Half way between Shetland and Orkney, where the Atlantic meets the North Sea, the island of Fair Isle is famous for its huge seabird colonies, dramatic scenery, stunning list of rare migrants and, of course, its knitwear. Enjoy a unique holiday on Britain's most isolated inhabited island combined with some great birding on Mainland Shetland. Spectacular birds, awesome scenery, scrumptious food and no crowds - guaranteed!

Red-backed Shrike

Red-throated Pipit


Arctic Skua

Common Crane


Purple Sandpiper

Marsh Warbler



DAY 1  Saturday

Late afternoon / early evening rendezvous at the Spiggie Hotel. After dinner we will have a short evening excursion to look for any newly arrived migrants or visit the seabird colonies at Sumburgh Head. Overnight at the Spiggie Hotel.

DAY 2  Sunday

We spend the day exploring the south Mainland's many migrant hotspots to take advantage of any scarce migrants that might have arrived in the previous few days - at this time of year Bluethroat, Red-backed Shrike and Wryneck are all realistic possibilities. Our first port of call will be Sumburgh Head where we will check the scant cover around the lighthouse built by the famous Stevenson family. One of the great advantages of birding in Shetland is the lack of cover - making it that much easier to unearth a skulking warbler or two, and the bushes here have held Subalpine Warbler, an overshoot from the Mediterranean, in more than one recent spring. We'll also check several nutrient rich lochs in the south Mainland. These often hold a good variety of ducks and waders on their way north to their tundra breeding grounds. Garganey and Wood Sandpiper can often be found and we will keep our eyes open for something much rarer - Lesser Yellowlegs, Black Duck and Great White Egret have been just some of the highlights of recent years. We will probably encounter a few flocks of hirundines too, and we should keep a sharp eye out among the Swallows and martins in case a rarer visitor like a Red-rumped Swallow lurks among them. We also explore Shetland's largest expanse of inter-tidal mud at the Pool of Virkie. Here we should find a good variety of Arctic-bound waders stopping off to refuel on their long journey north. Knot and Sanderling should be present in their less familiar - but more colourful - summer plumage and we must check carefully for any rarer visitors. Overnight at the Spiggie Hotel.

DAY 3 - 7  Monday - Friday - Fair Isle

After breakfast we travel north to Tingwall Airport to board our plane, each of us full of excitement and anticipation at the thought of what great birds await us. After a thirty minute flight, we arrive on the remote and magical island of Fair Isle. We'll check in to our cosy and homely guest house, which is located at the southern end of the island.

It's hard to define a day on Fair Isle, as our activities are so diverse! Our day will typically start with an optional pre-breakfast walk to check for migrant arrivals. After judging the weather prospects for the day ahead we could find ourselves assisting in a daily migrant census or may find ourselves out for the day with a packed lunch on the north and west cliffs, completely immersed in the vast seabird colonies for which the island is so famous.

During our visit, Fair Isle is alive with over 250,000 seabirds of 17 breeding species, ten of which nest in nationally or internationally important numbers - Fulmar, Gannet, Shag, Arctic Skua, Great Skua, Kittiwake, Arctic Tern, Guillemot, Razorbill and Puffin. We'll also be exploring the meadows and cliffs for mosaics of wildflowers, keeping an eye offshore for whales, dolphins and porpoises and there will be the option of visiting the island's wonderful museum, knitwear demonstrations and craft displays.

Searching for migrant passerines on Fair Isle is an original and exciting form of birding! Apart from the tiny 'plantation', there are no trees or bushes of significant size on the island and thus cover for migrants is extremely sparse. A large proportion of birds tend to be found in the southern part of the island and with hospitality in these parts second to none, our friends who live on Fair Isle allow us the freedom to roam all corners of their island.

As with birding anywhere else, we're at the mercy of the weather. We'll hope for a few days of the fabled east winds that can produce spectacular numbers of common migrants like Ring Ouzels, Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Redstarts, Whitethroats, Wood Warblers and Blackcaps. We would hope to find a few goodies - Corncrake, Marsh and Icterine Warblers, Bluethroat, Wryneck, Golden Oriole, Red-backed Shrike, Common Rosefinch and Ortolan Bunting are all likely candidates. Rarities recorded with some degree of regularity on previous holidays include Short-toed Lark, Red-throated Pipit, Thrush Nightingale and Subalpine Warbler. We've even seen Calandra Lark, Collared Flycatcher and a dazzling male Yellow-rumped Warbler! Even when there are few migrants elsewhere in Shetland, Fair Isle has an uncanny knack of producing interesting birds. It is also one of the best places in the whole of Britain to find your own rarities, so who knows - maybe it will be us making the birding headlines this spring!

We'll also seek out breeders like Fair Isle Wren, Wheatears, Twite and both Rock and Meadow Pipits and scour the seaweed-strewn beaches and rock pools for arctic-bound shorebirds, most of which will be in handsome summer plumage. Typical coastal species like Turnstone, Dunlin, Sanderling, Purple Sandpiper and Ringed Plover will be present and we should also encounter Golden Plover, Common and Wood Sandpiper, Greenshank and Whimbrel.

DAY 8  Saturday

We leave Fair Isle in the morning and return on a flight to mainland Shetland. You may however wish to consider joining our follow-on Ultimate Shetland holiday running from 14th - 21st May 2016 to see the very best of Shetland!.


Holiday Information 2016 Operating Dates

Sat 7th May


Sat 14th May





Single Supplement





Group Size - maximum 5 travellers



250,000 seabirds - well nearly!
Surf Scoter - 1st for Fair Isle
Terek Sandpiper - wow!
Short-toed Lark
Ring Ouzel
River Warbler - wow!
Icterine Warbler
Marsh Warbler
Subalpine Warbler
Lesser Grey shrike
Red-backed Shrikes
Common Rosefinch
Ortolan Bunting
Lapland Bunting
Black-headed Bunting

Killer Whales
Minke Whales
White-beaked Dolphins
White-sided Dolphins
Harbour Porpoise
Grey Seals
Harbour Seals
Fair Isle Mouse – endemic!


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