Shetland Nature

Wildlife, Birding & Photography Holidays in the Shetland Islands

Call:  (0)1957 710 000

Tour Leaders

 

Core Team…

Brydon Thomason

A native Shetlander, Brydon grew up on a croft on the beautiful island of Fetlar. Sharing his home island with such an evocative array of birds as Snowy owl, Red-necked phalarope, Red-throated diver and Storm petrel literally on his doorstep, it is little wonder Brydon had a passion for birds from childhood.

From that early age, bird migration in particular fascinated Brydon and quickly became one of his main birding motivations with a predilection for the thrill of finding and identifying rarities around the Isles and there can be no where better to do so!

But it wasn’t just birds that inspired Brydon, Otters and in particular their secretive lives fascinated him from a young age. Learning to track their movements and elusive behaviour through his childhood developed into a life’s passion and helped him build a career as a world renowned otter guide and has featured sharing his knowledge and field skills on several TV documentaries such as BBC1’s Countryfile, ITV’s Alison Steadman’s Shetland and Irish televisions RTE travel program No Frontiers. He has also appeared and worked on various other Shetland natural history documentaries such as Simon Kings Shetland Diaries, Martin Clunnes British Islands and Gordon Buchannan’s search for Killer Whales in Shetland.

Brydon’s interest in his natural environment was inspired and greatly encouraged by his childhood hero and legendary Shetland naturalist, the late Bobby Tulloch.

It was a combination of his experience as a naturalist, his warm personality and a heady blend of pride and passion that led Brydon to establish his wildlife tour company ’Shetland Nature’ in 2006 and build a career around the life he feels so privileged to live. Brydon is a keen photographer and in recent years has led itineraries for some of the top British wildlife photographers such as David Tipling, Peter Cairns, Mark Hamblin, Chris Gomersal, Steve Young and Neil McIntyre.

Over and above a love of the islands and their wildlife is his family life and home on Unst with wife Vaila and two sons Casey and Corey.

Meet Brydon

Gary Bell

Gary’s passion for nature started at a young age, and by the age of 13 he recalls finding his first pod of Killer Whales while seawatching on a family holiday on the west coast of Scotland, a memory as vivid now as it was over 30 years ago. Gary originally moved to Shetland in 1983 and spent most of the remainder of the 1980s on the islands. Leaving to attend college and university in his home town of Edinburgh, Gary was the instigator and editor of the Lothian Bird Report and has served on committees for the Scottish Ornithologists Club, as well being a group leader for them and the RSPB. He has also undertaken ornithological survey work both professionally and voluntarily for the RSPB, BTO and SNH. Employed as an interpretive guide for nearly ten years with The City Of Edinburgh Council, Gary has a rare ability to communicate with a wide audience.

Rob Fray

Rob originates from Leicester, where he was, amongst other things, County Bird Recorder and Chairman of the Leicestershire and Rutland Ornithological Society. He first visited Shetland in 1986 and after many years visiting the islands became a permanent resident in 2007. He is now part of the editorial team that writes the Shetland Bird Report and is jointly responsible for maintaining the Nature in Shetland website.

Rob won the national ‘Young Ornithologist of the Year’ competition (organised by the junior section of the RSPB) in both 1984 and 1985, and since then has been employed in a variety of professional and voluntary capacities relating to wildlife, including recent spells with the RSPB and the Shetland Biological Records Centre. He has been a wildlife tour guide since 2006.

One of his main interests is writing, and Rob has recently written ‘Where to watch birds in the East Midlands’ and ‘The Birds of Leicestershire and Rutland’, both published by A & C Black/Helm. His passion for wildlife is not just restricted to birds, with butterflies, dragonflies and especially moths being particular interests.

Rob is widely travelled, and has visited South and North America, the Caribbean, Asia and large parts of Europe in search of birds and other wildlife.

David Tipling

David has worked as a freelance wildlife photographer since 1992. Birds have been a passion of David’s since childhood and so it is no surprise that these are the focus of his work. David has written and been the commissioned photographer for more than 40 books on birds and wildlife photography, including the best selling RSPB Guide to Digital Wildlife Photography. He has collaborated with some of the UK’s leading nature writers including Jonathan Elphick and Mark Cocker. It is with Mark that he is currently working on Birds & People the world’s largest survey of cultural attitudes to birds worldwide and is in association with BirdLife and Random House Publishers. David is one of the most widely published wildlife photographers in the world. His pictures have been used on hundreds of book and magazine covers, regularly on TV and in just about every other conceivable way from wine labels to being projected in New York’s Time Square. Sir David Bellamy has described David’s pictures as “windows of wonder”.

