Mull - Sea Eagles
The White-tailed Eagle [Haliaeetus albicilla], or White-tailed Sea Eagle as it's often called, is the largest British ‘bird of prey’ and one of the largest and heaviest eagles in the world. It is a magnificent bird and a species that I’ve had the good fortune to have photographed previously on the Isle of Mull, albeit at distance. I’ve also photographed it in Iceland and Finland, and from a hide in Romania. Although I’ve greatly enjoyed all those encounters, I’ve always hoped that one day I would see a White-tailed Eagle fishing in the wild. That would be an unforgettable wildlife experience but, given that it would more than likely be a brief and probably distant sighting, I doubt that it would be photographable.
The best option therefore is to visit a location where you can go out on a boat, and probably the best place to do that is on Mull. I was very tempted to book a trip last time we were on the island in 2015, but the thought of trying to photograph them from a ’tourist’ boat didn’t sound particularly appealing, so we gave it a miss. Since then all the better photos I’ve seen of White-tailed Eagles in the UK have been taken from that same boat - the ‘Lady Jane’, which is operated by Mull Charters and skippered by Martin Keivers.
We returned to Mull in May 2018 with two friends who are wildlife photographers like ourselves. Having the same interests made it possible to book a special late afternoon ‘private’ charter - just the four of us, plus Martin and his son Alex. The loch was relatively calm and the weather conditions were pretty good for the duration of the trip and although the clouds did move in later on, the first two or three ‘drops' as the birds came in to snatch fish off the surface produced a few photos that would have been impossible to capture by any other means.
I have mixed views about baiting birds, but the hard cold facts are that large raptors are persecuted in Britain and need all the help they can get. The Mull eagles are in a good place, but they still need protecting and the revenue that’s generated from photographers, birders and interested visitors allows that to continue. It would be cynical to say otherwise, but money and public support are key factors. The boat charters are popular. They are as important to the island as the eagles - the two go hand in hand. There are now a number of pairs of White-tailed Eagle that nest and have territories around Loch na Keal and Loch Tuath and Martin knows each and every bird and ensures that he never overfeeds an area. The eagles are wild birds and, as such, make their own decisions - nothing is guaranteed. Invariably they will come in and readily take the bait, but they are not dependent on it.
All of the photos in this short article are from that trip. I have many, many others of similar quality, most of which will remain hidden away on my hard-drives, but at least a few can be featured here as memories of a great afternoon.