The Golden Eagle
The last few birds I have written about have been very small, so for a big change we now jump to the other end of the scale and show off our master of the skies, The Golden Eagle.
These majestic birds catch the thermals to soar to many hundreds of metres high in their search for food, and will travel great distances to find it.
To see one at a distance gives great pleasure to an avid bird watcher, but to see one at close quarters is truly amazing. I was a very lucky person to do just that, and not only to see one but to hold two of their offspring in one day. It makes a high point in in any bird’s watchers life.
The only way to show the sheer size of the bird is to have your picture taken with it- but this one is a youngster and cannot even fly yet.
This and another were being ringed by a ringer, licensed by The British Trust for Ornithology, and I was assisting him with another friend. My job was to climb up to the massive eyrie, (nest) and pass the chicks down to the other person who held them until they were ringed, and then we took photos of them.
As soon as we were completed we made a hasty retreat in case the adult eagle appeared with food for them, because we were in a very vulnerable position. Well where can you hide from a bird that can catch up with you by flapping its wings a couple of times ?- and with talons so sharp it can kill a lamb, a young roe deer, a hare or rabbit instantly.
As the Golden Eagle dives on them from the skies, the prey is hit with such a force that their huge talons penetrate the vital organs of their victims. And if you are a long way up a cliff then your escape route is limited.
When I was much younger and had friends who owned a hotel in the West Coast of Scotland we would often see eagles as we moved around the area. However I never saw another until 1998, when I was tackling my first Munro - a mountain over 3000ft or 915metres with a friend of mine.
We were nearing the top when two foreign climbers asked me what the two large birds were in the sky. I told them that they were Buzzards and continued to explain all about them, and how to recognise them in the future.
At that point the buzzard’s calls changed from their usual mewing to an anxious call. Looking up, I saw a golden eagle had just arrived and was about a hundred metres from us. The eagle was being given a lot of hassle from the two smaller birds – and what a difference in size.
You may think that a buzzard that you see sitting on a fence on Bute is big, but if you see them beside an eagle the difference is immense. It was like a pair of Sparrows flying alongside a Jackdaw.
This hassle went on for a while, and could have stopped very quickly if the eagle had a mind, but I think it may have been a territorial dispute, so once the eagle was good distance away peace was established, and the buzzards were able to carry on with their normal routine.
Sometimes I see an eagle as I wander about the glens and mountains on the mainland. They are usually soaring high up looking for any carrion, (dead animals) to feed on. There was one reported to the Buteman flying over Scoulag Moor a few years ago. This was an immature bird that had been in the area for some time flying around Scoulag and Kilmory area, giving locals a good view and in some cases a big fright too.
I first saw it just beyond the Dhu Loch. Sitting down with my back against the ruins having my coffee and sarnie. I was watching a female Kestrel showing its offspring the rudiments of hunting for food. Suddenly a pair of Carrion Crows took exception to this intrusion and tried to evict them from the area. This went on for a while without them noticing me – I was in camouflage gear, so I was well hidden as long as I didn’t move. Well, the immature eagle must have heard the commotion and came for a look. Two crows, two kestrels and an eagle make for an interesting tete-a-tete, but it was not to be, for as soon as they spotted the eagle the smaller birds did a very quick disappearing trick.
The Eagle soared away looking for thermals that would take it to another vantage point and as it was a fine summer’s day it would soon find one. This eagle soon left Bute to look for a mate and I have never seen it since. As usual, as it is a Raptor, and is blamed for killing small birds like Pheasants and Grouse causing it to be persecuted for generations, and as it is a rare bird, its eggs are a magnet to egg thieves , so they have a job surviving, but survive they do.
The young bird in my photograph survived as did its sibling. They fledged and flew with their parents for that summer, then returned from whence they came or maybe tried another site; as they may build up to three or four nests, then chose the best that suits them.
As they prefer a site with an all-round view, their favourite nesting place is high upon a cliff or the top of a Scots Pine Tree.
This bird that I am holding on to seems to have taken a shine to me, and is like holding on to a small Turkey – it was that big and heavy. I could hold a buzzard chick in each hand, but there is no way I could do the same with two eagle chicks – it takes me all my time to hold on to one.
Fortunately they are very docile and are not afraid of man at this moment in time, but this will soon change. These two chicks may now have a family of their own if they have been left alone to do so, and I sincerely hope that they have, and then I will be happy.
As I go about my travels I hope to see many more of these majestic birds.
These images are me taking photos of the original photos, so they are not that great?
Ps After two years passed one of the brood was found stuffed down a rabbit hole and had either been shot or poisoned.
First Published in the Buteman 26-12-2003