Scotland’s birdlife counts

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An all-island count of puffins and guillemots on Handa Island reserve has been completed by Scottish Wildlife Trust Rangers.

The team of staff and volunteers based on the island spent several days scouring each ledge, nook and crevice to carry out a comprehensive census of the seabirds.

54,664 guillemots and 333 puffins were recorded this summer, compared to 56,000 guillemots and 320 puffins during the last survey in 2011. The next count of the birds will be carried out in 2022.

Danni Thompson, Handa Ranger, Scottish Wildlife Trust said: “The all-island counts are a big part of our job on the island.

“The puffin count is likely to be an underestimate because they burrow underground, but it’s encouraging that their numbers appear to be stable. Guillemot numbers are slightly lower than the last count, but their productivity has been at record highs over the past few years.

“It will be interesting to see if there is an increase in numbers once these chicks reach maturity and return to Handa to breed.

“One of the biggest threats to our seabird colonies is climate change. Warming oceans alter the distribution of fish stocks, particularly sand eels which are the primary food source for many of the birds on Handa.

“If the food supply around the island isn’t sufficient to feed the huge numbers of birds then their nesting attempts will fail and over time the colony will decrease as adults look for food elsewhere and no young are fledged to return in later years.”

Figures from all counts on the island are submitted to the Joint Nature Conservation Committee so that data can be analysed and compared with that received from other colonies all over the UK.

Handa Island reserve is owned by Scourie Estate and managed in partnership with the Scottish Wildlife Trust. Each summer the island comes alive with the sound of thousands of breeding kittiwakes, fulmars, guillemots, razorbills and puffins.

Picture by Danni Thompson / Scottish Wildlife Trust.