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Wild Shetland: Scotland’s Viking Frontier – Behind the scenes
Posted by Brydon Thomason on Wednesday 23rd January 2019 | Brydon's Shetland Nature Blog, News, TV Appearances
Wild Shetland – Scotland’s Viking Frontier
BBC One Scotland – Wednesday 23rd January 2019, 9pm
For the last 12 years there hasn’t been a season go by that we haven’t worked on, or featured in TV productions about Shetland. We feel truly humbled by this and see it as a privilege which we do with genuine pride for Shetland, our way of life and especially our natural history.
But this one is really special. From the moment we first met with Maramedia producer, Jackie Savery, myself and Richard Shucksmith put our heart and souls in to help make the film be everything Shetlands wildlife deserved it to be! We were already well aware of their impressive portfolio of award winning films such as ‘Highlands – Scotland’s Wild Heart’ and ‘Hebrides – life on the edge’, we knew this would be the real deal.
The team we worked with were fantastic, making our jobs all the more enjoyable. Cameramen such as Raymond Besant, Justin Purefoy and Fergus Gill were not only exceptional behind the lens but true gents and better still, great craic too.
The whole team at Maramedia deserve a mention and high praise, from the researching through to the final edits as do Fraser Purdie for the music and indeed Ewan McGregor for the narration – bringing a touch of Hollywood to the production!
The whole film making process is fascinating and extremely emotive. Everyone gets on the same page and gives it their all. Each of us, with our respective areas of expertise collaborating and coming together with ideas and solutions to get the best out of every shoot.
As well as facilitating and advising on many aspects of the film, our main role was as otter consultants and field guides. This was a dream assignment for us – to work on a family from their first few weeks of venturing out of their natal holt, through to the eventual family separation. We work on otters week in, week out throughout the seasons and especially for projects like these, need to know what they are doing, where and when.
It’s crucial we get the crew in the right place at the right time. But there is a balance between what the team might want; what will look good on screen, what’s possible – but most importantly, making sure the wildlife comes first – that is our primary responsibility.
It has to be said here that the Maramedia team were respectful of this at every stage and we were impressed by this from the outset. Many production companies want to push things, which never works with us but they have a very good and responsible understanding of this.
The standard of wildlife film making has moved on to an astonishing level in recent years through the combination of technology and indeed tenacity. Each new documentary series reaches new heights in how wildlife is filmed and brought to our screens and now, through this fantastic film Shetland will stand out like never before.
Many of the sequences shot are truly unique, never having been filmed in Britain before and I am especially pleased for Richard to have some incredible footage in the film as well as a stunning timelapse done by Rob Brookes. It was also great to have Shetland Seabird Tours involved for the Noss Gannet sequences.
This film is a beautiful, exciting and inspiring celebration of Shetland, its wildlife, cultural heritage and natural beauty. It is the result of many individuals and professionals committing whole heartedly to have made it what it is and we, like everyone involved are extremely proud – we hope it’s as much fun to watch as it was to make!
BBC Springwatch back on Shetland – 2018
Posted by Brydon Thomason on Wednesday 30th May 2018 | Brydon's Shetland Nature Blog, News, TV Appearances
BBC Springwatch were back again for their third time to share or wild secrets with the nation and once again, we were thrilled to be involved.
It was particularly exciting series for us working as otter consultants/guides as Josh Jaggard, on his fourth season working with us here worked as one of their main cameramen. It was pretty cool for myself and Richard Shucksmith to be out with him on that assignment, especially given that’s what each of us do for our clients.
Working together we managed to get some good footage over the few days, perhaps the best of it was Josh’s sequence of a dog and bitch mating! Quite unique behaviour to see in the field let alone film.
The bar was raised when the series producer Stuart Armstrong asked us, “do you think we could get otters on screen for the live show”? A challenge it might certainly be, the tides especially were not ideal but we pulled it off, regardless of how far off in the bay it was!
It was fascinating working on the live show. Intense and exciting with no room for error or the nation knows! But nonetheless, everyone knows their role and what needs done and just gets on with it – it’s what they do!
As always the team and everyone we met were really good to work with, particularly Stuart and the presenter Gillian and Gretta the assistant producer.
I was really surprised to be asked to do a piece to camera about my my love for Birding my local patch, Halligarth right next door to our home. As the most northerly woodland in UK, amidst such a diversity of treeless habitat, annually attracting many exciting migrants it did actually make a nice feature. It turned out to make pretty cool short film and although never a massive fan of onscreen appearances, I was really pleased they pursued the idea – especially as I managed to get the whole family to appear on screen with me, all be it briefly!
