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Issue 27 - Where Eagles dare

Scotland Magazine Issue 27
June 2006

 

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Where Eagles dare

Graham Holliday goes bird-watching on the isles of Mull and Skye

The islands of Mull and Skye are two of Europe’s best destinations for wildlife watchers. Acombination of wild, rugged mountains, windswept moors and high, inhospitable coastal cliffs make these two islands popular with deer, eagles, otters and a wide variety of bird, plant and sealife.

At this time of the year the islands are prime destinations for those in search of white tailed sea eagles. In recent years visitors to the islands have benefited from closed circuit television coverage direct from specific nests. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds operates a sea eagle viewing hide between early April and mid-July and transmits live pictures to the internet.

Beginning in early June, 2006 The Aros Centre on Skye will turn on a camera focussed on one eagle’s nest, but it’s no easy task planning this in advance.

“The birds tend to move around each year,” explains Dr Alison MacLennan, RSPB Scotland’s Conservation Officer Skye & Lochalsh, “partly because their nests are sometimes lost in winter storms, but the result of this is we can never be sure where they will be each year in order for us to establish a camera on the active site in advance.” The centre is home to a sea eagle exhibition and receives around 9,000 visitors between March and the end of October. During drizzly days, or when there is no action at the nest the centre plays recorded footage of sea eagles. The Aros Centre also has cameras at other sites around the island.

In previous years this has included film from the nests of herons, tawny owls and sparrowhawks as well as other sea eagles.

Skye is a larger, more rugged island than Mull which makes finding the birds in the wild that Issue 27 • SCOTLAND Magazine 23 MORE INFORMATION ScottishWildlife much harder than on the more southerly island of Mull. However, the populations on both islands are healthy and Scotland is currently home to 33 pairs. The remote sea cliffs of Skye are particularly popular with Scotland’s largest bird of prey with a wingspan of more than two metres wide, although it is possible, with a bit of luck, to spot sea eagles almost anywhere on Skye.

“There are resident pairs in all corners of the island as well as a healthy population of wandering immature birds,” says Dr.

Maclennan. “Some of the best spots to visit to look out for birds include the Scorrybreck walk on the north side of Portree Bay, sites overlooking the Sound of Raasay such as Kilt Rock or Bearreraig Bay, Neist Point and Moonen Bay, Loch Bracadale or Broadford Bay.” The centre also runs guided trips and minibus tours of the Trotternish Peninsula. Although the viewing hides and cameras are popular in summer, local wildlife guide David Woodhouse who runs Isle of Mull Wildlife Expeditions thinks the winter is better for eagle spotting: “The best time to see our big three of otter, sea and golden eagle, is in the winter. Sea eagles are very active then as they display and defend their own sites from young travelling eagles.”