Day 8 |
Aug 26, 2012

Fair Isle, Shetlands  

By Robin Aiello, Marine Biologist

Co-ordinates: N 59º30'5", W 001º38'5"
Weather: Bright sunshine
Air Temperature: 15ºC
Pressure: 1007 hPa
Wind: 15 knots

Woke up this morning to sunshine streaming through the window – what a beautiful day! We were anchored off the southern side of Fair Isles, and although there was a slight swell, conditions were perfect for us to take the Zodiacs ashore for our morning excursion to the island.

Fair Isle is known for its seabird life, and as were started operations there were many gannets and fulmars flying overhead. However, the thousands of seabirds that nest here during the summer have already departed for their winter migration. Regardless, the day was stunning, and the scenery spectacular.

The first to disembark were the long hikers – our plan was to walk through the small settlement to the Fair Isla Bird Observatory about 2.5 miles away. Nearly 60 of our guests decided today was a good day for a long walk, and we on our way by about 8:45am. At 9am those guest who just wanted to wander around on their own, or go to the museum, came ashore.

Two local Rangers that worked at the Bird Observatory – Sammy and Ed - guided the long hikers. We followed the windy paved road all the way, and it felt so good to stretch our legs. On the way we spotted several small migratory birds, including wrens and wheatears.

About half way there, we came across one of the island’s 8 bird traps. These are large contraptions that are designed in such a manner that the birds fly into small boxes so that the rangers can catch them, tag them with leg rings, record size and weights, and then release them.

We were fortunate enough to arrive at the trap just as one of the rangers was removing a wheatear bird from the trap. He showed us how to hold the small birds without harming it, how to take the measurements and how to ring it and then release it. The research here has resulted in some new information about migratory pathways of several species of birds. Very interesting.

But the best part of the day was just strolling through the incredibly beautiful rolling hills and along the rugged rocky coastline. The sun warmed out faces but the cool wind kept us comfortable.

Fields with hundreds of sheep spread out in front of us, luring some of us to go ‘off-road’ and explore for ourselves. Many of the sheep were uncharacteristically friendly and sometimes a small group would run right to us and poke their noses over the drywall (rock walls) for a nuzzle.

At 11am, some of the group joined the locals at a quaint little white church for the Sunday service. Others spent time in the Community Hall perusing the local handicrafts that they had out for purchase and sipping cups of tea and nibbling on handmade biscuits.

By 12 noon we were getting back on the Zodiacs and heading to the ship. Before we got there, though, we detoured close to the rocky outcrops and spent some time spotting grey seals in the shallows.

These are such cute seals –and very curious. They would poke their heads up out of the water and bob in the ocean keeping a close eye on us. Whenever we would get too close they would turn quickly and plunge back into the water – only to pop up somewhere else for another look.

We had an afternoon at sea as the ship made its way down to our next stop in Scotland. Hans-Peter Reinthaler, our botanist, gave a lecture during the afternoon entitled “A Short Natural History of Europe”. This was a comprehensive lecture that gave an overview of the geography of the continent. He described how the flora and fauna has changed dramatically over the past 300 million years, and why things look they way the do today.

Recap & Briefing was held at 5pm today, and once Robin West, our Expedition Leader, had told us about our planned tour tomorrow at Invergordon, we had a surprise preview of the voyage video. Richard Sidey, our photographer, showed us a short 6-minute clip from the Zodiac cruise we had done at Runde Island several days ago. Great footage!

The night wasn’t over yet – at 7pm we had our Venetian Society Cocktail Party, followed by dinner. It was a great turnout, and everyone looked so glamorous in their fancy dress! What a great way to end a great day!