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Issue 47 - Soaring sights

Scotland Magazine Issue 47
October 2009

 

This article is 8 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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Soaring sights

In the latest in our series we go in search of where to see Scotland's greatest birds of prey.

If you want proof of the uneasy relationship between man and clawed predator, look no further than a map showing the areas where you’re likely to spot eagles in Britain.

Nearly all of the United Kingdom’s eagles live in Scotland, clustered in the north and west of the country. In the south and west of Scotland there remain few, and while the hostility of man is only part of the reason for this – unsuitable environment is key, too – the facts remain that eagles have been mercilessly poisoned and shot for centuries.

Myths and misunderstandings have grown up about this magnificent bird and although much has been done to preserve it in recent years, and the white tailed sea eagle has successfully been reintroduced after becoming extinct, progress has, at times, been painfully slow.

And even in these more enlightened times the stories persist. Mull is one of the best places to spot a sea eagle, for instance, but on a recent trip I was told there are now so many of them that they have become a threat to the fishing community and to local farmers, because they have been snatching newly born lambs.

Nevertheless the chances of spotting a golden eagle in the North East are vastly improved these days, and the population continues to grow. There are thought to be nearly 400 mating pairs of golden eagles in Scotland, and as a protected species they have flourished. As young males leave the nest they must seek out their own territory, so there has been a gradual but constant move in their numbers from south and east.

In recent years golden eagles in particular have come to symbolise the Highlands and Scotland, and their potential as a tourist attraction has started to be properly realised.

Great efforts have been made to protect them and at the same time give the public access to them, with several wildlife centres setting up cameras and providing ideal feeding sites to attract them GOLDEN EAGLES Golden eagles prefer open treeless areas to forests, so the western coast of Scotland, where plains sweep right down to the shoreline, are ideal for them. Typically their territories can be anything from five square miles to 125 square miles but in Scotland their territories tend to be small and in some areas the breeding density is higher than anywhere else in the world.

Golden eagles have a wingspan of up to two metres and can be seen swooping majestically across glens.

WHITE TAILED SEA EAGLES Bigger than golden eagles with a wing span up to 2.45 metres but considerably rarer, sea eagles prefer sheltered lochs and sea lochs rather than exposed sites, and they prefer to nest in trees rather than on cliffs. Their territories are typically between 30 square miles and 70 square miles and like golden eagles they are non-migratory in Scotland and breed all year round. There are several obstacles in the way for successful rearing of white tailed eagles and it is thought only 20 pairs have successfully done so.

GREAT SITES FROM WHERE TO SEE EAGLES CRINAN, KNAPDALE FOREST, ARGYL & BUTE Astunning walk along the shores of Crinan gives you stunning views across Islay, Jura, Corryvreckan and Mull. Wildlife includes the red squirrel onland and the possibility of the mighty basking shark off.

Both golden eagles and sea eagles have been seen here, as well as osprey and black grouse.

PORTREE FOREST, PORTREE, ISLE OF SKYE The walk above Portree offers wonderful views across Minch, the islands and across to Torridon on the mainland. For the bird lover Portree takes some beating, with ravens, buzzards, herons and sparrow hawks all regularly sighted. But there’s a chance you’ll see both golden and white tailed eagles here.

BROCHEL WOOD, RAASAY FOREST, RAASAY Raasay is an island close to Skye and Brochel is towards its northern end. The wood is part of a planted conifer forest and there are various walks with spectacular views across to Applecross on the mainland.

You may see otters, seals and porpoises along the shoreline, and it’s a haven for sea birds. Both golden eagles and white tailed sea eagles have been spotted on the island.

ARDNAMURCHEN NATURAL HISTORY CENTRE Arnamurchen is a land mass which is ‘nearly an island’ lying directly north of Mull and west of Fort William. The Ardnamurchen Natural History Centre provides a wealth of information on all manner of wildlife in the region and gives an excellent background to the struggles the golden eagle faces to breed chicks and for those chicks to survive.

Mortality rates in the first year for an eagle chick could be as high as 75 per cent.

The centre also offers a viewing area where fresh animal carcasses are left to attract eagles.

KYLERHEA, ISLE OF SKYE Just off the mainland of Scotland, Kylerhea is a fairly young conifer plantation with fantastic sea views and an ideal place to increase your chances of seeing otters, seals and rare sea birds.

Golden eagles are a relatively common sight soaring across the hillsides and white tailed sea eagles have also been spotted here.

THE ISLE OF MULL The Isle of Mull is as good a place as anywhere in Scotland to see eagles, and there are several recommended vantage points on the island from which to do so. Mull has the greatest concentration of golden eagles in Europe and is widely regarded as the best place in Scotland to see sea eagles.

The authorities on Mull are also taking an active role in helping to see and appreciate this wonderful bird. They are backing a partnership between Forest Enterprises, RSPB Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage which takes small groups to a viewing area and to visit a sea eagle nest.