Lanius Bird Tours
Friendly Affordable Birdwatching Holidays

Home / Tours / Galleries / Reports / Contact us / Links
The Northern Isles in Spring
21 - 28 May 2019

Shetland in spring is a very special place, with a wealth of stunning wildlife as well as breathtaking scenery and tranquillity. This tour has been specially planned to coincide with the late arrival of spring, with some birds only now in late May arriving back to these remote isles to breed. Initially we'll be based on the South Mainland from where we can visit many of the key sites, including a late evening visit to the island of Mousa to witness the spectacle of Storm Petrel returning to the colony. Next we move to Unst, the most northerly point of the British Isles. Here we can marvel at one of the many bustling seabird colonies, as well as visit the neighbouring islands of Yell and Fetlar, the latter famously home to the beautiful Red-necked Phalarope, one of Britain's rarest and most-sought after breeding birds. Of course, another feature at this time is the regular passage of scarce and rare migrants and given the right conditions who knows what may turn up? In addition we can also expect spectacular displays of wild flowers, Otters, Seals, Dolphins and if we are lucky perhaps even the chance of seeing Killer Whales!

Day 1
The tour begins in Edinburgh with a direct flight to Sumburgh, from where we will transfer straight to the Sumburgh Hotel for a two night stay.

Day 2
Today we enjoy a full day exploring the South Mainland, starting with a check of the hotel gardens, a known migrant trap which could produce our first good birds before breakfast. After a traditional Scottish breakfast we will try and catch up with any rarities found previously and while doing so have an excellent chance of finding our own. These may include Bluethroat, Red-backed Shrike or Marsh and Icterine Warblers. Areas we are likely to visit include Quendale Valley and Geosetter Burn, as well as the Pool of Virkie and Scatness, where we can observe breeding Arctic Terns. We will also visit Sumburgh Head, an impressive seabird city where we will encounter our first Puffins among a host of other seabirds. If the sea is calm we can also spend some time scanning offshore, as this is one of Shetland's best locations for Killer Whale sightings.

After the thrill of our first full day on the islands we return to the hotel for dinner before continuing the excitement and adventure with a late evening excursion to the enchanting island of Mousa. Here during the Simmer Dim (Summer Twilight) thousands of dainty Storm Petrels, our smallest breeding seabird, return to their nests in the walls of the Iron Age Broch. Watching the petrels fluttering like bats against the summer night sky and listening to their incredible purring song is a simply unforgettable experience!

Day 3
After yesterday's late night, we'll take a leisurely start before making our way north. We begin with a drive to the northern part of the Shetland Mainland, soaking up the stunning scenery along the way. Depending on what's around we may spend some time here or continue straight onto the excellent ferry service to Yell, either way we have ample time to make several stops along the way. Once on Yell we can check a few sites for migrants before driving the length of the Island (just 18 miles) and catching another Ferry to Unst, our base for the next three nights.

Day 4
Today we enjoy the rich flora and fauna of Unst, where the wildflower meadows, overgrown ditches and sheltered gardens are a potential haven for migrants and we'll spend the morning birding in search of something unusual. Common migrants include Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Northern Wheatear and Common Redstart, while scarcer birds such as Wryneck, Golden Oriole, Common Rosefinch and Rustic Bunting are all possible.

In the afternoon we'll visit Hermaness National Nature Reserve, where as we walk through the heart of the reserve we can guarantee ‘up close and personal' encounters with Great Skua, known locally as Bonxies. Reaching the spectacular cliffs, we will be greeted by perhaps the most charismatic of Shetlands birds -the Puffin - with some 25,000 pairs nesting here. Another important feature here is the Gannetry - the largest in Shetland - with some 20,000 breeding pairs.

Day 5
Today we visit the island of Fetlar, the summer home of one of Britain's rarest breeding birds, the delightful Red-necked Phalarope, with 90% of the UK population found here. These elegant birds are often remarkably tame and ample time will be given to try and ensure we receive good views. The island is also home to some of the highest densities of moorland birds anywhere in Britain, with nationally important numbers of Whimbrel and Red-throated Diver, along with good numbers of Arctic Skua, Golden Plover and Twite. Nowhere in Shetland are the summer wildflowers more luxuriant than in the rich soils of Fetlar, which since Norse times has been known as the Garden of Shetland.

Day 6
Today we travel back to the Sumburgh Hotel, our route again involving two ferry crossings, giving us another chance of seeing cetaceans. It also involves passing through four different harbours, where we may find a lingering Iceland or Glaucous Gull. If we haven't already enjoyed good views of Otter, we can explore some of the remote beaches and coves on Yell, home to one of the highest densities in the country and also a good place for observing the beautiful Black Guillemot. Once back on the Mainland our plans will vary depending on recent sightings, perhaps if a good rarity has been found in the south we'll head straight down for that, or maybe we could try and find our own in the North.

Day 7
After looking down at the amazing seabird city at Hermaness we complete our seabird extravaganza with an exhilarating boat trip to Noss National Nature Reserve, where we can view the colonies from a totally different perspective. Home to one of the biggest seabird colonies in the British Isles, we will witness the spectacle of up to 80,000 breeding birds jostling for position on the 200m high cliffs. The sight of thousands of Gannets around the boat is one not to be missed, while close views of Puffin, Guillemot, Razorbill, Fulmar and Shag are virtually guaranteed. Common and Grey Seals are also usually seen.

Day 8
After an early breakfast we depart for the airport, returning to Edinburgh for our onward journey home.



More Details

Total Cost £1295pp   Price Breakdown
Deposit £  250pp   Air price
£  200pp
Single room supplement £  120pp   Ground price


Whats Included
Return flights Edinburgh to Sumburgh, All ground transport on Shetland, Accommodation, All Meals, Drinking water, All excursions listed in the itinerary and Guiding services throughout.

Not Included
Transport to/from Edinburgh, Additional drinks, Insurance and Items of a personal nature.

Group Size
Maximum of 9, including leader.

Ian Cowgill or Dave Read

This tour will be run at a moderate pace, consisting of generally short walks over easy terrain. There will be a number of early starts, though these are always optional and some longer days in the field are expected. Accommodation on Unst is in Scandinavian self catering lodges with shared facilities. They are well equipped, warm, comfortable and spacious. Please note that travel plans and excursions may be disrupted at short notice due to adverse weather conditions.




Financial Protection
Many of the flights and the flight-inclusive holidays on this website are financially protected by the ATOL scheme. But ATOL protection does not apply to all holiday and travel services listed on this website. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking. If you do not receive an ATOL certificate then the booking will not be ATOL protected. If you do receive an ATOL certificate but all the parts of your trip are not listed on it, those parts will not be ATOL protected. Please see our booking conditions for information, or for more information about financial protection and the ATOL certificate go to



Red-backed Shrike

Storm Petrel


Red-necked Phalarope

Black Guillemot




Red-throated Diver


Copyright 2007 © Lanius Bird Tours