints.

In the afternoon we take the small passenger ferry across to the marvellous uninhabited island of Mousa. The short ten-minute crossing offers one of the best places in Britain to see Harbour Porpoise. Our walk around the RSPB reserve will take us along cliffs that are favoured nesting places for Fulmar and Shag; also Black Guillemot and Gannet may be seen fishing offshore where we have a good chance of cetaceans too. On the walk we will observe lagoons that are a favourite haul out for both Common and Grey Seal. We also pass a small loch, a favourite bathing pool for Arctic Terns and has been known to accommodate a nesting pair of Red-throated Divers. The final highlight of our visit to the island will be to explore Mousa Broch. This almost complete broch (stone tower) stands 13m tall and is the best-preserved example of an Iron Age (c.300BC to 200AD) broch in existence. Overnight at Sumburgh Hotel

Day three – South Mainland & Noss

Today we venture north. Leaving Shetland’s south Mainland we journey north to the north western part of the Shetland Mainland. Before leaving the south, we enjoy a gentle coastal walk while exploring the nearby peninsula of Scatness, Fitful Head and the picturesque tombolo of St Ninian’s Isle beach, each of which offering the opportunity of sea mammals off shore

In the afternoon we join the amazing, multi-award winning Shetland Seabird Tours for the first of the week’s two marine wildlife boat charters onboard the Ayda Ruby II, with naturalist skipper, Phil Haris who takes us out from Lerwick to the spectacular Noss NNR, home to over 18,000 breeding pairs of Northern Gannets. The colonies and towering cliffs are truly awe-inspiring, followed by an exhilarating feeding frenzy offshore. We will also enjoy many other seabirds here, both on the water and in the colonies above.

Once ashore in the late afternoon we make our way north to The St Magnus Bay Hotel in Hillswick, where we will spend the next four nights.

Day four – North Mainland

Today we begin to explore the magnificent and rugged north-western part of Shetland Mainland. From a geological and landscape perspective, this remote corner of the islands is unique and there is much to admire. At Eshaness lighthouse, the breathtaking views of one of Shetland’s most iconic vistas are guaranteed, and an examination of a nearby blowhole is not for the faint-hearted. If the weather is good, we will spend time scanning for whales and dolphins out at sea. Risso’s, White-sided and White-beaked Dolphins, Minke Whales and of course Orca (Killer Whale) can all be seen from here with a bit of luck, a keen eye – and better still – a calm sea! Harbour Porpoises are the most common cetacean and perhaps more predictable, and we should be able to find these at our regular sites.

In the afternoon we venture up onto higher ground, up to the tele communications mast on Collafirth Hill, which shoulders Ronas Hill.  At 450 metres above sea level, Ronas Hill is hardly a mountain yet it is the highest point in Shetland. Overnight at St. Magnus Bay Hotel.

Day Five – All About Otters

Unique to Shetland Nature, we will spend the day devoted to one of Shetland’s star wildlife attractions, the Otter! In the absence of Badger or Fox, the Otter takes centre stage. With a higher density than anywhere else in the world, it is little wonder that Shetland has long been recognised as the best place to see and study this wonderful mammal.

It was in fact around this very species that Shetland Nature was evolved, through co-author of Otters in Shetland- the tale of the draatsi’ , Brydon Thomason’s lifelong passion and experience of them. It is little wonder that Otter watching is therefore our signature specialty, and we pride ourselves on the insight and encounters. We have yet to have a group leave disappointed and we have every confidence in our continued success.

Here is one of the many areas that our guests experience first-hand the benefits of our small group size and the leadership of local naturalists. Our approach is based on our unsurpassed knowledge of Shetland’s Otters; where and when to stand the best chance of encounters and most of all how to search and observe without disturbance. We will visit some of the best sites in the islands to give you a unique insight into the secret lives of one of the nation’s most evocative and captivating animals.

