Wildlife Tours

Marwick head in the mistA typical week’s tour might comprise:

Two or three days spent exploring Orkney mainland and our own island of South Ronaldsay.

One or two days spent on other islands typically Hoy, Shapinsay or Westray if timetables and weather permit.

A free day in Kirkwall for shopping and sightseeing (cathedral, distillery, shops, museums); or perhaps a free day spent exploring locally, just pottering on our local beaches and cliff tops. Our guests say that this is bliss….

Our normal practice is to seek ideas from you as to your wishes and aspirations. We can then suggest options based on the weather forecast, the previous week’s sightings, and your preferences. Some ideas for tours are given below.

Groups are purposefully kept small, typically 6 and maximum 7, in order to see more and focus on your wishes.

Lunch is usually a picnic overlooking a seabird cliff, bay or loch. Unfortunately any meal may sometimes be disturbed by a passing short-eared owl, hen harrier, and even orca and other cetaceans….

Accommodation is in a comfortable 3 or 4 star hotel at half board.

Your Guides

Your guide Steve Sankey is an experienced environmentalist and professional ornithologist. Steve has lived in Orkney for 16 years and knows its habitats and moods well. A lifelong birdwatcher he is also an experienced whale and dolphin spotter, and has recorded 11 species of cetaceans in Orkney waters.

Suggested Tours

Our tours are summarised below, but one of the charming aspects of our style in Orkney is that birds or orcas appear, schedules disappear out of the window, and we just concentrate on enjoying the wildlife and scenery.

Red Breasted FlycatcherWest Mainland

Seabirds, hen harriers, short-eared owls all against a backdrop of 5,000 year-old stone age villages and monuments. Breathtaking. Two days to even attempt to do justice to this special part of Orkney – includes 3 RSPB reserves, and Skara Brae and the Ring of Brodgar, part of Orkney’s World Heritage Site.

East Mainland

Breeding skuas (Arctic & bonxie), wetlands and headlands, visiting RSPB and local nature reserves.

South Ronaldsay

Orcadian Wildlife’s base, and one of Orkney’s loveliest islands. We walk alongside the Pentland Firth looking for seabirds and cetaceans, and visit the unique Tomb of the Eagles, an unforgettable experience.


Named by the Vikings as ‘the High Island’ we will walk out to the Old Man, and look closely at bonxies and other mountain birds such as red-throated divers and wildlife.



Known quite rightly as ‘the Queen of the Isles’ we will sail through Orkney’s northern sea channels in order to visit the puffin colony and gannetry on Westray.


Occasionally we swap islands and go to Shapinsay instead, and explore its wildlife and archaeology, including a restored Pictish broch. Birds of the coast and muir feature strongly, and we visit both RSPB and Scottish Wildlife Trust reserves, and include one of Steve’s favourite picnic spots!

Other islands

Over the years we’ve visited most of Orkney’s inhabited islands, and will always try to accommodate ‘special requests’ for visits to other islands, subject to group agreement and ferry schedules. Once a year in the autumn migration we visit Orkney’s migration hotspot, North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory, for a ‘migration special’.

Flexible Day

We like to give you one day during the week to do your own thing. A variety of options are available, from local walks to distillery visits, or shopping and museums in Kirkwall. Over the years our guests have valued this time to just do whatever they like for a day halfway through the week.

Group Size

We pride ourselves in offering the smallest groups generally available for wildlife tours in Orkney. The reason for this is simple – we want you to see exactly what we see, and we usually limit our group size to 6 with an occasional maximum of 7.

What Will I See?

It depends on the time of the year for birds, flowers and cetaceans. Whilst we of course cannot guarantee wildlife sightings, we do guarantee that you will experience unforgettable sights – seascapes, skies and wildlife encounters at close quarters. Our experience will always put the welfare of wildlife first, whilst ensuring that you enjoy our nature. Expect to see up to 100 species of birds (although 80 – 90 is more usual), and a whale or dolphin if you are really lucky and the sea state is good. Our specialities are seabirds, raptors (especially hen harriers), migrants and cetaceans, all set against Orkney’s unique 5,000 year old Neolithic monuments.

A Typical Day

You will be picked up after breakfast for a morning tour, taking a picnic lunch somewhere on the islands, followed by more sights and venues in the afternoon. Schedules and plans may be interrupted at any time by the arrival of an orca pod somewhere, or perhaps an unusual migrant might lead us astray – we’ve seen many unusual species over the years.

Accommodation and Transport

Accommodation is provided by ‘The Sands’, an historic ex herring packing station in Burray built in 1860. Graded 4 star by Visit Scotland, it has an excellent reputation for its restaurant. All rooms are en suite and overlook Water Sound. We occasionally use the Merkister Hotel, a lovely, family run hotel overlooking the Loch of Harray with Red-throated divers calling just outside! Transport is by means of our 100% electric 7 seat vehicle.

Arrivals and Departures

Your guide will pick you up from your point of arrival (usually Kirkwall airport or ferry ports), and ensure that you are dropped off with sufficient time for your departure. Orcadian Wildlife recommends Pentland Ferries see www.pentlandferries.co.uk.

For tour dates and prices please see our Tours Availability page.