The eagle has landed

Published: 1st October 2010

Have spent a great few days exploring possible places to take Glenloy Wildlife guests, and also revisiting some old favourites. During the course of our visits we have had some of our best ever wildlife sightings, and can only hope that our luck does not run out before we welcome guests this weekend.

The first trip of note was a long-planned expedition to Skye to see the White-tailed Eagles being fed off a boat at Portree. We arrived just in time to catch the last remaining places on the Stardust, and were taken the short distance across the bay to grassy slopes, upon which an eagle was duly waiting for us. The skipper wafted a fish in the air to catch the bird's attention. Once it looked interested he pumped some air into the fish to make it float, before tossing it onto the sea, not too far from the boat. The eagle obligingly launched itself off its perch, glided down to the sea, and effortlessly snatched up its meal, before returning straight to the shore. The whole exhilarating sequence could not have taken much more than 30 seconds. The eagle then proceeded to eat its lunch, joined by three rather cheekie hoodies, intent on scraps, but rather too close to that massive bill for their own comfort. The boat then crossed over to higher cliffs on the other side of the bay, so that the skipper could fish for some more bait close to salmon cages. The fishing was unsuccessful, but we did see another Sea Eagle, soaring over the cliff tops. The journey was further enlivened by the usual cast of seals and seabirds, including some late auks. On the long trip home we enjoyed some superb coastal scenery with views across to Raasay and Scalpay, but little else in terms of wildlife. A notable exception was a Common Shrew, right by the side of the road, which was munching on an insect, seemingly oblivious of the car.

Eagles were the theme of the week. A couple of days later we saw a pair of adult Sea Eagles, rather cozily perched together on a large piece of driftwood by the side of Loch Linnhe. All details were clearly visible through the telescope including one wing tag (yellow “K”). One flew down onto the shore and only its head and bill were still visible poking above the heaped strand line. Further winged wonders that day were dragonflies along Glen Scaddle, which were enjoying the late September sun. Common Hawker, Common Darter and Black Darter were all sunbathing by or on the path and hawking for moths and flies. These aerial predators were quite adept at catching insects in the air, and little seemed to escape them. The following day I was equally pleased to see a male Southern Hawker hunting over our garden pond.

Perhaps the best view of an eagle in the week was that of a Golden Eagle in one of the remoter local glens. We came upon a large adult female, which appeared as big as the sea eagles, perched on a large rock less than 50m from  the road.Whilst wary, the bird did not seem inclined to move, even allowing us to stop for photos. There was certainly no need for a telescope, as the eagle more than filled the  binocular lenses. It eventually flew off after about 15 minutes, on huge wings, disappearing slowly up the glen.

Yet another great eagle encouter was enjoyed yesterday at the head of Loch Etive. A Golden Eagle was spotted over the hill tops, being mobbed by a pair of Raven, or so we thought. The more we watched, the more it seemed that the eagle was actively seeking out the ravens and playing them. Alternatively it would glide up high then swoop down amongst the ravens, with all birds tumbling acrobatically down the hillside. The performance was repeated several times. It was not clear who was chasing who, but we were able to watch them carry on like this for over half an hour. This was something of another red letter day, as we had just been watching a large dog Otter fishing for a similar period. He seemed very adept at catching crabs, and rarely surfaced without one waving its claws in his face, before being rapidly crunched up. The otter also went ahore a couple of times, once with a large fish, so we were able to see him both in and out of the water, where he finally tried to snatch a nap on a small rock.

We also had a day hunting for Red Squirrels along the south side of Loch Ness. The day started off interestingly with a dead squirrel on the A82 south of Invergarry, an unusual place to see one.  Reaching our intended destination we were immediately rewarded with the sight of a plump rump and thick bushy tail scurrying up the side of the road. We saw another squirrel crossing the road as we started the walk from Inverfarigaig to Foyers along the shore path, and thought that this was going to be our lucky squirrel day. However, despite a seven mile round trip through mixed and ideal squirrel country we only snatched a glimpse of one further beast. There were lots of feeding signs and some wonderful hazelnit groves, but squirrels were hard to find. An added bonus was a Sika stag in thick woodland. It turned and looked at us and was indifferent to our prescence, staring at us for a while, before slowly ambling off. Another creature that stood stock still while we photographed it was a very cute looking baby vole. The poor thing was probably terrified, but not destined to last long unless it adopts a better survival strategy. Typically, as soon as we reagined the car to return to Foyers we saw another two Red Squirrels crossing the road – but we enjoyed the walk! We also picked up an new squirrel pamphlet, published by the Highland Red Squirrel Group, which has a very useful and detailed distribution map, giving us plenty of ideas as to where else to go squirrel hunting.

The Red Deer rut has started, although things are a little slow as yet. Stags can be heard roaring in the distance, but are proving very hard to track down. It does not help that the stalking season is still in full swing, and so naturally the deer are still avoiding people and public places. We did come across one magnificent Royal Stag with a harem of a dozen or so hinds. There were no other stags in evidence so obviously he must have a good thing going., at least for the moment. We have covered many miles looking for deer this week, however, and have failed to see them in many of the usual places. Perhaps the hard winter has taken a bigger toll than we thought. It will be interesting to see what sort of success we get next week.