Shetland Autumn Seed Scheme
Posted by Brydon Thomason on Wednesday 6th February 2013 | Birding in Shetland, News
Little Bunting, Norwick, Unst. A typical species that is sure to find a crop in autumn in Shetland, and that birders hope to find, this Little cracker was one of two we found in one day with one of our autumn birding groups on a recent autumn trip.
Shetland has seen a massive change in crofting and agriculture over the past couple of decades. The ‘tattie’ and ‘oat crops’ which were once an iconic and authentic autumn scene throughout the crofting and inhabited landscapes are no longer a common sight. There are of course many land owners still planting crops traditionally but most now tend to be on a larger scale for machinery harvest and not the smaller scale once favoured so fondly by both birds and birders throughout the islands.
This year to encourage willing crofters and land owners, we have independently initiated a scheme to plant ‘sacrificial crops’ such as oats and mixed grain purposefully planted for birds, both resident and migrant and of course birders. Similar such scheme has run successfully for several years such as on on Fair Isle. We are delighted to already have several land owners on board on Unst and we hope that others (both birders and land owners) throughout the isles might do the same.
By helping work the land and part funding these crops we hope that as well as providing habitat for the birds it will also create new (as well as manage current) sites for local and visiting birders (as well as create habitat for our Shetland Autumn Birding guests to find our own birds) which is intended to help towards any potential issues with access, which should never be presumed at any site and permission should always be sought or guidelines understood. Further reading on ‘Birders Code of Conduct’ in Shetland can be found on the Nature in Shetland website.
Christmas Greetings from Shetland Nature
Posted by Brydon Thomason on Thursday 20th December 2012 | News
Dear friends of Shetland Nature,
While wishing you a very merry Christmas and health and happiness for the new year, we would also like to share with you what an exciting year 2013 will be for us by letting you know all our latest news. We very much hope you find the following links to our news blog of interest.
We would also like to say a very big thank you to all our guests in 2012 and to every one who has already booked with us for 2013. An extended thank you too to all our associated companies, brands and organisations who help to make the experience our guests enjoy a very special one.
New for 2013!
Probably our most exciting new venture for 2013 is the taking on of ‘The Shetland Nature Lodge‘ here on our home island of Unst. We are both very proud and excited to add this stunning accommodation venue to our growing programme of exciting ways to enjoy Shetland and its wildlife. Running and theming such a beautiful property exclusively for our guests seeking their own bespoke holidays is a way for us to take the unique and authentic experience we already offer to a whole new level. The only property run by a wildlife tour company for wildlife holidays and the most northerly accommodation in Britain – it is little wonder 2013’s calender is fast filling in! Read all about it here.
New 2013 Holiday Itineraries
We are delighted to add four exciting new itineraries to our programme of holidays for 2013;
Shetland Spring Birding – celebrating the marvel of spring bird migration and Shetlands summer birding specialities, led by Martin Garner. Already half full!!
Walk Seven Shetland Islands – welcoming Allen Fraser of Shetland Geotours and James Tait of Island Trails (both native Shetlanders) this holiday celebrates a unique collaboration of three Shetland tour companies to offer a pioneering insight into Shetland’s natural history, cultural heritage, geology and history.
Shetland Late Summer Experience – we introduced this seasonally adjusted version of our core season and ‘flagship’ itinerary The Shetlend Nature Experience by way of popular demand to suit guests whom our summer season dates could not suit. So popular is this itinerary that there is Only one space left!!
Fair Isle & Shetland Autumn Birding – what better way to experience the delights of autumn birding on Fair Isle than staying in the beautiful new Observatory and being led by former warden and rarity finder extraordinaire, Deryk Shaw?! We are thrilled to be teaming up once again with Birdwatch Magazine on this brilliant birding bonanza. Already half full!!
