A day in the Shetland wildlife

150524 Gannet meleeI recently read elsewhere in the blogosphere a writer’s day-in-the-life piece, one that set me thinking that I ought to do something similar. Without going into a blow by blow account of what constitutes a typical day for me – you’d doze off, I guarantee! – one constant of my life here in Shetland is travelling from my outer island home to the bright lights of Lerwick.

Apart from in winter’s very darkest days when there’s nothing to be seen but a black, rain-smeared window or two, that journey provides some scope for wildlife-watching. The drive from home on Whalsay to the ferry itself takes me over some good heather moorland habitat, home to typical upland birds for the area – in the summer I’ll hear the musical calls of Golden Plovers and Whimbrels, and maybe see panicky Red Grouse and rapier Arctic Skuas. Depending on the time of year the freshwater lochs I pass may yield either Whooper Swans and Goldeneye or Red-throated Divers.

160215 Otter LaxoThe ferry crossing is a short one, just half an hour – but I can guarantee a good variety of seabirds whatever the time of year. Amongst many others Gannets are omnipresent, as are Black Guillemots; in winter there is a raft of Eider, and in summer there will be Puffins. Sometimes scarcer seabirds enliven the day – maybe a Little Auk or a Pomarine Skua.

Grey Seals hang out in the sea near the ferry terminal, as do Otters – one particularly bold animal came ashore and loped casually in front of my car as I waited to catch the ferry home last night! Not all Otters are the shy and retiring animals they’re popularly made out to be…

150403 IMG_0451 Mountain Hare blogsizeThe journey by road from the ferry terminal to town takes about twenty minutes – this is mainly through more heather moorland, home to Mountain Hares absent from Whalsay, but also some small mosaics of croftland – if I haven’t already, I stand a good chance of seeing the shorebirds that feed on invertebrates in Shetland’s pastures: Curlews, Redshanks and Oystercatchers. There will be Ravens and Hooded Crows for sure, and sometimes surprises too – one morning earlier this winter I found three Waxwings perched on a road sign beside the main road.

140603 Northern Marsh Orchid Yell blogsizeAs I come into town there will be gulls aplenty along the length of the Lerwick waterfront. All the usual suspects, but maybe an Iceland or a Glaucous Gull too at this time of year; and of course there will be Turnstones feeding on the roadside verges in town – some of Lerwick’s verges are surprisingly good habitat, for plants as well as birds – I’ve seen Autumn Gentian flowering here in the centre of town, and Northern Marsh Orchids are ubiquitous too.

It takes about an hour and a half to get door to door in the morning or evening. As commutes go, it’s not a bad one.





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