All About Auks, May 2021

For some folks, time on Shetland at this time year is all about the migrants that pass through the islands. These birds stop off briefly to refuel and rest wherever they can, pose briefly for the local photographers then head off for their intended destinations - a few are no doubt hopelessly lost, but most have a real purpose to their journeys.

For me, however, time on Shetland at this time of year is really all about hanging out with the birds who opt to spend the summer months around the islands - and particularly the auks that (like me) hang around on the cliffs and headlands at the south end of Shetland.

I've been able to spend time with four different auks over the last few weeks.

Puffins (aka Tammie Norrie)

These are the show-offs of the auk world - they love hanging out at the top of the cliffs (where there are nesting burrows) in the warm Shetland sunshine (sometimes) - and they really do seem to like posing for the tourists.

Furnishing The Burrow


Staying In

Falling into Line

Guillemots (aka Longwi)

These provide the soundtrack to the cliffs over the spring and summer - always the first back (sometimes in the middle of winter) - these guys spend time sitting wing-to-wing, until the critical moment when the young jumplings jump.  I'm never sure what the guillemots are chattering about, I can only imagine that it's endless negotiations about ledge space!  I've always found it challenging to photograph these birds - with the other auks you can concentrate on one individual, but the guillemots are so close together that you almost alway wind up with pictures of a group.

Jostling for Position

On the Edge

Black Guillemots (aka Tystie)

I love hanging out with these birds - for years I only saw them on the water, but recently I've found places where they nest and rear their young, which has provided endless hours of watching over the last couple of years - and I love the red gape and the matching red feet.


Red Feet

Double Act

Razorbill (aka Sea Craa)

However fond I might be of puffins and tysties, the razorbills are my real favourite.  

They aren't as flamboyant as the puffins or tysties - and they usually get pushed out to the cliffs on the edges of the guillemot colonies.  It did seem that around Sumburgh Head this year that they've been able to claim some of their own ledge space rather than negotiating with the guillemots.  Maybe they're just asserting their true auk-ness, as the closest remaining ancestor of the Great Auk.


Beak to Beak

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