Archive for the ‘News’ Category:
Christmas 2014 Newsletter
Posted by Brydon Thomason on Tuesday 23rd December 2014 | News
It’s hard to believe that the festive season is upon us once again and with it another year draws to an end. There is never a time that we take for granted just how lucky we are to do what we do in the place that we love and along the way meet and work with so many interesting and exciting people. Perhaps even over and above this sentiment is our huge thanks and gratitude to the continued and growing support from guests on our holidays and tours. Without this we could not do what we do so thank you sincerely from us all! I’d also like to say a personal thank you to everyone involved in the team at Shetland Nature and to our associates, sponsors and providers.
Whilst wishing you season’s greetings we wanted to share some of this year’s highlight’s and update availability on our holidays and photo tours for 2015, which is already looking to be a very busy season – many holidays have already sold out.
I also wanted to take this opportunity to introduce and welcome Hollie Shaw, who is taking over the bookings and admin role from Karen Hannay, who we are sad to see moving on to pastures new. Some will know Hollie from her many years running the Fair Isle Bird Observatory, which she ran along with her husband and warden Deryk, already a valued member of the SN team.
It is worth mentioning here that we are currently going through this ‘hand over period’ and so updating and familiarising new systems and procedures.
2015 Holiday Ideas & Availability
We are very excited to see how busy a season 2015 is already filling in to be. Several holidays have already sold out and we have even had to add on new dates to our ‘flagship’ Shetland Nature Experience itinerary due to popular demand.
If Shetland is on the wish list for 2015, we hope you may find something of interest in our program and here are some of the most popular suggestions –
Here also are links to some of our recent news highlights –
And finally here is a link to some of my personal favourites, that have been some of the many highlights from this season’s photography assignments. Also and of course, otter encounters (which I am blessed that my life essentially revolves around) –
With festive cheer and best wishes from all at Shetland Nature,
Five Star grade awarded by Visit Scotland
Posted by Brydon Thomason on Friday 24th October 2014 | News
We can hardly put into words how thrilled and proud we all are to have recently been awarded a Five Star accolade by Visit Scotland. What makes it all the more special is that we are the first and only company in Shetland to achieve this grade from a national tourism organisation. To be one of only four Wildlife Experiences in Scotland to have achieved such a prestigious Five Star grading is something we are extremely proud of.
Obviously this means a great deal to me personally, but there are more than just myself who have worked hard towards achieving this. First and foremost without the love and support of my wife Vaila, I’m sure none of it would have been possible! It is the support and collaboration of so many others that has helped us continue to grow with the work they do and none more so than Karen Hannay and Gary Bell. But others who lead tours and collaborate on itineraries such as Rob Fray, Richard Shucksmith, Rebecca Nason, Martin Garner, David Tipling, Micky Maher, Allen Fraser and James Tait have all helped towards this achievement.
The wildlife that visitors experience here is second to none and yes, I am understandably biased, but to have the experience we offer our guests accredited to this level, really is something we are all extremely proud of. This is heartfelt not only from a Shetland Nature perspective but in a more holistic sense this is a fantastic achievement for Shetland tourism in general.
Visit Scotland’s Quality assurance scheme
VisitScotland’s world-leading Quality Assurance schemes are highly regarded by consumers as a decision-making tool when planning their breaks. QA provides consumer reassurance as an official rating by the national tourism organisation – a testimonial to what a business provides – and helps them reach their full potential and truly shine.
VisitScotland’s Quality Assurance Scheme currently boasts over 7,000 participants and has been used as an example of best practice with countries all over the world, including Sweden and Namibia.
VisitScotland Islands Manager, Steve Mathieson, said:
“Nature tourism is incredibly important not only to Shetland but to Scotland as a whole. I would like to offer my sincere congratulations to Brydon and his team at Shetland Nature on this fantastic achievement.
“Five-star status shows visitors that they can expect a fantastic and enjoyable experience, whilst learning all about the amazing wildlife offering here in Shetland.
“Our natural environment is the number one reason why people visit Scotland – let’s celebrate it!”
Alison Steadman’s Shetland
Posted by Brydon Thomason on Friday 20th June 2014 | News, TV Appearances
Brydon with Alison Steadman, ITV’s ‘Alison Steadman’s Shetland’
When establishing Shetland Nature there were few greater motivations or inspirations than communicating my passion for Shetland and its natural heritage. For me personally and for the many individuals that I am fortunate to work and collaborate with, sharing our knowledge and love for Shetland’s wildlife with guests from all over the world is as rewarding as it is exciting.
