These magnificent eyes, and their huge but placid owner, belong to a WTE. I'm used to using this 3-letter abbreviation for my well-known favourite subject, the Wedge-tailed Eagle (Aquila audax), but today in Scotland I learned that in this neck of the woods, it refers to the White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla), a giant eagle of the northern hemisphere that is equally as large and inspiring as the Australian wedge-tail. Ornithologists Justin Grant and Ewan Weston took me out to a site on the west coast of Scotland today to check a sea eagle nest. After nearly an hour of trudging through boggy ground and following an old sheep fence to a small inland loch, we reached the nest and were pleased to see it contained a single chick, whose black form was just visible through the clouds of midges that greeted us in the thick stand of pine wood. The eaglet was about 8 weeks old and well feathered, the perfect age for ringing.
Justin and Ewan climbed the nest tree and installed ropes for easy access, and Ewan carefully approached the chick to ensure it would not fledge prematurely. I then joined Ewan on the nest and helped him apply the metal rings to the birds' legs - an absolutely thrilling experience! It was very exciting to see such a huge bird, and bizarre to watch it flatten itself down on the nest in a defensive position knowing full well it could inflict severe damage if it wanted to.
|Ewan holds the sea eagle chick in preparation for ringing.|
After the ringing procedure was complete, we took a few photos of the chick and its metal ring, before I abseiled to the ground and reflected on what I had just seen and done. You can see in this photo how the sea eagle family's legs are only feathered half-way to the feet, where as 'Aquila' eagles (like wedge-tails and goldens) have feathers right to the toes.
Thanks to Ewan and Justin for what was a fantastic and most memorable day!
|The BTO metal ring on the sea eagle chick's right leg. Coloured rings for later identification are placed on the left leg.|