Country diary: The all-conquering sea eagle suddenly seems vulnerable

<span>Photograph: Bob Sharples/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Bob Sharples/Alamy

The walk starts quietly, along a track made muddy by sheep. As it progresses through scrubby pinewoods, the distant view becomes far more promising, with Scots pinewoods enwrapping the hillsides in front of the distant Cairngorms.

We’re heading to a loch to look for wildfowl, and when we get there I’m so preoccupied watching a flock of 50-odd teal dipping and wheeling around that at first I don’t notice the massive white-tailed eagle. It’s perched on a dead pine on the far side, so big that it makes the snag look tiny.

Sea eagles are one of the big successes of species reintroduction, and they’re thrilling to see, but it feels all the more precious now with avian flu having reached Mull’s sea eagle population. This one lifts off, ignoring the ducks, turns and flies towards the more distant pinewoods. Its 2.5 metre wingspan and white tail make it easy to follow, until it lands on a granny pine, so far away that we’re amazed we can see it still.

A month later, we’re heading back to the loch, towards a low sun that refracts the incoming smirr. When we arrive, we aim for the same snag, and see just beyond a solitary peregrine flying west.

Save a family of whooper swans, it’s quiet, and even since we were last here the moorland has succumbed to its washed-out winter pallor, though Scots pine saplings seem to glow spring-green in the sunlight.

As we approach the snag, I notice white tufts fluttering in the heather – there’s been a kill. In among downy feathers are some white-tipped wing feathers; one side of them is grey-brown, the other black to an iridescent petrol-blue-green teal.

We walk a little further but it’s too boggy to continue, so we turn and head back, seeing nothing more until we get back to the track. Two sea eagles appear out of nowhere. They’re even more startlingly huge when overhead, and it’s clear why they’re described as flying barn doors. As they fly away, it’s incredible how quickly they cover the distance, and how far away they are before they disappear. I hope they’ll stay safe.

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