When the dawns are as bright and autumnal as we've been having this week, there's really no argument about the plan for the day. A quick breakfast, make a packed lunch, a flask of coffee, into the landrover and away into the glens. At this time of year, just when some people think life is slowing up on the islands, we're actually full on trying to establish which pairs of sea eagles are where, what has happened to this year's chicks and are there any new pairs prospecting for next year? With this lot in mind I decided to head for a remote, central part of Mull where we sometimes have a roost of young eagles gathering at this time of year.
The conditions were ideal and hopes were high. Once again, there wasn't a ripple on the lochs. A few whooper swans feeding at one end of the loch, a small mixed flock of teal, wigeon and mallard at the other. In between at the fishfarm, three ever-hopeful cormorants and two herons bided their time. As I worked my way along the loch I disturbed two dippers. Strange to see them away from their breeding river site and now settled in their winter loch shore home. Onwards up the glen. In the far distance Beinn Talaidh still had a dusting of snow from last week. With the sun shining directly on it, the glare through the telescope forced me to half close my eyes. Until an eagle drifted into view, just gliding over the snow covered boulder field on the summit. It was a young golden eagle, by the looks of the plumage, one of this year's young, probably from Mull. It still had the bright white patches on either wing and the white tail with black band. Suddenly it banked sharply and was joined by a second young goldie of the same age. Together they glided, then dived on each other. At one point they landed in the snow and sent a flurry of white flakes all around them. But not for long. They were off again, chasing and playing above the peak. In from the north came another bigger, darker form - a young sea eagle. It could even have been Mara or Breagha? The three youngsters were just revelling in the bright, clean frosty air. If eagles play, this was it. Up and down, legs down, half swooping, gliding back round, almost touching talons, then away again. Over and over again. Next to join this aerial youth club was a sub adult sea eagle, more white on the tail but still with the care-free approach of youth. How many was that now? Right - four eagles, two goldies, two sea eagles - all still together. Wait, what's that coming in? Two more eagles joining the fray. They look a bit more serious. Two adult golden eagles - presumably the territorial pair from this home range. The playful group briefly dispersed as the two guardians of the glen cruised in but before long they had all merged into six soaring masters of the air. Whilst the adult goldies kept circling, the young eagles continued to spar and jostle each other mid air until the youngest sea eagle split off and flew purposefully to the south. Watching this 'flock' of eagles, I had been unaware of the two adult sea eagles soaring high over me. The youngster was heading straight for them - maybe his parents. He joined them and then all three flew back towards Beinn Talaidh. I was now watching eight eagles soaring over the snow-capped hills. The respective adult pairs at different heights but the youngsters in a free-for-all lower down. Nothing was going to stop them. Confident on the wing. No territory to defend. Carrion aplenty. Life was for living. Eventually, some 45 minutes after it had all started, the adult sea eagles drifted back south. The adult golden eagles glided off in the opposite direction. Then, one by one, as easily as they'd found each other, the young birds slowly drifted apart. All going their own separate ways - into Glen Forsa, down into Glen More and away towards Loch na Keal. As I lost the last dot of an eagle over the distant horizon, I looked back to the snow field. The sky was empty now, still blue and clear, but empty. Not an eagle in sight. The young birds will fly on to who knows where. They may never meet up again. But for that short time, they had come together as one joyous, magnificent band of young eagles. Time to play, time to learn. Time to live.
Dave Sexton RSPB Scotland Mull Officer
On 'Autumnwatch' on Wednesday follow the Mull Eagle Diary as our two sea eagle chicks take to the air for the first time but elsewhere on Mull, disaster strikes...
BBC Two 7pm
Phew ann says you do tell a good story.Watched autumnwatch tonight pleased to see how calm the chicks are down on the ground.We went to weymouth last week to see the hooded merganser, what a lovely bird it is.When we were on Mull we walked with Duncan and saw 5 dippers he was really pleased to see so many down in the river.
I loved to see the white-tailed eagles on Autumnwatch tonight, BUT I loved your report above far more, as I love all your reports, (Electra's story still really affects me - however I found pictures of her and Laggan on the Loch Garten Bloggers site today and that helped me enormously). I wish Autumnwatch could give us a little more ...
Autumn watch was awesome tonight, and you Dave looked in fine fettle ( whatever a fettle is ) The young sea eagles were so quiet and good...
The story above is fabulous, heartwarming and so descriptive.
Can I ask a probably silly question..Would they cross mate with each other ??? There genetic imprints must be similar and from your story they obviously get on together..???
Been watching the USA election, looks like Obama has it, not that the eagles give a hoot, well they would if they were owls :-)