Shetland Autumn Birding

Holiday overview at a glance:

  • Small group size – maximum 8 guests
  • Seven nights all inclusive accommodation
  • Be part of a team effort, bird hunting/finding experience
  • Chance to connect with best birds discovered during the week
  • three-stop hotel venue to maximise coverage and birding potential
  • Enjoy Shetland’s wild riches of the season such as world renowned otters
  • Learn new skills & including ID of common and rarer species & field craft
  • Led by former Fair Isle & Fetlar assistant warden & BBRC chairman Paul French
  • This tour will include a short beach clean as part of our commitment to protecting Shetland’s natural environment

Shetland Autumn Birding with Shetland Nature? Professional and exceptional
– highly recommended
Dominic Mitchell (Managing Editor, Birdwatch Magazine and Birdguides)

2023 Dates:

  • Saturday 23rd September to Saturday 30th September, 2023
  • Saturday 7th October to Saturday 14th October, 2023

(holiday commences at 18:00hrs in the evening of the first day and finishes after breakfast on the final day)

There is something truly special about birding a remote archipelago in autumn. To really indulge in the sheer wonder of bird migration there are few better backdrops than Shetland and the Islands. The unique combination of its geographical location, stunning scenery, quiet and crowd-less birding localities and of course it’s unparalleled track record for attracting migrants, rarities and headline mega’s make it a paradise for birders, rarity hunters and ‘listers’ alike.

Year after year, a mouth-watering selection of rare species are recorded in the islands many of which have become known as ‘Shetland specialties’ such as Lanceolated and Pallas’s Grasshopper Warblers, Pechora Pipit and Hornemann’s Arctic Redpoll which remain almost unheard of elsewhere in Britain. There is an exhilarating atmosphere in the autumn that instils the feeling that just about anything is possible. With recently recorded mega’s such as Siberian Rubythroat, Rufous-tailed and Siberian Blue Robin’s; Siberian Thrush, Thick-Billed Warbler, Taiga and Brown Flycatcher’s, Siberian Accentor (s!), Chestnut-eared and Black-faced Bunting; Cape May, Yellow and Magnolia Warbler’s, Veery, Swainsons and Grey-Cheeked Thrush to name but a few- this optimism is not misplaced.

However these holidays are certainly not just about the rarities. Even at this migrant rich time of year we endeavour to share Shetland’s wild riches of the season. Otters are always a firm favourite and so when time and tide time allows we hope to showcase Shetland’s world renowned otters. Other species of the season will include returning birds from the Arctic to winter such as Long-tailed Duck, Turnstone and Purple Sandpiper whilst our local population of Black Guillemot should be easily seen. Summer breeders that linger well into the autumn season will include Northern Gannet and indeed the Great Skua, AKA Bonxie! On many of these tours we have even seen ourselves dragged guests out after dinner to enjoy a showing of the enchanting Northern Lights- there’s always a chance!

Itinerary and locations we are based

We maximize our birding potential and ‘field time’ by running our itinerary over a three-stop hotel venue format so our guests enjoy the very best birding overview. This allows us to explore more of the islands birding hotspots and cut down on long drives. At the beginning and end of the itinerary we are based in Shetland’s south Mainland in The Sumburgh Hotel, perfectly situated for arrival and departure. Working our way north we then spend two night in The St Magnus Bay Hotel in Shetland’s wild and remote North Mainland and then for best logistics in the northern Isles we are based on Unst at Saxa Vord for three nights.

Team effort bird-hunting

One of the key elements and attractions to the birding experience our holidays offers is the team effort bird-hunt and opportunity to search for, find and identify our own birds. It’s such an exciting prospect to set out each day as a team full of anticipation and optimism for what the day might bring. When the elements are favourable for a ‘fall’ enjoying the common migrants such as chats, thrushes, warblers and finches throughout Shetland’s beautiful landscape and environments from gardens to geo’s and crops to cliff-tops as on Shetland birds can and do turn up anywhere. Each and every guest is made to feel part of the team whilst we are in the field honing fieldcraft skills, talking through identifications of species as we go. It’s very important to us that everyone gets the most out of their birding so we make sure to common as well as the rarer species.

Through our combined knowledge of the islands and our birding experience, our Autumn Birding itineraries provide our guests with unparalleled Shetland experience. Our unique insight, combined leadership and our attention to detail provides our guests with the opportunity to;

  • Be part of a team effort bird-finding experience and hunt for your own birds
  • Know where birds can be found and how best to ‘work the locations’
  • Know how to ‘bird’ intuitively in relation to weather/winds and what birds to target
  • Keep in touch with breaking news & connect with rarities if logistically possible
  • Benefit from leadership of multiple guides – maximizing coverage, learning & opportunities

Our birding holidays are meticulously designed and timed. Spanning what is traditionally and renowned to be the best and often most productive two weeks of the autumn, these itineraries are not only designed to showcase the magic of autumn migration on a remote archipelago but also to offer the best chance of finding birds and connecting with those already found.

Our shared learning and team spirited approach along with attention to detail on our holidays are much acclaimed. The level of experience we take our holidays for our guests is not the only area in which we go that extra distance. Each holiday is designed to suit all levels, which is something we take great pride in.

