Flying Puffins, Arctic Skua & Dabbling Eider: Ultimate Shetland Day 1

The heatwave on the mainland has not quite made its way up to Shetland yet! We headed to Sumburgh Head in our fleeces, outdoor coats and hats with a keen wind. Once again, the birds did not disappoint. The guests were treated to fantastic views of the arctic skuas soaring over the cliffs, along with fulmar, kittiwake and black-blacked gulls. On the cliffs, we were able to watch nesting guillemot, some razorbills and, of course, the puffins. For some of our guests, this was the first time they had seen a real puffin!

After watching the lower cliffs, we headed to the top. The winds were pretty keen here which means that the puffins were finding it hard to land, hovering  and twisting and turning in the gusts as they came into the cliffs. We were all poised with our cameras…. but it was not easy! Getting the camera to lock onto the bird and then try to track it in strong winds is not easy! It means you end up with lots of photographs like this…..

With perseverance, we all started to improve and lots started to get puffins in the shot… and in focus! It was great to watch and a real challenge…

Popping out of their burrows right in front of us, everyone had the chance to get shots of these fantastic and charismatic little characters.

A tiny rabbit stole the limelight for a while as well…. sneaking between the puffins..

We finally dragged ourselves away and headed off to see what other species we could see.

We drove around the coast, spotting shelduck and eider with ducklings. At Quendale, the sun had found its way from behind the clouds and we settled out of the wind to watch eiders in the small bay. Here, there were a number of female eider with a creche of ducklings. The females raise the young whilst the males move out into the open sea to moult. The females often join together with all their ducklings. In this group there were about 25 ducklings and it was a pleasure to watch. They were quite nervous, so we didn’t get too close.

After watching the aerial acrobatics of the arctic skuas, it was great to see a pale north individual perched up on a rock…

Another highlight was a superb view, through the scope, of a Great northern diver in full summer plumage. What an absolute stunner! I had a great view through the scope, but this image is Hugh’s.  I have never seen one in summer plumage before and it really is gorgeous.

 Another drive led us to the cliffs above a beach where seals regularly haul out. We spent a wonderful hour watching them, in particular a female with her young calf. The youngster was determined to go out to sea, whilst the female constantly tried to curb his enthusiasm, trying to push him back up onto the beach. 

With both common and grey seals here, we were able to explain the difference between the two, to our guests. The easiest way to tell is from their profile. The greys have a long, rather long dog-like profile, yet the commons have a more rounded face.

In the evening, after supper, I took a few guests back up to Sumburgh as the skies had cleared and we hoped for some good evening light. This failed to materialise , but we were treated to some stunning views to end a fantastic day…