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Photo Diary of a Bespoke Photo-tour Itinerary in Shetland

Posted by Brydon Thomason on Thursday 28th November 2013 | News

Lenka Gondova and Stefan Kordos from Slovakia joined us for bespoke photo-tour in early July and share a photo diary of their week in Shetland…

Arrival- Puffins, puffins, puffins!

With no sign of any of the fog that had prevented us from landing on the Islands the previous day, we took advantage of the lovely weather and enjoyed our encounter with the puffins and the wonderful view from Sumburgh Head. The first pictures of these puffins made us very happy as we could not wait to see them again after having photographed them in Norway in 2009. After a pleasant drive through beautiful countryside and the city of Lerwick, Garry Bell took us to the ferry station, where we met Brydon Thomason, our host, guide and pleasant company for our week on Shetland.

Beautiful first morning

Photo by Lenka Gondova.

Our new home for the week was the luxurious cottage, The Shetland Nature Lodge with a breathtaking view of the fjord and sandy beach. Even though rain had been forecast the night before, we woke up to sunshine that lit the green meadows on the opposite hills under a dark dramatic sky. We quickly grabbed the camera and began shooting this fascinating landscape before it disappeared and the weather forecast came true.

More puffins

Lenka and Stefan.

Brydon took us to see more puffins, this time on Unst, the most northern island in the Shetlands archipelago. Slowly walking up the hill with all our equipment to where the cliffs of Hermaness, it was difficult to know what we were enjoying more: the lovely views of “our” house looking back from the reserve to the other side of the fjord or the nesting great skuas or the colorful grass and lichen under our feet next to the wooden path.

Our reward for this short walk was a fantastic vista from the top of the hill, full of puffin nests. Where the rocks met the ocean deep down under our feet, we could see flying gannets searching for fish. Many hours were spent here enjoying the beloved puffins then we moved just around the corner to behold an unbelievable colony of gannets.

After a successful day, we had a taste of the Shetland Islands cuisine and found it delicious. Everybody here was so kind to us; an unbelievable warm welcome from the local people eating at the restaurant in the Baltasound Hotel!

Skua Day

Today Brydon planned to be “skua” day. We had a wonderful experience seeing them at a special great skua habitat, where they were gathering in large flocks at close range. Interaction between the Great Skua birds was exciting entertainment and made great photo opportunities for half the day. The afternoon Brydon took us to work on bathing Arctic Skua from his purpose built blind/hide next to a fresh water loch, where arctic skuas and other birds usually land to have a bath, which again provided excellent opportunity to photograph exciting behavior.

On the way back to the accommodation, Brydon took us to Skaw beach, at the northeast of Unst Island. Arriving at the beach and when we got to there we could not believe our eyes, there were gannets fishing just next to the shore! We quickly climbed to some rocks on the beach to get a good view and enjoy this spectacular show.

The alchemy of Otter spotting

Photographing otters. Photo by Brydon Thomason.

What alchemy is to find the Otter! Today we were very happy to hear from Brydon that the conditions would be very good for viewing otters. The low tide would also be in our favor to allow us a really good chance to encounter some otters. Brydon took a detour to scan a couple of sites before he finally started pointing down to the bay saying, “Yes, there they are, a family – a mother and two cubs!”  We could hardly believe him because the only thing we could see through the binoculars was some tiny dots down in the water.  Down there in the water was the family of otters we would never had discovered without Brydon. Brydon’s top expertise allowed us to get very close to the three otters, enough to have the privilege to take some detailed pictures and videos of these lovely creatures and to watch them without disturbing them at all. They were playing in the kelp, marking their territory, fishing in the water and swimming back to the bank to eat the fish they had caught.  After a while, they left the water and headed toward the opposite side of the bay.

Later in the day on Unst we visited the recently opened Café by the Muness Castle, again receiving an unbelievable warm welcome, this time from Maxi saving our lives with hot tea, hot coffee and tasty sandwiches, as we usually forget to eat and drink while we are looking for animals to photograph.

Never enough Otters

Photo by Stefan Kardos (Slovakia)

Lenka and Stefan photographing Otters.

Lenka and Brydon.

“Would you like to see some more otters, guys?” Brydon asked us next morning. We naturally replied:  “Let’s go!” as there would never be too much otters for us. The flowering Flag Iris like Yellow daffodils move in the wind and old walls from Viking times emphasized the quiet, ancient atmosphere surrounding us while Brydon scanned… suddenly, he jumped and whispered excitedly to us that one of the otters had caught a fish. After spending a long time with its meal, the otter slipped back into the water and swam toward the middle of the bay. Now we could start breathing again.

Shark! Shark!

Brydon checks the bay to see if the family of otters from yesterday was still somewhere nearby. Stefan suddenly announced that he had seen two seals through his binoculars. Brydon checked the scene and suddenly shouted “It’s a basking shark!” What Stefan had observed was not two seals but the front and back parts of an enormous basking shark! On the way back, we saw the otter family again fishing in the middle of the bay. Taking a detour to avoid disturbing a tern colony we watched as they sat tight on their nests, while oystercatchers also screeched loudly the rocks and moor that belonged to them.

Before returning to the car, we once more enjoyed the otters by lying behind a rock that had a good view of the otter family. The mother was swimming closer toward us where she reached the rock just in front of where we were hiding and watching her. She called to her cubs and again the family were soon reunited. The cubs came out of the water to join their mother on the shore.  We were watching them playing and resting until a sudden splash from a seal made them jump back into the safety of water.  All the way back to the car we could not believe how lucky we had been today.

And puffins again

Lenka and puffins at Hermaness.

This was going to be our last full day for photography, even though the forecast did not look very favorable, with low clouds, thick fog and rain. We hiked once more toward where the great skua site, hoping the weather would perhaps clear up on the hill, but it did not. Thick fog with low visibility and no light still gave us a good opportunity, however, to photograph the skuas in flight, panning over their path in the sky. The quick movements exhibited by the skuas allowed us to pan them quite well. Heavy rain then forced us to return to the cottage so we could dry up a bit. We decided afterward to climb up to where the puffins once more at Hermaness in order to say at least goodbye to them despite the weather.

Lenka and Sefan at Hermaness.

But we had not even reached the middle of the hill before the clouds were blown away by the wind and the sky in front of us was again clear. So in the end we got to enjoy a hot, sunny evening with the puffins! The conditions were so good that Brydon suggested he would call the restaurant to cancel our dinner – we agreed with excitement, we stayed with the puffins until late in the evening :)

The following day we had to wake up early to catch the plane back to Edinburgh. What a week we had and what joys of nature we experienced! In Edinburgh we spent another day at its famous zoo, though in really hot weather – 28°C compared to the pleasant 14°C temperature we had enjoyed in the Shetlands.  Yet this turned out to be good practice for the hot summer we were going to return home to – 39°C.

“What a wonderful week we have had. The wildlife photography here is an excellent experience that was beyond any of our dreams! The expertise of Brydon’s guiding made us easy reach all of our targeted species to encounter, enjoy and photograph. On top of this wonderful experience was this marvellous house- The Shetland Nature Lodge where we felt at home from the first night.
Thank you so much for a great holiday above all our expectations :)
Lenka Gondova & Stefan Kordos– Slovakia

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