Birds of the Shetland Islands

On a recent visit to the Shetland Islands chasing landscapes, I discovered a whole new area of photography that I hadn’t really explored to any great degree previously – bird photography.

Being in the company of an expert in bird and wildlife photography (Hugh Harrop of Shetland Wildlife Tours) meant that some of the skills required were quickly learnt and suddenly a whole new wave of enthusiasm took hold.

Our first encounter occurred within an hour or so of arriving on the island when we were introduced to the fascinating Atlantic Puffin colony located at Sumburgh Head.

Sumburgh Head - Shetland Islands

Sumburgh Head – Shetland Islands

The grassy cliffs dotted with their pretty summer wildflowers made a perfect breeding haven for these fascinating little birds. Spending most of the year in flocks at sea, they make their way to the various islands in the area where they scratch away small burrows in the soft soil high above the waterline.

Tiny burrows dot the cliffs

Tiny burrows dot the cliffs

Nesting pairs can be seen gathering grass to line their nests as they busily go about their task while others come and go with their funny way of landing._GNE0904_GNE1045

_GNE0782With small wings compared to their body size and webbed feet, not unlike that of a duck, their landing approach looks quite clumsy as they come down at a steep angle feet first and often finish with a belly flop.
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Feeding mainly on small fish and sand eels they are able to hold several fish in their beak as they return to feed their young.

_GNE2572Following on from our wonderful time with the Puffins our next bird experience was a visit to the cliffs of the Isle of Noss, another island in the Shetland Group and about an hour offshore.

The sheer rocky cliffs are home to nesting colonies of several species however the Northern Gannets seemed to be the dominant species with Skuas, Black Guillemots and the odd Atlantic Puffin making up the numbers.

Cliffs of the Isle of Noss

Cliffs of the Isle of Noss

Small part of the huge Gannet colony

A small part of the huge Gannet colony

We managed to approach within almost touching distance of the sheer cliff face as the nesting birds watched us with curiosity and a degree of attitude as if to question our presence. Undisturbed, they went about their routine of preening feathers, squabbling over territory and tending their young as the sky was filled with others circling above.

With their noise and constant bombardment of droppings from above, it was an experience to remember for years to come. The following images are just a small sample of the hundreds that we managed to take as we practiced our shooting skills, learning to track and pan a moving subject from a moving boat while attempting to maintain one’s balance.

With landing rights challenged, spectators at rear wait for the outcome.

With landing rights challenged, spectators at rear wait for the outcome.

Northern Gannets with chicks

Northern Gannets with chicks


Greenery gathered for the nest

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Gannet launching from high above the water

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Skua on the wing


Soaring and plunging deep for fish, all a part of their daily life.

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I hope you have enjoyed viewing these images of birds of the Shetlands. There’s much more to come from our visit as I post over the coming weeks, so keep following. Greg

4 comments on “Birds of the Shetland Islands

  1. Jane Clancy says:

    Gorgeous photos. I particularly like the bird shots.

  2. Marg Walton says:

    Fantastic shots Greg!

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