Here’s a brief update on our current availability on our core season holidays:
The Shetland Nature Experience
Thursday 30th May – Friday 7th June – Sold Out
Thursday 6th June – Friday 14th June – Half full
Thursday 13th June – Friday 21st June – Available
Thursday 27th June – Friday 5th July – Limited Spaces
Wild Shetland Weekends
Friday 31st May to Tuesday 4th June – Limited Spaces
Friday 19th July to Tuesday 23rd July – Available
Shetland Nature Photography
Thursday 6th to Thursday 14th June – Half full
Friday 14th to Friday 21st June – Limited Spaces
Otter Photography (& bespoke photo itineraries) with Brydon Thomason
On track to be yet another sell out season for my Otter photography itineraries. Excluding a a handful of two or three day breaks between commitments, my 2013 season is now full between March and end of August. In addition to the demand for this, I am putting together bespoke photography itineraries for individuals and small groups themed around otters (of course!) but also with bird hides, landscapes and many more exciting opportunities to take your Shetland photography experience that bit further – this itineraries were one of the main motivations around taking on our Shetland Nature Lodge, which as you can see is the perfect base for your Shetland photography experience. If this or Otter photography is tickling your fancy for 2013 it is still worth contacting us as availability may change and you can still go on a waiting list…
With kind regards and the very best of wishes,
Brydon Thomason and all the team at Shetland Nature.
We hope to see you in the very near future!
The Shetland Nature Lodge
Posted by Brydon Thomason on Friday 30th November 2012 | News
We are absolutely thrilled to post news on our very exciting new venture with this fabulous new accommodation property The Shetland Nature Lodge.
View from the balcony over Burrafirth.
What better way to offer our guests an even more unique and authentic Shetland experience than to be based at this idyllically situated and beautifully designed secluded property, right at the northern end of Unst. Overlooking Hermaness National Nature Reserve and the breathtaking vista of Burrafirth beach you can enjoy unhindered balcony views from Britain’s most northerly accommodation property.
We really are proud to add this holiday option to our programme of holiday itineraries throughout the year. This allows us to take our increasingly more popular bespoke ‘Shetland Nature Just for you’ range of holidays to an exciting new level. Its not only its location and its stunning design and interior but also the fact that it is exclusively run and themed for our guests. With an inspiring library for naturalists, photographers and birders and authentic imagery and art work of Shetlands natural environment through out, it is the perfect base to immerse yourself in the wild wonders of the Shetland Isles. And it will be ‘Just You’ and the undivided attention of your guide, giving your holiday that little bit more of a personal touch.
Whether you are seeking to enjoy an all round Shetland Nature Experience on a bespoke basis; a photographer (or group) wanting a more exclusive, challenging and specialist Shetland itinerary or birders seeking the best base for spring and autumn migration- the lodge has it all.
Not surprisingly we have already had a lot of interest in this holiday option and have several week-long itineraries booked up in May, June, July and August, please note that dates are filling in fast! We are also letting the Shetland Nature Lodge as self catering.
Originally this property was a traditional ‘Shetland croft house’ but with its brand new modernly designed extension and high standard of interior the Lodge now offers an impressive combination of comforts, character and modern convenience. Furnished to a high standard with Wi Fi, Sky TV Best suited for couples/small groups and or families, but with four bedrooms (one en suite double, a master, and twin and double attic bedrooms) it can sleep up to eight guests at full capacity. Their is a spacious and modernly designed split level and open plan living room, dining area and kitchen with floor to ceiling bay windows and french doors onto the balcony. There is also a second living room and utility room.
Find out more about The Shetland Nature Lodge »
For bookings please telephone 01957 710 000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Collaborating on a new Walking Holiday
Posted by Brydon Thomason on Thursday 1st November 2012 | News
At Shetland Nature one of the major influences of our ethos and vision as a tour company has been to work and collaborate with like-minded professionals and companies. This, along with the shared vision and support of our expert team of tour leaders, has been a key aspect of our success and continual development.
We have on-going relationships with visiting tour companies from national and international operators, but our most exciting initiative is our recent collaboration with two locally based tour companies, Shetland Geotours owned by Allen Fraser and Island Trails by James Tait, both of whom are native Shetlanders. Coming together on such a venture is a wonderful way to celebrate Shetland as a truly world class holiday destination and to ensure our commitment to offer a first class visitor experience.
Such collaborations sends out a very positive signal by Shetland Nature and these companies that Shetland tourism is now offering a unique, informed and exciting experience that will celebrate Shetland’s extraordinary heritage to the full. Although Shetland Nature is a wildlife tour company, and all our holidays are themed around the islands natural environment, it is very important to us that we can offer something for everyone and for all levels of interests.
