One of the most time consuming surveys I had to do this year was to find all the great skua nests on Hirta. Anyone who has met a bonxie before knows that the birds protect their nests fiercely and walking through a territory during the breeding season will undoubtedly lead to a bird swooping at your head.
Searching some areas of the island was relatively ‘easy’ as I could map sitting birds from a vantage point higher up on a hill and then check for a nest. Other areas like Oiseval or Mullach Bi were much harder to search and involved contouring across the hillside using the behaviour of birds to help pinpoint the location of their nests. Who would ever have thought that the normal 15 minute stroll up Oiseval would take 7 hours!
I recorded the location of all the nests I found. Although it only took a few seconds for the GPS to get a satellite fix it was more than enough time for parent birds to hit several times in quick succession. Some birds definitely had a LOT of attitude and on one busy nest finding day I particularly regretted not taking my bonxie 'deflector stick' (a bamboo cane sticking out my rucksack) after hours of getting slapped on the head by bonxie feet!
Some of the eggs I found at the end of my search effort were just beginning to hatch and I could hear the chicks inside making high pitched noises in response to their parents calls overhead.
Most of the nests are concentrated at the base of Gleann Bay, Mullach Bi, Mullach Mor, Conachair and Oiseval with outliers on Mullach Sgar and the Cambir. It seems that skuas are doing well on Hirta, but perhaps at the expense of other birds?