Recent TV appearances have included a short film on photographing Nightjars with Chris Packham which was featured on Springwatch, with further recent appearances on Anglia TV again featuring photographic subjects within Norfolk. In 2009 along with co presenter Chris Gomersall he once again appeared in front of the camera for the Wildlife Photography Masterclass DVD. David’s work has won him many awards such as European Nature Photographer of the Year Documentary Award, multiple wins of BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year and Nature’s Best where most recently in 2009 David was awarded the Indigenous Cultures Award for his work on Mongolian Eagle Hunters. In 2008 he was named as one of the worlds top 50 wildlife photographers by Digital Photography Magazine. David is a regular judge for photography competitions, notably British Birds Bird Photographer of the Year and the International Wild Bird Photographer of the Year. He is photographic consultant for British Birds Magazine and writes a regular monthly column for East Anglia’s biggest selling paper the Eastern Daily Press in which he showcases local wildlife in pictures.

Chris Rodger

Chris Rodger

Chris has been a keen birdwatcher since childhood. He became hooked on the birds of Scottish Islands when studying breeding tysties on Papa Westray (Orkney) as a Zoology undergraduate in the summers of 1995-6. This passion for island birds has taken Chris to work as warden and ranger on many islands such as Hoy, Rum, Islay, and Arran, and regularly visit many others. None, however, quite combine all the ingredients that Shetland offers and after working on Unst as Hermaness warden in 2000 and then Ranger on Fair Isle in 2001, Chris has returned to Shetland every year since, including researching an MSc dissertation on diving seabirds in Bluemull Sound in 2014. Following several years working as warden at the RSPB’s Vane Farm reserve, Chris now works throughout Scotland as a freelance ornithological consultant.

Martin Garner

Described by Dominic Mitchell as ‘requiring excitement management’, Martin has been married to Sharon for 20 years and they have 2 teenage daughters, Emily and Abigail. He has been birding since he was 11 years old (a long time ago!), he has always been interested in thinking outside the box, an approach to life which has lead him to finding the first Caspian Gulls in Britain. He is currently a member of the British Birds Rarities Committee, an identification consultant for Birding World magazine and formerly identification consultant for BWPi. He is the director of the Free Spirit Trust, a Christian Charity involved in bringing transformation to tough situations in Sheffield and Rwanda as well as coaching leaders in mission and in the business community. He has published many papers on identification and his first full book ‘Frontiers in Birding’ has just sold out. He loves wild places, new discoveries and trying to inspire other people to reach their full potential in life.

Tim Appleton

Tim Appleton was deputy curator at Slimbridge before becoming the Reserve Manager at Rutland Water Nature Reserve. For the past 35 years, he has been responsible for the creation and development of this outstanding inland reserve (now a SSSI, Ramsar site and SPA).

Tim has had a life-long interest in birds, especially wetland species. This interest has taken him to almost all corners of the globe, to both watch and study birds.

Co-founder of the British Birdwatching Fair Tim also leads wildlife holidays all over the world. Tim was the originator of the translocation project of Osprey to England from Scotland. Vice-president of the BOU, received the Christopher Cadbury medal for Nature Conservation in 1999 and was awarded an honorary degree – Master of Science – by University of Leicester in recognition of contribution to wildlife conservation and in 2004 Tim was awarded the MBE.

Rebecca Nason

After graduating with a BSc Hons Degree in Geography & Environmental Studies Rebecca undertook a Certificate in Ornithology at Cambridge & an MSc in Conservation Management. She has been an Ecologist & passionate Ornithologist for the past 16 years. This has included working for the RSPB, Wildlife Trust for West Wales and Fair Isle Bird Observatory. She became a freelance Ecologist & Bird Photographer in 2006 after an exceptional two years spent as Assistant Warden and Seabird Monitoring Officer on Fair Isle.

Rebecca has spent her spare time travelling, birding, bird ringing and developing her bird photography skills. She gained her BTO ‘C’ ringing permit in 2007 and helps survey & monitor various breeding & wintering birds voluntarily. She is also a Full member of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM). She became an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society in 2011, her natural history images have been published in hundreds of books, journals & magazines. Rebecca is represented by several photographic agencies and art galleries. A keen designer, she was recently commissioned to produce a large range of bird & marine themed stationary for the Shetland Amenity Trust’s Sumburgh Head development.

