This walk around the Ness of Sound is one of my favourite Lerwick walks as we can do it from the house with no car or bus involved. It follows one of Shetland’s Core Paths, set up to provide waymarked routes and ‘reasonable access’ in various locations across the islands.
We always head to the Sletts first to see what is about. Earlier in the year, there is a good chance of getting amazing views of purple sandpipers on the rocks and long-tailed ducks offshore. The sandpipers seem to have largely moved off on their way north to breed, but there were still some ducks off Breiwick. Some of the males are starting to get their lovely chocolate brown summer plumage in contrast to their paler winter look.
We also got great views of a herring gull eating a shore crab for lunch. Somehow, he had managed to fend off any competition for the snack.
Heading past Fjarå Café, we watched the turnstones pottering about for a while. Some of them were also in breeding plumage, with beautiful tortoiseshell colours in their feathers. You can understand why they are also known as ruddy turnstones when you see them like this.
The next stop is usually Pullar’s Loch further up Sea Road. There was a smart male shoveler there on and off in February and March. But he has gone, and the loch was quiet today. Not far beyond, though, was a stunning summer plumaged great northern diver, snorkelling close to shore. I’ve spoken before here about their amazing transformation in spring and how different they look from winter. This bird was in full breeding gear and just gorgeous.
We decided not to detour to the remains of the WWII military battery near the end of the Ness but carried on up the grassy path as the cliffs gradually got higher. As we continued round the coast a movement on one of the rocks far below caught my eye. An otter! It launched itself into the sea to fish and we saw it porpoise a couple of times before disappearing. A short while afterwards, it appeared again with an octopus or squid in its mouth.
Delighted by our luck, we kept walking, watching the acrobatics of fulmars as we went. There were groups of both common (or harbour) and grey seals hauled out on the rocks below, which gave us a good opportunity to compare them. The commons were much more varied in colour and had the classic small, sweet face. The greys, in contrast, had longer roman noses and were less varied.
The cliffs get lower again as you enter the Voe of Sound. This meant we had good views of another great northern. This bird wasn’t quite as far into breeding plumage as the previous one. Nearby, though, was a pair of red-throated divers who were both in their summer finery.
We seemed to be stumbling on a lot of wildlife in the middle of lunch today. Near Sound was a great black-backed gull working its way through what I’ve since found out was a lumpsucker fish. This time, the gull wasn’t having it all its own way, though, and it kept having to move to avoid an attendant hooded crow.
At Sound, the white beach looked very inviting, but we continued up the footpath to head back to town. Our final treat was a quartet of twite on the fence of one of the paddocks; a bird that’s always lovely to see, despite being the archetypal ‘little brown job’.
Once again, this walk had come up trumps with amazing wildlife along the whole stretch. It is definitely not a walk for a wet or very windy day as there are some exposed stretches and one steep, grassy climb. But otherwise, there really is something new to see each time and I can’t wait for my next walk there.