Every cloud, they say, has a silver lining. I have, I know, been blessed in the past six months to live where I do – during the very strictest weeks of lockdown, I could at least wander outside on my croft safe in the knowledge I wouldn’t meet, or even see, another living soul.
When restrictions eased a little, I still stayed close to home, albeit spreading my wings a little further afield on the island I live upon and, later, into mainland Shetland too. What I’ve not been able to do, of course, is earn a living leading wildlife tours for the two companies I’m proud to guide for, Greenwings and Shetland Nature.
While that’s not been easy in so many ways, it has meant I’ve enjoyed more time at home during the Shetland summer than I’ve known for many a long year. The house has never been better cared for, gleaming in a new white coat of masonry paint ready for the worst the winter storms can throw at it. Drystone walls have been repaired and, in one instance, built from scratch – I now have a smart new sheltered area to plant with fruit bushes.
I’ve also been fortunate to have a lot more time to spend leaning heavily into wildlife photography – it’s always been a passion, but it’s not often I get time entirely to myself to indulge in it, let alone in the height of a summer as glorious as that we’ve just enjoyed here in the far north of Britain.
Everyone here has noticed the profusion of wildflowers this year – it seems to have been an exceptional summer for them. That’s never been so evident as with the heather – in some years, only the warmest, south-facing slopes of the heather-clad hills actually flower. This year, however, most of Shetland seems to be swathed in a blanket of honey-scented royal purple.
Of all wildlife photography, I think it’s wildflower photography I enjoy the most. With subjects that don’t fly or run or swim away, there’s more time and scope to compose a pleasing image, to experiment. Of course, light levels and the weather are still to be contended with… but a subject that can’t see you coming is a good start!
So, while this summer has been marked with some minor local triumphs – discovering what’s almost certainly Shetland’s largest known colony of Lesser Twayblades being a significant one, but also new stations for Bog Orchid and Great Sundew – the main joy has been spending a lot of time working with the local wildflowers throughout the long, light days and weeks of a Shetland summer as it unfolds.
I’ve chosen just a few of my favourite recent images to accompany this blog, but there are many more besides to sift through and edit in the dark evenings of the winter ahead – a source of solace and a reminder of brighter times to come.
I’m looking forward to returning to leading wildlife tours next year and, at the start of the season, there’s one to particularly look forward to – an orchid (and other wildflower) photography week on the beautiful Greek island of Rhodes. It’ll be a chance to share some of the techniques and tricks I’ve been practicing lately. Perhaps I’ll see you there.