One of the iconic birds of Handa Island and certainly the most noticeable are the Great Skuas or Bonxies as they are known in this part of the world. These hulking great brutes of the seabird community nest in their hundreds on the moorland that covers much of Handa and are easily seen either standing menacingly on guard at their territories or flying and displaying overhead. You can also witness them, if you're not too feint hearted, harassing other seabirds for their fish catch, robbing unguarded eggs or even catching and devouring unsuspecting chicks and adult Puffins and the like! On one of our first visits to the island we were fortunate enough to see a Bonxie take a Guillemot egg from the cliff face. It then landed just metres away and skilfully cracked the egg open and feasted on the contents. It remains one of my most treasured wildlife encounters and although the photos that I took are not the best quality (my camera at the time was pretty basic) the image below is still one of my favourites. It looks as if the Skua is holding the whole world in its bill which, in the case of the developing chick inside, it certainly was!
|Great Skua & Guillemot egg, June 2010|
|Great Skua standing guard|
After spending ages with the Skuas Mrs Caley finally managed to pull me away and we studied the cliff nesting birds. As I feared the density of birds on the cliffs seemed lower than on our previous visits but I knew already that birds were late in starting to nest this year because of the poor weather in the spring, so maybe a lot of birds just hadn't settled down to breeding yet. In fact there appeared to be many more birds on the sea than on the cliffs so perhaps this was indeed the case. It is impossible to capture the splendour of the seabird city on camera and you really have to visit in person to appreciate it. There is much more to take in than just the sight of the birds, there is the constant barrage of noise from the thousands of Kittiwakes and Auks and then there is the smell of the tons of fishy guano that is excreted all over the rocks! Such sounds and smell cannot be related in a photo.
|Guano (& Auk) covered rock|
....to be continued in Part 3....