2016 Shetland Autumn Birding review, part one
Posted by Brydon Thomason on Friday 25th November 2016 | Birding in Shetland, News
A review of our Autumn Birding season; part 1, in association with Birdwatch Magazine & Birguides
This season our core birding weeks, led by Rob Fray and Gary Bell, as usual ran over the last week of September and first week of October however we had itineraries running through to third week in October. It goes without saying this year that it has been The most epic of autumns and therefore by far our most exciting to date. We were delighted to welcome a good balance of both new and regular SN customers, some of which just can’t miss a single autumn for fear of what they might miss and this year that was a very, very wise decision!
Week one was for the most part frustratingly dominated with westerlies and Atlantic low pressure systems, bringing with it quite a lot of rain and not so many birds, at least compared to the following week! It’s not to say it was without highlights though, with birds already present and new ones arriving when the weather finally changed, there were plenty.
It’s crazy to say it but over a week that often saw very difficult birding conditions, with strong winds and lashing rain the list of birds on Shetland over the week was more than impressive, to name but a few of the rarities; Pallid Harrier, Olive-backed Pipit; Paddyfield, Arctic and Radde’s Warblers however probably the most enjoyable/obliging for our guests were Blyth’s Reed (s), Greenish and Dusky Warblers and best of all the Brown Shrike at Aith was certainly the rarest bird of the week.
Scarcities were not far from the limelight either with an equally impressive supporting cast throughout the isles. Rose Coloured Starling, Little Bunting, Hoopoe, Hawfinch and Red-breasted Flycatcher were all present whilst a pod of Pilot Whales in Lerwick harbour showed that there is can always be a cetacean surprise even in autumn.
Rolling into week two the pace certainly picked up. Over night between 01-2/10/16 the weather brought an exciting change from the south east, which was to hold throughout the entire month. This was the beginnings of the most extraordinary October on record. The first of over five weeks of easterlies set a pretty high standard with top drawer tackle such as yet another Brown Shrike (with a third being discovered later!), the first of multiple Red-flanked Bluetail, Great Snipe Lanceolated Warbler followed by Swainson’s and multiple Whites and Black-throated Thrushes but the star of the ‘thrush fest’ was the superb 1st year male Siberian Thrush which was a joint, team effort find for our group and Dave Bradnum, Howard and Bob Vaughan. Another good find for our group was a Hornemann’s Arctic Redpoll, one of several which presumably arrived the previous week of NW winds. A Western Orphean Warbler was a real surprise and mega but proved to be frustratingly elusive after its initial discovery.
In addition to the outstanding cast of sizzling Sibes throughout the week there was Paddyfield and Blyth’s Reed Warblers along with multiple Radde’s, Dusky and Pallas’s Warblers, Olive-backed and Richards Pipits, Bluethroat and Red-backed Shrike whilst in typical Shetland autumn standard Yellow-browed Warblers were pretty much everywhere throughout the islands as well as Little Buntings and Red-breasted Flycatchers here and there whilst interestingly Barred warbler and Common Rosefinch were much scarcer than our usual autumns however, it’s quite safe to say that low numbers of the latter would not have crossed anyone’s mind given the superb quality of birds on offer during the first half of our Shetland Autumn Birding season.
Part two to follow soon…
Book launch: Otters in Shetland – The tale of the draatsi
Posted by Brydon Thomason on Tuesday 1st December 2015 | News, Otters
At last – after years of planning and the inevitable blood sweat and tears endured with such a huge project, it is finally here and the story of Shetlands otters is communicated through our book Otters in Shetland – The tale of the draatsi.
As it is for anyone who puts their heart and soul into writing a book, especially one on a subject so special and emotive to them, we are immensely pleased and equally proud of this project.
With a gap of over 20 years since anything was published on Shetlands otters it was really important to us to tell their full story and bridge a gap between a science-based reference book and a photographic story-telling book.
From beginning to end the story flows with each and every page and chapter leading into the next; from the Islands and geography; the foundations of the food chain; how they live on the coast through to family life and so on. We also bring in fascinating interviews with Shetlanders who many years ago once hunted them for the fur trade which offers a unique insight into mans relationship in the isles both past and present.
Through our time photographing otters we have captured and documented many, in fact most aspects of their lives and in doing so have created a unique portfolio of images. Incorporated into the informative captions, which accompany these images we bring in the fascinating scientific research from Dr Hans Kruuk, a world leading authority on otters, who we were truly privileged to have write the foreword and to receive such praise from him is a hugely gratifying commendation to us.