On a similar level communication of this passion is perhaps even more exiting ‘on screen’ when approached to work on TV documentaries featuring Shetland such as Countryfile, Simon King’s Diaries, Martin Clunnes British Islands and a few others. Even though I have yet to overcome the preliminary nerves and anxieties when in front of a camera (even a microphone!), working with a film crew and helping to promote Shetland to the nation (and beyond) is always really great fun and something I am always proud to be part of. It was with all this in mind that I was delighted to work with Alison Steadman and the crew back in April on ITV 1’s ‘Alison Steadman’s Shetland’, to broadcast on Tuesday evening on the 24th June on ITV at 21:00.
Well known British actress Alison Steadman, (often described as a national treasure) was great fun to work with and although it is perhaps appropriate to say that the elements were at times ‘unkind’ to us, she really seemed to enjoy her time with us and her stay at The Shetland Nature Lodge, which we were thrilled that the crew chose as their base for their four days on Unst. The crew too simply couldn’t have been better to work with who made it all the more enjoyable for myself and good friend and colleague Richard Shucksmith, who also did some work with them.
Perhaps not surprisingly it was Otters (my lifelong obsession of!) and also my background as a native Shetlander that brought them to me initially. The producer Scott Tankard was also intrigued and excited by the kind of work I did with the hides I build and so it was great to feature that element of the work I do as well.
Fortunately on the one day they had to do Otters out of the three I worked with them, I did find them otters in the morning and evening even though tides and time were stacked against us. I have my fingers crossed that the next film crew we work with ask for the best window when tides are best, which would take away at least a little bit of the preasure!
We hope it comes across on screen as much fun as it was to shoot…
Shetland Nature Photo Competition 2013
Posted by Brydon Thomason on Friday 31st January 2014 | News, Photography
We are delighted to announce the results of our 2013 guest photographer competition and thanks to our very good friends at Earth in Focus, (who judged the competition) we have a winner!
All the images entered were really beautiful and showed just how fantastic and exciting Shetland is for photographers. The variety of wildlife, habitats and landscapes were illustrated especially well in the first, second and third choices.George Stoyle, Earth in Focus
Italian photographer Mauro Mozzarelli won first prize, (an exclusive stay in our stunning self catering Shetland Nature Lodge) with his stunning portrait of an Atlantic Puffin entering its burrow with its catch of sand eels, taken on a bespoke one-to-one itinerary in early August.
In second place was Ruth Asher’s atmospheric shot of one of the Gannet Stacks at Hermaness, taken on our ‘Shetland Autumn- Nature, Ligfht and Land‘ workshop.
In third place was Simon Hawkins’ fabulous Otter family portrait, showing the intimate bond between mother and cub as they groom at a grassy headland lay up, taken on a one-to-one Otter Photography itinerary in September.
A review of our 2013 season
Posted by Brydon Thomason on Friday 10th January 2014 | News
So let us begin by wishing a Happy New Year to all. Whilst looking forward with excitement and anticipation of what this season will bring it seems very appropriate summarise our 2013 season with a look back at our main highlights.
We have been delighted and extremely fortunate in our 2013 season to have had our most exciting and indeed busiest season to date. The latter is of course with great thanks and gratitude to all who enjoyed Shetland through us in 2013 (and previously), without this custom and support we would not be so fortunate as to do what we do.
With our sole focus as a tour company being on Shetland, you could say ‘all our eggs are indeed in one basket’ but this is simply because we believe whole heartedly in what we have here and how uniquely special Shetland is and this is why we offer the widest range of tours and opportunities to enjoy Shetland and its wildlife throughout the seasons.
Visitors from all corners of the globe
As well as it being our busiest season in terms of footfall of guests it was also a season where we were delighted and proud at just how many countries these were visiting from. We had guests from as far as Australia, Tasmania, Canada, Switzerland, Italy, Slovakia, Netherlands, Norway and France to name but a few.
2013 summer season sightings highlights in brief
So, what did our guests see? It is perhaps best to start with the two Shetland specialities that most visitors have first on their wish lists, Otters and Orcas…
Otters – true to form our experience with our signature species was the highlight for most. We are very proud of this and that we offer a wider range of opportunities to enjoy Shetlands otters than any other, from day trips, one to one photography, bespoke holidays and of course featuring in core season holidays. Our otter experience is unrivalled.
Orcas – with 2012 summer being one of the quietest summers in recent years for sightings of ‘Killer Whales’, it was thrilling to see Shetland return to form for this stunning and magnificent predator. In total we enjoyed encounters on seven trips- eight if you count that one group saw them twice!! One of our groups saw them within ten minutes of arrival at airport- “Quick, grab your luggage; we’re taking you straight to Killer Whales!” Imagine it – that’s what happened, that’s Shetland for you!
