The Glenelg Sea Eagles

The Glenelg Sea Eagles – Victor & Orla Nesting Sea Eagle

Short of paying for a dedicated sea eagle watching trip, like those out of Portree, a visit to Glenelg or a trip to/from Skye via the ferry represents the best opportunity to see these most magnificent birds.

While you are watching and waiting you may also see golden eagle, otters, porpoise or seals. With a little extra luck you may see basking shark or dolphin.

Where and when to see the Glenelg Sea Eagles

Sightings of the eagles have been daily in 2012 as they seem to be becoming more comfortable in their territory and bolder in their approach to the ferry and the people and vehicles on the shores of Skye and the mainland at the Kyle Rhea narrows.

The best time to see the eagles is on a rising tide when fish are brought into narrows and forced to the surface by the numerous upwellings of water and by the hunting activities of the numerous grey and common seals.

Best vantage points for watching for the birds are at either:

  • ferry slipway
  • ferry itself
  • otter hide on Skye
  • car park above the Glenelg slipway

Behaviours of the birds Victor thieving fish from the gulls

The gathering of gulls seem to signal to the sea eagle that there is food to be had. You can often see black backed gulls mobbing the eagle to chase it away.

Victor often steals fish from the gulls by chasing them and forcing them to drop their catch. (This is called klepto-parasitism!). Victor gets a lot of fish by thieving from the gulls.

The eagles are seen snatching fish from the surface with visible outstretched talons.  They demonstrate amazing flying manoeuvrability for such a massive bird.

 

Evidence from the nest also indicates that they will feed on the gulls themselves. Other prey items can include duck and tawny owl.

History of the eagles Sea Eagle with outstretched talons over shallow water

Although sightings of sea eagles had been regular, though not frequent in the Glenelg area, In 2009 Victor was first spotted and identified by his red wing tags marked with a letter “V”.  He was often seen in Kyle Rhea fishing and harassing gulls for their catch. A report of the sightings to the RSPB led to the information being fed back that “Victor” (so named by the ferry crew for the UN phonetic alphabet word for “V”) had been born on Mull in 2005, wandered to the Antrim plain in Northern Ireland and then disappeared until being sighted in Kyle Rhea. Later in the year another red wing tagged bird with the letter “O” marked was soon established as a regular visitor too.  Recently, the community decided through a poll on Facebook that Victors other half should be called “Orla” which is Gaelic for “Golden Queen / Princess”.

In 2010 it was found that the birds had formed a pair and had built a nest in a pine tree near Glenelg. A single chick was successfully reared. In 2011 the pair nested again but the eggs failed to hatch for an unknown reason, although there were frequent storms in that spring which may have been a factor.

This year – 2012 – the pair bred again and the nest, at time of writing, holds a well grown and healthy single chick which has been ringed but not tagged as wing tagging is no longer carried out.

Sea Eagles (White Tailed Eagles)

The sea eagle (more properly known as white tailed eagle) is the largest bird of prey found in the UK and is a magnificent bird. Its broad wings – 8 feet from tip to tip – earn it the epithet “flying barn door”. It’s massive beak and talons help it catch and eat it’s varied diet of fish, reptiles and mammals caught with it’s talons while on the wing, although it is not above eating carrion when available. The sea eagle is a close relative of the bald eagle and is not closely related to the golden eagle. When young the birds are dark all over but as they age they develop their distinctive white tail and their head and shoulders grow lighter each year.

Reintroducing sea eagles in Scotland

A reintroduction of sea eagles started in Scotland in the 1980s with the release of young birds from the abundant population of Norwegian sea eagles on the Island of Rum. Sea eagles had been absent – apart from the occasional wandering bird from Norway – from the skies of Scotland since the early 20th century after they had been shot and poisoned to extinction. After a slow start the reintroduction gained ground and each year met with more success as, eventually, released birds reached breeding age (usually five years), paired up and started to breed and rear young.

The birds spread to other Islands and to the mainland so that a population began to establish itself to the extent that there will no longer be any further releases of Norwegian birds as it has been decided that the West Coast population is self-sustaining. Other schemes are introducing birds onto the East coast of Scotland and to Northern Ireland.

Released birds and young birds in the nests of breeding pairs were tagged with colour coded wing tags so that sightings of birds that included wing tag information could give an indication of the movements of the birds. Tags were coloured according to the year (e.g. red for 2005) and marked with letters or numbers to identify individual birds.

 

Photographs contributed by Andy Law and Peter Jones

Content supplied by Peter Jones and edited by Emma Maclean

Wildlife spotting

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