Our publisher, The Shetland Times said in their recent press release: “The book has been gaining plaudits from experts in the field of wildlife and photography weeks even before its release date” and then went on to quote Hans Kruuk and wildlife cameraman Doug Allan.
Here’s a couple of extracts from the foreword by DR Hans Kruuk:
“…With all this, the authors make a large contribution to conservation, not just of otters but of the entire coastal ecosystem. Conservation is served by the simple statement of the beauty of the animals in the context of science and natural history, as well as by the detailed explanation of exactly what otters need to survive.
“The reader is made aware of the otters’ hardships in terms of exposure to cold waters, of the need to catch prey quickly as well as keeping their fur clean to keep out the cold – for which they need the many small sources of fresh water along the Shetland coast (which, incidentally, are almost absent in places where otters are few, such as Orkney or the Scottish east coast).
“The book is a thoughtful object of beauty, of otters, and of the Shetland coasts. The authors should be immensely proud of this great effort”.
Wildlife cameraman Doug Allan:
“This is a lovely book that deserves to be on the shelf of any Shetland visitor, or anyone who loves the wild outdoors. Sensitively but informatively written, illustrated by images that could only have been taken by photographers who clearly love, respect and understand their subject and the location. “Shetland should be grateful that there are people with the passion, tenacity and skills of Brydon and Richard, who’ve truly captured the wonder of Shetland’s best loved mammal”.
TV wildlife presenter Iolo Williams:
“Brydon Thomason and Richard Shucksmith have produced a gem of a book which brings the story of otters on Shetland right up to date. Visually, it is stunning, but it is also packed full of information on the ecology and history of this most charismatic of British mammals. Whether you are a fan of otters, a follower of British wildlife or a lover of beautiful books, this is a must for your reading list”.
Details of the book
The book, in hardback only costs £28.00 and is available to order through our publisher here or through us following the official launch date of 12th December.
In total we tell the story of Otters in Shetland through 35,931 words, 276 pages and just over 220 photographs.
We hope you like it!
Brydon Thomason and Richard Shucksmith
Shetland 2015: Autumn Birding Review – In association with Birdwatch Magazine
Posted by Brydon Thomason on Monday 16th November 2015 | Birding in Shetland, News
As Shetland becomes ever more popular in autumn, high expectations hang over the magical Northern Isles for what the winds may bring. So well placed is the archipelago that even without favourable wind and weather the isles will usually still manage to deliver. This year’s prime-time weeks in late September and early October were a classic example of this.
These migrant birding holidays always begin with optimism and anticipation and indeed with the Quendale Thick-Billed Warbler (successfully twitched with a guest from a previous tour) and then finding a nice Blyth’s Reed Warbler the day before the trips began, leader Chris Rodger knew anything was possible, despite a not-so-promising long-term forecast.
In a systematic ‘trip-list style summary’ he rounds up the highlights.
- National rarities: Swainson’s Thrush, Pechora Pipit, Pallid Harrier and Arctic Warbler.
- Regional rarities: Blyth’s Reed Warbler, American Golden Plover.
- Scarcities: Red-breasted Flycatcher, Red-backed and Great Grey Shrikes, Little Bunting, Common Rosefinch and Bluethroat.
- Self-found by the group: Richard’s Pipit, Bluethroat and numerous Yellow-browed Warblers.
The evocative sight and sound of Whooper Swans arriving from Iceland was a regular feature, along with migratory movement of many Pink-footed and Barnacle Geese overhead on their journey south. On the sea, Long-tailed Duck numbers seemed to swell by the day, with Velvet Scoter and Slavonian Grebe also enjoyed. In addition to the many Red-throated Divers, some Great Northern Divers still retained stunning summer plumage. A fine drake Greater Scaup was seen at Loch of Norby.
Raptors (and owls)
Undoubtedly the star bird of prey was the juvenile Pallid Harrier, seen coming to roost at Northdale, Unst. Hen Harrier, Peregrine and Short-eared Owl were less frequent than the many migrant Kestrels, Sparrowhawks and Merlins, which were particularly numerous this autumn.
