Handa Island Wildlife Reserve

Submitted by Owen McCafferty on Sun, 2009-11-29

Once we reached the Island we were met by a ranger with a pull up walkway so that we didn’t get wet on landing.

The Ranger took us to the Ranger hut where we were given a talk on the different types of birds found on the island. The talk was good and very informative and a leaflet was provided to help with bird recognition – I don’t know my Skuas from my Fulmars, so I found it useful!

We hired binoculars as well at only £1.50 for the hire it was well worth it. The Rangers asked us to let them know if we saw any bird that was not already listed on the wall. A record is kept of bird visits and sightings.

There is a donation box which we duly donated to before setting off on our walk. Take my advice, don’t do it wearing motorbike trousers – I was roasting – it wasn’t long before the jacket came off and I really wished that I had had the foresight to leave my trousers with my helmet (we had left our helmets with the boat handler).

It was amazing to see birds that were not really frightened of us. They have obviously realised that no-one was going to hurt them as the Skua’s were nesting really near us as we walked by – it’s a good chance to have a real look at these birds that we don’t normally get close to. This is where the glasses came into their own – looking through the glasses it was almost as if we could touch the birds as they nested on tiny cracks in the rocks.

The cliffs were incredible, you wouldn’t think it was possible for so many birds to stay on the ledge – they were three and four deep, even the water was densely studded with birds. You really need to see this to believe just how many birds there were. You can forget Hitchcocks “The Birds” – it doesn’t come close!

Anyway – we saw lots of birds – including Puffin and Razorbill (my favourites) as well as a lot of lovely scenery.

More about Handa Island Wildlife Reserve and Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT)

Handa on the west coast supports a huge bird population, it’s a pity these islands proved unsustainable for human habitation. An uninhabited island separated from the northwest coast of Sutherland by the Sound of Handa, Handa (also known as Handa Island) lies north of the village of Scourie and is accessed by a regular summer boat service from Tarbet is now in the care of the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT).

The Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) is a Scottish conservation charity. It was established in 1964, and is a member of The Wildlife Trusts partnership. SWT manages over 120 reserves throughout Scotland, a total area of over 200 square kilometres Selected reserves Handa Island Falls of ClydeMontrose. The society has one of the largest seabird colonies in Scotland – about fifty thousand pairs of birds in all. It has one of the largest seabird colonies in north-west Europe. On landing on the island a SWT warden will point you in the direction of the footpath which encircles the island.

The Great Stack, a pillar of sandstone separated from the island by the sea has colonies of guillemots, razorbills, skuas and kittiwake. The place comes alive each summer as some 200,000 seabirds gather here to breed. You’ll see guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and puffins on the cliffs. Arctic and great skuas nest on the moor, some very close to the trail.

The complete trail is 6 km and takes at least 2 hours, it is best to allow 3 to 4 hours or more to fully appreciate the sights and sounds of Handa. The terrain is rough, the cliffs are steep and the weather can change quickly.

A cruise around Handa Island to view the myriads of nesting seabirds in spring, which departs from Scourie Harbour; one from Lochinver Harbour to explore the beautiful Assynt coast and view seals and birds and, if you are lucky, whale and dolphin; or even a cruise to the Summer Isles from Achiltibuie. If you want to know more details about Scourie: click here

Points of interest:
The Great Stack or Stack an Seabhaig (the hawk’s stack) is the best place to experience the sight, sound and smell of some of Handa’s 180,000 seabirds. The stack is a pillar of sandstone separated from the island by the sea. Over 9,000 guillemots alone breed on ledges on the Stack’s east-face! Razorbills lay their single egg on crevices near the top of the Stack. Kittiwakes build nests made of grass cemented together by droppings. Puffins nest in burrows on top of the Stack, probably because of introduced brown rats. Following the eradication of rats from Handa in 1997, puffins have started to colonise the main island again. Until 1847, up to 60 people inhabited Handa, living on oats and potatoes. Their food crops failed due to potato blight and they were evacuated to Nova Scotia. The ruins of their houses can still be seen.

Best time to visit: April-July: Guillemots, puffins and razorbills. May-September: Great skuas, arctic skuas, fulmars and kittiwakes. June-August: Wild flowers


Getting Handa Island Wildlife Reserve and Contact SWT
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