Winter Wildlife - Shetland Nature Diary

by Deborah Leggate -

Winter wildlife wonderland

This has undoubtedly been one of the coldest winters on record in Shetland with much of it seeing the Islands covered in snow. February was no exception as a depth of snow smothered the landscape for the majority of the month.

Although such harsh conditions undoubtedly make life harder for wildlife one cannot help but be in awe of what beauty it brings. For our resident wildlife, like my heart felt favourites, otters seem to take full advantage of the opportunity to play in the snow.

Whether a cub of a few months old or a fully-grown adult, otters never loose that energetic and playful urge and the snow only encourages it! Otters are renowned for "sledging" in the snow and if you are lucky enough to experience this, it is one of the main highlights to make a winter so special….Read more about otters in Shetland.

In most winters we experience surprisingly little snowfall when such superior forms of camouflage, such as the brilliant white winter moult of the Mountain hare actually act as a reverse of what nature intended. But finding and enjoying these fantastic mammals can be a real challenge on snow-covered ground. Mountain hare are wide spread throughout Mainland Shetland and can be found on most of the higher moorland, especially if you know where to look.

The Bearded seal has undoubtedly been the highlight of the winter for me and for the many others it has delighted since we first identified it on the 4th of January. It also fantastically illustrates the wealth of wildlife watching opportunities that Shetland has to offer.

This beautiful beast hales from the High Arctic where it is widely spread along the edge of the pack ice. It is an extremely rare visitor to Britain with a mere handful of records away from Shetland. This individual represents the 12th sighting in the Isles, the last one being in 2007. Interestingly this "Bearded beauty" chose the exact same stretch of shoreline on Yell that three others have hauled out on in previous years. The first ever record in Shetland was in 1956 with the first in Britain in 1892.

In the Arctic Bearded seal is a primary food source of the Polar bear. They are aptly named after their "handle bar" style moustache of whiskers which interestingly when wet are stiff and straight, only curling as they dry when hauled out.

Find out more about Wildlife and Nature holidays and tours in Shetland.