Shetland Autumn 2013

It's a pretty good bet that you won't get snow on Shetland in September or October, but anything else is highly likely.

You might well get gale- (and sometimes storm-) force winds that will attempt to blow you off the cliffs, in one direction or the other.  You might well get fog, which while it probably won't delay your flight to or from Shetland too much, it will wreak havoc with any plans you might have to get to Fair Isle. You might even get gale force fog, which at least means that you can't see the cliff edge as you get blown towards it.  You might well get big seas which will make the ferry crossing to Aberdeen very entertaining, and the wee boat to Fair Isle, at least two notches beyond entertaining.  You might get bright sunshine, still air and dramatic sunrises and sunsets.  And if you get lucky, clear overnight skies will coincide with a little bit of auroral activity and you'll get a glimpse of the Mirrie Dancers, the wonderful Shetland name for the Northern Lights, and even if the aurora doesn't play ball the dark skies might give you some dramatic starscapes.

I've spent the last three weeks in the house at the south end of Shetland, and have seen all the variants mentioned above.
Clear air across Quendale Bay - all the way to Fair Isle
Sunlit South End - Fitful Head from Compass Head
Eshaness - On a photograph, no one can tell how hard the wind was blowing.
Sunset over Quendale Bay
Victoria Pier Lerwick, boats in harbour ahead of the storms
Storm Surge at Sumburgh Head
Lost in the Mist, on Quendale Beach
Mirrie Dancers over Virkie
Star-struck in Shetland

The ever changing autumn weather (although on Shetland 'ever-changing' is a reasonable description of the weather at any time of year) also changes the wildlife that can be found. In the autumn Shetland draws in a huge variety of migrating birds some intending to spend time on Shetland, other blown there en route somewhere warmer.  The bushes and fields have been thick with unlikely birds over the last couple of weeks, and the roads have been choked with visiting bird-watchers all intent on adding another tick or two to their lifetime lists.

My own personal highlights (I don't really get that excited by seeing birds that have been blown to places that they shouldn't be visiting) was seeing huge number of porpoises in the bay in front of the house and seeing otters on a beach where I hadn't seen them before.

I suspect the porpoises are in the bay for a lot of the time, but with waves blowing through it can be pretty hard to spot them.  When the water is mirror-smooth they are easy to see - I counted about 40 in the bay one morning, and another more diligent observer got to  75.

Shetland has the highest density otter population in the UK, allegedly averaging one otter for each mile of coastline (and Shetland has a lot of miles of coastline) and that probably means that otters are visiting pretty much all of the coastline quite regularly.  I am always delighted when I spend time watching a beach where I've not seen an otter before, and I get rewarded by a new sighting.

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