Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Eagle Watching on Mull

This year I have a big birthday coming up (it's surprising how many times you can turn '21') and I wanted to do something to celebrate - a three-months-early birthday treat to the Isle of Mull, aka 'Eagle Island', where I hoped to see a White-tailed Eagle or two.

We had a calm crossing on the Isle of Mull CalMac ferry, during which time I went on deck with the binoculars in the hope of seeing a White-tailed Eagle. My Labrador thoroughly enjoyed his first trip on the big boat: rolling about the floor to everyone's amusement and eyeing up a plate of chips that a couple across from us were eating, and not forgetting the play bark at a dog sat opposite us, which sent everyone flying out of their seats ... thankfully we soon docked in Craignure!

Approaching 'Eagle Island'
It was a driech start to the holiday, and I didn't hold out much hope of seeing any eagles upon my arrival.  My first sighting finally came a couple of days later, on a much brighter day.

We parked up at Killiechronan campsite for lunch, in the hope of seeing White-tailed Eagle locals Yellow Black Spot (YBS) or her mate.  There was no sign of either of them until we had almost finished eating. I had a quick look through my binoculars as I shoved the last bit of my home-made flapjack into my mouth.  Then I saw it. Soaring up from the loch. White-tailed Eagle no.1! I watched as it soared ever higher, until it was just a tiny dot in the sky and I lost it from view. I couldn't tell you if it was YBS or her mate, but a joy to see nonetheless.

A mere dot of a White-tailed Eagle high in the sky
A bigger zoom (and a bit of photo cropping) and you
can clearly see the flying barn door!
Later that afternoon, back at the house, I was admiring the view and spotted a dark shape flying across the sky in the distance - it couldn't be? I grabbed the binoculars. It was!  White-tailed Eagle no.2.  Several minutes later I saw another going back in the opposite direction, so I'm guessing it was the same bird returning to where it came from.

The following day I met up with friends (and guardians of Mull's White-tailed Eagles) for some eagle watching. As we drove to our rendezvous point along the shore of Loch na Keal, I wondered if it was a good sign that the only small patch of sunlight around was shining down on the exact spot where I had seen YBS and her mate before?  We parked up and I looked through the binoculars. Sure enough, there was YBS and her Mr sitting in a tree!  I could've watched them all day, but there were other eagles to check in on.

Yellow Black Spot (top) and her mate below her,
a dot of white from his tail is just visible as he had his back to us
At the next location, through the drizzle, we could make out a very large nest in the trees and eventually spotted one of the adult eagles fly out.  It flew above the trees and snapped off a branch whilst airborne and then carried it back to the nest.  This particular eagle was keeping busy, flying to and fro collecting nest material and we wondered where the other half of the pair could be.  Finally, we spotted movement in the trees and they both appeared to be sitting alongside each other, near the nest. All was well.

White-tailed Eagles sitting side by side just above the nest,
roughly centre of the photo (honest!)
Next stop was to try and see if the Mull Eagle Watch pair, Fingal and Iona, were home.  They weren't.  We watched and waited and started to head back up the main road, when I just happened to have one last look back. "There's one coming in now!" as a large dark silhouette flew towards the forest.  We were surprised to see the lack of a white tail as it turned against the dark green of the conifers meaning this wasn't one of the adults, but a juvenile.  It went to land in a tree, but decided against that particular spot at the last minute and flew out of sight.  Parking a bit further on and scanning the location with the binoculars, I managed to spot it again, perched in a tree. It was Fingal and Iona's youngster from last year, Orion, paying his parents a visit. They never did appear!  Although, later that afternoon I returned and did get a brief fly past by one of the adults.

Juvenile White-tailed Eagle.
Orion returns to Glen Seilisdier, but mum and dad are out
I was also treated to another (distant) flypast from the house, making it seven White-tailed Eagles in one day! A big thank you to Debby and Dave, I really enjoyed our 'eagle watch'.

My next sighting was a couple of days later.  I just happened to see a dark 'blob' atop a conifer where lots of Hoodies appeared to be mobbing.  A good sign. My hunch was right, another White-tailed Eagle.  It sat there for a while, enduring the Hoodie barrage, until it had enough and flew to an adjoining group of conifers, perched for a short time before taking flight. Looking back at the photos later that day, I could see that this eagle had white wing tags and identified as female 'White M' born in 2007.

Female White-tailed Eagle, White M hatched in 2007, getting mobbed
by Hoodies.
Video of White M, alternatively you can view it on 

The last day of my week on Mull soon arrived, and a very windy one at that.  I had my final White-tailed Eagle sighting of the week while we were driving.  I had spotted a distant, familiar looking, black blob in the sky, and being in a position where we could safely stop the car, I got out with the binoculars and was rewarded with an adult White-tailed Eagle battling against the strong wind.  It was flying away from us, before turning and heading in my direction.  I made a split second decision to keep watching through the binoculars rather than grabbing the camera and trying to get a photo, as I wouldn't have got such a good view. Watching through the binoculars it looked like it was right in front of me as it came in to land in a group of conifers.   With its huge wingspan outstretched, it dropped the landing gear, looking magnificent as it lurched forward to settle on the wrong side of a tree and out of sight.

Another distant 'blob' of a White-tailed Eagle, before it turned and headed
towards me. I decided to keep looking through the binoculars rather
than missing the action while trying to find it again through the camera lens!
Apologies for the quality of the photos, most were taken some distance away from the birds and it was usually dull, wet or very windy.  The only locations I've mentioned where I saw White-tailed Eagles are the well-known places, such as Glen Seilisdier, current home of Mull Eagle Watch.

I have posted separately my other sightings on Mull, which included: Otters, Golden Eagles and a male Hen Harrier.

I'm hoping I will be able to make it back for a brief visit before the year is out, and see how the eagles are doing. Hopefully they will be successfully raising their new families.

Finally, here is an Eagle Antics cartoon, inspired by the nest builders I watched:



You can read my other Mull Diary Blogs here:


© Karen Hartnell - all images and text may not be reproduced in any way. 
Photos and video copyright Karen Hartnell and Graeme Low.

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