Our sensitivity towards Shetland’s Otters is as renowned as our success with guests’ encounters. We operate under a government legislation Schedule 2 license issued by Scottish Natural Heritage. Overnight at St. Magnus Bay Hotel.

Day Six – Unit

 

 

Today, for the penultimate full day of the itinerary we journey to the very top of Britain, the island of Unst. Island hopping from Mainland to Yell and again across to Unst, the ferries offer the perfect opportunity to scan the sea for cetaceans.

On Unst we begin our North Isles experience by savouring the rich flora and fauna of Unst and head out onto Hermaness National Nature Reserve. Setting out on foot through the heart of the reserve, we can guarantee ‘up close and personal’ encounters with Great Skuas, known locally as Bonxies, which nest in large numbers on the moorland interior. Reaching the spectacular cliffs on the west side of the reserve, we hope to be first greeted by Puffins before breath-taking views of Muckle Flugga and the most northerly lighthouse in Britain. These and the surrounding stacks and cliffs boast well over 22,000 breeding pairs of Gannets, the largest colony in Shetland.

During the afternoon, we will take our time exploring the lesser known corners of the island and some of our favourite cetacean watchpoints and otter sites and leaving the island, again have a chance of a fin from the ferries. Overnight St Magnus Hotel

Day Seven – Cetacean Search boat charter

Today, on our final full day of the trip we join Shetland Seabird Tours once again for an extended and exclusive marine wildlife adventure. Leaving Lerwick in the morning, we set out specifically in search of cetaceans, with species such as Harbour Porpoise, Minke Whale, Risso’s and White-beaked Dolphin all regularly recorded, and our main target species – not to mention Orca, with a bit of luck.

Being actively involved in the local sightings group, and quite likely, Phil’s up-to-date sightings on their previous days trips on board the Ayda Ruby II we will head out in search of whales and dolphins for the morning.

After lunch and back on dry land, we take time to explore and enjoy central Mainland, visit some of the more secluded side-roads of the East and West, enjoying a leisurely safari-style adventure in search of Mountain Hare, Red Grouse, Otters as well as a cetacean watchpoint or two!

Over dinner in the evening we reminisce about the week we have had, the places we have been and the species we have seen before bidding you a fond farewell, as your holiday comes to an end after Breakfast the following morning. Overnight Sumburgh Hotel.

Booking – Holiday Dates

Principal Tour Guides

Fitness Level Required – Moderate
Walks of up to three or four miles (maximum in a day) and at times over uneven terrain
Price: £1,895
2023 Dates
Saturday 5th August to Saturday 12th August, 2023

Contact Us to Book

Private Tour Options: This holiday can also be arranged exclusively for private booing for couples, families or small groups.

Contact us for information and cost proposal for your own exclusive/tailor-made holiday. Email: info@shetlandnature.net

Additional holiday information:

  • Read about the hotels we use – view our hotel providers.
  • All meals, accommodation, guiding fee’s and excursions as well as ferry fares and transport are included in package cost.
  • All boat trips are subject to weather availability.
  • Not included in cost are items of a personal nature or hotel bar tabs nor is travel to and from Shetland included.
  • No single supplement charged.
  • On booking please advise of any special requirements medical or dietary.
  • Throughout the holiday some of the activities will potentially involve walks of up to three or four miles (maximum in a day) and at times over uneven terrain. A reasonable level of fitness is advised however this is run at a leisurely pace. We can also provide holidays at an even more leisurely pace; please contact us for details.
  • Please note that all itineraries are subject to change but guests will be advised in advance should it be necessary to make any major changes.

