What an incredible morning! Shetland really specialises in huge skies and this morning was a wonderfully still morning with clear blue skies… the view from the Ultasound Hotel on Unst was pretty special!
It was our last day on the island, as we would be heading back across on the ferry to Yell and then onto the mainland. As it was such a still, gorgeous morning, we stopped again at some pools we had been visiting, watching for phalarope… they didn’t appear, but the arctic terns, ringed plover and dunlin showed well . The wheatear, snipe and oystercatchers also made regular appearances and it was idyllic sitting there, bird watching.
Stopping off to pick up some trail cams we had set when we arrived in Unst, we were pleased to have captured at least one clip of the visiting otter..
The journeys across on the ferries were wonderful as the weather was so good… I even ventured to take my hat off! We all constantly scanning the horizon for any sign of dolphins… sadly not this time, but lovely views of gannet, greylag geese flying over, black guillemot, guillemot and the occasional puffin.
We headed to the mainland and to the lovely wild flower meadow outside Cheyne House to have our lunch. This area is not grazed and is just stunning with a wonderful display of orchid, cotton grass, spring squill, tormentil, eyebright and thrift… plenty of opportunities to take photos and enjoy the landscape!
Heading up the hills, we searched the dry landscape for mountain hare. Shetland has been the driest place in the UK for June and it certainly shows. The usually soft and damp sphagnum was dry and crispy and the pools and rivulets of fresh water were dry. The mountain hare are particularly difficult to see at this time of year, as they blend so well with the habitat. Sadly, despite our best efforts, the hare eluded us.
It was time to head back to the Spiggie Hotel for a bit of a rest before our night trip to Mousa to see the storm petrels. When the light fades, hundreds of these tiny birds return to their nests in the Broch and the surrounding stone wall and stony beaches. Mousa is a wonderfully atmospheric island, especially at night. You can find out more about it here.
The name Mousa comes from the Old Norse “Mósey” meaning mossy island.
Situated at 60º North it has an approximate latitude with Oslo and Helsinki.
The island is 1½ miles long and about 1 mile at its widest and is divided into two areas – the North Isle and the larger South Isle. The highest point is 180ft.
The geology is predominately Old Red Sandstone interspersed with limestone.
The island is designated as a special protection area and is managed as a Nature Reserve by the RSPB.
The Broch is maintained by Historic Scotland.
Mousa has been inhabited since Neolithic times and there are several sites from this period – see map.
The first mention of Mousa is by the Icelandic Chroniclers in the 9th century.
“Mósey Jarborg” meaning the tower or castle of Mousa was the name given to the Broch in Old Norse.
The island supported eleven households in 1794 but became uninhabited when the last family (Smith) left in 1853.
The atmospheric nature of the trip was enhanced when we boarded the boat at 10pm in the fog! Calm seas and a sailing mist gave the trip to the island a rather surreal feel!
We left the boat and started the 15 minute walk to the ancient broch. Despite is being half ten at night, it was easy navigable without torches as, at this time of year, it does not get completely dark in Shetland. The broch loomed out of the mist…
Standing by the broch, it was not long before the petrels started coming in, their bizarre churring calls from deep inside the walls and surrounding stone areas creating a weird soundscape.
Like tiny bats, they flitted and dipped around our heads, landing on the walls awkwardly and then clambering up to locate their waiting mates.
Using the Bushnell Equinox Z night vision, I attempted to film them…
We also located an individual in a hole near the entrance. Setting the Equinox up on the tripod, I filmed her deep inside the broch’s protective walls…
It is a most magical experience and one which we will all treasure, made even more special by the fact that Hugh had chartered the boat and we were the only ones on the island.
Tired, but extremely happy, we headed back to our beds, finally falling asleep at nearly 2am, with the churring sound of petrels still in our ears…. just incredible!