It felt like it had barely got light and as the song playing on the radio said: ‘…the weather outside is frightful but the fire is so delightful…’. Dusk would come early today. So far north and west means the days are very short now, even when the weather is fine. I summoned up all the enthusiasm I could, put the fire guard up, pulled my hat flaps down over my ears and headed for the Landrover.
White tailed eagle, dusk. By Ian McCarthy/RSPB images
Cally my black lab, stretched out by the fire, wasn’t over-keen either but deep down she knew that walkies at this hour probably meant that a trip up Eagle Valley was in store involving a fun, bracing and very muddy walk, maybe even a swim in the loch?
Our secret destination, at last light on a winter’s day, could only mean one thing: a rare and thrilling encounter with Britain’s biggest birds of prey: white-tailed eagles – with the chance of an occasional golden eagle in the mix if we were lucky.
The lonely, wind battered wood has always been a magnet for white-tailed eagles to roost in, even since the early days of the project to re-establish them in Scotland in the 1970s and 80s. Something about its position in the heart of Mull would draw them in from all directions as the light faded.
After some quick stick and ball action for Cally we settled down to watch. The wind was gusty with frequent hail squalls sweeping down the hillside and whipping up the surface of the loch. Maybe she’d give her swim a miss this evening. It was the loud, echoing call of the eagles which first alerted us that the moment had come: they were arriving. Cally’s ears pricked forward.
Cally – the black labrador retriever – burning off some energy before heading up Eagle Valley with Dave
Through the murk, I could just make out the vast soaring forms of immature and sub-adult sea eagles floating about above the wood. The calls may have come from the resident adult pair perturbed at the imminent invasion; they should be used to it by now.
The youngsters jostled and talon-grappled; they chased each other and did 360 degree cartwheels. Some flew into the wood and landed, only to be knocked off their perches by other incoming eagles and off they’d all go again. This ‘youth club’ serves a valuable purpose as the juveniles hone their flying skills and interact with others. They might meet up with old ‘buddies’, siblings and even future mates for when they mature aged five.
Like giant bats, the eagles – maybe ten of them – flapped about as darkness enveloped them, one by one descending into their night time sanctuary and it was all over. Back home at our winter roost, Cally just beat me to the prime spot in front of the fire.