Autumn Gold: Bird Migration Holiday in Shetland
A 7-night birdwatching trip to witness the amazing spectacle of bird migration in Shetland.
Late afternoon / early evening rendezvous at Sumburgh Hotel. During our orientation dinner we will run through our planned itinerary and enthuse over the exciting prospects the week ahead holds in store. Overnight at Sumburgh Hotel.DAY 2 Sunday
We will spend the day birding in the south Mainland. Our first stop will be Sumburgh Head where we will check the rose and thistle patches around the famous lighthouse built by the Stevenson family. A few new migrants here will be a sign that we are in for an exciting day and one of the great advantages of birding in Shetland is the lack of cover. Visitors are often left spellbound by the truly great views we obtain of species that are typically inveterate skulkers. When the tide is right, we will visit the Pool of Virkie - the largest expanse of inter-tidal mud in the islands and by far the best spot for waders. We will need to search carefully among the Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Redshank for scarcer species like Ruff, Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper and in recent years 'the pool' has yielded a host of rarities including Sharp-tailed, White-rumped and Semi-palmated Sandpipers, as well as Britain's first Great Knot. Then to the nutrient-rich lochs of Gards, Hillwell and Spiggie - all of which provide sustenance for migrant wildfowl from farther north and east. If the wind has been north-westerly then geese may be on the move - both Pink-footed and Barnacles can occur in large numbers - and the first wintering Whooper Swans should have arrived. Overnight at Sumburgh Hotel.DAY 3 Monday
Today we head north to the island of Whalsay. En route we will check the coast at Nesting where we may find some freshly arrived Great-northern Divers and if we are very lucky, perhaps a King Eider or White-billed Diver, both of which have wintered here in recent years. Ours is the only wildlife company to include Whalsay in its schedule and we hope that it remains something of a well-kept secret. The islanders have a strong interest in migrants and as we check the various crofts and gardens it is likely that one or two local folk will enquire as to what we have seen - and tell us what they have! Whalsay also has Britain's most northerly golf course and we shall be sure to check this too. Among the many migrant Wheatears, Meadow Pipits and waders that frequent the fairways we may be lucky to find a Lapland or Snow Bunting, while in recent years Eastern Olivaceous, Lanceolated Warbler, Isabelline Wheatear and Buff-breasted Sandpiper have all been found here. The main town of Symbister is always worth a look and played host to Britain's third ever Ruppell's Warbler as well as Veery, Two-barred Crossbill, Western Bonelli’s Warbler and local rarities like Spoonbill and Little Egret. Finally, we will say goodbye to Whalsay and head back down to the Sumburgh area, making the occasional strategic stop if required to take in any exciting migrants that we may have learned of. Overnight at Sumburgh Hotel.DAY 4 Tuesday
Shetland is certainly not famous for its abundance of trees and the plantations at Kergord, Voe, Vidlin and Swining are a magnet for migrants. The abundance of food and shelter at these sites often encourages migrants to remain for several days, so whatever the weather, we should find some interesting birds. The commoner thrushes, warblers and finches may all be present while the tiny Siberian sprite the Yellow-browed Warbler is all but guaranteed. We have a good chance of unearthing a scarce migrant or two - perhaps a Red-breasted Flycatcher or a Barred Warbler and we must remain alert because just about anything is possible. In recent years such sought after Siberian vagrants as Brown Shrike, White’s Thrush, Arctic, Radde's, Pallas’s, Blyth’s Reed, Dusky and Pallas's Grasshopper Warblers, and Pechora and Olive-backed Pipit have all been found. We should not just restrict our search image to Siberian vagrants either - a White-throated Sparrow from North America occurred here in late September just a few years ago. Merlins, Sparrowhawks and Long-eared Owls can often be found sheltering at these sites too. Overnight at St Magnus Bay Hotel.DAY 5 Wednesday
