There have been so many times over the last three years that a young white-tailed eagle from Mull called Kellan has occupied my thoughts. From those early autumn 2010 days when he was in the Scottish SPCA wildlife hospital to the first weeks and months after his release he has never been far away from our minds. We were all so pleased and relieved how well he did to begin with but deep down none of us really knew what his chances were back in the harsh realities of the wild. His wing and leg injuries had been severe and life threatening but he deserved a second chance at life on his island home. From the moment the farmer reported him badly injured in the bracken, everyone worked tirelessly to fix him up and to return him to where he belonged.
No one has seen him alive since August 2011. As he lifted up above the ridge that day on unsteady, faltering wings and was mobbed mercilessly by a buzzard and an army of crows, I really felt that was that. It had been worth the effort. It was right to do all we could for such a rare UK bird. After what he and his distant Scottish ancestors had endured over so many Centuries of persecution, we owed him that chance - even if it was to be a short lived one.
Ever since then - and even recently from Australia - people all over the world, visitors to Mull, comments on the blog or Twitter, have asked "How is Kellan? Have you seen him?". My answer was always the same: "No not since 2011 but he could still be out there..." But did I really believe my own wishful thinking? So many fit and healthy young eagles do not survive their first winter. What chance did an eagle with a once broken wing and leg really have?
We stood searching the skies for the return of Kellan's feisty mother (wing tagged Yellow Black Spot - YBS) last week. Mull Charters were just kicking off another season of boat trips to see the eagles and as the 'Lady Jayne' waited patiently off shore on a flat calm Loch na Keal, Kellan's dad sat tight incubating this year's precious clutch.
The sky was blue and the sun shone as it has done now for weeks on Mull. A distant speck of an approaching eagle drifted into view high up from the north. Here she came at last. About time too! A changeover was long overdue. I got the eagle in the telescope and immediately knew it wasn't YBS. I don't know why I doubted it because I knew that peculiar flight profile in an instant. There was never any doubt in my mind from the first second I saw it but still I hesitated to utter the words out loud. As others chatted I kept silent. Although I knew, I couldn't quite believe my own eyes. I felt my heart rate quickening. Eventually as the mystery eagle cleared the tops of the old nest tree, coming ever closer, I half whispered under my breath "You won't believe this. It sounds mad...but I think it's Kellan..."
By this point it was clear for all to see. Our wonky-winged white-tailed wonder was now circling high above our heads in the blue sky and sunshine. His right wing still showing that distinctive kink - flapping and gliding merrily along as he always had. His flight silhouette is distinctly odd - it almost puts me in mind of that of an Egyptian vulture - wings slightly bowed - and yet he gets around. And he's been getting around and surviving now for nearly three years. The more he circled above us the more excited we all got. I seriously could not believe it. After all he'd been through, the terrible winters, all the odds were stacked against him but he had, somehow, won through. The farmer, the landowner, the vets and the SSPCA carers had all been part of this amazing success story. One eagle. One life. A second chance. And he'd taken it!
He glided towards Salen then turned expertly and headed straight back home, landing out of sight in a gully. We hugged, we looked at each other in complete disbelief. Kellan was alive. Not only that, he was positively thriving.
Later that afternoon my daughter Bethan and I returned to a great vantage point high on the hill overlooking the gully. Kellan had spent his first night after capture in 2010 in the girl's playhouse in the garden. It was safe and dark and comforting, though for him plucked from the wild, probably still terrifying. Now, before us there he was again, perched high up in a larch. No longer that hunched, cowering bundle of brown feathers, scared eyes and lashing talons in the darkness. Now a three year old immature white-tailed eagle sitting proud and dignified surveying some very familiar territory. His parents, with this year's nest within view, let him be. There had always been a special bond. As he flew to roost just metres from where he once fledged, we could even see the first hint of white in his tail. Kellan, the miracle eagle, had come home.
As we turned the Landrover and headed for home, the radio played and we turned it up loud. The words of the song summed it all up: "It's a beautiful day...and I can't stop myself from smiling"
Dave Sexton RSPB Mull Officer