Britain has never really trumpeted its natural glory in the way other nations do. Visit any remote foreign region on holiday and you’ll be bombarded with grand claims and eye-catching names designed to keep the tourists coming.
We fly around the world in pursuit of wildlife wonders, overlooking the equally breathtaking beasts in our own back yard. So forget condors and bald eagles: I’d always wanted to see a sea eagle in Britain. In the end, it took me years to see one, which puts it top of any list of wildlife New Year’s resolutions.
The pursuit goes back to my childhood. Camping on the east side of the Lake District, I was told by our Scout leader that a distant black speck was a golden eagle. It was far enough away to resemble a full stop on a page, but I was captivated. Later, I visited Orkney where there is a thrillingly located cave on a cliff-top on South Ronaldsay called the Tomb of the Sea Eagles. But the sea eagles had gone. It’s a Neolithic tomb, so I was possibly 5,000 years late.
But their very name was evocative, conjuring images in my 10-year-old imagination of a mythical griffin-like albatross. This magnificent bird has a striking yellow eye, and its beak and talons are also bright yellow.
My personal journey took years, but today it is very easy to spot sea eagles. Just take the ferry from Oban to the Isle of Mull, make your way past Tobermory to the Forestry Commission Scotland track at Glen Seilisdeir off the B8035, where there’s a brand new
hide, close to Loch Frisa.
Even though visits are now organised and regulated, it’s
a very special experience.
In the hide
Any visit is improved by the ever-helpful RSPB wardens and volunteers on hand who generously give up their time, and with a childlike wonder and enthusiasm, patiently answer questions they’ve been asked umpteen times. If the eagles aren’t on the nest, there are webcam replays to drink in.
The only thing missing is Simon King’s hushed tone purring away in the background.
The hide and its related wildlife tours are closed in winter, to allow chicks to properly fledge and explore their territory. But you don’t have to wait until spring. Not only do you have a sporting chance of seeing them on Mull, the beauty is that there are now enough sea eagles across the Hebrides that you can just happen upon one.
Last May, I was driving above the small port of Uig on Skye in gale force winds. I pulled over
to take in the power of the ever-playful Minch. A giant shape swooped down and all but filled the front windscreen before lifting off, almost flying backwards. It was like a momentary eclipse. I just caught sight of a yellow eye. That’s the thing about sea eagles. You can wait years to see one, then two come along at once.
HOW TO GET THERE
The best way to reach Mull is to take the car ferry from Oban.
0800 066 5000
FIND OUT MORE
01680 812 556
Bookings for the sea eagle
hide are essential.
Calgary Self Catering
01688 400 256
Self-catering accommodation, with a café open to non-guests.