By Eamonn Keyes
I do like birds.
Whilst not being a Twitcher exactly, I do go out of my way to see anything unusual and to try to get a photo.
When I moved to the West Coast of Scotland in 2010 it did give me a chance to see birds I’d have been very lucky to see in Ireland- such as Yellowhammers, Siskins, Long-tailed Tits and various raptors.I did get quite a few decent photos in the garden near Oban, and then I discovered that quite near me, around Jura and Mull, there were a couple of pairs of nesting White-Tailed Sea Eagles. This huge raptor is the one to go for in Britain. It had been extinct in Scotland for a century until re-introduced from Scandinavia in 1975, and is now starting to breed successfully on both East and West Coasts of Scotland.
I made a couple of boat trips out by Jura to see them, and only managed a very distant sighting until on my final boat trip we came across one perched on the cliffs above, and I got a photo at long last.
Shortly afterwards, I moved to Orkney, and that first summer, 2016, I learned that two White-Tailed eagles were nesting on the cliffs on Hoy. Although the birds were young and inexperienced and expectations of a successful breeding were low, it was wonderful that a pair had come to Orkney and that eventually we might well see chicks appearing.
That summer I had many visitors, including a musical duo who had asked me to produce their first album. I’d prepared 4 extensive demos with basic tracks they’d provided, and they were very enthusiastic about the results and future possibilities, and I took them out sight-seeing when we’d done all we could and made our plans. The weather wasn’t bad that July day, and we headed out from Kirkwall down the Orphir Road.
Somewhere out past the Hall of Clestrain we were looking out towards Hoy, which was doing its usual brooding on the horizon- I’ve always though it looks a bit like Mordor in the Lord of the Rings films. I was talking about the recent sightings of the eagles on Hoy with my friends, and how wonderful it was to have them in Orkney.
Suddenly my peripheral vision made me aware of a large brown shape hurtling from my right-hand side towards the car and I instinctively slammed on the brakes, expecting it to be a dog or even a child running out, and hoping I might just manage to avoid crashing into it.
Instead, what missed my still-moving car radiator grille by an inch or two, at a height of less than two feet was a huge brown bird. With a white tail.
I watched as it flew on towards Hoy, its wings scraping the grass, as due to its sheer size it was having quite a bit of difficulty getting off the ground. It must have been on the gentle slope to my right, perhaps landing to eat a piece of carrion, and then decided to lift off. Which isn’t easy with a 2.5 metre wing span.
It was only when I got home, tucked into bed, that I realised how lucky I had been. Not in seeing the eagle, which was remarkable enough, but in my close call, almost killing one of the two rarest birds in Orkney, then nesting.
If I’d hit it and reported it, there’d possibly have been a mob outside with flaming torches and a rope, waiting to lynch an Irishman.
For once, the expression ‘luck of the Irish’ actually had some meaning
I’ve just heard that this year the eagles have two chicks, now fully-fledged and which are likely to fly soon. My thoughts were mainly ‘phew’. It’s nice to know I made my own contribution to this happy event. I’ve been down that road quite a few times since, and I can’t even see where it happened as there seems to be a fence most of the way, so I can’t see how it was so low. But happen it did, and I can still see that brown flash in front of me, so even now I keep an eye to the right, just in case I need to watch the birdie again…….