Shetland Summer - June 2018

Shetland Summer - it’s a bit like Shetland spring (see earlier post) but with everything in overdrive - and with almost 24 hours-a-day daylight!

If someone was going to ask my advice about being at the south end of Shetland in June, I’d certainly enthuse about the puffins at Sumburgh Head and probably about the fantastic (empty) beaches - and I’d then start muttering about the importance of having decent blackout curtains where ever you might be trying to sleep.   

Shetland in June moves to what the locals call “Simmer Dim” - the most useful translation is probably something like “summer dimness”, giving a sense that at this time of year it does get dim overnight but it really doesn’t get properly dark.  If you can find somewhere with a clear view to the northern horizon you’ll see that the sun slowly drags itself below the horizon just west of north and then shortly afterwards starts to drag itself up again just east of north - not quite the full midnight sun, but certainly close enough to disorient you.  And if you rely on your body clock to tell you when it’s time to do things like eat or sleep, after about three days you’ll be cheerfully eating breakfast at 04:30 and falling asleep mid-afternoon when you really should be heading to cafe at Sumburgh Head for afternoon tea or coffee.  There’s an entire blog post about the time I’ve spent at Sumburgh Head over the years.

Afternoon Coffee - Sumburgh Head
Morning Coffee - also Sumburgh Head

The close to 24-hour daylight also pushes the bird life into overdrive - puffins are coming and going at pretty much any time of day - more likely driven by the prevailing weather than by anything as conventional as a clock.  June is a great time for puffin spotting - and over the last few weeks there have been several high puffin count days - I’ve seen at least one puffin coming into the cliffs with a beak full of plump sand-eels - suggesting that there are sand-eels around to be caught and pufflings around to be fed.  It would be great if the Sumburgh puffins could have a good breeding season this year, there have been several poor seasons recently, and the presence of a decent numbers of sand eels locally would be really important.

Beak to beak
In the Pinks
Fish for breakfast
Committee Meeting

Despite appearances to the contrary I didn’t spend all my time watching puffins - an extended period of settled warm weather did give me plenty of time to explore other bits of the south mainland, including Scat Ness (another of my local patches) and Quendale Beach (another regular walk) on numerous occasions.  The only interruption to the settled weather was a couple of days when Storm Hector blew through bringing some unseasonably wild weather - not good for the birds nesting low on cliffs, but providing opportunities for some dramatic pictures.

Calm Evening at Sumburgh Head 
Looking North from Windy Stacks, Fitful Head
Quendale Beach
After the Storm, Scat Ness

And it’s not just the puffins bringing in food for youngsters, lots of other birds are just starting to move on from the incubating to feeding stages, including the local Shetland Wrens.

Shetland Wren

Finally, June really is when the tourist season gets into overdrive too - the hotels, guest houses and ferries are full, every other passing place seems to have a camper van in it - and even the slipway in Lerwick has visitors sleeping on it. Well, one at least.

Bearded Seal - usually in the High Arctic, this summer on a Lerwick slipway

Local Patch - Shetland - (III) Sumburgh Head

This is the third of three posts about my local patches at the south end of Shetland.  

Part One was all about Scat Ness, Part Two about Quendale Beach and this one is about Sumburgh Head.

I've taken a lot of photographs on Shetland. Actually that's probably an understatement, but the first one was taken on the coast near the Sumburgh Hotel on Saturday 27th January 2007 - and the main feature in that picture was Sumburgh Head.   I certainly had no idea quite how much time I would spend at Sumburgh Head over the next eleven and a half years.

Sumburgh Head - an RSPB Reserve and more recently with a fabulous Shetland Amenity Trust visitor centre - has become one of the places I visit regularly when I'm on Shetland. Very regularly.  If I look back through my photo records I do wind up visiting Sumburgh Head almost every day when I'm on Shetland - sometimes twice and occasionally more.

This is true at anytime of the year - from braving the winter storms in January and December, through the early spring reappearance of the guillemots and the excitement (usually in April) of seeing the puffins return.  In both the spring and autumn Sumburgh is a prime stopping point for passing migrants and almost anything can and does turn up.  

In the middle of summer I'll stare hopefully over the walls in the hope of glimpsing one of the passing orcas, in the middle of winter I'll cling to the walls in the hope of not being blown over the cliff edge.

Over the years Sumburgh Head has changed.  There are certainly more fulmar now than before, but sadly fewer puffins and many fewer kittiwakes.  And there's now a visitor centre - I was worried that the centre would spoil the sense of wildness.  Sumburgh Head has successfully retained it's sense of wildness but with an added sense of heritage and history, and a fabulous little cafe.  

And toilets. :-)

January 2007
February 2016
March 2011
April 2015
May 2011
June 2018
July 2017
August 2017
September 2012
October 2010
November 2017
December 2013