Tirricks and scootie allans herald the return of summer

Katherine Snell and Craig Nisbet are SNH wardens working on the stunning island of Noss. Part of the Shetland Isles, the reserve is renowned as one of Europe’s finest wildlife sites. Its 180 metre-high sea cliffs come to life in the summer when tens of thousands of seabirds return to nest.  The moorland heart of Noss on the other hand is the stronghold of the skuas.  In the first of a series of regular updates Katherine gives us an insight into the recent sights and sounds on this fascinating National Nature Reserve.

“On the morning of 7th May I was awoken by the familiar shrill cries of Arctic terns, flitting like little scraps of tissue above the white breakers of Noss sound. But only two days ago the only wake up calls were the oystercatchers erratic cries; the terns were still in the final stage of their epic journey from the Antarctic to their breeding grounds in the north.

“Now the unmistakable sound of the Arctic terns, or ‘tirrick’, as they are known in Shetland, a beautifully descriptive local name, conjures up a perfect soundscape I associate with Shetland summers. Here on Noss the small but boisterous tern colony is directly in front of the cottage and there are no shortage of views from our front door, or from the boat as they feed in Noss Sound.

Arctic tern (Tirrick) by Katherine Snell

Arctic tern (Tirrick) by Katherine Snell

“And with the ‘tirrick’s come the ultimate aerial predator, the Arctic skua, known here as ‘scootie allans’. Phenomenal fliers and incredibly elegant birds with pointed wings and central tail streamers. Scootie allans are as beautiful as they are ferocious. Pirates of the skies, they are often seen in fast and skilful pursuit of terns to steal their hard won food; an aerial display I still watch in awe and astonishment.

Arctic skua (Scootie Allan) by  Katherine Snell

Arctic skua (Scootie Allan) by Katherine Snell

“Their return does not bring such good news for ground nesting waders, with an oystercatcher nest predated within a matter of minutes yesterday. Oystercatchers are likely to re-lay their eggs and the luckier pairs usually have some success.”

A predated oystercatcher egg (image by Craig Nisbet)

A predated oystercatcher egg (image by Craig Nisbet)

If you are inspired to visit Noss then we have some good news for you  … a series of guided walks are taking place this season around the reserve. This is a perfect opportunity to learn much more about all aspects of Noss’ natural history from its extraordinary seabird cliffs to the diverse array of wild flowers. Noss also has excellent examples of Shetland’s cultural history including a Bronze Age burnt mound and a restored ‘pony pund’ from when Noss was a stud farm for Shetland ponies. Walking routes and subjects will depend on the interests of participants, but all will provide you with stunning views of the gannetry and close encounters with puffins.

A stunning view into the Noss gannetry. Craig Nisbet

A stunning view into the Noss gannetry. (Image by Craig Nisbet)

Close encounters with Puffins are regular. (Image by Craig Nisbet)

Close encounters with Puffins are regular. (Image by Craig Nisbet)


The dates for your diaries are as follows:

Saturday 17th May
Tuesday 3rd June
Tuesday 17th June
Saturday 19th July
Tuesday 5th August
Tuesday 19th August

What you need to know:
• Booking is essential, please call the SNH office in Lerwick on 01595 693345 (open office hours).
• The terrain on Noss is rough and stout footwear (boots or wellies), warm and waterproof clothing, food, and water are essential.
All walks begin at 10.30 am and last for approx 4 hours.
• Cameras and binoculars are highly recommended, but the warden will have a telescope and binoculars for participants to use.
• The Noss ferry operates from 10 am and 5pm daily except Mondays and Thursday. The ferry is dependent on sea conditions and the information line is updated each morning. Please call 0800 1077818 before departing to avoid disappointment.
• A regular inter island ferry operates from the centre of Lerwick to Bressay. Please visit http://www.shetland.gov.uk/ferries for further information.

Looking forward to seeing you on Noss!


Find out more about Noss National Nature Reserve @ http://www.nnr-scotland.org.uk/noss/



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