Golden eagle champion, John Aitchison: “One species makes my heart race whenever I see it: what else could it be but the golden eagle? It’s Scotland’s ultimate bird – the epitome of wild places.” John is a cameraman who often works for the BBC.
Vision 10 times sharper than ours, a mighty 2.2m wingspan, massive talons and a meat-cleaver bill that strips flesh from bone… the golden eagle is an impressive predator. But even this majestic raptor, Britain’s second largest after the reintroduced white-tailed eagle, vanishes in the vastness of its upland home. Top photographers spend entire days in hides to capture portraits of eagles lured to carcasses, so what chance do the rest of us have of an encounter?
RSPB eagle aficionado David Sexton recommends staking out a lofty viewpoint in the Scottish Highlands or islands (the highest eagle densities are on the west coast), then patiently scanning ridges back and forth. “With luck, a soaring bird will crest the skyline. Eagles are most active on fine, breezy days after spells of bad weather, which grounds them,” David says. Autumn is particularly productive as youngsters (which sport white patches on the wings and tail) will be flying too, boosting Scotland’s adult population of 440 pairs.
But beware confusion with buzzards, nicknamed ‘tourist eagles’ due to the frequency with which they are misidentified. True goldies have amazingly long wings with deeply ‘fingered’ tips. They’re also shy and quiet – if you see a bird perched on a pole or fence near a road, or hear it mewing, it’s probably a buzzard.
Best places to see a golden eagle
- Eagle Observatory, Isle of Harris
- Findhorn Valley, Inverness-shire
- Glen More, Isle of Mull
- RSPB The Oa, Islay