A short in-between blog to share our surprise visitor with you this week….we had a sea eagle over Loch Davan! They’ve been seen on the reserve before- usually when the toads are breeding, when they come and eat clawfuls in one go- but this is the first time I’ve seen here. I was trying to count ducks on Loch Davan when I spotted the great crested grebes with their chicks. It’s been windy and I hadn’t seen them much before- they had been staying tucked into the reeds for shelter – so I pulled out the camera to try and get a couple of pictures. Great crested grebes have very cute, stripy babies, so I was feeling pretty chuffed at seeing them, even distantly.
And I was well tickled when one of the babies climbed onto mum’s back. Grebes often carry their babies on their backs but these are getting a bit big for this- mum looked in real danger of sinking!
When you’re taking a picture, you can only see down the camera – you’re not so aware of what’s happening around you. I was suddenly aware of the ducks all taking off and belting through the picture frame. Hullo, I thought, wonder what’s scared them? And looked up to see a big bird circling. My first, instant, thought was osprey- usually, here, loch+big bird= osprey. But, cue classic double take- that’s not an osprey! Way, way, waaaaaaaaay too big. Sea eagle!
Sea (or white-tailed) eagles are huge. They have an 8-foot wingspan and look almost rectangular in flight. “Over -specified” is the term that comes to mind – huge wings, massive feet and a frighteningly large hooked beak all make for a spectacular bird. This is a young bird-not quite adult, but not far off, probably about 3-4 years old. It was most definitely on the hunt and its first move was to have a go at a heron that was fishing by the mouth of the Logie Burn.
I’ve never seen a heron get airborne so quickly! They kind of lumber into flight but this one had to be pretty sharp about getting into the air. Herons are a favourite prey of both sea and golden eagles, especially on the west coast. The heron was frantically struggling to stay above the eagle, out of talon range. It managed to get away so the eagle turned its attention to the local ducks.
A lot of the ducks can’t fly just now; they have moulted out all of their flight feathers. However, the eagle picked a mallard that could fly and pursued it right across the loch, getting closer and closer all the time. Just as I was sure it was going to snatch the bird from the air, the mallard turned on a wingtip, crashed into the loch and dived. Mallard don’t normally dive, but can if they have to- like when they’re just about to be eaten. I think it surfaced in the reeds as the eagle hovered there for ages, trying to spot it. But it had to give up on that one and had another go at the rest of the ducks- coming much closer as it did so!
The bird came so close I could make out that it was ringed, but unfortunately, couldn’t tell any colours even from the photos. however, it does have a distinctive notch in the primary feathers on its right wing- so someone may have seen this bird elsewhere recently. We’d be interested in hearing if you have seen it.
It spend about 20 minutes harassing the ducks but to my huge surprise, didn’t have a go at the swans (they have nice, fat, juicy-looking cygnets) or the geese. When you have an 8-foot wingspan, you can easily eat something that size! I eventually lost in the trees to the south of the loch but it was a fantastic experience seeing a bird of this size close-up. I’ve seen sea eagles before, but usually at about 10 000 feet up or sitting looking vaguely untidy in a tree. To see the bird actively hunting, and at Dinnet, will be a treasured memory.
Oh, and I never did get the ducks counted in the end.