Documenting Wild Orkney

Photographer George Turner recently returned from a trip to Orkney where he experienced some of the very best wildlife attractions to be found in the islands.

Why travel so far, when amazing wildlife is on your doorstep?

Having visited Orkney last September, I was captured by its raw beauty and even more so, the huge spectrum of flora and fauna that call these islands home.

So, I returned this June, on a wildlife mission. Namely, puffins, otters, and seals!

I’m an otter addict, there’s no other way describe it. In fact, I’ve travelled all over the world to see different species. Yet still, it's our native otter (the Eurasian) that captures my heart the most.

After a tip off from a fellow friendly Orkney-based wildlife photographer, my alarm rang at 4.30am and the search started near the Standing Stones of Stenness. I scanned with my binoculars and voila, otters!

We kept a very healthy distance between ourselves and the hunting mother/kit, ensuring we went unnoticed while they fished away on eels. In a very Orkney scene, I even managed to capture an otter and mute swan in the same shot — there aren’t many places where that’s possible!

Undoubtedly the celebrities of Orkney's wildlife population, Atlantic puffins were top of my list. While the larger colonies are in Westray, we had a couple of days on Mainland before our ferry across. First up then, the Brough of Birsay!

Jackpot! The sun even made a brief experience, with a beautiful subtle golden hue at sunrise. Be aware of the tide times while visiting here, otherwise your stay may be longer than anticipated!

Seeing double on the Brough! These puffins are amazingly relaxed and comfortable with people, so long as you keep low and approach slowly.

Now, onto Westray, the puffin bonanza. While the weather tested us, we were massively rewarded by some amazing sightings at Castle o’Burrian. You’ll see the puffins amassing on the water just away from the sea stack and then, just before sunset, flock into land.

With the sea stack being absolutely packed with puffins, some relocate to the grassy banks of the mainland. You’ll never meet more welcoming puffins — you can easily get within five metres without disturbing them at all!

Even day time puffin spotting is possible, with some patience. While nesting, one puffin will stay on the nest. Every 20-30 minutes, it’ll leave the nest to… ahem, use the toilet. Once you spot them, get closer, then wait for the toilet to strike again!

Who doesn’t love seals?! Well, Orkney is home to both grey and harbour seals, so you’re in luck.

For your best chance of spotting them (next to a UNESCO World Heritage Site, no less), is at the Standing Stones of Stenness. Just out into the loch are plenty of rocks jutting out of the water, perfect for that iconic seal planking.

Over the week, we saw otters, puffins, both species of seal, hen harriers, short-eared owls, red-throated loons, and even some distant orcas! Orkney is a wildlife lovers’ heaven and if you haven’t already: go see it for yourself!


You can find George on Instagram and view more of his work via his offical website.

The Digital Orkney project has been part financed by the Scottish Government and the European Community Orkney LEADER 2014-2020

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