Waders to doves
As is true to form on previous Shetland autumn birding trips, Nearctic waders were sure to feature and this year came in the form of a ‘classic’ juvenile American Golden Plover, which really stood out among the European ‘Goldies’ at Sandwick. Many Jack Snipe were seen – mostly rising from marshes and often almost from underfoot, but some particularly obliging birds at Lambaness froze to the spot to show at close range their beautiful cryptic plumage. A smattering of migrant waders included Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, Knot, a late Eurasian Whimbrel and the always ubiquitous and subtly different ‘Icelandic’ (faeroeensis) Snipe. White-winged gulls were incredibly scarce this year on Shetland, though Arctic Terns and one Common Tern lingered for the group to see. An adult European Turtle Dove at Haroldswick was well scrutinised to eliminate meena Oriental Turtle Dove.
Pipits to thrushes
A self-found Richard’s Pipit at Lambaness was a highlight for the group, schreeping for Scotland as it bounded across Lambaness and a good example of quality scarce migrants that feature as team self-finds to add that extra gratification. This was the first of several seen. A ‘tiger-striped’ Pechora Pipit, twitched at Norby, eventually yielded to give excellent views as it crept through the irises. A combination of its genuine rarity value, Shetland speciality status and confiding nature ensured this was a firm favourite of the week. Braving gale force wind and rain on Unst, a female Yellow Wagtail was found by the group as was a Bluethroat, discovered hunkered down in a ditch at Burrafirth – if ever proving that ‘you have to be in it to win it’, no matter what the weather! Another fine Bluethroat was enjoyed feeding at close quarters at Quendale.
Undoubtedly a highlight came in the form of a Swainson’s Thrush on Unst – a superb end to the first full day of the trip. After a mad dash from literally the opposite end of Shetland, the group had to endure perhaps the most suspenseful wait in fading light for the bird to hop out from under some fishery crates in the yard of a shop! Hop out it did, revealing the lovely buff face and eyering and subtle underparts spotting, and it even gave a close fly-by to show off its underwing stripe. This was a tick for all bar one of the group, who also saw one with our Shetland Nature autumn birding group on Unst last year!
Warblers and crests
Perhaps the group that forms the major attraction for rarity-hunters on Shetland, warblers – a common and rare alike – were relatively thin on the ground this autumn. Despite this, the group did see a Blyth’s Reed Warbler (which had been found by Chris the day before the trip started) and several Barred Warblers. An Arctic Warbler was a rarer highlight; the group missed this bird on Unst, when it disappeared on the day it lost its tail. However, we caught up with what must surely have been the same bird several days later when a tail-less Arctic Warbler was found in central Mainland. To be fair, Yellow-browed Warblers didn’t disappoint this autumn – amazingly by far the most frequent warbler, but very much still a joy to see. As ever, the Shetland autumn trip allowed the comparison of side-by-side Common and Siberian Chiffchaffs. A personal favourite were the mornings when Shetland is seemingly awash with tiny Goldcrests – mass landfall of these wee 5-gram waifs signal ‘birds in!’.
Flycatchers to buntings
Both groups enjoyed three species of flycatcher, including some very confiding, and always photogenic, Red-breasted Flycatchers. Both Red-backed and Great Grey Shrikes were seen on Unst. Of the finches, Bramblings added colour while redpolls, although surprisingly scarce in the islands this autumn, encouraged ID discussion. A most impressive sight was a flock of 200 very confiding Snow Buntings, swirling all around us like an avian snowstorm on the wild windswept headland of Lambaness. A scarcity that we can usually look forward to throughout the Shetland is Common Rosefinch, which this year was hard won but eventually added to the trip list, unlike a Lapland Bunting which fed virtually at our feet. Of the scarcer buntings, a nice bright Little Bunting on Fetlar was timed well, found by fellow SN team members Micky and Brydon on the same day we were all on the isle. Perhaps a commoner example of the many Shetland scarcities to end on, but it does leave tantalising thoughts for what the review might start with for next year’s Shetland Autumn Birding trips!
Shetlands otters featuring on ‘Grand Tour of The Scottish Islands’
Posted by Brydon Thomason on Tuesday 13th October 2015 | News, Otters, TV Appearances
There is literally not a year that passes that The Shetland Islands are not featured on television networks throughout the United Kingdom and beyond. Regularly featuring on many of these and helping to promote how special Shetland is is something we are always very proud of indeed.
Having already worked with the BBC Springwatch crew earlier this year we were delighted to be approached by BBC Scotland to work with the Grand Tour of The Scottish Islands film crew to feature otters on their program. Overall the show was really good and showed an interesting diversity of life on the isles, made more so especially by Cheryl Jamieson of Glansing Glass, Andrew Magnie Thomson, Rhoda Hughson and Les and Joanne on Fetlar.