To have had such success with such an awesome and to a degree, unpredictable species was truly fantastic.
Other sea mammals enjoyed on our holidays included the summering Bearded Seal, a pod of Pilot Whale, many Minke Whale’s and Harbour Porpoise, White-sided, Risso’s, White-beaked and Common Dolphin. Our guests were lucky to enjoy more sea mammal encounters of more species than any other company this season. Basking Sharks were also seen on a few trips later in the summer.
Debut holidays new to 2013
We were proud to launch these new itineraries to our holiday program, all offering more exciting ways for our guests to enjoy a fantastic Shetland experience. Each of these itineraries went very well and proved to be very popular indeed.
Here are links to reviews of these itineraries or links to the pages with recommendations from happy customers…
Shetland Spring Birding:
Showcasing the thrill and magic of the islands during spring bird migration and also the islands renowned breeding specialities, led by Martin Garner.
Walk Seven Shetland Islands:
The idea to feature three guides with each of us covering our areas of expertise (nature, geology, and history/heritage) proved to be very popular indeed and sold out quickly. Collaborating with two other local companies Shetland Geotours and Island Trails offer our guests a totally unique, authentic and informed insight into Shetland.
Shetland Late Summer Experience:
Launched to showcase Shetland in late summer this itinerary, this holiday is also aimed to suit visitors who can’t travel during the core summer season here, which is something no one else offers. It too sold out.
Shetland in autumn – Nature Light and Land photography:
The Shetland Nature Lodge – our stunning new self-catering venture
Taking on this stunning self-catering property, the most northerly visitor accommodation venue in Britain, has been such an exciting and popular venture for us.
We were thrilled at the response and occupancy since we started to promote it at the end of last year. It came as no surprise the consistent delight and amazement of the property and location and word has travelled fast- 2014 summer dates are already just about full from late April through August into September. It has also been encouraging how much interest we are receiving ‘out of season’.
Looking ahead to 2014
We are very excited to launch yet more exciting and unique holiday itineraries and ways to enjoy all that is so very special here in Shetland.
Following the popularity and demand for our collaboration walking holiday we launched ‘Discover Shetland’ for 2014 season and were thrilled to see the debut itinerary selling out so quickly we had to add another date- which has already more than half filled! This is a totally unique holiday experience, with three tour leaders offering an insight into wildlife, history and archaeology, geology and Shetland heritage which you can find in our 2014 program:
Otters and Puffins
Otters and Gannets
Keeping up with demand in photographers wanting the best opportunities to photograph the best of Shetland we are delighted to launch a new ‘species assignment’ program of photo tours in collaboration with Richard Shucksmith the most popular of which is our Otter and Puffin assignment, which sold out within a few weeks and we added a new date.
As nature professionals we have a major responsibility to wildlife and the environment. We take great pride in communicating and promoting a responsible approach through what we do. Similarly we feel it equally as important that we should support those who manage, protect and support the habitats, reserves and species which feature so prominently throughout the holidays and tours we run.
In addition to supporting the International Otter Survival Fund as corporate sponsors we are also now corporate sponsors of the RSPB (Giving nature a home).
To help raise funds for the International Otter Survival Fund we ran a sponsored Otter search to support their International Otter Awareness day in May.
BBC 1’s Countryfile appearance
Brydon with Ellie Harrison, BBC Countryfile
It was great to be asked to help out and feature on the program on Shetland and I was delighted to be involved. I was especially proud, (though quite nervous on screen!) to take them out to look for otters….
Our debut appearance at The British Bird Watching Fair
Attending and exhibiting the Birdfair was an overwhelming exciting experience for us and we were proud to be the first and only tour company representing Shetland at such a internationally renowned and important event.
It was so wonderful to have received such interest and support at our stand from so many familiar faces and indeed new ones, all keen to experience a taste of Shetland. Thanks to all who visited us, we will see you next year!
In spirit of helping raise awareness and money to support conservation across the globe we were delighted to donate a place on our Spring Birding holiday in May 2014, which was sold in the Birdfair auction.
So to all who have travelled with us and to all who are doing so in the near future, we wish you a happy New Year!
All at Shetland nature
Shetland Nature Photography – Brydon Thomason 2013 Image Gallery
Posted by Brydon Thomason on Thursday 9th January 2014 | News, Photography
A seasonal selection of some of my own photography in 2013. This selection is a mixture of some of my favourite moments, encounters and projects throughout the year here in Shetland.
