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From the early 1900’s Fair Isle was visited by a number of eminent ornithologists of the time, among them William Eagle Clarke of the then Royal Scottish Museum.  He visited the island eight times between 1905 and 1911 to cover the spring and autumn migrations and recorded 207 species, then half the total on the British list.

In 1935 the great George Waterston visited the island for the first time, returning after the War with thoughts of opening a bird observatory. 

Waterston OBE FRSE FZS LLD was a pioneering ornithologist and conservationist. He founded the Inverleith Field Club in 1929 and co-founded what was the Midlothian Ornithologists' Club and is now the Scottish Ornithologists' Club.

Waterston managed to buy the island from Robert Bruce of Sumburgh and the Fair Isle Bird Observatory (FIBO) was launched as a public trust.

The original Observatory was housed in the old Naval headquarters at the North Haven, in a complex of huts and was officially opened on 28th August 1948.

The observatory is famous among ornithologists for its remarkable seabirds and rare migratory birds and is one of the world’s most important ornithological research stations.

But tragedy struck earlier this year - the new two-storey wooden lodge that opened to visitors in 2011, was razed to the ground on 10th March 2019 after a fire broke out in the early hours and quickly took hold.

Extra fire crews were brought by coastguard helicopter and a RNLI boat from Shetland to supplement the island’s volunteer fire crew, who had been fighting to contain the flames. Smoke from the fire could be seen from Shetland, 30 miles north.


It is hoped by all that the new research station will be rebuilt as quickly as possible.





North Atlantic Odyssey 2016
22nd May – 1st June 2016


North Atlantic bottle-nosed whalesNorth Atlantic bottle-nosed whalesSailing from Aberdeen we headed for Fair Isle, a remote jewel of an island that lies half-way between Orkney and Shetland.  Just 5km long and 3 km wide it has impressive cliffs rising to almost 200 metres along the heavily indented west coast.  

Fair Isle is owned by the National Trust for Scotland, and its bird observatory is an important ornithological research centre.

For the voyage I was ‘artist in residence’ and part of the Wildwings team on board MV Ortelius


Sketchbook pages (bottle-nosed whale and skuas)Sketchbook pages (bottle-nosed whale and skuas)





Next stop was Jan Mayen -  a volcanic island partly covered by glaciers lying in the Arctic Ocean 600 km northeast of Iceland, 500 km east of central Greenland and 1,000 km west of Norway's North Cape.

Jan Mayen is a breeding home for countless seabirds - northern fulmar, kittiwake, Brünich’s guillemot and little auk.

Jan Mayen and flocks of fulmarsJan Mayen and flocks of fulmars



Polar bears - a female with almost fully grown cubPolar bears - a female with almost fully grown cub













Then it was northeast to the edge of the summer sea-ice.  Along the way were fin and northern bottle-nosed whales, ivory gulls and huge numbers of fulmars, and walrus hauled out on an ice floe.

Next it was to Svalbard a Norwegian archipelago situated about midway between continental Norway and the North Pole. The largest island is Spitsbergen, followed by Nordaustlandet and Edgeøya.

I sat beneath vast clouds of little auks swirling around the boulder slopes of Fuglesonmgen; watched a polar bear mother and her adolescent cub; crept slowly along a beach towards a pod of walrus; saw sanderling in brilliant breeding plumage; and there was much more as well.