Scotland is home to the highest concentration of these majestic birds anywhere in Europe, with the majority of these being found in the north and west.
They are large birds, with a wingspan in excess of 2 metres, and can often be seen soaring over the remote islands that we encompass in our boat trips.
They feed largely on carrion, but will also take small mammals and birds such as grouse. Each pair has a large territory than can be as much as 18,000 acres.
White-tailed Sea Eagle
An adult sea eagle can reach a wingspan of 2.4 metres, making them slightly larger than golden eagles. They tend to soar on flat wings, as opposed to the golden eagle which generally hold the wings slightly bent upwards in a ‘V’ shape.
The Sea eagle was hunted to extinction in Britain, with the last breeding pair being shot on the Isle of Skye in 1916.
There have been a number of attempts to re-introduce these birds, but only the most recent program has proved successful. Since 1976 juvenile birds have been brought in from Norway and released at secret locations off the West Coast of Scotland. The first successful wild breeding was achieved in 1985, and today there are approaching 40 pairs of these giant birds breeding along the West Coast of Scotland. Indeed, experts are predicting that in the near future nesting Sea Eagles will be seen on the Argyll mainland.
It is believed that suitable habitat and food supplies exist in other parts of Britain, but recolonisation of England is more likely from their German stronghold, as the bird is perceived as a threat to domestic livestock, and persecution of raptors is still a problem in large parts of Britain.
The bird’s feeding habits are referred to as ‘specialised generalist’, as its diet is very varied, from fish to small mammals, and in some cases sheep, however one particular pair will specialise in one type of prey. Indeed, experts were surprised to find butterfish remains in one particular nest. The species of fish was not normally accessible to surface feeding eagles. It was only after careful observation that it was found that the pair in question had become expert at robbing otters of their catch!
This bird of hill country and wooded farmland is a familiar sight in Argyll, and will often be seen gliding in a hot air thermal or perched on a post at the side of the road.
They are often confused with eagles, but to the trained eye there are some distinct differences. Not least of this is their size – they are just over half the size of a Golden Eagle.
Gamekeepers and rabbits have had a huge impact on buzzard numbers over the years. Gamekeepers have always targeted the bird with poisoned bait, although this has declined from its peak of 100 years ago. Despite this, more buzzards still die in this fashion than any other raptor.
It is not all bad news for the buzzard however. Rabbit numbers, decimated by myxomatosis in the early 1950’s, have seen a significant increase over recent years. As rabbits form a large part of the diet of buzzards, they have prospered as a result and their range is once again expanding.
No other bird rivals the peregrine for speed and agility. It feeds on medium sized birds, such as pigeons, crows, grouse and seabirds, which it catches in spectacular dives at speeds of between 100 and 200 Mph!
They are birds of mountains, moorlands and sea cliffs, and as you would expect the inaccessible rocky cliffs of our West Coast islands make an ideal place for nest sites. The nest itself is usually on a ledge or crevice, and often is just a bare scrape in the dirt. Sometimes an old raven’s nest will be used. The three to four eggs are camouflaged to help conceal them, but this has not prevented nest robberies by eggs collectors being a problem. This, coupled with a build up of pesticides in the food chain during the 1960’s, and illegal poisoning and shooting by game keepers has had a serious impact on peregrine numbers throughout the last hundred years.
Today the birds receive full legal protection, and numbers have largely recovered, so there is every chance we may glimpse the compact shape of this powerful hunter soaring over the sea cliffs in the Firth of Lorne.
The osprey is a summer visitor to Britain, spending its winter months in West Africa. They became extinct in Britain at the end of the 19th Century, largely because of egg collecting and trophy hunting.
In 1955 a pair returned to breed at Loch Garten near Aviemore, and so the long road to becoming re-established was begun. The RSPB gave the birds round-the-clock surveillance of the nest site, and other known sites were kept a closely guarded secret for many years. An observation hide was built at Loch Garten to enable members of the public to view these rare birds. This had a two-fold benefit. It provided people with easy access to see the birds, without causing undue disturbance at the nest whilst the birds were raising their young, and it also helped to educate people on the bird’s beauty and showed their value to the tourist trade in the local area. Indeed well in excess of one million people have viewed the birds at the Loch Garten hide, and in the meantime the bird has re-colonised Scotland and indeed the bird has successfully bred in parts of England recently.
There are birds nesting in Argyll, and they are sometimes seen locally. We would not normally expect to see them during our boat trips, as the islands do not provide suitable habitat, and they tend to fish on inland lochs rather than over the sea, but we can never rule out the chance of seeing one over the mainland or in passage overhead.