With the unrivalled expertise of Shetland Nature’s team of tour leaders concentrating solely on the Shetland Islands, our programme of holidays and tours offers the visitor insights and an experiences that simply can’t be equalled. We can offer something for everyone at all levels of interest and ability; be it from the everyday outdoor and nature enthusiast to the keen birdwatcher, or the informed field naturalist looking for that little bit more expertise such as tracking wild otters, or nature photographers from amateur to well-known top professional.
Our two core season itineraries already offer a varied insight into Shetland’s natural and cultural heritage but now our new ‘Walk Seven Shetland Islands’ holiday takes things that little bit further by really exploring Shetland’s wild side with a unique itinerary of walks. A collaboration of three native guides, each offering a different insight and area of expertise (nature and wildlife, geology, history and culture), ensures the most comprehensive itinerary to explore the Shetland Islands available. Welcoming Allen Fraser and James Tait to the team we are delighted to bring two new key facets to our ethos and development.
Meet Allen Fraser and James Tait
Review of Otter Photography Season 2012
Posted by Brydon Thomason on Monday 8th October 2012 | News, Otters
Another fantastic season of Otter encounters and images. Again 2012 was an extremely busy season and is far from over at the time of writing! Even in the ‘shoulder seasons’ of late winter into early spring my 1-to-1 Otter photography itineraries continue to be popular. Of course the core season between May and August each year is in growing demand and has sold out over recent seasons but also now the off peak seasons are becoming more and more popular for photographers seeking to study, learn about and photograph these wonderful animals. This is of course little wonder, as I study Otters all year round and the winter is a fantastic time to study Otters behaviour as it is well known for them to condense their feeding activity into the available hours of day light.
Each year it is inspiring how many photographers come to photograph Otters but also how far they come. This year as well as from the UK I enjoyed the company of guests from all over including the USA, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium and France to name but a few. Adding to the growing number of top professionals seeking Otters in the isles this year I had Neil McIntyre out with me, who enjoyed some wonderful encounters and left with great images;
Otters have long since been a species have I wanted to photograph and although I have had a few brief encounters have never managed anything great. A couple of colleagues mentioned Brydon’s name to me and to get in touch with him about my forthcoming trip to Shetland. Once there I meet up for 2 of the days with Brydon. The first day we did not have a lot of luck, however we thoroughly enjoyed the day and learnt so much by listening and watching Brydon. On the second day I think we saw in the region of 8-10 otters, with one particularly fantastic encounter with a mother and 2 cubs. I have to say Brydon’s local knowledge and enthusiasm is wonderful and anyone going to Shetland would be wise to get in touch with him, not only for otters but for all of Shetlands wildlife. Since my trip to Shetland I have since had a few of my own otter encounters on other locations and the experience of being out with Brydon helped enormously.
Here is a further selection of some of this years guest images (and a couple of my own), accompanied with a few words of their time with Otters. If you are interested in joining me in 2013 it is strongly advised to get in touch soon, there are few dates left available, as usual June and July are long full with March, April and May similarly so, the diary is fast filling in, availability is limited but i will do what I can…
Hi Brydon – here are a few from that magical day when you took us to this otter family. I’ll never forget the experience and also the hard work you put in to give us the photo opportunity – many thanks. I hope to return some day for another visit to Shetland and more otters. Once again, thanks for all your hard work.
Thank you for a great day that has left an indelible mark on my wildlife memories. I found your experience and knowledge of otters exeptionally helpful. Your passion and energy for the day offset and motivated what was an energetic walk, until the magical moment we sat down and watched an otter family appearing out of the surf, photographing them until they once again returned to the sea. I wish you every success that you rightly deserve in all your adventures and that many more photographers/guests will enjoy such memorable moments.
Click here for information on my Otter Photography trips..
Review of the Shetland Nature Photography Holiday 2012
Posted by Brydon Thomason on Sunday 22nd July 2012 | News
A round up by David Tipling of this year’s two week-long Shetland Nature Photography holidays, with a selection of photos from our guests, to whom we are grateful for image use in this review:
As southern Britain suffered monsoon like weather this June, on Shetland our two nature photo tours enjoyed some of the driest brightest conditions I have encountered in 30 years of visiting the Northern Isles.