Rebecca moved permanently to Lerwick, Shetland in Autumn 2013 with her partner Phil. As well as freelance ecological survey work & bird photography, she leads wildlife and photographic trips throughout Shetland & abroad, keen to share her passion for birds, wildlife and photography with others.

Micky Maher

Micky is a tour leader and ecologist based in Newcastle-upon Tyne. He spent ten years living on Shetland where he was the county bird recorder between 2003 and 2007, he was also the secretary for the islands records committee and an active member of the Sea Mammal group. Over the passed 18 years Micky has worked for Britain’s leading conservation organisations on various projects and a former warden of Noss National Nature Reserve and North Isles ranger for the Shetland Amenity Trust. Micky has always been fascinated by the natural world and his diverse knowledge ranges from birds, cetaceans, botany and bees! He loves foreign travel and has embarked on natural history adventures on five continents including long-term studies of passerines, seabirds and turtles in the Seychelles. Micky remembers leading his first ever group at the age of 17 and says the proudest moment in his life so far was being best man for Brydon and Vaila at their wedding in 2008!

Vaila Thomason

Vaila, a local lass, hails from the island of Unst. She married Brydon in 2008 on the beach in Fetlar, where they now live with their son Casey. Vaila feels the stunning surroundings and incredible wildlife along with her family certainly influenced her early years; she studied biology at Edinburgh University and graduated with an Honours degree in Zoology in 2002. She has travelled extensively, whilst at university she went to Indonesia as a conservation volunteer and took part in “Reef Check” a global survey of coral reef conditions and after university Vaila took her “obligatory” year out, taking in Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand, all the while searching out the local wildlife highlights from swimming with Manatees in Florida to swimming with whale sharks in Australia.

In 2005, a lifelong ambition to see penguins and polar bears (not at the same time) was achieved when she took an enviable job aboard the RV Akademic Ioffe taking tourists to the polar regions. Her first season was spent in the Canadian Arctic, sailing between Baffin Island and Greenland, followed by a season in the Antarctic, South America, the Falklands and South Georgia, an experience she will never forget.

Iain Robertson

Iain first came to Shetland in 1968 to work for the RSPB on Fetlar where he worked with the late Bobby Tulloch protecting the breeding Snowy Owls. He co-founded the Shetland Bird Club in 1973 and went on to become warden of Portland and then Fair Isle Bird Observatories. He served on the British Birds Rarities Committee and has published numerous articles on bird identification in a variety of journals. After Fair Isle he became a full-time wildlife tour-leader and has visited fifty-three countries and all seven continents. He spent two seasons monitoring seabirds on Unst and undertook various surveys of Whimbrel, Red-throated Divers and other breeding birds in Shetland. He has a keen interest in cetaceans and was a committee member of the Shetland Cetacean Group. His enthusiasm for Shetland and its wildlife is still as strong as when he first came to live on the islands as a teenager.

Deryk Shaw

Deryk is a recent addition to our team, following his ‘retirement’ after 12 years as the Warden of Fair Isle Bird Observatory. He still lives on the fabled island though with his wife, Hollie, and their four children. He was introduced to nature at a very young age by his father – a keen naturalist – and grew up in the wilds of Galloway, where he would spend many hours observing the local birds and finding nests for his father to ring the chicks. Always interested in the conservation and research side of ornithology, he joined the BTO and qualified as a licensed bird ringer whilst still in his teens. Either side of a zoology degree he held several ornithological research posts, including a three-year stint at Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory, where he met his future wife. Deryk and Hollie moved to Fair Isle in 1999 to take up the enviable roles in charge of the world famous Bird Observatory. His reign was filled with glorious birding, including three firsts for Britain and climaxed with overseeing the building of the new observatory and guiding it through its first season. Now a Fair Isle crofter, ferryman, fireman, coastguard cliff technician, roads worker and aerogenerator engineer, he is pleased to be able to still find time to show people the delights of birding Fair Isle with Shetland Nature Tours.

