The magical world of wildlife on Shetlands
A GOOD friend of mine, Brydon Thomason, who is based in the Shetland Islands, often sends me copies of his latest pictures, including amazing close-ups of otters feeding, playing and generally getting on with their lives, completely oblivious to Brydon’s presence.
He also shares photographs of some of the UK’s rarest birds, many of which seem to be attracted to his lens like a magnet, making him the envy of both birdwatchers and photographers alike.
Brydon is modest though, and gets more pleasure from sharing these sightings with the guests on his wildlife tours. He even has the most northerly holiday house to rent in the British Isles, idyllically situated at the northern end of Unst, with views of Hermaness National Nature Reserve and a breathtaking vista of Burrafirth beach.
From the surrounding moorland the evocative calls of iconic Shetland specialities such as Arctic skua and red-throated diver can be heard along with the symphony of song of curlew, golden plover and skylark to name but a few. In the bay squadrons of gannets plunge dive into the clear waters where fellow seabirds such as puffins, razorbills, black and common guillemots can be seen from the sofa. Having just written the previous few lines, I’m on my way north.
Brydon’s guests this year have also seen killer whales, Risso’s dolphin, harbour porpoise and minke whale, while on the birding front it has been remarkable, for example the magnificent pallid harrier seen here, and the rare and exotic rustic bunting, subalpine warbler, golden oriole, hoopoe, greenish warbler (actually found by group), great reed warbler, bee-eater, both the Unst ‘small race’ Canada geese not to mention multiple icterine warbler, redbacked shrike and marsh warbler.
Wild otters are undoubtedly one of the most sought-after, challenging and rewarding subjects for wildlife photographers in Britain. Few creatures encapsulate the wow factor like otters do; from their stealthy hunting and predatory abilities to the intimate, adorable and playful antics of a mother and her cubs.
Shetland is arguably the best place in Britain to see Eurasian otters with the islands actually boasting the highest density of these enigmatic mammals anywhere in Europe. Yet even with this advantage, many photographers often fail to enjoy an encounter, let alone photograph these notoriously secretive animals. For the lucky few that manage a sighting, they have usually wasted precious days of their holiday just trying to find a reliable site, and even then getting good photo opportunities is often all but impossible; this is where Brydon comes into his own, and he has specialised in otter photography itineraries for several years and created the niche for this notoriously challenging assignment, not knowing how popular it would become.
He now runs itineraries all year round, usually on a one-to-one basis but often for two photographers travelling together. Success depends on so many elements coming together, starting with which season, availability, studying the tides, and most importantly knowledge of the otters and their territories. However, it is in the field where the hard work really begins. Otters seem to have an acute nervousness – their elusive behaviour is renowned. So stringent consideration must be given to the following factors to maximize chances of encounters (and the quality of them) but most importantly to avoid disturbance to otters: state of tide, knowing an active site, wind direction, planning your approach, maintaining a minimum profile and so on.
The geography and terrain must also be suited considered to a client’s ability. A reasonable level of fitness is essential as reaching some of the best locations and especially getting into the best photographic position will often mean clambering over uneven terrain and shorelines.
Check out www. shetlandnature.net
The Laughing Badger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Padfield, Glossop
●● A pallid harrier – one of the birds seen by Brydon Thomason’s guests