Top 5 Wildlife Spectacles of Shetland
Posted on Mar 26, 2013 by Graham Uney
Shetland: A favourite place.
When you’ve got a good few years as a guide for Wilderness Scotland behind you, it is inevitable that you’ll being to harbour ‘favourite’ parts of the Highlands and Islands. Places that bring you back time and again.
For me, with more than a passing personal interest in the natural history of these wild areas, the one place on the annual itinerary that always got me itching for the guiding season to start was the Northern Isles, and Shetland in particular.
Those long daylight hours of the summer, what the Shetlanders call the ‘Simmer Dim’, when the sun barely drops below the horizon, also happen to be the time of the great seabird spectacular. Millions of gulls, skuas, auks, waders, cormorants and shags pour into these islands from March onwards, ready for the busy breeding season. It’s not all birds though – Shetland is one of the wildlife hotspots for sea mammals, and also brings botanists from all over Europe to its flower-filled shores!
Shetland is for me now more than a ‘favourite destination’ – I love it so much that I moved here, and live in these islands year-round. So, as Britain’s only Shetland-based walking guide, what do I vote as the ‘Top 5 Must-See Wildlife Spectacles of Shetland’? Well, here goes:
1. Has to be the most northerly lump of rock in Britain – Muckle Flugga and the Hermaness National Nature Reserve. The cliffs here are packed with breeding seabirds, from Gannets right down to the comical Puffin, and with some of the most impressive viewing potential in Britain (yes, you can sit right next to a Puffin, and have a conversation with it if that’s your thing!), Hermaness has to take the top slot.
2. I’m a bit biased towards the Westside of Shetland. Apart from the fact that I live there, so do some of the largest breeding numbers of rare birds such as the Whimbrel, and Red-throated Diver.
3. Ronas Hill, despite it’s lowly height, is Shetland’s highest peak. Being this far north (most of Shetland is at 60º North) its summit has a climate and habitat akin to the Cairngorm plateau, and that means it is the place to go to seek out sub-Arctic flora, with some species endemic to Shetland!
4. On Shetland Otters are everywhere. Yes, they are a bit shy at times, and yes, it does help if you know where to look for them, but with a little patience you will see Otters here. Oh, and Shetland has the largest population of Otters in the whole of Europe – did I forget to mention that?
What is a Bonxie?
5. And so we come to everybody’s favourite bird – the Bonxie! The proper name for this piratical seabird is the Great Skua, but here everyone calls them Bonxies. They are big, mean, scary, and they will fly at you if you happen to walk too close to their nests. They feed by chasing other birds until they vomit, then the Bonxie tucks in. Yummy! But, I love them, and so will you once you’ve been introduced to them properly.
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