Photo: Ian McNee
Its May and the Great Skua A.K.A the Bonxie is beginning to defend its territory. And defend it, it certainly does. As a new Ranger I was only faintly aware of what terrors lay ahead as I strolled up east face of Conachair, the highest point on St Kilda. For a second the sun disappeared as something large and airborne blotted out the light and a whoosh of air announced the sudden arrival of a Bonxie over my head, or my own arrival into a Bonxie territory. Before I had time to gather my thoughts an almighty slap on the back of the head notified me as to the presence of the first bird’s partner. This must have knocked some sense into me as I then recalled the technique that one must use when confronted with such an overwhelming display of air-superiority; that is, to simply walk out of the birds territory while holding one hand above your head and keeping an eye on the ground to make sure you don’t step on anything egg-shaped. I feel privileged as the first Ranger in some six or seven years to be actually smacked by a Bonxie; usually they veer off at the very last second sending a clear signal that you’re not welcome.
Photo: Ian McNee
Not long after arriving on the island, we were scheduled to be re-supplied by the Elektron II, a unique vessel which unloads its cargo by beaching itself on the narrow sandy strip that occasionally appears along the shoreline between the St. Kilda pebbles (ironically massive boulders) and the water of Village Bay, marking the boundary between land and sea. The boat then opens its bow doors and its contents are unloaded. One of my responsibilities is to ensure the prevention of any unwanted visitors to the island in the form of rodents and mustelids, which could cause havoc among Europe’s largest seabird colony. We’ve a good track record so far and in this day and age the chances of a stowaway getting onboard the vessel let alone remaining undetected are very small indeed. Still… one must be cautious.