Thursday, June 16, 2011

Scotland: Coast - A Bonx(ie) Tale

Sandy McLennan's mention of Handa Island got me thinking. I knew the name, but also that it was a long way from Aviemore - right up in the north-west. It was the mention of bonxies that got me going though. I first (and last) had seen a great skua 20 odd years ago, and it left a lasting impression. Hardly our most decorative bird it made up for it in sheer steroidal bulk. Truly a heavyweight, with a bill to match.
The weather forecast for Thursday looked truly shocking, and to be honest the forecast for the north-west wasn't really much better. However I persuaded myself there were some windows in the rain and decided to go. With the first ferry over at 9.30 I made an early start - just as well. I did stop a couple of times, to watch briefly a black grouse (which flew away) and a diver (distant), but the journey took the best part of 3 1/2 hours. I arrived in the tiny harbour of Tarbet about 9 am, and it was at worst spitting gently.
Looking around I could see 3 red throated divers and some black guillemots in the bay (just too far out for snaps) and a rather cute common gull which posed for a minute by the car park. I never realised they had the same red eye ring I've seen on kittiwakes - not that you can see it on this little view!
Even the journey over to the island wasn't too bad, but when we got onto the island the heavens finally opened. Trudging up to the small lochan where the bonxies were said to congregate a lovely fog added to the atmosphere. The rest of the boat party headed on to the stack and cliffs where the guillemots and puffins could be found, but I decided to sit tight and hope things cleared up.

An hour or so later the fog turned into a mist and the rain slackened marginally. A bonxie flew round and landed 50 yards away, fairly near the path. I edged closer, and was delighted to find that it didn't seem at all bothered by my presence. I took a few snaps, but they were atmospheric at best!
Suddenly the air cleared slightly, the bird stood and then went into classic display mode, flashing those brilliant white wing patches to warn off competitors. Fabulous sight, and I just hoped the snaps would do it justice.

Finally the soggy weather seemed less of a drain, and I set off further around the island. It wasn't too long before I was trudging again though. There were a few gaps in the rain, and I managed a few other snaps.
I suspect this guillemot egg was probably predated by a bonxie, but it wasn't the only aerial pirate around. I never manged a decent shot of the pair of arctic skuas, but did catch a silhouette of that lovely profile.

At the cliffs the only half decent shots I got were of fulmars .....

but there were a few others - oystercatcher and thrift .....
meadow pipit .....
and some displaying eiders in one of the more sheltered bays.

I'm sure this would be a brilliant place to go on a nice day, when the restricted visiting hours would be a frustration, but frankly on this day by the time I got back to the ferry I was knackered! Still it was a satisfied knackered, and after all only a 3 hour journey 'home'!

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