The highlight for most were close encounters with Otters, made possible by Brydon’s experience, local knowledge and fieldcraft. Bird photography was however outstanding at times, from Puffins amongst Thrift in beautiful light to Gannets diving within a metre or two of our wide angle lenses.
Our Arctic Skua bathing pool site, offered some participants their first taste of being in a purpose built hide, though somewhat rustic in build it consistently produced not just great Arctic Skua images but Whimbrel and Golden Plover for some lucky people.
Hermaness is always a highlight of these tours from the teeming Gannet colony to marauding Great Skuas. This year a beached Sperm Whale carcass provided an added attraction and nearby both Golden Plover and Oystercatcher were photographed at close range, brooding day old chicks.
These tours always offer opportunities for everyone to learn off each other. This year was no exception as we grappled with photographing Arctic Terns hovering above us against white skies to give striking high key images, to stitched panoramics of Muckle Flugga against a stunning sunset.
It was a wrench for me to leave. I can’t wait for June 2014 when I will be leading another Shetland Nature photo tour.
2012 Guest reviews:
I really enjoyed my trip with you and David.
The people skills of the both of you make everybody feel very welcome and that can make or break a trip. There are very few companies that deliver what they promise in their brochures or on their website but you do more than that. Having been on a Shetland trip before showed me how much your company stands out. Never had I thought to see wild otters this close in their environment. It was only possible because of your tracking skills and great knowledge about otters. The choice of taking only two people at a time to minimise disturbance works very well. So while some two people are off to find otters others of the group are photographing birds from a hide near the bathing pool of the arctic skuas. This hide gave good opportunities for getting pictures of all kinds of bathing birds. I also enjoyed Hermaness for photographing sea birds.
The combination of seeing and photographing otters and birds make this trip stand out from other trips offered on Shetland
If at all possible I will be back to Shetland to do another trip with you.
Keep up all the good work Dick van der Lely
Just a quick note to thank you for an excellent week in Shetland, and of course, especially for the otters! It really was a wonderful experience and I’m delighted with images I got from the day. The full frame head shots were the ones I expected to be favourites, but of course those could be taken anywhere, so the ones of the cubs fighting in the surf I think will be the ones that will be special when I look back after a while. The rest of the trip was great and I’ll look forward to coming back again. Thanks also for your tremendous enthusiasm and for sharing your knowledge of Shetland. Dave Bartlett
The bird experience led by David was excellent. Stunning sightings and lots of fun. Brydon taught me so much about photographing Otters. I came away with shots every one of which is in a totally different league to any I have taken previously. A great experience. Richard Bennett
“Hi Brydon, David and Team. Sorry I’m slow replying but 6000 pics takes me a lot of sorting! I’m probably not ruthless enough yet but I’m still trying to discover what I think makes a good pic. Thank you for a great Holiday, which also gave me great opportunities to find, see and photograph various wildlife that I have failed to find for years. I learnt a lot re technique. With the chance to argue out the pros and cons with experienced photographers my pictures clearly improved during the week. A special thank you to Brydon, the Otter-Spotter, for the fantastic opportunities he consistently found for us all. James Hogg
Find out about our 2013 dates led by Chris Gomersal and Brydon Thomason →
Review of the Shetland Nature 2011 Season
Posted by Gary Bell on Wednesday 16th November 2011 | News
The review of the Shetland Nature 2011 season has appeared a little later than planned, but for good reason: the arrival of Brydon and Vaila’s second son, Corey James Thomason, who was born in early September. For this very joyous reason, many post-season tasks, such as reviews and news posts, were put on ‘paternity-leave’ hold. It is perhaps more appropriate in any case, as it means the review can now be a more complete overview of the year’s programme, and includes the last of the season’s holidays such as the Shetland Autumn Birding weeks which finished in October.
Spring/summer season review
Once again, we were very fortunate to enjoy an excellent season, with our programme of ‘Shetland Nature Experience’ (week-long) and ‘Wild Shetland Weekend’ (long weekend) holidays all selling out. In fact, such is the popularity and demand for the northern isles, we were able to offer and fill additional holidays to those initially advertised. There is no doubt that Shetland is definitely a ‘must visit’ location, and for many very good reasons! To quote Lonely Planet, who listed Shetland as one of its Top 10 regions in the world to visit in 2011: “this might just be the last untamed corner of the United Kingdom”.
