Den Cartlidge September Blog

Friday 7th September 2018

This month, Den Cartlidge turns his binoculars beyond Staffordshire...

The boat battled through the wind and spray. As we neared the barren islets off the coast of Mull, someone called out. ‘On the rocks,’ she shouted. ‘Right in front of us.’ The skipper cut the engine – we bobbed up and down on green waves – everyone was looking at the rocks. I wiped the salt off my glasses and thought about using my binoculars, but there was no need for them. Like everyone else on board, I could see it quite well with the naked eye. It looked too big to be a bird, too big to be one that flew anyway.

Birders call them the ‘flying barn door’, and at this distance the nickname seemed quite apt. A white tailed sea eagle watched us from a rocky islet. With a wingspan that exceeds 2.5 metres sometimes (that’s just over eight feet), and with weights recorded that wouldn’t look out of place on a Christmas Turkey wrapper, this is a big, imposing bird. It’s a beautiful one as well, with light-brown to blonde, speckled plumage, and a beak like a huge, curved dagger.

Sea eagles can now be seen in and around the Inner Hebrides, but it hasn’t always been like this. Human persecution led to their extinction in the British Isles during the First World War. A determined effort to reintroduce them bore fruit in the 1970s, using young eagles brought over from Norway. There’s now a small but growing number of breeding pairs in this part of the world.

The majestic raptor watched us watching him. After a few moments, the huge bird slipped into the air, and we watched this particular barn door follow a lazy route towards the mountains on the mainland.