A 7-night comprehensive tour of Orkney featuring wildlife, history and scenery based at the delightful Merkister Hotel.
We depart Aberdeen harbour in the late afternoon aboard the cruise-standard Northlink ferry for our evening sailing to Kirkwall, Orkney. En route we may see several species of seabird including Gannets, Fulmars and Arctic Skuas. With luck we may also encounter Harbour Porpoise. and Bottlenose Dolphins. We arrive at Kirkwall and transfer to our country hotel.DAY 2 Sunday - West Mainland
We spend the day in the West Mainland exploring a variety of superb habitats. The Loch of Stenness and nearby Loch of Harray are both nationally important for their populations of wildfowl and although numbers tend to peak in mid winter we will still encounter hundreds of birds including Greater Scaup, Goldeneye, Pochard, Wigeon, Red-breasted Merganser and handsome Long-tailed Ducks. Nearby stand the remnants of the Stones of Stenness - a ring of stones that reach over six metres in height - and the truly spectacular Ring of Brodgar which contains 27 of the original 60 stones and dates back to around 3000 BC. Cottascarth moors and Burgar Hill are famed for their birds of prey due to an abundance of Orkney Voles and we will spend the rest of the morning watching sky-dancing Hen Harriers, Short-eared Owls, Kestrels and with luck, Merlin. Red-throated Divers are also present in the area as are handsome Golden Plovers and Curlews. We continue north and take lunch at 16th Century Earls Palace or, tide permitting, walk out to the Brough of Birsay. In the afternoon we take a leisurely walk to Marwick Head which hosts thousands of Guillemots, Razorbills and Kittiwakes. Returning south we end the day at The Loons RSPB reserve, which is one of the finest marshes in the north of Scotland. No less than seven species of wader and eight species of duck breed here and we should encounter Shoveler, Teal, Wigeon, Pintail, Snipe, Lapwing and Water Rail. With luck we may also be fortunate to see a handful of Black-tailed Godwits in their rich brick-orange summer plumage. After dinner (and weather permitting) there will be an optional excursion to photograph the sunset at the Ring of Brodgar or Standing Stones of Stenness.DAY 3 Monday - Hoy
We take the ferry from Houton across Scapa Flow to the spectacular island of Hoy. En route we should encounter small parties of Great Northern Divers in their impressive summer dress along with Black Guillemots, Long-tailed Ducks and Eiders. Much of Hoy is composed of upper rather than middle old-red sandstones which have been weathered into a complex of steep, craggy and truly impressive hills rising to over 1,500 feet - a landscape unique within Orkney. We head out to the delightful crofting township of Rackwick and from here, follow the coastal footpath to probably the most famous landmark in Orkney - the Old Man of Hoy. The 450 feet high 'Old Man' rises dramatically from the sea and the view of 'him' and St Johns Head from our cliff top vantage point is truly awesome. Hoy is home to one of the largest Great Skua (or 'Bonxie') colonies in the world with over 1,900 pairs breeding on the island along with 200 pairs of Arctic Skuas. We should also find Golden Plovers, Wheatears, Rock Pipits and Arctic Hares.DAY 4 Tuesday - East Mainland
We spend the day exploring the varied habitats of the East Mainland. We search Inganess Bay and the southern edge of Shapinsay Sound for Great Northern, Black-throated and Red-throated Divers, Slavonian Grebes, Velvet Scoters, Long-tailed Ducks and Red-breasted Mergansers. The shoreline is home to large numbers of Turnstone and among them we should find Purple Sandpipers. Loch of Tankerness holds good numbers of freshwater wildfowl and waders may include Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit and Common Sandpiper. Deer Sound is a spring stronghold for Great Northern Divers and its sandy bays at Mill Sound and St Peter's Pool hold an impressive array of waders such as Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Dunlin and Redshank. We'll spend the afternoon on the extreme eastern tip of Mainland visiting Mull Head. The cliffs are home to an array of seabirds including Fulmar, Kittiwake, Razorbill and Guillemot and the maritime heath supports blazes of Spring Squill, Thrift and Birds-foot Trefoil. Further inland the vegetation is largely heather-clad and among the Crowberry, Bell Heather and Ling Heather we may see Short-eared Owls hunting for voles. If we have an east wind with us, we'll check a few migrant hotspots for any recently arrived passerines. We may be lucky enough to encounter Red-backed Shrike, Wryneck, Bluethroat - or something even rarer!DAY 5 Wednesday - Westray
