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Issue 13 - The eagle has landed

Scotland Magazine Issue 13
March 2004


This article is 14 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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The eagle has landed

Sea Eagles are among the United Kingdom's most impressive wildlife, says Graham Holliday

Britain’s largest bird of prey, the white-tailed eagle or sea eagle, is a magnificent, if rare, sight in the wilder reaches of the western Scotland.

This massive bird, the world’s fourth largest eagle, with a wingspan stretching eight feet across, became extinct in Britain in 1918.

Laws were changed during the 1950s which helped pave the way for two early attempts at reintroduction in Scotland.

A full-scale reintroduction programme got underway on the Island of Rum off the west coast of Scotland in 1975 with 82 birds taken from Norway.

The birds were released over a 10-year period and the first breeding success was recorded in 1985. A further 58 young Norwegian eagles were released onto the Scottish mainland and the first of these began to breed in 1998.

In 2004, the population is thought to consist of 80-90 individuals residing in 26 different territories.

With the programme complete, Scottish sea eagles are now reliant upon Scottish-bred young to continue the population.

But sea eagles are still persecuted in Scotland.

David Sexton, a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) officer based on the Island of Mull explains: “An adult was poisoned in the
Highlands in 2003. Its mate died the same way in 2002, so there are still problems for them.

“Egg collecting is still a threat but local community watches and the police operation against nest robbers – Operation Easter – successfully
kept it at bay in 2003.”

In total five birds have been killed since the reintroduction began.

Unlike Britain’s other resident eagle, the golden eagle, sea eagles feed mainly on live fish and carrion. There is very little competition between the two species over diet or territory and 2003 was the most successful breeding year so far for sea eagles.

“On Mull, seven chicks fledged. The previous best was five,” says Sexton. “Out of the total Scottish population, 26 chicks fledged from 31 pairs. This doubles the previous record of 13. So a record year.”

In 2003, David Sexton came up with the idea of using a webcam to watch the birds on the banks of Loch Frisa, near Tobermory.

The project sent live images from the nest to a screen in the viewing hide and on to the RSPB website.

“Using closed circuit television cameras and a screen in a viewing hide, visitors can see the birds clearly,” explains Adam Harper, RSPB Scotland’s National media officer. “The best time of year to see sea eagles would have to be the breeding season in the Spring.

“The adults are quite active, hunting for food for the nesting bird and also for their young.”

However, as David Sexton explains, the CCTV hide might have to move from Loch Frisa this year.

“The visiting details for the Mull hide will probably be similar to 2003,” he says, “but we won’t know for sure until we know where they’re nesting in 2004.”

Mull viewing hide: From May – July. Book in advance, numbers are restricted to 20 per visit. Two visits per day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, each lasting about two hours. There is no charge. Contact Forest Enterprise Lorn District office in Oban. Tel: +44 (0)1631 566 155 (Mon-Fri 10am – 4pm) Tourist Information Centre in Craignure, Mull. Tel: +44 (0)1680 812 377 (Sat-Sun 9am – 5pm)

RSPB Webcam:
Reports sea eagle sightings to the RSPB office in Inverness
Tel: +44 (0)1463 715 000

Wildlife tour operators on Mull:

Discover Mull
Tel: +44 (0)1688 400 415
They operate day trips for £28 per person, £22 for under-14’s, including lunch and coffee breaks. Binoculars available.

Island Encounter Wildlfie & Birdwatch Safaris
Tel: +44 (0)1680 300 441
Day safaris around Mull for £28 per person including lunch and drinks. Adonation is made to WWF for each person who comes on a safari.

Isle of Mull Wildlife Expeditions
£29.50 per person including lunch and coffee.
Tel: +44 (0)1688 500 121

Wings over Mull Birds of Prey & Conservation Centre at Auchnacroish House, Torosay, Craignure, Isle of Mull.
Open Easter-October. 10.30am – 5.30pm. Flying
displays daily midday, 2pm and 4pm. Adult £4.50,
Child £1.50, Family (up to 2 children) £10.00
Tel: +44 (0)1680 812 594
They also run hawking holidays and teach falconry.

With luck you might also spot sea eagles in Kylerhea Forest on the Isle of Skye. The viewing hide overlooks the Kylerhea Narrows, the narrowest sea crossing between Skye and mainland Scotland. The Otter Haven hide is open 9.30pm – 5pm all year. In summer there is a warden in the hide who will answer questions. Tel: +44 (0)1320 366 322

Gruline Home Farm, Mull
Tel: +44 (0)1680 300 581
£35–£40 per person, per night
This non working Georgian/ Victorian farm is set in two and a half acres of gardens. According to the website it is “The only establishment on Mull to have been awarded, by the Scottish Tourist Board, 5 star status for dinner, bed and breakfast, and to have been awarded 5 red diamonds by the AA.”

Penmore Mill, Dervaig, Isle of Mull
Freephone: +44 (0)8000 858 786
This 19th century converted mill has four bedrooms and sleeps up to nine and is located twenty minutes from Tobermory. The fourth generation gaelic speaking mill owners also run the Turus Mara wildlife and seabird cruise tours to the outlying islands of Staffa and the Treshnish Isles

Stein Inn, Waternish, Isle of Skye
Tel: +44 (0)1470 592 362
Bed and breakfast from £24.50 to £31 per person per night Self catering from between £235 to £285 per week. This inn dates back to 1790. Graded as a 3 star inn and accredited as a Bronze ‘Green Tourism’ business by the Scottish Tourist Board.