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Brydon Gannets - Norhtern GannetsBrydon Gannets - Norhtern GannetsBrydon Gannets - Norhtern Gannets

Observing Northern Gannets at Hermaness, UK

A truly epic experience

At the very northernmost tip of the British Isles where the North Atlantic and North Sea meet lies Hermaness. With its iconic sea stacks and lighthouse, towering cliffs as high as 170m and its many thousands of breeding seabirds, it is a truly awe-inspiring location.

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filmed by Richard Shucksmith

The Northern Gannets of Hermaness

The seabird that the National Nature Reserve is probably best known for is the Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus). The cliffs and sea stacks here are home to over 22,000 breeding pairs every summer. The high volume of birds, intensity of their densely crowded colonies and the sheer scale of the cliffs make for a truly epic experience to enjoy.

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Entering the Gannet’s world

Looking along the clifftops in either direction or glancing out over the vast Atlantic skyline is epic, even to the naked eye. By bringing my NL Pure binoculars up to my eyes the Gannet’s world becomes even more real to me. No matter how many times I lift these remarkable binoculars, it feels as exciting as the first. The edge-to-edge sharpness, larger field of view and how comfortably the slimline ergonomics fit into my hands – I could look through them all day – and very often do!

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The beauty...

lies in the detail


However, it is when I set up the spotting scope (the incredible 115-mm objective module and BTX in my case) that I truly do start to appreciate and experience the birds’ beauty and character. With a wingspan of over 1.8m (6ft), pristine white plumage, ink-black wing tips and beautiful yellow saturation on their head they are truly gorgeous birds. But many of their most fascinating features are in the smaller details.

Through the scope, it is not only my eyes that focus, but also through the scope my mind is completely focused on the individual birds and so while viewing it's as if I forget about the thousands of others around it.Brydon Thomason

It's the smaller detail that now makes them so special:

  • the massive webbed feet,

  • and the marvelous lines of color running the length of each toe;

  • the vibrant blue orbital ring that frames the ice-bright eyes and

  • the staring black pupil. 

Feeling close to the birds and their chicks

And in addition to all this beauty, it's the behavior. Tucked under the adult I can see its most precious possession, what its and its partner’s lives will revolve around all summer- their chick.

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Feeling this close to such intimate behavior is one of the remarkable advantages that make this scope so special.Brydon Thomason

And then taking my eyes away from the scope I am reminded of the rest of the world around me, for those few moments, so engrossed had I become by the detail and behavior that I forgot about everything else!

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How to observe Shetland’s otters - About the author: Brydon Thomason

About the author:

Brydon Thomason


is naturalist consultant, photographer, guide and birder. With a lifetime of knowledge of his Shetland Islands homeland he owns and operates Shetland Nature, a wildlife tour company that celebrates the archipelagos rich natural and cultural heritage. He has worked as a media consultant, and appeared on numerous television productions about the islands wildlife, particularly the islands otters, his life’s passion. He co-authored the acclaimed book 'Otters in Shetland- the tale of the draatsi' sharing the lives, ecology and behaviour of one of Europe’s most charismatic mammals. He also works as an ornithological and ecological surveyor and consultant.