White-tailed sea eagles rule the skies around the Scottish Isles. Both these and golden eagles have suffered declines and near extinction in the last few hundred years, but are slowly being reintroduced to the rest of the British Isles in the hope that the population of both eagle species would be as successful as that of the red kite. Having the chance to see one of the eagle species was something I was very excited about when I boarded the boat one misty morning off the West coast of Mull.
The rain wasn’t heavy but thick with drizzle. As the boat left the harbour inlet, the neighbouring islands couldn’t be seen through the curtain of light rain. I scanned the tops of the pine trees that blanketed the land on either side of the boat, while a variety of gulls followed the boat out. The boat I was on sometimes offers food for the birds so the gulls, and also the eagles, have learnt that they may have a chance of food when the boat passes by. I personally wouldn’t call it a solid form of ‘baiting’, as the white-tailed sea eagle cover a huge territory across the whole of Mull so there would be other locations in which food could be easily obtained. But as this area had a couple of breeding pairs, and the fact that the chicks had recently fledged, there would still be a good chance of seeing them either perched in the trees or flying close to the boat for the strong possibility of a quick snack.
As myself and other guests onboard continued to keep an eye out for the eagles, I took the opportunity to photograph some of the gulls that were following the boat, to ensure my camera settings were correct regarding photographing a potentially fast-moving subject while on an unsteady platform being the boat. Not long after I reviewed the images of the gulls, I spotted something moving against the background of the land. It grew larger and it formed wings. The spot them became the shape of an eagle heading straight towards the boat. It was one of the resident males; potentially one of the fathers of the recently fledged chicks which were most likely flying or resting elsewhere.
The initial size of the bird was what made my mouth gape for most of the time as it flew over and around the boat. The power of the wings was evident as it flew up high, banked sharply and then flew straight down where it then unlocked its talons and grabbed a whole fish from the water's surface. Everyone on board was silent as the bird’s talons hit the water in one swift movement, and then with the talons firmly locked on its food, it beat its wings fast and hard and flew to the tree line on the opposite side and happily tore apart its food from a fair distance. Multiple times this individual returned to the boat, allowing me lots of chances to photograph the bird in different flight positions. The overcast sky made for a very simple background, so it made the details of the eagle much more striking than if it was a partly cloudy sky or flying close to the tree line. All the while, I was absolutely stunned by its size, its feather patterns and those striking golden eyes, and I often didn’t take pictures just so I could watch the eagle soar with my own eyes. I am very proud of the images I managed to capture, despite the unpredictable weather conditions.
I am not lying when I say I don’t have one favourite bird out of all the birds I have seen and hope to see in the wild, but these huge birds of prey are a very close contender with being my absolute favourite for so many reasons.