Shetland Seabird Tours – The Noss Boat, are delighted to see the photographic side of our business really take-off over the last few years alongside our regular, popular scheduled tours. Since we started our boat tours back in 2016, we have collaborated & enjoyed working with some amazing names in the photographic and film industry, honing our skills to be able to offer a professional, knowledgeable boat platform to help others achieve outstanding results. In the 2nd of our showcase posts, we celebrate the wonderful work of Professional Wildlife Photographer, Natural History Author & Tour Leader Andy Howard. Check out his amazing portfolio of images on his website: www.andyhoward.co.uk

 

Andy has been coming to Shetland leading wildlife & photography tours for many years & has been collaborating with us to offer his clients bespoke photo tours to Noss throughout . We were already well aware of Andy & his wonderful photography before we met him, it has been wonderful to help provide a stable, comfortable boat platform to create super imagery from, for part of his bespoke Shetland photographic group experiences. We are enjoying our Early Bird Boat Tours with Andy & guests this week & look forward to seeing more of his Shetland imagery soon. Andy has written 3 highly acclaimed books (shown above), the latest being his Otter book The Secret Life of the Otter published in 2021. Andy is well known for his extraordinary images of Mountain Hare & Red Squirrel, many of which can be seen in his other publications in the same series, The Secret Life of the Mountain Hare (2018) & The Secret Life of the Cairngorms (2019).

Andy says ….

We fell for the charms of Shetland and its friendly and welcoming people a decade ago and have made return visits every year since. Each and every time have returned from our travels with stories to tell and memory cards full of images. It’s without a shadow of a doubt my second favourite destination to photograph wildlife, outwith my beloved Cairngorms”.

Extract from Andy’s Bio on his website:

“A major part of my life as a professional entails running workshops, masterclasses and photo-tours. I love doing this and relish the opportunity to improve and encourage my guests/clients to improve their photography skills whilst at the same time capturing images they can be proud of. Many of my guests/clients have gone on to win competitions with images taken whilst out with me including a category win in the BWPAs!”.

 

© Andy Howard

Check out Andy’s Social Media Pages:

Facebook page: www.facebook.com/Andy-Howard-Nature-Photography

And Instagram: www.instagram.com/hare_whisperer

And Twitter: twitter.com/highland_andy

 

Many of you will have become aware of the devastating impact that Avian Flu is having on wild birds, in particular seabirds now, as well as the poultry industry, this spring. Here on Shetland, the disease is spreading most notably among the Northern Gannet & Great Skua populations on the Islands. We have witnessed at first hand the devastating consequences of this disease working through the Noss NNR gannet colony, as this site is a daily fixture on our Noss Boat wildlife tours. Home to over 25,000 northern gannets & thousands of other seabirds during the summer months, Noss cliffs by boat, is hailed as one of Europe’s finest wildlife spectacles, & one we have had pleasure in sharing with thousands of passengers over the years and continue to do so. There are many threats facing our seabirds, many of the current issues are shared as part of our daily live commentary as well as touching on the state & future of the health of the wider marine environment. But to see this new disease at work,  killing hundreds of what has been one of our most resilient, successful seabirds, the northern gannet, is  very upsetting for all to witness & with no obvious help or solution at hand, we watch with a strong sense of helplessness.  All we can do for now is to monitor & hope that this disease will depart as quickly as it arrived, only time will tell. We have liaised & collected samples for NatureScot to initially confirm the disease among Noss gannets, we will continue to offer support where we can.

Hermaness NNR on Unst, also home to a similar number of northern gannets is equally affected, as are apparently, smaller gannet colonies on Foula & Fair Isle. Scotland holds over 40% of the world’s total population of northern gannets, around 180,000 pairs over 14 colonies. Not all colonies have confirmed cases of avian flu at the current time. Icelandic populations have recently confirmed avian flu within their breeding populations, meaning the majority of the endemic northern gannet populations in Europe are now at serious risk of significant losses after years of slow but steady growth.

 

An adult northern gannet on a honeycomb-weathered sandstone nest site, one of over 25,000 northern gannets. Can these usually successful, resilient, seabirds weather this fast moving, devastating disease?

RSPB LATEST STATEMENT:

“The 2021/22 outbreak of HPAI is still affecting wild bird populations in the UK. This has been the worst ever outbreak of HPAI in the UK and has not only affected a large number of birds but is ongoing over a long time period. You can see previous blogs for more information and the story of the unprecedented impact this strain of HPAI has had, causing the loss of a third of the Solway barnacle geese population. We have been in unchartered territory with the disease this year and its effects on wild birds. This is continuing with the focus now being on seabirds in Scotland.

