Friday, July 09, 2004

Day six of my Shetland & Orkney trip for Speyside Wildlife with fellow guide Ray Nowicki.
Guests: Liz, Chris, Joan, June, Daphne & David , Mary & John , Margaret & Terry.  
Our last day on Shetland dawns a very fine one, with bright sun and bright blue sky. We drive south across Mainland to Sumburgh where on arrival, two Twite bounce over uttering their buzzy calls. We spend an hour seawatching for cetaceans with no success. There is plenty of activity, though, as auks, Fulmars, Kittiwakes and Shags to and fro from the nearby seacliffs which are patrolled by large predatory gulls and skuas.
Liz and Chris venture up the lighthouse road in search of Puffins and come back with smiling faces, comments such as “they are literally feet away” and some stunning digi-pics.
We retire to the Sumburgh Hotel for a cuppa (and the odd cake) before back out to the Head for more seawatching. We walk up to the lighthouse where the seabird city is at its busiest. Puffins are by far the main feature and most of us spend most of our time with them. A couple of slopes are covered in these little, brightly coloured stars and their antics are wonderful.

Nearby, we see our only Guillemot chicks of the trip, and several Shag nests with young (of various ages) and some still on eggs. Just off the cliffs, an Arctic Skua was patrolling, pursuing anything with food which it invariably managed to eject from the carry. It was more than obvious than none of the Puffins coming in were carrying food. In total only 3-4 birds were seen successfully bringing in anything to their burrows. Another indicator of a very bad season.
At the lighthouse, the staff have put some seed out for the birds and two Twite are feeding among the sparrows. The Twite are flitting around us and come as close as 15 feet! Fantastic!
We walked back to the car park for lunch and more seawatching. Out to sea, there was an increasing ‘hurry’ of Kittiwakes and terns building up. They initially formed two small groups, but over about 40 minutes a great long line of feeding birds stretching along the length of the headland had been formed. We concentrated our efforts on this area in the hope that whatever the birds were feeding on may attract a dolphin or whale. But nothing. Margaret and Terry take a walk to the top of cairn overlooking the car park and spread themselves out on the soft grass in the sun. Very summery!
We pay a quick visit to Grutness Pier for the loos (and for an Arctic Tern to defecate on Steve and Terry – hey, thanks) before heading to Lerwick and transfer straight to the ferry. We won’t go into David’s dealing in out of date sea-sickness pills!
The five and a half hour crossing yielded few avian highlights, although Ray and David bag a couple of Storm Petrels and Ray and John a lone Manx Shearwater. The coastline views of departing Shetland, the sail past Fair Isle and arriving at Orkney though are breathtaking, and most of us spend much of the time on deck. Nothing prepared us for the contrast between the high and rugged Shetland profile to the much flatter islands of the Orkney Isles.
During the crossing we are treated to a delightful meal (waiter service and as much pud as you can eat!) and do our last Shetland checklist of the holiday. Storm Petrel is voted species of Shetland, Noss as place of Shetland and our night time visit to Mousa as everyone’s magic moment of Shetland.
Arriving in the Orkney group, we first past North Ronaldsay, Sanday and Shapinsay with the clifftop lighthouse of Copinsay to the south in the distance. We swing in to the Bay of Kirkwall and dock at the new terminal at Hatston. It’s 11.00pm, so it’s quickly to the hire cars and by 11.20pm we are at the hotel ready for new adventures on a new group of islands.

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