An example of itinerary

The holiday begins on Saturday evening when we meet and greet at Sumburgh Hotel where we check in for the evening. Over dinner we will enthuse over what awe inspiring possibilities of birds which may feature in over the week ahead and indeed recount the birds that have in the past.

We begin on Sunday by exploring the southern end of the Shetland mainland and some of the best birding hotspots before making our way north to Hillswick and The St Magnus Bay Hotel. The north mainland is one of the most under watched corners of the Shetland Mainland and therefore offers huge potential for finding our own birds and there is plenty of fantastic habitats and locations which often go days without being covered.

We then journey on to Unst, our base for the rest of the week and most Northerly Island, will be chosen to take advantage of the birding opportunities on offer and maximize our chances of connecting with any good birds on offer. When we arrive in Unst we check into the comfortable and well-appointed Saxa Vord resort.

For the next few days we are arguably in one of the best possible positions to relish the exciting possibilities of both finding our own birds and connect with the best of the news when we need to. Unst is a spectacular island that serves as the first landfall for tired migrants crossing the North Sea. Unst is undoubtedly one of the premier rarity hotspots in Britain, and each year attracts a wealth of species from both east and west.

From Unst we have the great advantage of being able to island hop to the neighbouring island of Fetlar, another stunning island which, which boasting an impressive list of migrants and rarities during spring and autumn, Similarly Yell can also offer good potential and receives the least coverage out of all the isles.

Throughout the week, we will be fully in touch with the local grapevine and news of what is turning up throughout the islands and our itinerary may be juggled to take advantage of the situation. After a few days in the north isles for example a day trip to Mainland Shetland is often a good call to connect with good birds found elsewhere. An adventurous trip to the Out Skerries or Whalsay may well also be a possibility.

Shetland is larger than most people realize so migrant arrivals are not always uniformly spread throughout the isles. Our Shetland Autumn Birding holidays are perfectly placed to adapt to local conditions and news where and when is logistically possible.

Read trip reports and testimonials from our outstanding Autumn Birding holidays in previous years:

What our guests have said:

Hi Brydon, I just wanted to thank you for a fantastic week’s birding. In particular Martin Garner was a completely inspirational guide. His knowledge surpassed that of any birder I have spent time with by far and his enthusiasm was limitless. In my late forties I believed my approach to birding was immovable but Martin has made me question my principles and my methodology. Positively life-changing! We saw great birds on the trip, but more importantly, I learned how to get greater value from birding. I look forward to future trips.Alan Matthews

Brydon & Martin’s professionalism was remarkable; their combined local knowledge, birding & all things avian was truly outstanding. Martin’s boundless enthusiasm and dogged determination were amazing in finding & educating us about the birds.
We would recommend this holiday unequivocally.
Judy and Peter Farren

I enjoyed being part of a team that goes out and finds rare birds – not just turns-up on a ‘twitch’ which is easy to do – that’s the difference with Shetland Nature. Thank you for putting up with such a comparative rookie!Chris Kirby

Brydon was unstoppable, lining up sites and recounting their past rarities, finding birds from the driver’s seat, quartering the cover to make sure no find went unfound and bringing us the latest news from across Shetland. At the same time, our appreciation of the islands was enhanced by the feeling that he knew and cared an enormous amount about their wider ecology. Martin made a birding team out of us, giving us insights into the origins of the birds we were seeing and their identifications, switching us on to the audio dimension, and getting genuinely excited at the odd tick or two! We had a terrific range of birds, found some cracking scarcities, and were in on the finding and identification of challenging Shetland classics like Lanceolated and Blyth’s Reed Warbler.Paul-Bright Thomas

Brydon, I just wanted to say thank you to yourself and Martin for a great autumn birding break. I had looked forward to the trip for some time and had high expectations, which were more than exceeded in all respects. Having done a few tours to Shetland, I can honestly say that this was the most enjoyable trip that I have experienced.Andrew Dodd

Booking – Holiday Dates

Principal Tour Guides
Fitness Level Required
Easy to Moderate
Walks of up to three or four miles (maximum in a day) and at times over uneven terrain
2023 Price: £1,750
Single supplement: £150

2023 Dates
Saturday 23rd September to Saturday 30th September, 2023 Available
Saturday 7th October to Saturday 14th October, 2023 Available

Contact Us to Book

Private Tour Options: This holiday can also be arranged exclusively for private booing for couples, families or small groups.

Contact us for information and cost proposal for your own exclusive/tailor-made holiday. Email: [email protected]

Additional holiday information:

  • Read about the hotels we use – view our hotel providers.
  • All meals, accommodation, guiding fee’s and excursions as well as ferry fares and transport are included in package cost.
  • All boat trips are subject to weather availability.
  • Not included in cost are items of a personal nature or hotel bar tabs nor is travel to and from Shetland included.
  • No single supplement charged.
  • On booking please advise of any special requirements medical or dietary.
  • Throughout the holiday some of the activities will potentially involve walks of up to three or four miles (maximum in a day) and at times over uneven terrain. A reasonable level of fitness is advised however this is run at a leisurely pace. We can also provide holidays at an even more leisurely pace; please contact us for details.
  • Please note that all itineraries are subject to change but guests will be advised in advance should it be necessary to make any major changes.

View Terms & Conditions for booking