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Shetland is famous for its large seabird colonies, spectacular cliffs and the number and variety of rare and scarce migrants it attracts. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds have several reserves in Shetland including Fetlar, Lumbister (Yell), Loch of Spiggie (south Mainland), Mousa and Sumburgh Head. Scottish Natural Heritage also have three National Nature Reserves - Hermaness (Unst), the Keen of Hamar (Unst) - a unique botanical site, and the Isle of Noss, each containing a diversity of habitats and including a significant proportion of the islands' breeding seabird species. There is also the famous Fair Isle Bird Observatory which is privately operated on Fair Isle, the most southerly island of the group.
Access to the main bird watching areas in Shetland is largely unrestricted and is facilitated by the almost complete lack of trees and the relatively small number of birdwatchers who normally work the area. Most Shetlanders' are only too pleased to allow birdwatchers onto their land, a situation that the Shetland Bird Club wishes to continue. Visiting birdwatchers should exercise care and caution when bird watching on the isles, it should go without saying that no-one should walk through crops or gardens unannounced. As with anywhere else in Britain, if you are unsure about access, ask at the nearest house. Rare birds have turned up on all the islands but the best areas are in the central and south mainland where the vegetation is generally better developed. Migrants are just as likely to be found hopping along a dry stone wall, a small ditch or a low cliff area however, as a well vegetated garden.
At all times while bird watching in the isles, the welfare of birds must come first. Keep disturbance of birds, both migratory and breeding, to an absolute minimum. Remember that a high percentage of migrants that touch down in Shetland have been blown hundreds of miles off course and need time to feed and rest. Similarly, avoid walking through breeding colonies during the summer months. This period is a very stressful time for birds, many species such as Arctic Terns and Skuas will instantly let you know that you're not welcome in their territories but some other species are not so adept at predatory control as these.
The most northerly of the islands, parts of Unst is quite tundra-like with slopes covered in thin turf and stony outcrops and screes, much of the island consisting of permeable serpentine rock. The north and west are the best vegetated areas and hold the majority of the breeding birds. Easter loch, Loch of Snarravoe and Loch of Watlee in the south of the island and Baltasound and Norwick in the north are good places to visit. Hermaness National Nature Reserve, situated at the north-west tip of Unst comprises 980 hectares of moorland and cliffs rising up to 170 metres. Within the reserve are numerous offshore stacks and skerries including Muckle Flugga and Out Stack, the most northerly point in Britain. It is a major seabird reserve with over 100,000 breeding birds including Gannet, Kittiwake, Fulmar, Guillemot, Razorbill, Arctic Skua, over 30,000 pairs of Puffins and 800 pairs of Great Skuas. Access to the reserve is unrestricted and a warden is present during the summer, based at the Muckle Flugga shore station beside the reserve car park.
The reserve is also famous for the Black-browed Albatross which joined the Gannets on the point of Saito in 1972 and returned there for several years thereafter, although it has not been seen for several years. Other rarer visitors to the island have included White-throated Sparrow and a Yellow-headed Blackbird, both in spring 1987, Pechora Pipit, Blyth's Reed Warbler and Common Yellowthroat.
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