Helen Moncrieff

Shetlander Helen Moncrieff grew up in the South Mainland of Shetland where she now lives and works as RSPB Scotland’s South Shetland Warden and Education Coordinator. Helen proudly feels fortunate to have been brought up with an appreciation for the ways of Shetlands nature and our relationship with it. It was during her time volunteering to help with the Braer oil spill clean up operation that she decided that working in conservation was to be her future. Graduating with a University of East Anglia BSc in Conservation Management from Otley College in Suffolk she then spent a short while in Cape May NJ but like so many Shetlanders was drawn back to the magic of the isles. After working as a warden for the RSPB she then spent a two years working as the Biodiversity Action Plan Officer before beginning her current post. Helen’s knowledge, passion and enthusiasm for the isles has led her to feature in and assist with wildlife documentaries about Shetland, she is also a very active committee member and Secretary for the Shetland Bird Club. Along with her passion for the natural world Helen is also a keen diver.

Chris Gomersall

Professional wildlife photographer for nearly 30 years, formerly RSPB staff photographer. Winner of numerous international awards, including GDT European Wildlife Photographer of the Year in 2007. Author of Photographing Wild Birds. Chris has led specialist wildlife photography tours all over the world, and works as a training partner with Nikon (UK) Ltd. Studied red-throated divers in Shetland for three years and has visited the islands many times since for photography.

Collaborating with…

Richard Shucksmith

Richard Shucksmith is an awarding winning photographer and an ecologist who is fascinated by the natural world. Inquisitive by nature he love’s being outside following, watching and observing animal behaviour.

Allen Fraser

Allen Fraser grew up on a croft on the Shetland island of Yell. After a career in the Met. Office he took early retirement to set up Shetland Geotours, a tour guiding business specialising in the landscape, geology, history and archaeology of Shetland.

Allen knew that the scenery of Shetland is not only stunning but is also full of interest in its own right so deserved much wider attention. With this in mind he was instrumental in having Shetland recognised as a UNESCO Global and European Geopark in 2009.

As well as guiding tours on the landscape, archaeology, history and culture of Shetland he has designed and led week-long geological field excursions on Shetland for many groups and organisations. In the past he has led field excursions for the Open University Geological Society; The Geologists Association; The Edinburgh Geological Society; The Woolhope Field Club; The Cumberland Geological Society; U3A; etc. He has also have written various articles on Shetland geology and is on the editorial committee of the Shetland Naturalist and an advisor to Geopark Shetland.

Allen has also been an advisor to TV production teams on Shetland for programmes such as: BBC/OU ‘Tower People of Shetland; BBC/OU ‘Coast'; BBC Scotland ‘Making Scotland’s Landscape’ and has guided teams working for international TV companies such as Globo TV (Brazil) and TF1 (France).

James Tait

James Tait. Photo by Ben Mullay.

James Tait grew up in a crofting community in the South Mainland of Shetland where his family has lived and worked the land for several generations. James returned to Shetland immediately after university to train and work as an accountant however he decided this was not the career he wanted to pursue for the rest of his life full time.

Interests in the outdoors and nature has led James into tour guiding with “Island Trails”, first as an employee and then from 2012 as the business owner. James enjoys planning bespoke tours to fit customer’s individual requirements and interests with an emphasis on the unique history and culture of Shetland. He is also a committee member of the Shetland Tourism Association.

James is involved in agriculture running the family croft with his father and brother where they keep a flock of just over a hundred sheep. In addition to the guiding James likes to be outdoors walking and bird watching in his spare time. He also enjoys photography, reading and anything to do with the traditional life and dialect of Shetland.

Supporting cast and contributors…

Roger Riddington

Roger Riddington lives with his wife Agnes in the south part of Mainland Shetland. His full time job, as editor of the journal British Birds, keeps him indoors too much, but the ability to work from home overlooking the famous Pool of Virkie is a major recompense. Following a summer spent in 1992, as seabird officer at Fair Isle Bird Observatory he was truly hooked and made a full-time move to Shetland in March 1994. Following four years as the warden on Fair Isle he worked for three years as manager of Shetland Biological Records Centre, before taking up his post with British Birds. He has been birding for over 30 years, and his main interests are seabirds and migration – perfect for a Shetland Nature Guide! He has guided many trips in Shetland, and further afield, including Galapagos, and is well travelled in Europe and beyond.

Rory Tallack

Rory Tallack has lived in Shetland since the age of 8, enabling him to build up an intimate knowledge of the islands. A relative latecomer to birding, he became hooked during his two seasons working as Ranger at the Fair Isle Bird Observatory. Such an unrivaled introduction to birding, coupled with mentoring from step father Roger Riddington, soon fuelled his knowledge and passion for birds. Rory has travelled extensively in Europe, North and South America, Asia and Australasia but has finally settled in Unst, the most northerly of the Shetland Isles. Here he holds the post of North Shetland Ranger, a job which has allowed his interest in Shetland’s diverse natural heritage to extend far beyond his love of birds, with botany in particular coming a close second.

