Spotting the Bonxie

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The Great Skua, usually known by its Shetland name of Bonxie, is one of our most dramatic birds. Its breeding strongholds are Iceland, the Faroes and Norway.

In Britain it is found only in the far north, in Shetland, Orkney and here in the Outer Hebrides.

Looking a bit like a cross between a seagull and a buzzard, this aerial pirate terrorises other species, robbing them of their food and killing birds as large as greater blacked back gulls.

On its breeding grounds on the Lewis moors it nests on small rises, glaring fiercely at any trespassers on its territory. In flight it is fast and deliberate, looking for prey to chase or intruders who have strayed too close to its nest.

On Wednesday, June 18th Curracag, the Western Isles Natural History Society, is running a walk around the magnificent sea cliffs of Tolsta Head in search of this spectacular species.

Led by Mick Blunt of the John Muir Trust, they will be on the lookout for the many other species that occur on and around the headland. Fulmars and guillemots nest on the dramatic coastal cliffs, grey seals sometimes sing from the rocks below, and whales and dolphins can often be seen on a calm day.

If you’d like to come along, the group will be meeting at the start of the Tolsta Head path (signposted from Tolsta village) at 2pm.

The walk will last approximately three hours and will cost £2 for Curracag members, £4 for non-members. Boots are essential and a pair of binoculars is recommended.

For further information on any Curracag events in Lewis and Harris please contact Mick Blunt at: or telephone: 07724 150015

Pictured is a Bonxie attacking a Great black-backed gull, image courtesy of Laurie Campbell and North Harris Trust.