RSPB Scotland's Dave Sexton shares some tales about Victor, quite the character and a celebrity in his own right.
As the first storms of the autumn rolled in off the Atlantic, I was worried how the newly fledged sea eagle chicks would cope. One chick in particular. He was the first ever fledged for the Mull Eagle Watch pair of sea eagles in Tiroran Community Forest on the Isle of Mull. That pair had tried and failed for three years. The first year they were not fully mature; the second year, the eggs fell through the bottom of the nest after heavy rain and the third year the young died at hatch point. Finally, in 2005, their single, very special chick spread his huge wings and took off into the unknown. He was wing tagged ‘Red V’ and was named locally, not Victor, but Valiant!
He was always an adventurer and very soon he proved that he knew exactly what he was doing. Within a few weeks of fledging, when juvenile sea eagles are usually still with their parents, his wing tag was read by someone on the Mull of Kintyre. Then he was seen on the Antrim Plateau in Northern Ireland where he made headline news. Just a few days later he was back at Loch na Keal on Mull! He was proving to us that we needn’t worry about him and that a short ‘away-day’ flap across the Irish sea was all part of a young sea eagle’s wander lust.
Image Mara Media/John Aitchison
Fast forward five years and young Valiant had matured. Gone was the sometimes scruffy, mottled plumage of his youth. He now had his gleaming white tail, a pale, beige head and that banana-yellow meat cleaver of a beak. He looked magnificent and he had a new home. He also seemed to have changed his name by deed-poll! He’d settled on the beautiful Isle of Skye on a dramatic stretch of coast at Kylerhea. He had been spotted by locals and in particular, by the operators of the fantastic and original Glenelg to Skye ferry route. He had now been christened Victor!
Victor had a mate, a stunning pale sea eagle known locally as Orla. The pair went on to fledge many chicks in their huge nest in a lichen covered tree on the edge of the narrows. Victor perfected the art of chasing down gulls and gannets to make them drop their catch of fresh fish – usually mackerel. The Kylerhea narrows have a dramatic tidal flow and are a rich feeding ground for seals. They would force the fish to the surface which got picked off by gulls which then got mugged by Victor. He’d then circle round and head back to the nest to feed his chicks. Victor became a local celebrity but he never let it go to his head. He starred in numerous TV programmes, notably BBC Scotland’s ‘Hebrides – Islands on the Edge’ narrated by Ewan McGregor. This clip, from the BBC Scotland/Mara Media series ‘Hebrides – Islands on the Edge’ was filmed by John Aitchison and shows Victor doing what he does best.
Victor is now appearing in Channel 5’s ‘Atlantic – A Year in the Wild’ airing every Friday at 9pm. In the programmes you can follow Victor and Orla as they work hard to raise a family and struggle to survive in a wild year of Atlantic storms. Cameraman Jim Manthorpe and Skye-based RSPB Senior Conservation Officer Alison MacLennan worked equally hard to get the stunning footage. Victor had lost his distinctive red wing tags by this stage but everyone, especially the ferry owners, knew it was him.
Victor or Valiant or Red V established himself as a firm favourite of locals and visitor alike. He was a great ambassador for white-tailed eagles in the UK which still face threats and prejudice as they slowly recolonise their former haunts across Scotland. I still remember him as that feisty, bold young chick which we measured, weighed, ringed and wing tagged one midge-infested June day in 2005 with his parents looking on. Little did they or we all know what he would go on to achieve. How proud they would be of their first born.
Main image by Iain Erskine.
Lovely uplifting story. What a refreshing relief from the usual tales of cruelty and carnage.
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