With no current blog of our own, I hope you’ll excuse my temporary hijack of the Loch Leven blog to introduce you to some of our island dwellers up here on Noss National Nature Reserve.
I’ve been in post up here for a couple of weeks now, familiarizing myself with the inhabitants I’ll be sharing the island with this summer, whilst setting up our home and the visitor centre at Gungstie.
On arrival this year we were surprised at how many of the sea birds were already back on territory. This is presumably a result of the relatively mild winter. The following pictures depict selected residents currently dominating much of the island (note the use of Shetland names where possible!):
Noss is home to about 10000 pairs of Gannet, making it the 5th largest gannetry in Scotland.
Bonxies first colonised Noss in 1910, and their aggressive nature has led to them now dominating much of the 350 hectares of moorland covering the island. Wellknown for being protective parents, they also predate on fledglings of others, and have gradually marginalised their cousin, the Arctic Skua.
Fulmars occupy all corners of Noss, and are another relatively recent coloniser, having first arrived in Sheltand in the late 19th century. Their defence mechanism of spitting oil has also become a weapon, as it destroys the waterproofing of other seabirds plumage, thereby allowing them to move into vacated territories of other species of gull.
Noss is home to all 4 species of British auk, with Tysties (Black Guillemots), Tammie nories (Puffins), Longwis (Guillemots) and Sea craas (Razorbills) all returning in numbers to their breeding sites around the cliffs. More on these later in the season.
Other island residents include the two endemic Shetland birds, the Shetland Wren and the Shetland Starling, both of which are sub-species of their mainland cousins.
Cormorants are vastly outnumbered by their smaller and more sea-faring relatives, the Shags, although small numbers do still persist on the south eastern corner of the island. Shags occupy many of the lower sections of cliff along the eastern shores.
Spring is also a great time of year to find passage migrants. Given our easterly location and relative proximity to Scandinavia, lots of birds will use Noss as a last stopping point before the 350km journey across the North Sea. Although it is still relatively early for the influx of these migrants, we’ve had occassional visits from Chiffchaf, Pied Wagtail, Long-tailed Duck, and the lovely Purple Sandpiper.
There are a number of breeding waders that occupy a variety of habitats, including Shalder (Oystercatcher), Horse-gok (Snipe), Turnstone, Dunlin, Golden Plover and Sandiloo (Ringed Plover).
Noss has a rich and varied history of usage by Man dating back thousands of years, and more recently has been used for farming, with agriculture dominating 300 years ago, and the whole island still being used as a sheep farm to this day.
Approximately 350 sheep graze the island throughout the year, as part of the management agreement between the landowners, Gardie Trust, and Scottish Natural Heritage, which equates to about 1 sheep per hectare.
There is of course plenty of marine life around the island too, and whilst we’re still waiting for our first cetacean sightings of the season, we are particularly fond of our local selkies (seals), and Draatsis (Otters).
Both species of seal can be seen around the island, but it seems that the most inquisitive and playful of them is the Harbour Seal. Whilst locating moorings in Nesti Voe, they were certainly interested in what we were up to, bobbing up and down in dry suits!
Noss is open to the public every day this year between 18th April and 31st August, excluding Mondays and Thursdays (sea conditions permitting). It can be accessed by taking the regular Lerwick to Bressay ferry, crossing Bressay, and then by the Noss ferry which is operated by reserve staff. Please call the Noss Information Line on 0800 107 7818 before departing from Lerwick to avoid disappointment.
For more information please visit the Noss NNR website, and many thanks to the Loch Leven team for the use of your blog!