A pair of sea eagles are currently preparing to nest on RSPB Scotland's Hoy nature reserve, raising hopes that this year may see Orkney's first chicks in nearly 150 years.
The young pair are assumed to be the birds that nested on the nature reserve last year - the first breeding attempt seen in the county since 1873. Although last year's eggs were infertile, hopes are high that with their growing maturity and experience from last season the birds may make history this spring.
Alan Leitch, RSPB Scotland's Sites Manager in Orkney, said: "It's very exciting to see Hoy's sea eagles back on the cliffs. It's been quite a journey from their national extinction in 1918 to seeing these birds soaring over Orkney's hills and coasts again, and with luck we may all witness the next step in their story this year."
Sea eagles have a long history in Orkney. A Pictish symbol stone found at the Knowe of Burrian, Harray features a well-known carving of one bird, while bones belonging to this species were found inside the Neolithic chambered tomb at Isbister, South Ronaldsay (the 'Tomb of the Eagles').
Alan Leitch continued: "With a wingspan of 2.4 m, or 8 feet, sea eagles are one of the most magnificent birds you can hope to experience in Orkney. We're looking forward to helping people spot this pair at an informal watchpoint at the small roadside car park for the Dwarfie Stone, opposite the Dwarfie Hamars, the cliffs where the birds have recently been seen displaying."
"To give these birds the best chance of success, please don't approach the cliffs and keep dogs under very close control in the vicinity. There's no problem with visiting the Dwarfie Stone, but to be on the safe side we would recommend not lingering too long or gathering in large groups there - the best views are to be had from the car park in any case."
"Nesting sea eagles are specially protected by law, so if you see any signs of disturbance please pass your concerns onto the police straightaway."
Sea eagles became extinct across the UK in the early 19th century due to a combination of widespread habitat loss and human persecution, with the last bird shot in Shetland in 1918.
Following successful reintroductions since the 1970s on Rum, Wester Ross and more recently in Fife, sea eagles are now reclaiming their former ranges. Success for the pair in Hoy, which have returned to Orkney of their own accord, would represent a significant expansion in breeding range for the birds in Scotland.
The local RSPB Scotland team are happy to answer questions about the sea eagles, and can be contacted on 01856 850176 or at email@example.com (office closed 25-28 March).
RSPB Scotland staff and volunteers intend to man an informal sea eagle viewpoint at the Dwarfie Stone car park between approximately 11 am and 4 pm each day for the duration of the nesting period. This provision is heavily supported by volunteers and may be affected by bad weather, so please contact the local office if you need to confirm the watchpoint will be manned on a particular day. However, the watchpoint will be manned over the Easter weekend.
The Burrian Stone is on display at the Orkney Museum, Kirkwall. The Tomb of the Eagles, South Ronaldsay, can also be visited.
A three-phase reintroduction programme for white-tailed eagles began in 1975. The east coast phase (the most recent) was a partnership between RSPB Scotland, Forestry Commission Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage with funding from Leader (2011-2013) and the Heritage Lottery Fund (2011-2014). Between 2007 and 2012, 85 birds were released on the east coast of Scotland, with the first successful nesting attempt made in 2013.
More information on sea eagles can be found here.
The RSPB is the UK's largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations.