2023 Summer Season Summary

Posted by Brydon Thomason on Monday 16th October 2023 | News

As our core 2023 season winds down, the autumnal gales presently hammering the isles and with only Otter photography and day-tours remaining throughout October and November, it feels like a good time to share some highlights. All in all, it has been a tremendous season. It was particularly special to see travel and enthusiasm to enjoy, truly feel back to normal. One of the greatest joys of this year has been the relief to see our seabirds, namely Great Skua and Northern Gannet, free from the despair of last year’s Avian flu pandemic, though it was heartbreaking to see the continued impact at many other colonies further south.

We must begin by thanking everyone who has travelled with us over the past six months, on our holidays, photo-tours and day trips and from all over the world – without you, none of us here at Shetland Nature could do the jobs we love so much – thank you.

Sightings and highlights

As is so wonderful about Shetland, this season’s highlights came in all forms – feathered, finned, furred and flowering! We enjoyed some wonderful wildlife, with our team always doing the utmost for everyone and all levels to enjoy each encounter. On the birding front there was plenty of entertainment through our target, Shetland iconic, (and of course, the common) breeding birds but also many surprises. From the excitement of discovering Britain’s twelfth ever Pacific Diver on our Spring Birding itinerary through a whole host of vagrants enjoyed throughout the season, there was much to be learned and enjoyed.

It has been a great season for cetaceans, with many memorable moments, particularly with the most wanted, Orca. We felt truly privileged to enjoy encounters on so many tours again this season. A much more unexpected sea mammal highlight was a pod of three Northern Bottle Nosed Whales, which were only the second sighting in Shetland’s waters, following our discovery of the first just last year. Humpback were also recorded, with more expected sightings of Minke Whale, Risso’s and White-beaked Dolphin and not forgetting plenty of Harbour Porpoise.

Always seeking to share knowledge across the varied interests of our naturalist guides, we always strive to enjoy many other aspects of Shetland’s diverse natural heritage and enjoyed Nature’s more intricate beauty, from botany to bugs – even exploring some lichens and fungi!

Red Admirals arrived in Britain this summer in vast numbers, and Shetland enjoyed its fair share of the influx, with many hundreds seen daily during the peak of this impressive migratory event.

Jon discovered Shetland’s second-ever record of Common Twayblade, an orchid that is anything but common this far north in Britain. Or maybe it’s always been here, and just overlooked – it flowers very late in the season, so perhaps it’s gone unnoticed for decades. We’ll be keeping an eye out for more in 2024.

But as always, it has been Shetland’s Otters, and the encounters and overall experiences we offer that have enthralled the most. Otters are absolutely the species we are best known for and true to form, this season was no exception. We are proud to say that encounters were enjoyed on all our dedicated Otter day tours and photography assignments as well as our week-long core season holidays. What better way to share this than through just some of our tour participants images.

Tour participants otter images by Kenny Ramsey, Tony Davidson, and Stuart Hardy.

Our featured celebrity tour collaborations

It was such a pleasure and laugh, (for us and our guests!) to have Iolo Williams and Kate Humble continue to collaborate on their own tours with us. For Iolo, this was his sixth itinerary with us and although it may have been his last tour with us here on the isles, watch this space for a new venture we are working on together…

It was our second year running our Wild and Woolly Tour with Kate in early spring and we are already looking forward to next year’s trip. But, we also have a new tour launching in January 2024 for Up Helly Aa, which before we have even uploaded it, is already fully booked!

Continued FIVE STAR Visit Scotland accolade awarded

Having first been awarded the prestigious Five Star Wildlife Experience accolade by Visit Scotland in 2014, we are very proud to still continue this top level of tour experience. We are graded, via a ‘secret shopper’ every other year, never knowing which tour, when or who will be leading. Several of the team have unknowingly, (until after their tour) have had the responsibility, starting with Brydon in 2014, with Gary Bell, Martha Smith and now this year, Jon Dunn doing us, themselves and Shetland proud – massive thanks to them all for maintaining such a high level of experience and care to our tour participants.

This feels like the perfect time to thank our team of outstanding tour leaders and naturalists, amongst which there are a couple of new faces including Pete Ellis, Dave Pullan, Tesni Ward, Laurie Goodlad, Colleen Flaws and Glen Tyler. Massive thanks especially to our core team Josh Jaggard, James Rogerson, Jon Dunn, Paul Harvey and John Moncrief, extended on to David Tipling, Kevin Morgans, James Tait, Chris Dyer and Chris Roger. And of course, keeping us all on track, Susanah Parnaby our office manager. Without the efforts and expertise of everyone we would not be the company we are, or offer the experiences we do. Thanks guys! Christmas party promised….

On a similar note, you can check out our ‘Traveler’s Choice Award’ and what our tour participants say on our TripAdvisor page.

Collaborating tour companies

Our collaborative and team spirited approach are hugely important elements to us as a tour company. It was great to welcome Natures Images, Yorkshire Coast Nature and Contrées Sauvages as well as new collaborators, Zoom Photo Tours and Wildpix Travel and are very much looking forward to continuing these and further partnerships from Spain, Austria and Germany in 2024.

Should you or your organisation be interested in something similar in 2024, be your interest Birdwatching, photography or cultural heritage, we would love to hear from you contact us.

Supporting Rewilding: Scotland The Big Picture & Carbon Neutral Britain

We are a carbon neutral business

Supporting rewilding - our journey to becoming a nature positive business

Accommodation & Excursions

Probably the most important element to the experience we offer is our accommodation providers, staff and hospitality and so we once again say a massive thank you to everyone at The Sumburgh and St Magnus Bay Hotels who both go above and beyond on every tour, as do Gord Guest House on Fetlar, for everyone – thank you all!

Equally, the boat tour excursions to both Noss and Mousa truly are exceptional. We are extremely grateful to Shetland Seabird Tours and Mousa Boats – their seamanship, knowledge and enthusiasm make every excursion a standout highlight – thanks guys!

And for smaller group tours we are so appreciative to ‘the Janes’ for their outstanding cuisine and hospitality, BoordaNoost Lodge for such a wonderful venue and the many other accommodation providers we have used this season.

And last but by no means least, Shetland Rural Experience, Burra Bears, Joanna Hunter Knitwear and Hjaltadance for many a fine tune and enthralling yarn!

Book your Shetland experience for 2024

We are already looking forward to 2024, and the encounters, and experiences it brings – we hope you will be among them! Get in touch or browse our holidays and photo tours to find the holiday that suits you best.

New Book

And lastly, I have some exciting news. After many, many years in the making, my new book ‘WILD SHETLAND – THROUGH THE SEASONS’, will be out in November. All going well and on target, publication date should be 18th November. I shall share more information and details in a blogpost and on my social media over the next week or two – but it will be out in plenty time for Christmas!