Seabird Spectacular, Gannet Frenzy & Mousa Storm petrels: Ultimate Shetland Day 5

Our time on Unst was coming to an end, but we had one more site to visit before we left and headed back down south. This was a visit to Keen of Hamar.




At first sight it may look like a barren hillside set amongst green fields, but the Keen of Hamar is a truly unique botanical site: this, the largest expanse of serpentine debris in Europe, is home to rare arctic-alpine plants including one – Edmondston’s chickweed – that grows only here and on the nearby slopes of Nikka Vord and nowhere else in the world. We searched what is like a moonscape, to locate this tiny rare plant!



Serpentine debris, a gravelly soil with a sparse scattering of plants that has probably changed little since the end of the last glaciation, covers roughly half of the 42.4 hectare (ha) Reserve. Arctic-alpine plants which are normally found only on high mountain screes and in glacial regions thrive in these unstable conditions.

Whilst searching for the chickweed, we came across a couple of rare frog orchids. The flowers of these tiny, understated members of the orchid family resemble little frog faces.

It is a special habitat and we were also lucky enough to locate the slender St John’s Wort as well as Kidney vetch, as well as several species of orchid. Sometimes an iPhone can do a great job of taking a photo…..of me taking a photo!



A couple of great views of wheatear youngsters and we were on our way south again…


We then had a long drive back down to the mainland as, with the weather improving, we were going to attempt our Noss boat trip. The weather on Shetland can be unpredictable at best, but Hugh has an excellent relationship with the team on the Mousa Boat and we had changed our schedule various times during the week to try to pick the very best time for us to sail to maximise our opportunities .  As we pulled into Sandsayre harbour, we couldn’t believe it; the wind had dropped, the skies were blue and the sea was calm. We had time to soak in the atmosphere, eat our lunch with common seals and eiders for company! Once again, there were numerous females with ducklings and I was able to creep up and snatch some photos…