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Seeing white-tailed sea eagles on the Isle of Skye


This week I've been on holiday in the Isle of Skye. Skye is an island to the north west of Scotland and it's about 55 miles tall and about 25 miles wide. Skye has amazing views, some great mountains and some incredible wildlife, including golden eagles, seals, otters and sea eagles (white-tailed eagles).

White-tailed sea eagles are the fourth biggest raptor in the world, and the rarest raptor in the UK. There are eleven breeding pairs in Skye. They are rare because they were once hunted almost to extinction (like red kites) and they have been reintroduced. They mainly hunt at the coasts but there is one which nests in Fife which my local gamekeeper has seen near my village, which is about 50 miles inland.

I wasn't expecting to see a white-tailed sea eagle when I came to Skye, but I did go and see the Sea Eagle exhibition at the Aros centre near Portree on Skye. Outside is a big statue of a white-tailed sea eagle.

Inside the exhibition there was an example nest, lots of information, a film about Skye, and this display showing the different shapes and sizes of buzzards, golden eagles and white-tailed sea eagles. I have seen loads and loads of buzzards before (and even brought one home !) and I saw golden eagles when I visited a falconry, but I have never seen a sea eagle.

They had a display of a white-tailed eagle skull next to a golden eagle skull. The white-tailed eagle skull was badly damaged, and the golden eagle skull was a replica (unlike mine !) but it also had the eye rings and eyebrows.

The white-tailed eagle skull was a bit bigger still than the golden eagle skull:

The next day, Dad and I went to Portree, which is the biggest town on Skye and is a fishing town, to go on a boat wildlife trip. We hoped to see white-tailed sea eagles but we knew we might not. We had planned to go on Thursday but it was going to be raining so we went out on the Wednesday afternoon sailing. This is the boat that we went on:


It was sunny but a bit cold. We set off and this is what Portree harbour looked like from the sea:

Almost as soon as we set off, I looked up and spotted something massive in the sky above us. It was a white-tailed sea eagle soaring high above ! 

About a mile out of the harbour, the boat skipper thought he saw something on the cliffs above. To see you had to look almost directly into the sun which made it very difficult, and you could only see using binoculars, not by the naked eye. It was a pair of sea eagles !

There was another wildlife boat which came beside us which was looking at them too:

 They were perched on a rock and were incredibly well camouflaged and difficult to see.

Then the skipper tried to entice them down with fish. He took a dead mackerel from a coolbox on the boat, injected it with air to make it float, and threw it in the water. One of the sea eagles took off and came overhead:

Then it swooped down, picked up the fish and went back up ! Dad took pictures as it came down. The time from the first picture to the last picture is just three seconds.

This is a bigger version of the picture above showing it lifting the fish out of the water:

They tried again to bring the other eagle down, but it wasn't hungry enough. The boat went round the rest of the harbour, and we saw a lot of other wildlife which I will write about soon.

Seeing the white-tailed sea eagle was the best experience I have had with an animal in the wild, and it was amazing to see it !

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Findlay Wilde said...

They are amazing pictures, thanks for sharing them. From Findlay

Mori said...

Wow. What an incredible thing to see! Your dad's fishing action shots are wonderful. I never knew their skulls were so much bigger than golden eagle's skulls.

I've been to Skye once, to look for otters at this special otter hide they have. Inside the hide it said white-tailed eagles and golden eagles were often seen soaring above the skyline, but we didn't see any, though we did get to see some otters, seals, gannets and red breasted merganser ducks. It's a wonderful place for wildlife, I'm definitely going back one day.

Jack N said...

When I went to skye, I saw that exhibition and saw a eagle catch fish on that exact same boat!What a coincedence!

Jake said...

Thanks everyone !
@Jack: it must be one of the coolest things to do on Skye.

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