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The most northerly of the islands, parts of Unst is quite tundra-like with slopes covered in thin turf and stony outcrops and screes, much of the island consisting of permeable serpentine rock. The north and west are the best vegetated areas and hold the majority of the breeding birds. Easter loch, Loch of Snarravoe and Loch of Watlee in the south of the island and Baltasound and Norwick in the north are good places to visit. Hermaness National Nature Reserve, situated at the north-west tip of Unst comprises 980 hectares of moorland and cliffs rising up to 170 metres. Within the reserve are numerous offshore stacks and skerries including Muckle Flugga and Out Stack, the most northerly point in Britain. It is a major seabird reserve with over 100,000 breeding birds including Gannet, Kittiwake, Fulmar, Guillemot, Razorbill, Arctic Skua, over 30,000 pairs of Puffins and 800 pairs of Great Skuas. Access to the reserve is unrestricted and a warden is present during the summer, based at the Muckle Flugga shore station beside the reserve car park.
The reserve is also famous for the Black-browed Albatross which joined the Gannets on the point of Saito in 1972 and returned there for several years thereafter, although it has not been seen for several years. Other rarer visitors to the island have included White-throated Sparrow and a Yellow-headed Blackbird, both in spring 1987, Pechora Pipit, Blyth's Reed Warbler and Common Yellowthroat.
The same seabirds as those on Unst can be seen on Fetlar (apart from nesting Gannets), although in smaller numbers, but the isle is probably best known for the Snowy Owls which nested there between 1967 and 1975 rearing a total of 20 young. Sadly the owls are no longer resident on the island and the only recent sightings have been of a male caught aboard a fishing boat and released there in 1994. Fetlar also boasts almost all of Britain's breeding Red-necked Phalaropes. This species is best seen at the Loch of Funzie in the south of the Island where they often feed (allowing excellent photographic opportunities as they swim around only yards from the road), or from the nearby RSPB reserve hide overlooking the marshy pools. A small colony of Manx Shearwaters also breed on the island and can be seen in Tresta bay in evenings during the summer. Migrants may be found anywhere on the island but the numerous small vegetated gardens are obvious attractions; past records on the island include Chestnut-sided Warbler, Yellowthroat, Red-flanked Bluetail, Little Swift, Hermit Thrush and Two-barred Crossbill. A warden is present throughout the year and is available for information, the wardens house is signposted from the ferry terminal.
Almost completely covered in peat and heather, Yell is quite different from the other northerly islands. The island is notable for the number of moorland species breeding there, although the occasional pair of Common Scoters no longer nest. The Lumbister reserve in central Yell comprises 4,000 acres of heather moorland and blanket bog and supports breeding Red-throated Divers, Arctic and Great Skuas, Merlins, Golden Plover, Curlew, Snipe, Dunlin, Twite and a few Whimbrel. Access to the reserve is unrestricted and the Fetlar warden is also responsible for this reserve.
The most rugged part of the main island also encompasses Ronas Hill at 450m, Shetland's highest hill, around which is remote moorland with numerous small lochs supporting breeding Red-throated Divers, several species of moorland waders and Arctic and Great Skuas. On the west side are high cliffs with several species of breeding seabird, especially at Eshaness. Good places to visit for migrant passerines are the plantation at Sullom village (across the voe from the Sullom Voe Oil Terminal), the plantations at Voe and at Vidlin.
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