|Island of birds
For more than 50 years the internationally renowned Fair Isle Bird Observatory has done
scientific research on bird migration and the islands magnificent seabird breeding
colonies. The birds are also a major tourist attraction.
Many of the
visitors who stay at the comfortable Observatory Lodge are dedicated birdwatchers who come
to see the spring and autumn migrations of songbirds. Lying on the intersection of major
flightpaths from Scandinavia, Iceland and Faroe, Fair Isle can produce impressive numbers
of common species and also eastern rarities such as lanceolated warbler, Pallas's
grasshopper warbler and Pechora pipit. Visitors are usually welcome to accompany the
wardens on their early morning rounds of the famous ringing traps, and to help with daily
The island is an internationally important seabird breeding site. From April to August
the cliffs are busy with the sound (and smell!) of thousands of fulmars, kittiwakes,
razorbills, guillemots, black guillemots, gannets, shags and puffins, while skuas and
terns fiercely defend their nests on the moorland. Fair Isle is one of the best places in
Europe to view seabirds at close range, especially puffins which will waddle to within
feet of a quiet observer.
Grey and common seals are common all year round, while harbour porpoises are mostly
sighted in summer. Whales and dolphins sometimes cruise close inshore but are more often
seen from the mailboat "Good Shepherd" on passage to and from Shetland. The crew
regularly report White-beaked dolphins, Atlantic white-sided dolphins, killer whales
(orcas) and minke whales.
island of Flowers
Fair Isle is best
known for its birds but, thanks to traditional crofting methods, the island also has over
250 species of flowering plants. In summer the scattered wetlands are dotted with the
bright yellow of bog asphodel and the deep purple of early marsh orchids. From late May
the cliffs are awash with the delicate blue of spring squill, which gives way in June to a
bright pink carpet of thrift. Some of Fair Isle's rarer plants are found here, such as
Prostrate juniper - rare in Shetland - is abundant on the heather moorland, with alpine
species like least willow and alpine bistort. A wide variety of more familiar plants
thrive in the hay fields, cultivated rigs, grazing lands and along the roadsides.