In 2009 Shieldaig attracted two rather special new residents. It did not take the newcomers long to find their niche, settle into the community and establish a lifestyle that in many ways is probably not too dramatically different to that of their ancestors who last inhabited the area over 100 years ago. The subjects in question are of course the white-tailed eagles. After an absence of less than 60 years from Scotland as a whole, the white-tailed eagle’s return to the west of Scotland started in 1975 by means of an exciting and ambitious re-introduction programme. Since then, successive imports of chicks from Norway to the west, between 1975 and 1985 and then again from 1993 to 1998, coupled with an increasing number of wild bred chicks fledging annually, have ensured a steady and sustained growth in the naturalised population.
Although white-tailed eagles have been seen around Shieldaig on numerous occasions over the past 40 years, it was not until the young pair tagged red 4 (male) and yellow 2 (female) moved into the area in 2009 that they could truly be considered Shieldaig residents once more.
As with all other members of the sea eagle family, the white-tailed eagle is a bird found closely associated with water. Most nest sites are located close to water bodies and most of their prey items are associated with water, fish and seabirds being their favoured items. So the village of Shieldaig, with its outlook onto a beautiful pine wooded island, is the perfect location for these birds – in their environment and in their hearts. For the people of Shieldaig it’s a true welcome home coming.
After a couple of successful years with single chicks reared in 2009 and 2010, the birds had a distraught and frustrating time with three successive failures coinciding with unusually stormy spring weather when eggs or small chicks were at a very vulnerable stage. They had persisted with a nest that was strongly built but exposed to the full blast of wind and rain, but in 2015 they decided to try a more sheltered location. The decision paid off and the good news is that for the first time this pair reared two chicks. Hopefully, the parents are now experienced enough to continue making wise nest choices. We are keeping our fingers crossed for this year!
A partnership project between RSPB,The National Trust For Scotland, Shieldaig Community Council and Nanny’s was set up in 2011, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The project aimed to transmit CCTV images of the sea eagles rearing their chick(s) in their nest on the island to Nanny’s. But with a run of failed breeding attempts due to adverse weather conditions, the project has yet to come to full fruition. It is hoped that with the experience that has come with age and the success of selecting a more sheltered nest site in 2015, that the birds will now settle into a routine of rearing chicks on an annual basis, allowing a camera to be set up some time in the future.
For more details of the white-tailed eagle project in west Scotland or to report sightings of white-tailed eagles, please contact Alison MacLennan,RSPB Senior Conservation Officer, Wester Ross & Skye either by phone (01471 822882 / 07787 726028) or email (email@example.com). Thank you and happy eagle spotting!