A ten minute boat ride off the Scottish mainland, right up in the north west of the country lies Handa Island, a tranquil little place and home to an impressive show of wildlife. As volunteer ranger interns based at Loch of the Lowes, we jumped at the chance to take a trip further north to explore another of the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s reserves. Now back from our adventure we can definitely say that this island is well worth a visit!
In order to get onto the island, a short boat ride from the small village of Tarbet is taken. The boat lands in an idyllic sandy bay, where visitors are welcomed by the weekly volunteers who will give an introduction to the island before sending visitors in the right direction to explore.
Handa is an important nesting site for over 100,000 breeding seabirds. By August, most of the seabird chicks have fledged and left the island in search for wintering grounds. Kittiwakes and Fulmars are a little behind the rest and rather large fluffy chicks balance on the sides of the impressive tall sandstone cliff edges whilst parents come and go with fish for their offspring. Shags perch on rocks at the base of the cliffs, drying their outstretched wings in the sun and Gannets may be spotted fishing offshore. Both Greater and Arctic Skua chicks have now fledged but are still seen flying around the island or bathing in the lochan. We were even lucky enough to see a lone Puffin!
Along the boardwalks that run through the grassland and heath expanses, wildflowers are plenty. The spiky flowered Bog Asphodel, insectivorous Sundew, Heather and Thrift are just a few of the flowers that can be seen along the route. Pipits and Snipe frequently emerge unexpectedly from the vegetation, startled by the sight of humans and the noisy Red Throated Divers are likely to be heard before they are seen flying overhead.
Stone ruins of a small abandoned village, which has not been inhabited since 1847 when the remaining 47 inhabitants were sent to Canada, lie on the south side of the island. Below these remains are several rocky and sandy beaches where we saw Oystercatchers, Whimbrel and even a pair of curious seals in the windy bays.
Handa Island is a unique reserve to explore, with lots of wildlife to observe and beautiful scenery to take in. Whether you get the chance to visit this year before the island closes for the winter or another year in the future, you will not be disappointed!
Assistant ranger intern