Juan Brown

Juan has worked in conservation for the past 18 years. He was warden on the Farne Islands in Northumberland, before moving to Shetland in 1998. Half way through the second season as warden on Noss, a career opportunity presented itself, and he spent the following eight and half years as Warden on the Welsh island of Skomer. At the end of 2007 Juan followed the pull back to Shetland, settling down with his partner Jane and young daughter Martha in their house overlooking the isle of Mousa. Following a season wardening Mousa and Sumburgh Head for the RSPB, he now works for Scottish Natural Heritage in Lerwick, visiting his beloved Noss as often as possible. In addition to a wealth of general natural history knowledge, Juan is a keen birder with a track record of rarity finding.

Paul French

Paul’s introduction to Shetland came with YOC trips to Fair Isle in the summers of 1995 and 1996. Quickly becoming hooked with the heady mix of stunning scenery and seabirds, he vowed to return as assistant warden on Fair Isle as soon as he was old enough. This ambition came to fruition during the seasons of 2001 and 2002. After two successful seasons on Fair Isle he spent two seasons as RSPB Assistant Warden on Fetlar, followed by a season at Sumburgh Head. He is currently a warden of the RSPB’s Lincolnshire Wash reserves. Paul is a member of both the Lincolnshire and British Birds rarities committees and has published articles on identification in both Brithish Birds and Birding World. His passion for birds and wildlife has taken him to thirteen countries on four continents.

Andy Foote

Andy has been involved in research on cetaceans for the past decade. He studied killer whale vocal behaviour for his Masters at the University of Durham between 2002 and 2005. Andy is currently finishing up his PhD on the ecology of killer whales in the Northeast Atlantic at the University of Aberdeen and is the co-founder of the North Atlantic Killer Whale ID project. This work has included cataloguing over 100 individual whales through photo-identification around Scotland. This project was awarded a Shetland Environment Award in 2008. Andy has worked on a number of other marine mammals species such as minke whales, bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins, grey seals, harbour seals and harbour porpoise and in such diverse locations as the Aleutian and Pribalof Islands, Vancouver Island, Scotland, Norway, Greece and Wales. Andy’s work has been published in several high profile scientific journals including Nature, Biology Letters, Molecular Ecology and Evolutionary Ecology and has been covered by the media on the BBC, CBC, in the Times, New York Times, Telegraph and the Guardian.

Volker Deecke

Volker was born in Germany and raised in Austria, but has lived most of his life abroad. He started studying biology in Berlin, but soon transferred to Vancouver where he completed a masters degree investigating the evolution of vocal dialects in resident (fish-eating) killer whales. He received his doctorate from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland focused on the vocal behaviour of transient (mammal-eating) killer whales in British Columbia and Alaska and the response of harbour seals to killer whale calls. After post-doctoral research at the University of British Columbia, Dr. Deecke returned to St. Andrews where he is currently a research fellow at the Sea Mammal Research Unit studying the behaviour of killer whales in Scottish waters. Volker’s speciality is underwater acoustics and he has all the technological gadgets tfor eavesdropping on the underwater communications of whales, dolphins and seals. In addition, Volker is interested in all aspects of animal behaviour and even knows a thing or two about plants.

Phil Harris

Phil Harris

Phil originally hails from Manchester but has moved around with his job as a Firefighter for the past 20 years, firstly with the RAF abroad and on Unst and later as a full-time and retained Firefighter in Hertfordshire & Crew Manager in Suffolk. Phil has been a passionate birder since a youth and spends all his spare time birding and bird ringing. He is a highly experienced bird ringer and holds both an ‘A’ permit & trainer license, he is also a keen ‘nest finder’ and voluntarily monitors many breeding birds for the BTO & RSPB. Phil moved to Shetland permanently last Summer after spending over a decade visiting the Isles several times a year birding, particularly on Fair Isle. He is now a Firefighter at Sumburgh Airport and a member of the Shetland Rarities Committee & Shetland Bird Ringing Scheme. Along with his partner Rebecca, Phil has led birdwatching & natural history trips for the past 8 years to the Greek Island of Lesvos as well as on Shetland & Fair Isle. Phil’s enthusiasm & experience in the field make him a popular & natural guide.