Naturalist, TV presenter, writer and wildlife guide Iolo Williams has spent a lot of time on islands this spring and summer. After spending a fabulous – if cold – three weeks on the Farne Islands off the east coast of northern England for BBC Springwatch, he headed further north in early summer to lead a party of 10 avid wildlife watchers on the Shetlands.
“It was a nine-day trip with Shetland Nature and we packed an enormous amount in and covered a lot of land and see, from the very southern tip of the islands all the way to Muckle Flugga in the far north. We were looking out for great skuas, or ‘bonxies’ as they’re known in the Shetlands, red-necked phalarope, otters, Arctic skuas, as well as common and grey seals, to name but a few.”
Though viewing opportunities came thick and fast, they were often far away, so Iolo and his group relied on high magnification optics to ensure that they always got good views, whether watching from land or sea: “We had two Leica APO-Televid 65 spotting scopes between the group and they were invaluable. Without them we would not have seen mountain hare, merlin, red grouse and red-necked phalarope. The guests had binoculars, but the spotting scopes bring everything that much closer, which makes all the difference in these situations.”
In Iolo’s last instalment for us, the weather on the Farnes was pretty dark and miserable in spite of glorious spring weather for the rest of the UK. Did he fare any better on the Shetlands? “No, sadly not!” He laughed, “The light conditions were never brilliant, it never really got warm, it was constantly windy, and there were frequent rain showers, though sometimes the sun did manage to break through for short periods.
“Thanks to the Leica spotting scopes and my Ultravid HD-Plus binoculars, however, the weather didn’t spoil the views of the wildlife. One day, late afternoon, we had phenomenal views of red grouse even though the light was particularly bad, it was foggy and there was light rain falling constantly.”
Iolo’s a great believer that if you have the correct kit, the weather should never be a problem: “It was a fantastic trip – all highs really. The only low was missing out on orcas. They were about but their behaviour was not at all predictable and we didn’t manage to catch a glimpse of them.”
There were plenty of other magic moments to make up for the lack of whales though: “Seeing the otters was especially stunning – there were so many around and we got really great views. We also had a real treat watching from water off the Noss National Nature Reserve, which is a huge gannetry.
The captain threw mackerel from the back of our boat and suddenly the air was filled with bright white arrows. It was just like something you’d see at the battle of Agincourt! Simply amazing!”
With such wonderful wildlife, it’s not really surprising that Iolo’s next destination is yet another northern British island. He’s off to Scotland’s west coast and the Isle of Mull for five days. After that, it’s something a bit different with a lecture tour of the US and Canada.
Photo credits: Shetland Nature.