This year saw a definite increase in visitors taking advantage of our highly successful Day Tours. More encouragingly, there was increased demand from people seeking tours in the ‘shoulder-seasons’ of early spring, autumn and even in winter than in previous years.
As far as sightings were concerned we certainly delivered; indeed, in many cases, as well as reasoned judgement we had luck on our side. Throughout the season, all of Shetland’s star speciality species were encountered and enjoyed, and for some lucky guests even all in one week. In fact, Otters, Killer Whales and Red-necked Phalaropes were encountered in one day!
Amongst the most sought after of all are, of course, Shetland’s enchanting and endearing Otters, which were enjoyed on all holidays on multiple occasions and all our day trips too. Otter watching is a real speciality of ours and one that we are justly renowned for (see also Otter watching day trips and Otter Photography holidays). Our groups really do experience first-hand the benefits of both our small group sizes and our knowledge of Otters and the sites they use. Dedicating time to track them on our week-long trips is also a huge attraction.
Killer Whales also provided several sightings throughout the season. Although several holidays and day tours enjoyed encounters, it was on the whole a ‘below par’ season for inshore Killer Whale sightings around Shetland, with fewer than normal of the known pods having been sighted. This is of course not unprecedented; no two summers are the same but thankfully Killer Whales always seem to come back! We were delighted to welcome back Dr Andy Foote of the North Atlantic Killer Whale ID project to lead on a couple of our marine-based day trips.
Other sea mammals seen included White-beaked, White-sided, Risso’s and Common Dolphins (the latter being quite a rarity in Shetland waters), whilst Minke Whale and Harbour Porpoise were the more frequently seen cetaceans, especially later in the summer. Also during the latter part of the summer were several Basking Sharks. In fact, it has probably been the best year for a couple of decades in Shetland for this species, which has only recently begun occurring with any regularity.
The summer breeding birds were typically more reliable (with the often frustrating exception of the increasingly more elusive Red-necked Phalarope); from Plovers, Petrels and Puffins to Gannets, Guillemots and Great Skuas and Red-throated Divers, Ravens and Razorbills.
Also from an ornithological outlook, several of our groups were fortunate to connect with some fine rarities and scarcities on our spring and early-summer holidays. Amongst the scarcer migrants were Long-tailed Skua, Red-backed Shrike, Golden Oriole, Marsh Warbler, Common Rosefinch, Corn Crake (including one lucky group which actually saw the bird singing in the open!), Quail, Crossbill, Wood Warbler and Wood Sandpiper to name but a few, whilst rarities such as Squacco Heron, Black Kite, Rustic Bunting and Subalpine Warbler added to the already impressive list of birds recorded on our holidays. In the field, you are always aware that you might find something unusual or rare. When it happens, it’s one of these experiences that is difficult to describe, but often involves adrenalin! This season went reasonably well, with the group leaders finding White-billed Diver, Black throated Diver, Ring-billed Gull, Pectoral Sandpiper and Short-toed Lark during our holidays or day tours. However, it’s not all about the rare species; unusual can relate to behaviour too. This year, amongst others, we have witnessed an Otter catching and running off with a domestic duck, another Otter running around amongst sheep, and a Shag attempting to consume a fish that was larger than itself!
Shetland’s wild flowers, plants and fungus provided breath-taking scenes as we toured around the islands. Stone dykes covered in symbiotic lichens alluded to a pristine environment. Carpets of Ragged Robin, Red Campion and Fox-and-Cubs gave way to patches of Yellow Iris and fields of Marsh Marigolds and were the aesthetic starters to Shetland’s rich flora. Orchids are always a popular delight and we were able to find Early Marsh, Early Purple, Frog, Fragrant, Heath Spotted and Northern Marsh, although different periods of the summer are better for certain species than others.
The Keen of Hamar National Nature Reserve on Unst is a weekly pilgrimage with us, and as well as providing scarce Orchids, the endemic Edmondston’s Chickweed and alpines such as Moonwort, Norwegian Sandwort and Northern Rockcress were found amongst many others.