Late last summer, sick and dead great skuas were found in Shetland, Orkney, St Kilda and the Flannan Isles and they tested positive for HPAI. This happened just prior to migration – the species winters off North and West Africa – so the scale of impact on the population was unclear. Now the skuas are back and RSPB Scotland is collating data from colonies to assess impacts, but we were not expected to find great skuas again sick and dying from HPAI. We are also seeing eider ducks and other seabirds including gannets succumbing to HPAI.

Britain’s seabird populations are of global significance with the UK holding 56% of the worlds northern gannet population and Scotland holding 46% of the world’s northern gannets and 60% of the world’s great skuas. Both these species are amber listed in Birds of Conservation Concern 5. Our seabirds are already under massive pressure from human impacts including climate change, lack of prey fish, deaths through entanglement in fishing gear and development pressure. There is great concern for the potential impacts of HPAI on our already beleaguered wild birds.

The RSPB believes that to deal with future HPAI outbreaks in wild birds, improved surveillance, testing and carcass collecting is essential and that an effective plan should be put in place for biosecurity measures and disturbance minimisation to alleviate the pressures on these birds. But this is only the surface of the problem, we must take actions towards effective conservation of our wild bird species“.  – Nick Hawkes June 1st 2022

Scotland: https://www.gov.scot/publications/avian-influenza-bird-flu/

 

A Bonxie (Great Skua) feeding on a dead Northern Gannet at the base of Noss – ©R.Nason/Shetland Seabird Tours – The Noss Boat, June 2022

 

“Birds can be infected with the avian influenza virus through contact with infected individual birds or waste products. Wild birds including waterfowl can carry and transmit the virus without showing evidence of disease. Movements of poultry around and between countries, and the migrations of wild birds, are both known vectors of the virus.

Although the risk of contracting the disease from a wild bird is very low, we recommend that people do not handle sick or dead wild birds, remain vigilant, and report dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks), seabirds or birds of prey to the DEFRA helpline (03459 33 55 77). See DEFRA’s website here for more details” – Nick Hawkes June 2022

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/avian-influenza-bird-flu

 

Bonxie’s (Great Skua) on Shetland mainland & Islands such as Fair Isle & Unst have been hit hard this spring, with hundreds of birds succumbing to Avian Flu over a matter of weeks. Watching healthy Bonxie’s feeding on diseased dead birds is harrowing  – © R.Nason/Shetland Seabird Tours – The Noss Boat June 2022.

Great Skuas or “bonxies” as they are known in Shetland, one of our most iconic seabirds, were first confirmed with avian flu last year & this year has seen a frightening development in the numbers of affected birds & mortality levels across Shetland this year. Shetland & Orkney hold over 60% of the world population of Great Skua, and 90% of the UK breeding population. They have a very restricted breeding range confined to the northeast Atlantic and migrated to spend the winter in north-west Africa. We have seen many dead bonxies in the water around Noss as well as alive birds clearly showing signs of the disease. We have been bonxies feeding on the infected corpses of northern gannets and of course chasing other seabirds for food, all have a high risk of cross-infection between species. There have been devastating scenes of dead & dying bonxies on Noss & Hermaness in recent weeks. Again at this stage, all we can do is to monitor & wait for any new government guidelines or initiatives but it is expected that Bonxies will have a disastrous breeding season this year with high mortality rates & low productivity. What we can do, as the RSPB & NatureScot have stated, is to call for urgent adoption of policies & conservation action to help maximise the resilience of our seabird populations, which are under enormous threats from climate change, bycatch mortality, the impact of non-native predators & disease outbreaks such as avian flu. 