Today, we travel by ferry from Kirkwall to the island of Westray, where we find one of Britain's largest seabird colonies on the cliffs at Noup Head. En route we will see good numbers of both Grey and Harbour Seals and we'll keep a sharp eye out for cetaceans with the diminutive Harbour Porpoise being the most likely. The spectacular cliffs at the Noup are home to up to 45,000 Guillemots, 26,000 Kittiwakes and 1,500 Razorbills along with smaller numbers of Puffins, Fulmars and Black Guillemots. The maritime heath support Wheatears, Meadow and Rock Pipits, Oystercatchers and Golden Plovers and an abundance of wildflowers. Loch of Burness holds Britain's most northerly breeding population of Little Grebes along with a variety of other ducks and waders such as Snipe and Redshank. The beautiful bays at The Ouse and Tuquoy are excellent for migratory waders and we should encounter Bar-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Grey Plover, Curlew, Sanderling and Dunlin. Recently arrived Sandwich, Common and Arctic Terns will be busy displaying overhead. We leave Westray in the late afternoon to sail back to Kirkwall.DAY 6 Thursday - South Ronaldsay
Burwick on South Ronaldsay is the southernmost point in the archipelago, and it boasts a wonderful viewpoint south across the Pentland Firth. John o'Groats and Dunnet Head on the Scottish Mainland seem within touching distance! As well as being a great place to see Shags close up at their nests, Puffins, Gannets and auks are never far away. It's also great sea-watching and cetacean spot: Killer Whales have been recorded on several occasions. Hoxa Head is also worth a visit for its wildlife and military history. Commanding the southern entrance to Scapa Flow, we've seen nine species of cetacean here, and if the sea state is good we will try our best to find the diminutive Harbour Porpoise Puffins and Black Guillemots nest here, Gannets hunt here and raptors patrol regularly - this really is one of Orkney's most special places. Great Northern Divers are also regular offshore. In between we'll visit one of Orkney's strangest woodlands - a natural migrant hotspot - and look for newly arrived flycatchers, shrikes and warblers.DAY 7 Friday - West Mainland & Skara Brae
Today we retrace our steps and head back to the diverse and varied habitats of the West Mainland. Primula scotica, which grows only in Orkney, Caithness and north Sutherland and nowhere else in the World, can be found in scattered colonies on several cliff-tops between Stromness and Yesnaby and we will spend time searching at the latter locality for this botanical gem. Like a miniature, amethyst-coloured polyanthus, it is in bloom from early May. We also visit one of Orkney's most famous antiquities - the ancient village of Skara Brae. Skara Brae is the best preserved Stone Age village in Western Europe and was occupied from 3100 BC to 2500 BC. The villagers are thought to have lived on the shore of a freshwater loch, farming cattle, sheep, possibly deer and also growing arable crops much as today. For millennia it was hidden under the dunes until a sandstorm in 1850 revealed its existence. Nearby we will visit a tiny Sand Martin colony and spend the afternoon once again exploring the superb Loons RSPB reserve and Loch of Stenness. We return to our hotel at Harray for our farewell dinner and then transfer to Kirkwall in the evening to board the south-bound ferry to Aberdeen for our overnight sailing.DAY 8 Saturday - Arrive Aberdeen
We arrive in Aberdeen harbour at 0700 hrs giving plenty of time for onward connections.
Group Size: max 8 travellers
2024 Operating Dates
Sat 27 April - Sat 4th May
We are winners of the Tourism & Environment Thistle Award - the highest accolade in Scottish Tourism - and rated as 'Excellent' by our customers on TripAdvisor.
This business has confirmed that they have implemented, and will ensure ongoing compliance with, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) Safe Travels protocols. The Safe Travels stamp is based on self-assessment and it is not a certification.
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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