We arrived at a small headland that looked directly towards the Outer Hebrides. There is a very small pond here and on one of last visits we had watched a Great Skua bathe in the peaty water at very close range. Whilst we watching it spruce up another had flown in and tried to get in the spa as well only to be met with great hostility by the occupant. We had had first class views of the Skuas full on threat display in which it raises its wing high above it, flashing the large white wing patches skywards, whilst emitting a really deep snarl towards its adversary which very wisely went to look elsewhere to have its own clean up.
|Great Skua bath time.|
The bird that was laid on a rock ledge just a few feet away did look bothered by the heat however. The Great Skua resting there actually looked distinctly unwell with its head slumped down to the ground and its feathers all fluffed up. This was one very sick and unhappy bird. I feared the worst for it and wondered what could be wrong with it, maybe it had ingested something bad or came off second best in a dispute over a mate or a territory. In any case I felt moved to inform a warden of its plight later in the day and they said that they'd check it out.
|Skylark juvenile (I think)|
|Displaying Great Skuas|
In the middle of the afternoon the day was now at its hottest and we were both flagging a bit especially considering that our reserves of water were virtually depleted. As we approached the village, much to Mrs Caley's delight since the end of the walk was in sight, we could hear Sedge Warblers chuntering away in the isolated bushes. I listened intently to one of them because I thought I could hear some mimicry contained within the song but further scrutiny failed to convince me that it may be the rarer Marsh Warbler. Then, excitedly, I noticed four Skuas wheeling away in the distance. There is another species of Skua that breeds on Handa and up until now I hadn't seen a single one and I was, quite frankly, worried. But now at last I had Arctic Skuas riding a thermal and displaying high above. Arctic Skuas are smaller than Great Skuas and are much more dynamically designed with long falcon like wings. They are the jet fighters of the piratical bird world as opposed to the bomber like Bonxies. In the past we've had cracking views of Arctic Skuas here but that wasn't going to be repeated on this tour since the birds stayed quite high up. The photos below were taken on a previous visit to Handa.
|"Light morph" Arctic Skua, June 2015|
|"Dark Morph" Arctic Skua, June 2015|
At the west beach a pair of Great Skuas were stood looking pretty threatening towards anything that might encroach too closely. I'm pretty sure they are always there taking charge of the sand and environs. I imagine that the small bay must be a loafing area for non-breeding and juvenile birds.
We waited for the boat to be hailed from the mainland and a little later saw it approaching. We were soon on board and heading at speed, far too fast for my liking because I couldn't study any of the birds on the water, back towards the harbour. I finally spotted a Red-throated Diver but my attempts to capture any decent shots were hopeless. I fared a bit better with a lovely Black Guillemot as the boat slowed a little and my last shot of the day provided a bit of symmetry to the proceedings as another, or maybe even the same one as earlier, "bridled" guillemot floated past.