The pitted sandstone cliffs of Noss are currently alive with thousands of healthy Northern Gannets preparing for the breeding season. However close inspection reveals the dark reality of a highly contagious, often fatal disease, with numerous adult gannets slumped dead on their nest sites alongside seemingly healthy birds. © R.Nason/Shetland Seabird Tours – The Noss Boat

 

A slumped, dead adult Northern Gannet hanging off its nest site at Noss NNR gannet colony this week – June 2022. An upsetting sight at what should be the start of a productive breeding season for this seabird.

 

The devastating sight of a recently deceased adult Northern Gannet dead on the nest, after succumbing to Avian Flu. © R.Nason/Shetland Seabird Tours – The Noss Boat June 2022.

www.henleyspiers.com

Shetland Seabird Tours – The Noss Boat, are delighted to see the photographic side of our business develop so well over the last few years alongside our regular, popular scheduled tours. Since we started our boat tours back in 2016, we have collaborated & enjoyed working with some amazing names in the photographic and film industry, honing out skills to be able to offer a professional, knowledgeable boat platform to help others achieve outstanding results. We have regularly collaborated with the incredible underwater photographer, ecologist and Shetland resident Richard Shucksmith who has brought some outstanding photographers aboard bespoke workshops and tours all catering for different styles and requirements from amateur to professional. In our first of many showcase posts, our first highlights the latest photographic successes of the awesome Henley Spiers, who we welcomed aboard last year for the first time and who will be joining us again in 2022. Henley recently won 1st and 3rd places in the UPY 2021 British Waters Wide Angle category, see below. Henley has also written a fabulous illustrated article on his Shetland experiences last year in this months COAST magazine.

Gannet Success: 

With the @upycontest results just released and now whizzing their way across news outlets worldwide (no joke), I’m glad to report that a couple of my frames made the final collection. Not having left British waters in 2021, it’s great to see a couple of my favourite marine moments appreciated by the judges, picking up 1st and 3rd place in the British Waters Wide Angle category.

The category winner is entitled ‘Gannet Storm’ and as an extra bonus it’s also the cover shot for the UPY 2022 Yearbook:

“A northern gannet swims in an artistic hail of bubbles created by diving seabirds. 40,000 gannets visit the nearby cliffs annually to lay and care for a single egg, fishing for food nearby. Hitting the frigid water faster than an Olympic diver, these incredible birds have evolved airsacs in the head and chest to survive these repeated heavy impacts. From underwater, the sound was thunderous as streamlined, white torpedos pierced the surface. I wanted to create a novel image of these handsome seabirds and resolved to try and capture their movement through a slow exposure. The speed of the gannets led to innumerable failures but in this frame we retain strong eye contact with the gannet, even as the scene is artistically softened. With great thanks to @richardshucksmith , without whom this encounter with the gannets would not have been possible.”

Here’s what judge @alexmustard1 says: “That eye and this moment. A powerful picture. Diving gannets have won this category before, but we’ve never had a portrait like this, that reveals both the personality of this predator and the energy of the action.”

You can read all about Henley’s successful trip to Shetland in 2021 in this months COAST magazine!


ABOUT

Henley Spiers, half British and half French, is a renowned photographer, writer, and trip leader who has fast become one of the most highly decorated underwater shooters in the world.

Starting his professional career in diving as an instructor, working in the Philippines, Indonesia and Saint Lucia, he later fell in love with underwater imagery and made the transition to full-time photographer.

Since then, Henley has amassed a prolific series of award-winning images, including two category wins in the Underwater Photographer of the Year, winning first prize in the Black & White category of Nature Photographer of the Year, and winner of the Ocean Geographic David Doubilet portfolio award.

Henley’s photography has been published in the likes of The Sunday Times, Der Spiegel, and Sierra Magazine, and frequently graces magazine covers.

As an accomplished (and bilingual) writer, Henley’s words often accompany his images, and he is a regular contributor to DIVER magazine (UK), EZ Dive magazine (Taiwan), Plongez magazine (France), and Hakai magazine (Canada). Readers enjoy Henley’s conversational writing style, delivering insight without pretension and usually with a touch of humour. Notably, he has also written for Asian Diver, Outdoor Photography Magazine, bioGraphic, and Black + White Photography magazine.

