A four day break at the back end of July to coincide with a decent weather forecast up in the far north west of Scotland, with a fair amount of driving involved (480 miles each way). Not the easiest part of the world to get accommodation at short notice being so sparsely populated with limited facilities, so ended up staying at hotels in both Rhiconich and Scourie. Main reason for the visit was to get onto Handa Island, being probably the most accessible place in the UK for breeding skuas, and somewhere I'd always been interested in visiting but had never quite got around to. Timing wise it would still have the breeding seabirds present before they started leaving their colonies for the open sea.
Handa Island is accessed via a short ferry ride of a mile and a quarter from Tarbet harbour, with no need to book in advance. A quick glace at the vehicles parked there revealed just how popular the area is with European tourists - over the next couple of days, cars and camper vans from Belgium, Holland, Germany & France were commonplace. Not surprising considering the outstanding scenery on offer and traffic free roads.
Uninhabited now (apart from the seasonal warden), the resident population of Handa having emigrated in 1847 for Nova Scotia - just a few ruins remain on the island.
Managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, after a brief introduction from the warden you're free to explore the island via a circular footpath. Over the moorland section of the island, at times really close views of territorial Great Skua and Arctic Skua, giving quality photo opportunities both on the ground and in flight. As expected, from the high sandstone cliffs on the north west side the usual suspects of Puffin, Razorbill, Guillemot, Fulmar, Kittiwake, etc all present. Views included Cape Wrath to the north and the Old Man of Stoer (a 200 foot sea stack) to the south. Birds seen from the boat in the Sound of Handa included Black Guillemot, Shag & Red-throated Diver.
On the mainland, most attention was giving to scanning the fresh water lochs, with groups of up to six Black-throated Diver seen regularly, occasional pairs of Red-throated Diver, and the biggest surprise a single Great Northern Diver - all were adults in stunning full breeding plumage.
Saw everything I hoped to, but too much driving involved for a short trip - would love to visit again some point in the future, but next time as part of a longer touring holiday.