Needless to say, I consider myself extremely fortunate to have access to such exciting subjects but as is so often the case, I so wish I could spend more time on so many of these – in fact all of them! I really enjoy working on project photography especially and in particular ‘species specific assignments’ and to do so I often innovate hides to work from.
My Arctic Skua bathing hide worked really well this year and was a new build from last years. New to this year was my Long-tailed Duck hide too, which was really awesome. Also new to this year was a Raven hide which was really fantastic but they are so, so sharp; getting into the hide under cover of darkness was essential or they just didn’t come in!
These are all available for ‘day hire’ and can all (and do) feature in the itineraries I lead.
Unfortunately, due to so many commitments and our busiest season so far, although I had a schedule 1 license for my fourth season running, I didn’t manage to continue my work on Breeding Merlin or Red-throated Diver – which I really missed. Both those spectacular species were the highlights of the previous year and I am looking forward to continuing those projects this season and am delighted and privileged to be able to do so.
As well as sharing these images it hopefully gives photographers interested in the one-to-one itineraries I offer the chance to see what subjects are possible throughout the year here. Here are links to a couple of these bespoke itineraries from 2013:
And here also is a link to a gallery of this years Otter Photography guests on one to one itineraries:
Shetland in Winter
Posted by Brydon Thomason on Wednesday 4th December 2013 | News
Having been asked to write a feature on Shetland in winter for the exciting new digital travel magazine Go & See, we felt we really needed to share just how special Shetland is in winter and with this image gallery you can see why…
The Shetland Islands in winter is a classic example of the wonderful wildlife we have right here in Britain during the winter months. The unspoilt beauty of the Shetland landscapes is ever changing through the seasons but often in winter it is even more so. Although in the heart of winter there may be little more than six hours of daylight, on a clear day this light offers a purity and clarity that will take your breath away and often on such a crisp calm winters nights the skies can be brought to life with the aurora borealis…
From calm clear-skied frosty mornings to wild winter storms thundering waves onto dramatic sea cliffs, the weather is far from predictable. Throughout the isles wintering sea duck’s, wildfowl and waders arriving from the Arctic abound as does the highest density of Eurasian Otters in Britain, active by day along beautiful and remote coastlines. There is beautiful blend of adventure, excitement and tranquillity found in winter in Shetland whether you are a walker, naturalist or wildlife enthusiast that is totally unique.
Quotes from team members
For me there is no other species or subject that captures the atmosphere of the Shetland wilderness as authentically and magically as otters do. Throughout the seasons I am privileged to spend my days tracking and studying these captivating creatures and winter is my favourite for this. Getting to know the movements and behaviour, particularly of mothers with cubs is very special indeed, as you follow their daily routines along our beautiful and remote shorelines. With shorter days our diurnal Otters condense their foraging activity into the available hours of day light. It’s a challenging, busy and special season for our otters.Brydon Thomason
When the clouds break the low mid-winter sun bursts through, the light is exquisite. I have never experienced such beautiful light that can last all day creating an orange glow along some of the most dramatic seascapes in Britain. It is so much fun being out with the camera creating pictures in such awe inspiring light and scenery that you don’t want the day to end. Sometimes the skies remain clear into the night and the most amazing light show takes place, the aurora, always breath taking.Richard Shucksmith
Britain’s most Northerly town of Lerwick is full of mid-winter magic. The picturesque, vibrant & historic harbour town holds many hidden gems for the photographer& naturalist & what better time to visit than January when one can enjoy near-Arctic wildlife coupled with the spectacle which is ‘Up’Helly Aa’ the traditional Viking Festival. Shetlanders really celebrate in style, the men dress in full Viking regalia and parade proudly & whisky-fuelled through the old streets of Lerwick. Bearing large lit torches at night & following an ornate Viking Long-ship to a drum beat procession is great fun to capture on camera – a true highlight of the Shetland year& my own! I enjoy photographing birds around the harbour such as Black Guillemot, Long-tailed Duck, Common Eider & White-winged Gulls in the low Northern light and in the evening a hearty traditional ‘Cullen Skink’ soup or a ‘Shetland Gin’ helps warm me by a roaring peaty fire.Rebecca Nason
If you would like more information on what we offer during the winter months, such as a self catered stay in our stunning Shetland Nature Lodge with bespoke itinerary of day tours, or perhaps a holiday option, please contact us for details.
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
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.
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!
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
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
“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.
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
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.
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
• Find out about bespoke one-to-one photo assignments with Shetland Nature.