In 2019, Henley co-authored Black is the New Blue Vol. II, showcasing blackwater diving. His latest book, the Guide to Cebu, co-written with wife and frequent collaborator, Jade, showcases the very best of diving in their former home. Available in the Philippines, the international launch for Guide to Cebu has been delayed due to the current pandemic.

Henley also leads trips to see incredible underwater wildlife encounters, specialising in small-group adventures to rarely seen locations and events. Sought-after as a teacher, Henley’s coaching on these trips has seen a number of attendees go on to become award-winning photographers in their own right.

Although he would be the first to admit that he can still do more to help, Henley has so far enjoyed collaborating in the field of ocean conservation with Blue Marine, Mission Blue, Bertarelli Foundation, Marine Conservation Society, Devon Wildlife Trust, Cornwall Wildlife trust, and Thunnus UK.

In 2019, Henley was honoured to be invited by Blancpain to the Edition Fifty Fathoms Ocean Commitment programme, joining a select group of the world’s foremost underwater photographers.

 

Capturing Ecology 2021

Overall Winning Image by Rebecca Nason of Shetland Seabird Tours – The Noss Boat

The winning images and an additional eight highly commended images, taken by international ecologists and students, celebrate the diversity of ecology, capturing flora and fauna from across the planet. Subjects range from a blood red snail feeding on dead man’s fingers (a fungus found in the rainforests of India) to a rare sighting of the ‘fairy of the Valencian forests’, a recently discovered cave-dwelling bug in Spain.

The winning images from this year’s will be displayed in our immersive virtual exhibition, which is sponsored by Wiley.

Overall winner: Kumlien’s Gull and Friends, Rebecca Nason.

Overall winner: Kumlien’s Gull & Friends, Rebecca Nason/ShetlandSeabird Tours:

On her winning image, Rebecca Nason – an ecologist and photographer living in Britain’s most northerly harbour town of Lerwick, Shetland – said: “In April 2021, I came across a scarce Kumlien’s Gull as I fed bread to a growing number of Herring Gull sheltering from a Spring storm. A beautiful gull, these birds breed in the Arctic regions of Canada & winter from Labrador west across the Great Lakes.

“When the Kumlien’s gull approached to a good distance to allow for closer full frame shots. I started photographing the eye detail, noting a gorgeous granite coloured iris with dark speckled plumage detail around the eye. It was only when I got home I realised that the speckled patterns were in fact lice clustered around the eye, the Kumlien’s Gull hadn’t travelled alone!

“I am thrilled to win such a prestigious photography competition after entering for the first time this year. I have had a very symbiotic relationship between ecology work & bird photography in my career, so for both to come together in this way to win a competition with a gull image taken on my local patch, is just the icing on the cake.”

THE SHETLAND TIMES: Pg 2: Friday 29th October 2021

MORE LINKS:

BBC NEWS – ‘CAPTURING ECOLOGY’ PHOTOGRAPHY WINNER 2021

DIGITAL CAMERA WORLD NEWS 

SCIENCE FOCUS NEWS

RARE BIRD ALERT – CAPTURING ECOLOGY WINNER

We were amazed to find Shetland Seabird Tours – The Noss Boat  – named & recommended in The Week magazine this summer as part of being recognised as 1 of the top 10 UK boat tours 2021 in The Guardian. Thank you to all the readers for recommending us, it means a huge amount to receive such positive, honest feedback from so many! We remain Shetland’s premier Noss Boat, the only boat run by naturalists & the longest running Noss Boat tour company. We are so delighted to showcase one of Europe’s finest wildlife spectacles with so many tourists & locals alike since we started business in 2016. If you haven’t already, as one of our original business slogans suggest: Come & experience a real gannet’s eye view – with The Noss Boat…… © SST 2016-2021

We look forward to welcoming you aboard……

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