Insect eaters! It often surprises people that we have insectivorous plants in Shetland and the commonest two, Round-leaved Sundew and Common Butterwort, were numerous in their preferred habitats.
Other fascinating plant encounters include the nationally scarce and declining Oysterplant, which spreads itself out on only a few shingle beaches in Shetland. We were able to see it at its best. Also, one of our guests wished to see a particular plant, and because of our small group size we were able to spend time seeking out the enigmatically named Grass-of-Parnassus at a site we know; this also led us to a very special Otter encounter. In Shetland, sometimes you just don’t know what’s around the corner!
North Isles Nature Cruise with Simon King
Having worked very closely with Simon over the past few years, we were delighted to have him feature on our North Isles Nature Cruise to Muckle Flugga this summer. This was our fifth summer running these adventurous and exciting marine wildlife cruises on the modern Yell Sound ferries, and our third to Muckle Flugga. With well over 100 passengers on board, this very popular voyage once again all but sold out. Having such a high profile personality as Simon on board was a real privilege for us, and one that we were very proud to offer as part of our summer season programme.
Autumn birding holidays
This year we ran two of our popular Autumn Birding holidays, both led by identification guru Martin Garner. A full review of the two weeks will follow soon. To whet the appetite, amongst the many species seen were Grey-cheeked Thrush, Swainson’s Thrush, Pallid Harrier, Lesser Grey Shrike, Black-headed Bunting, Surf Scoter, Olive-backed Pipit, Isabelline Shrike, Citrine Wagtail, American Golden Plover, Dotterel and Pectoral Sandpiper, as well as the more ‘usual’ scarcities such as Yellow-browed Warbler, Common Rosefinch, Barred Warbler, Red-backed Shrike and Bluethroat.
Also, look out for our round-up of Shetland birding in autumn 2011 (from July to November) – coming very soon…
Media and journalist trips
Throughout the season, we were delighted to be asked to lead several media journalists and press trips on behalf of both Visit Scotland and local tourism promoters Promote Shetland. Each summer, we are commissioned to work on such trips and are proud to do so, as it illustrates how highly regarded we are by local and national tourism promoters and are trusted to provide the Shetland experience they want visiting journalists to enjoy. This year, we were also proud to welcome visiting journalists from the Sunday Times, Time Out (London) and the Montreal Gazette, amongst others.
Media publications and websites
We were pleased with our continued association with leaders in the birding media Birdwatching and Birdwatch magazines. Our ‘reader holidays’ were sell-out successes, and we very much look forward to our continued association and working relationship with these publications. We are also delighted with our ongoing close ties with leading bird information providers Birdguides and Rare Bird Alert, and look forward to continuing to work closely with them over the forthcoming years.
We were pleased to further our association with Outdoor Photography magazine and are running a competition with them, offering a three-day Otter Photography workshop (with full board accommodation in association with Saxa Vord) worth over £1150! The competition/entry date ends in early December, see October’s issue for full details.
Scotland Outdoors is another publication we were very pleased to be approached by recently. Brydon will be the subject of their ‘Outdoor people – Day in the life of’ feature, which will be on the shelves in early November.
And finally, a big thank you…
To all of our guests in 2011, without whom our holidays and day tours would not happen. We are most grateful for all the positive feedback received (see our Testimonials).
To our accommodation providers: Neil and the staff Saxa Vord on Unst, and Keith, Beccy and the staff at Spiggie Hotel in south mainland and Steve Sharon and Gabriella at the Baltasound Hotel in Unst.
To Jonathan, Alan and Robbie at ‘Seabirds and Seals’ and Tom and Cynthia at ‘Mousa Boat Trips’ for getting us to Noss and Mousa respectively, often in somewhat trying circumstances.
We are a small, locally-based company, employing guides who live and work in Shetland all year round, and as a result can offer an intimate and personalised experience of the islands that we are proud to represent. Our small group size of six people on all our holidays is unrivalled by any other company. The advantages of this benefit the wildlife and you. In 2011 this allowed our guests to enjoy Shetland in their own way, whether this was sketching, finding Grass-of-Parnassus, or putting in time and succeeding to find Red-necked Phalaropes.
Find out about our 2012 range of Shetland Nature holidays.