Unst is the northernmost of the Shetland Islands and is the first landmass that many migrants on a southerly heading will encounter. Little surprise then that it too has hosted an impressive list of rarities in recent years, including pretty much all of the Shetland specialities. We shall spend the day checking various sheltered burns, gardens and crops in the north of the island. Highlights from our recent Autumn trips to Unst over the last few years have included rarities such as Pied Wheatear (found by us!), Siberian Thrush, White’s Thrush, Swainson’s Thrush, Great Snipe, River, Radde’s, Blyth’s Reed and Arctic Warblers, Red-flanked Bluetail and Hornemann’s Redpoll. The headlands of Skaw and Lamba Ness are favoured haunts of Snow and Lapland Buntings and we’ll be checking the flocks of Eurasian Golden Plovers for something a little rarer like a Buff-breasted Sandpiper or American Golden Plover. After what we hope to have been an exciting bird-filled day we head south via the island of Yell, pausing at one or two sheltered voes to search for early winter visitors including Great Northern Divers, and if we are lucky a glimpse of an Otter. We will be sure to get the latest news from the Shetland Wildlife office before arriving back on Mainland so that we can plot our route back via any recently arrived avian attractions. Overnight at St Magnus Bay Hotel.DAY 6 Thursday
The north Mainland – wild and rugged – is one of the most scenically beautiful but under-watched regions for migrant birds in Shetland. The peninsula of Eshaness with its iconic dramatic coastal scenery extends west in to the Atlantic and is a favoured seawatching spot among Shetland birders. Strong onshore winds often produce Sooty Shearwaters and small numbers of skuas, and the sea-spray strewn coastal strip is a favoured haunt of Snow and Lapland Buntings. True ‘tundra’ shorebirds are often found here and in recent years Eshaness has hosted several Buff-breasted Sandpipers along with Baird’s Sandpiper and American Golden Plover. Inland, the many sheltered gardens, small crofts and shelter belts are attractive to migrant passerines and the area has hosted species like Grey-cheeked Thrush from North America and Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler from Siberia. Clearly anything can – and does – turn up here and we have every chance of unearthing a rarity or two ourselves. As we head south back to the Sumburgh area we will once again make any necessary diversions to enjoy recently discovered birds. Overnight at Sumburgh Hotel.DAY 7 Friday
Today we head to Out Skerries - second only to Fair Isle in its ability to attract scarce migrants and vagrants. As with any migrant watching we are somewhat at the mercy of the weather but if we have been fortunate enough to have had some easterly winds during the week then this promises to be the highlight of our trip. Redwings, Song Thrushes and Fieldfares can occur in their hundreds, even thousands, and we should be sure of a good variety of warblers and chats, among which we might hope to find something a little scarcer perhaps a Common Rosefinch, Little Bunting, Red-backed Shrike or a Barred Warbler. The list of vagrants found here in recent autumns is bewildering and includes Lanceolated Warbler, Great Snipe, Citrine Wagtail and Bobolink so we will keep our fingers crossed and eyes open! The ferry trip from Vidlin takes about an hour and a quarter and sea watching from the vessel provides us with a good opportunity of seeing Great Skuas and maybe a Manx or Sooty Shearwater or a Pomarine Skua. If the sea is calm Harbour Porpoise, Risso’s Dolphins and Minke Whales are a possibility. After what we hope will be an exhilarating day, we will return to the Sumburgh Hotel for our farewell dinner. Overnight at Sumburgh.DAY 8 Saturday
After breakfast we will transfer you to Sumburgh Airport or make arrangements for you to travel to your onward destination in Shetland.
Group Size - max 8
2024 Operating Dates
Sat 28th September - Sat 5th October
Sat 5th October - Sat 12th October
Shetland Wildlife is ranked as the 'Number One' wildlife and photography operator in Shetland by the traveller review site TripAdvisor.
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Tour company information
Founded in 1993, we are the No.1 choice for birding, mammal, botanical, photographic and walking holidays in Shetland. Choose from over 40 3-day and 7-day wildlife-filled holidays. Day tours plus bespoke packages also arranged. We are the only award-winning eco-tourism holiday business resident in Shetland and rated as 'Excellent' by our customers on TripAdvisor. Visit us online at www.shetlandwildlife.co.uk
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