Highland Diary

Sea Eagles and Otters

The dark days of winter in the Western Highlands can be an unproductive time for a wildlife photographer. After a couple of months of extremely dull and wet weather it was a pleasant change to be able to head out for a couple of days to enjoy the return of the sun. Even though my local west coast sea lochs lack the numbers of birds one finds further east around the Moray Firth there are still photographic opportunities to be encountered. At this time of year a trip along the shoreline regularly produces good sightings of both Eurasian Otters and Sea Eagles. Otters, particularly the females with cubs, are quite territorial and can often be located hunting their home stretch of shoreline. Dog otters have larger territories but can often be found in their favoured fishing haunts.

The Sea Eagles tend to range more widely. Often the first indication of their presence is a mass panic among the other birds on the loch. Alarmed gulls usually gather together circling round to gain height out of harms way. Unsuspecting lone Herring Gulls feeding on or near the surface of the water are regularly targeted by the eagles. With little room to manoeuvre the gulls are ill equipped to out pace an attack. Though Sea Eagles will feed on carrion washed along the tideline, in my experience they take far more in the way of live prey, killing birds up to the size of herons and cormorants as well as fish and even shore crabs. They seem quite happy to stand for ages at low tide up to their bellies in the river channels waiting for migrating fish to come within reach. One day I watched a male eagle standing in the shallows regularly dipping its head forward in to the water. Once I focused a long lens on him I could see that he was catching pencil sized sand eels. He carried on fishing for fully twenty minutes before he had had his fill. Paired adult eagles stick together throughout the year frequently perching side by side, hunting together and sharing prey. Young birds without their own territories wander widely occasionally meeting up with other immature eagles.