The day dawned bright and clear and the sea surface of Loch Scridain was calm as I drove along the shore road to Tiroran Forest in Glen Seilisdeir, where our pair of white-tailed eagles nest. This was my last day of my second year of leading walks at Mull Eagle Watch for the RSPB. Iona and Fingal, as the female and male are named, have successfully raised another chick in 2014, their 12th year in this territory, and it has now been just 8 weeks since the young bird flew from the nest. ‘Thistle’, as the juvenile has been named by Ulva Ferry primary school children, is still in its parent’s territory being fed by the adults, and there have been numerous sightings of last years offspring ‘Orion’ too.
Having got everything ready, I walked down to the car park and met the visitors, and after a brief introduction, we headed up to the hide where for the last few weeks I have been giving a short talk about the eagles before we head off along the forest track in search of the birds. Outside the hide we spotted, in the distance, a juvenile white-tailed eagle soaring above the forest treetops before it continued on up above the moorland skyline. The eagle’s dark plumage clearly marked it out as this year’s juvenile, and it looked huge even though its wing silhouette still doesn’t appear as rectangular as the adults (their nickname of ‘flying barn doors’ is very appropriate).
Having walked further along the forest track we looked across to where the juvenile had been flying earlier and immediately spotted another large bird being mobbed by about a dozen hooded crows, ravens and buzzards. This bird had a markedly different outline with sculpted wings, a longer tail and small head, and it was also noticeable that its underwings had large pale markings indicating that this was a juvenile golden eagle. We watched for several minutes as the ravens repeatedly dive-bombed the eagle, forcing it to flip over on its back threatening them with its talons in an effort to fend them off. Eventually, it had had enough and flew off rapidly toward Ben More, leaving the other birds in its wake.
Another few hundred yards brought us to the area where our pair of white-tailed eagles often perch in tall trees that overlook the bay where they do some of their hunting. Sure enough, there was Iona, sat on a branch tucked into the top of one of the large conifers. She had spotted us too, but was unconcerned, perching on one leg and turning her head almost through 180o to stare out over the loch in case there was a passing gannet, who she could steal a fish from.
I quickly set up the telescope so that all our visitors got an excellent view of this majestic bird with her pale head plumage and brilliant white tail. I kept looking out for Fingal or one of the juveniles too, as we have often had close views of one or more of them flying low over the bay. After 15 minutes of watching her in the tree, during which time it appeared as though she might sit there all day, I decided it was time to take the visitors back to the hide. We hadn’t got more than a few yards back along the track, however, before Iona decided to launch herself from the branch, and we had magnificent views of her flying almost overhead in the direction of this year’s nest.
On the walk back a pair of buzzards also gave us a close fly-past, their mewing call ringing out over the forest. I think the eagles stole the buzzard’s preferred nesting site this year and we have witnessed numerous aerial contests between these two species. To cap it all, when we got back to the hide, I managed to sign up another new RSPB member, thus achieving my membership target for 2014.
What a brilliant year of eagle and wildlife watching it has been at Glen Seilisdeir with a wide variety of spectacular sightings on almost every day. We have received all sorts of accolades, including the top 5-stars from Visit Scotland again, and the highest Green Tourism gold rating. We have also been short-listed for the Nature of Scotland awards and regularly received 5-star ratings on Trip Advisor.
John Clare – RSPB Isle of Mull Community Information & Tourism Officer.