To watch the program on BBC iPlayer you can view here or you can see the short piece posted by BBC Scotland of us with the otters here.
The crew were really fantastic to work with; presenter Paul Murton, producer Kathryn Ross, cameraman Richard Cook and sound man Richard Paterson. As well as being really on the ball they were also great fun which helped phase the on-camera tension I always get when being filmed! On the day I was joined by Josh Jaggard which was a real bonus, having his sharp eyes helped to keep track of the family whilst we were filming, which relieved at least some of the pressure and help us get the footage we did.
We were thrilled to spend the several hours with a mother and her two cubs, throughout which enjoyed some really lovely behaviour from affectionate family group huddles to action packed foraging and feeding sessions.
With the weather in our favour, the otters performing and a thoroughly successful shoot, we couldn’t have asked for more. Read more about the otter tours we do here.
More from the BBC’s popular ‘Grand Tour of The Scottish Islands’ here.
Shetland Nature at Rutland Birdfair
Posted by Brydon Thomason on Thursday 20th August 2015 | News
Just a brief note to say that we are looking forward to attending and exhibiting at the British Birdwatching Fair, 21st – 23rd August, and that we very much looking forward to seeing friends, associates and anyone keen to know more about Shetland.
We are on stand 14 in marquee 3. Please do call by if you are there.
In the spirit of supporting the fair and fund raising for conservation causes we have donated a self catered stay in our Shetland Nature Lodge, which they are putting forward to the auction.
Also we will be updating blogs etc on our return next week with round ups on what we are delighted has been our busiest season so far.
2015 Season’s Summary So Far
Posted by Brydon Thomason on Friday 19th June 2015 | News
Well what a start to our 2015 core holiday season it has been, barely half way through and it has already been truly remarkable.
We have holidays running each week from late May through to mid August and each one has been full, which is something we are really thankful for and indeed excited by. In fact the only holidays left with spaces on, both outside the ‘core season’ and they too are limited, is one of two Late Summer Experience (an additional August date due to first one selling out) and Shetland Autumn Birding. It’s actually been a busy year all round with one or two bespoke itineraries, particularly Otter Photography through winter into to spring, as well as day tours too. Each week we have day tours running too, along with holidays this can often see us with as many as five guides out in any one week- a huge thank you to each and every one, as we always say, we couldn’t run to the scale we do without the help and collaboration we are so lucky to have.
So, what have we/our guests been seeing? What haven’t we been seeing is maybe a better question to ask! With Killer Whale’s, Risso’s Dolphin, Harbour Porpoise and Minke Whale all having already been seen on trips, cetaceans have already been very well represented. On the birding front it has already been remarkable with rare and exotic spring visitors, scarce migrants, iconic breeding species and superb spectacles. The rare and exotic; Rustic Bunting, Subalpine Warbler, Golden Oriole, Hoopoe, Greenish Warbler (actually found by group), Great Reed Warbler, Bee-eater, both the Unst ‘small race’ Canada Geese not to mention multiple Icterine Warbler, Red-backed Shrike and Marsh Warbler. On one day alone one of our groups found two Icterine Warbler’s and four Red-backed Shrike! Where else but in Shetland!
And the otters, oh the otters! True to form we deliver a truly unique educational encounters with Shetlands otters. Over the range of experiences for guests we run, from one-to-one specialist photo assignments, day tours and bespoke Otter watching holidays and on all of these so we/the otters have certainly not disappointed. These images from Otter photography guests so far this season showcases the kind of encounters we deliver to our guests. We are also launching a new holiday dedicated to Otter’s in 2016 The Shetland Otter Watching Experience.
2016 holiday dates and departures
With so many superb highlights already logged for guests this season and Shetland featuring on screen on BBC Springwatch its worth pointing out that our 2016 dates were uploaded to our website recently and are already starting to fill.
Visit our blog for our latest news posts and what we have been up to. In particular we have enjoyed working with and being involved with two film crews. It was particularly exciting working with BBC Springwatch helping out in the field with local knowledge and also having our hides used for filming. Also we were delighted to work on another program, due to air later this year with BBC Scotland’s Grand Tour of The Scottish Islands who we worked on otters with and got some superb encounters with one of the families we are working on, more on that nearer the time…
So if you are due to travel with us, we very much look forward to welcoming you and making your visit as exciting and memorable as everyone’s so far has been- and if you are one of those guests, we thank you again for your company and custom!