Scotland - Shetland and Orkney Islands 2023

Aberdeen, UK

203 reviews
May 31 - Jun 11, 2023
Group size: 5 - 10
Scotland - Shetland and Orkney Islands 2023
Aberdeen, UK

203 reviews

May 31 - Jun 11, 2023
Group size: 5 - 10

About this trip

These beautiful archipelagos in Scotland's far north have always been synonymous with history and nature. They are places of open skies, empty beaches and rugged coastlines that enjoy almost twenty-four hour daylight during the summer months. Due to their strategic positions, these islands have been settled since before the Neolithic period, with many important archaeological sites dotting the landscape. Due to the lack of trees and use of durable stone for building, it is believed that there are on average, three archaeological sites per square mile on Orkney alone. We aim to explore many iconic sites including Skara Brae; a Neolithic village uncovered unexpectedly in a storm back in 1850. 

Both island groups are a birder’s paradise and are often rated as THE best places to birdwatch in the whole of Britain. This title is well deserved with plenty to see, especially in spring and fall. June and July are the best months to visit when the many seabird colonies are busiest with activity. 21 of the 24 true British seabirds nest on the islands with important populations that include Atlantic Puffin, Razorbill, Common Murre, Arctic Tern, Great Skua, Black-legged Kittiwake, Parasitic Jaeger and both European and Leach’s Storm-Petrels. The island’s interior moorlands and wetlands are equally good and support Merlin, Red-throated Loon, Whimbrel, European Golden-plover, Red-necked Phalarope, Common Greenshank, Eurasian Wigeon, Short-eared Owl, and in the cultivated areas, the secretive Corncrake. 

Another area we’ll focus on are the marine mammals, as diversity and observation rate in the region is high. Species seen regularly around the islands include European Otter, Orca, Minke Whale, White-beaked and Risso’s Dolphins, plus Short-beaked Common Dolphin and Pilot Whale. Diversity that makes a watch from a headland or two an exciting prospect even in bad weather.

We have chosen the first two weeks in June in order to combine the breeding specialties with the best chance of encountering overshooting migrants and rarities that regularly include Bluethroat, Wryneck, red-backed Shrike, Common Rosefinch, Marsh and Icterine Warbler, Golden Oriole, and Ortolan Bunting. High pressure combined with anticyclonic conditions are best, so as to cause northbound migrants to drift westwards towards the islands. The rarities discovered during this period are legendary with Red-footed Falcon, Red-rumped Swallow, Red-throated Pipit, Rustic Bunting, Thrush Nightingale, Great Reed, Subalpine and Greenish Warblers all making it onto the island’s long bird list.  

It is with a spirit of adventure we start our trip in Aberdeen with an evening ferry journey to Kirkwall on Orkney. We aim to visit many of the historic sites in the three full day’s allocation, with priority given to Skara Brae, Maes Howe, St Magnus Cathedral, The Standing Stones of Stenness and The Ring of Brodgar. Avian specialties we will search for include Corncrake, Twite, Hen Harrier as well as seabirds and cetaceans. We will be based in the charming historic city of Kirkwall during our stay on Orkney, and it is from here that we commence our onward ferry journey to Shetland.

It is from Lerwick, the capital of the Shetland Islands, that we start our second and longer leg of the trip. Once landing, we initially journey south to visit the southern mainland for seabirds and migrants, but quickly head back north to Lerwick, and the islands of Bressay, Noss, Yell, Fetlar and finally Unst, the most northerly island in Britain. Seabirds and passage migrants/vagrants will be the focus of this tour, but also the many cetaceans and other mammals encountered around the islands. Highlights will include a night time visit to Mousa Broch and its famous colony of European Storm- petrels, the boat trip around Bressay and Noss for the incredible seabird colonies and the rare privilege to visit Fetlar for a taste of some sub-arctic species such as breeding Whimbrel, Red-necked Phalarope and Parasitic Jaeger.  

This is a wonderful opportunity to venture to Scotland’s far north, a small piece of land on the edge of the wider Arctic. The wildlife, history and culture of this region are not to be missed. 

What’s included

  • Food
  • Accommodation
  • Ground transportation
  • Guide services
  • International flights
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Laundry
  • Gratuities
  • Items of personal nature

Available Packages

Double Occupancy
Available until May 2, 20238 left


Deposit: $400
Single Traveler
Available until May 2, 20236 left

For those wanting their own room

Deposit: $400

Your Organizer

Ventures Birding Tours
203 reviews
Small travel company based in Asheville, NC, specializing in birding & nature tours both locally & worldwide.


I'm so glad that we looked into booking Ventures when we were visiting their area. Usually we bird on our own, but having someone so experienced who could almost instantly identify everything for us was such a help. We added several lifers to our list that I'm not sure we'd have been able to find or identify on our own, and the guide (Aaron Steed) showed us a new place that we can bird on our own when we're in the area (which we are a handful of times a year.) We're definitely going to check in with them to see if someone is available for a half day each time we come to town from now on (only half days because we bring dogs, but did find a local kennel with 'day care' to leave them for a few hours since we cannot leave them in the campground).
By Lynn R for Private Half Day Tours (2021/2022) on 30 Sep, 2022
We had a wonderful weekend. Kevin Burke is a fantastic guide - enthusiastic, knowledgeable, aware of the skill levels of the birders so that everyone learns something. In a 4 day weekend (one afternoon, one morning, two full days) we saw 83 species, 20 different warblers. We went to a variety of environments (lakes, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Jackson Park in Hendersonville), each with different migrant bird populations. The Holiday Inn was fine (as expected), and we all went out for meals together that were quite good, especially the Corner Kitchen. Very highly recommended! We’ve done both Spring and Fall Ventures Birding Warbler Weekends. Spring has more colorful birds that are easier to see (fewer leaves), while Fall has more birds all together. Both are fun.
By Ross M for Warbler Weekend Fall 2022 on 21 Sep, 2022
This trip was wonderful. It covered a large number of bird habitats throughout the entire state of Oregon. Our guides were very well organized and everything went very smoothly although there was always room to be flexible. Our accommodations were very good. Both guides were very very knowledge and friendly, helpful, and considerate. In all, a memorable birding trip with over 200 species viewed.
By Kim H for Oregon - Mountains, Coasts and Deserts 2022 on 19 Sep, 2022
This was a delightful experience. The views from the peak of the parkway were outstanding, the warblers were darting through on the fall migration, and the forested lovely trails from the Pisgah Inn to the overlook parking lot made for a perfect morning.
By Kathleen W for Buck Spring Gap on 16 Sep, 2022
Having two excellent and experienced guides and traveling in two vehicles was quite special for our small group. Kevin and Michael complemented each other and worked as an elite team identifying potential birding locations and at the same time avoiding areas where forest fires prevailed. Their efforts to locate special birds was extraordinary as all of us were able to see and appreciate new birds to add to life lists for some. Truly a fun, engaging experience enhanced by astute selections of evening dining opportunities and quite complete tail gate lunches on the go.
By Harry Y for Oregon - Mountains, Coasts and Deserts 2022 on 15 Sep, 2022
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