Life on Handa Island

Life on Handa has been, relative to the rest of the world, plodding along fairly normally since we arrived on Monday 16 March.

This year there are just three of us on the island – Rangers Erika and Johnny, and Assistant Ranger Roxy. Erika spent last season on Handa as the Skua Fieldworker and for the last three months Johnny was the Practical Worker. This is Roxy’s first time on the island but she has settled in wonderfully, despite the slightly different setup this year.

We feel truly blessed to be on Handa during these turbulent times and through these blogs will try to provide some updates and share some uplifting news as the breeding season gets underway.

Great black backed gull on Handa Island © Johnny Rolt

Our first 10 days brought wind. Lots of wind. Stiff sou’westerlies gusting up our backsides at 65mph. We had two path contractors for the first week, Martin and Eoin, battling the elements to produce some phenomenal work up by the Great Stack. Reserve Manager Rab Potter joined us for our first five days to get us up to speed with the running of the island and to figure out new protocols for working on Handa with a reduced team and potentially no visitors to manage.

The following Friday we all jumped on the ferry back to the mainland to gather up supplies to keep us going in case restrictions were increased. Once we had stocked up on food, fuel, fishing supplies and enough vegetable seeds to rival the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, we bid farewell to Rab and headed back to Handa before it got dark.

On Saturday we woke to two Golden eagles soaring low over the sheep fank by the Bothy, seemingly unbothered by barely suppressed squeals of excitement!

The first moth trap of the season was set out on Saturday night, yielding exactly one moth. We identified it as a dotted border moth (Agriopis marginaria), a Handa first! We think it hasn’t been recorded on Handa before due to its relatively early flight season (Feb-Apr), a time where Handa residents are getting into the swing of things and moth trapping takes a back seat for other priorities.

A fulmar riding currents on the Great Wall, Handa Island © Johnny Rolt

The following week’s weather improved significantly from the previous, allowing us to begin to repair the winter’s damage on the boardwalk. We managed to carry out the monthly rat tunnel survey, having just one spare chew plate left at the end of the day! Stopping halfway round at the Great Wall for lunch we watched fulmar riding on the air currents, their effortless gliding leaving us even more in awe of these incredible birds.

Through placing chew plates around the island, we are able to monitor the presence and distribution of Handa’s brown rat population, with future plans to install A24 traps to reduce their detrimental impact on the island’s ground nesting birds.

A morning was spent painting the bothy ceiling a glorious white, sweeping chimneys and fixing new hinges to the water shed door, after they snapped during a winter storm.

At the end of last season, we spotted some lodgepole pine and Sitka spruce saplings sprouting up around the east side of the island. Knowing this, we set out with bow saws in hand to deal with them. The long-term plan for the plantation is to remove the non-native species and replace them with native trees like rowan, hazel and oak.

During the sapling removal, Erika and Roxy saw a pair of great skuas flying over the middle of the island, the second and third sighting this season. Just like us, it seems the bonxies are having a slow start to the year. In 2019 there were already plenty on the island when the team arrived.

We are extremely grateful to be able to continue work on this special island and have never appreciated the benefits of extreme isolation more than we do now!

Johnny, Erika and Roxy, Handa Ranger team

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Life on Handa has been, relative to the rest of the world, plodding along fairly normally since we arrived on Monday 16 March. This year there are just three of …

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