The Shetland Isles, a group of islands located about 100 miles north of the Scottish mainland, home to some of the most interesting wildlife on offer in the UK and to great friends of mine, and a place I have longed to return to, after enjoying a week or so there back in 2011. To say I was pleased as the aircraft touched down on the tarmac at Sumburgh Airport was an understatement, and despite being slightly overdressed for the day (thanks to the ludicrously tiny luggage allowance, I was wearing most of my camera gear) I was struggling to hold back an enormous grin as we strolled towards the terminal building, having already spotted Paula waving from the window.
As before, she would be our host for the break, though this time, instead of sleeping in a cosy but slightly draughty caravan, I would be sharing the luxury of Cheyne House, initially with Kate who had travelled up with me on the Friday morning, and from the Saturday, with Andy and Lyndsey Howard.
Not wanting to waste a moment, Paula took us up to the top of Sumburgh Head, where we saw puffins, fulmars, gulls, wheatears and rabbits, though my attention was immediately taken by the Arctic and great skuas hunting the skies nearby.
The place was alive with bird calls, from the sharp calls of concerned oystercatchers and redshanks, to the subdued quacking sounds of divers as they passed overhead, going back and forth to the open seas to bring back food for their young on the inland lochs. Curlew, gulls and terns cried out as well, whilst the fulmars seemed to drift by in silence, perhaps enjoying the atmosphere as much as I was.
Paula had recently seen a family of wheatears along the track from her house, but they had fledged by the time we arrived, and wouldn't pose for pics. Thankfully the local fulmars were quite happy to sit still; perhaps content to absorb the rare warmth of the sun!
After settling into the digs, Paula kindly drove us around the west side of the mainland, as it is an area often overlooked by visitors, and somewhere Kate hadn't been to before. Taking a route through some moorland, Kate managed to spot a mountain hare sat up in the heather, looking rather surprised as our car pulled up alongside! I had just enough time to grab a few shots before it shot off at speed and into deeper cover.
Initially they were spooked by my presence, but by crouching down, and approaching in a slow and deliberate fashion, I got pretty close, and once in a spot I wanted to be given the light direction, it was a case of waiting for the birds to come to me. Didn't take long!
The day ended in style with a hearty BBQ laid on by Magnus. The long day coupled with excitement and beer (of course) meant we'd sleep well, to be ready for the next adventure on Shetland.