60 North – autumn edition

Ferries are a fact of life here in Shetland – our inhabited outer islands are linked to the Shetland mainland by a network of inter-island ferries, and we have a daily overnight ferry that links us with the Scottish mainland. I have to catch a ferry to work each day, and that means an early start and a late return home each day. Not that I’m complaining – other commuters elsewhere in the UK spend hours a day on motorways or in crowded train carriages…

Meanwhile, I get to spend at least an hour a day passing across some prime marine habitat – and while the likes of Fulmars, Gannets and Eiders are pretty much a given on any crossing, just occasionally I’ll get a passing glimpse of something less commonplace – I’ve seen many Harbour Porpoises from the ferry’s passenger lounge, and have enjoyed single sightings of King Eider, Humpback Whale, and Basking Shark for example.

Mostly though it’s a quiet time – a chance to catch up on the latest British Wildlife journal, or a chance to do a bit of writing. My latest piece for 60 North magazine was written on the ferry – and has just been published in the Autumn edition of the magazine. It’s about a subject very dear to my heart – Fair Isle, and in particular the birdwatching that takes place there.

It was Fair Isle that first brought me to Shetland in 1992, to visit the bird observatory at the time run by the warden at the time, Paul Harvey. I saw lots of rare birds, had a lot of fun, and came away completely inspired to return as soon as possible – and, ultimately, to move to Shetland for good. I’ve lived here for over 10 years now, but Fair Isle retains a special place in my affections – I’ve made good friends there, and in a small way have done my bit for the island – some years ago I was involved in facilitating the building of a new bird observatory there. It felt good to play a part in the history of the study of birds on the island, and I try to get back there when work (and birds!) permit.

So it’s about the history of birding on Fair Isle that I based my latest piece for 60 North – it remains to this day the best place in Europe to see displaced, ultra-rare birds, and those birds have attracted their share of colourful characters down the years…



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