- Published: 27 March 2019
Sleat | Isle of Skye
The varied wildlife here on the Isle of Skye is certainly abundant within the islands rugged shoreline and up towards the mountain tops. It can be a challenge to live on the edge of what nature can throw at you as regards the everchanging weather, the Atlantic Ocean can bring either havoc or calm to the Hebrides and in recent months has tested many a wild creature and a wildlife photographer like my self. A morning after a storm and washes ashore new interesting stories.
This time of year brings about changes, as the sun warms the air the island changes colour from its rustic browns to a fresh green haze, snow melt feeds the roaring streams that can not silent the Dippers excited call as they zip past the overhanging river banks to build their nest below the overhanging blanket edge of snow drops.
Sea Trout jump in the tidal shallows awakening a sleeping Otter curled up in the kelp covered rocks. Spring sunshine warms the seaweed like a warm bed and Otters love laying and rolling around in it. For a short time only the animals that hide within this seaweed jungle have to adapt to hiding away until the spring tide races the cool clear water back, slippery camouflaged Butterfish stay low and still in the drifting tangles of kelp in the hope the otters whiskers will not find them when they dive down for food.
Further up away from the shore towards the steep slopes of the Munro and Corbett tops the Golden Eagle sits perched amongst what is left of snow drift of weeks past, it observes distant hikers keen to scramble the scree in pursuit of endeavour. Its eyes can acutely adjust like in built binoculars, scanning its domain for movement of a nervous Grouse or Golden Plover. This is a precious time for the Eagles as they guard their large territory from wandering younger birds that bravely attempt to challenge the riches of the area.
I have seen Golden Eagles escort a larger White Tailed Sea Eagle away from the hills near their nest like two combat aircraft defending airspace from a intruding bomber. I do hope the Eagles this year are left in peace during the next few crucial months while they tend the nest of future offspring.
We are so lucky to have one of the largest Eagles in Europe here on Skye. The White Tailed Sea Eagle has an 8 foot wingspan and talons the size of the human hand, perfect for grasping fish from the water. The greater size of these Eagles cannot match the attitude of the Golden Eagle which despite its smaller size is more aggressive and in most cases a better hunter.
I have observed the Eagles planning and executing hunts of their prey using the sun as a mask, and their expert knowledge of the terrain allows them to fly low level at high speed towards their selected target, taking anything from a lone rabbit to a larger brown hare, a dabbling duck on the Loch to attempting a more satisfying meal of Greylag goose. To witness a hunting Eagle catch something is unique and almost impossible to photograph.
I must also note that Eagles in the UK are protected under the Schedule 1 Wildlife and Countryside Act so it is illegal to go any where near a nest at anytime of the year.
I have spent many hours hunkered down within their domain building up a portfolio of this King of birds, only to be tested again and again in learning something new every time. I often return home with only field notes and no photos, but I occupy their area while deeply respecting their privacy, only walking in certain areas and giving them the space they need to behave naturally. Although however discreet I am, I always feel I'm being watched from afar by one of the pair with its piercing gaze.
March is nearly over and the island is getting ready for another busy tourist season and my hope is that although visitors want to capture the magic of Skye and experience all it has to offer we all need to help these birds and animals like Otters hold on to as much undisturbed space as is needed. Getting away from the stresses of life, slowing down, visiting remote hills and shorelines and not passing another human soul is something special that Skye can provide. Skye can offer a peace of mind and a piece of magic. Let's make it stay that way for all to enjoy. I hope when you visit the islands and experience its unique landscapes you will get a glimpse of who you are sharing the landscape with and leave only footprints in the sand.