At the end of the track in Tiroran Forest, where I lead visitors on the Mull Eagle Watch trips, I stood with a party of people taking in the spectacular view over Glen Seilisdeir and out to Loch Scridain: the sea loch where our pair of white-tailed eagles do most of their hunting. Almost giving up hope of seeing the eagles, we turned and started to head back toward the viewing area that overlooks the nest tree where the adult birds often roost at the end of the day.

Hearing an oystercatcher give its warning call, I gave one last look back across the bay, scanning the far shore with the binoculars. Suddenly, there she was. Iona, the majestic adult female of our pair, was flapping slowly, low over the sea, extending her taloned feet, ready for the kill. A small group of red-breasted mergansers had been fishing near the centre of the bay, relaxed, little expecting what was to happen next. In an instant one of the birds was plucked from the surface, while the others scattered and dived in panic.

Iona carried her prey the short distance to the beach. As she approached, two hooded crows and several common gulls appeared in hot pursuit, threatened by her hunting presence. As she landed on the sand, just above the incoming tide, the crows and gulls started to dive at her from directly overhead, causing her to duck each time one of the mobbing birds whistled close past her head. She paused for no more than a few moments and re-adjusted her catch before taking off again, wheeling sharply, and heading back out across the sea.

As she approached the jagged basalt rocks that stand in a tumbled wall along the far side of the bay, a huge dark shape emerged from the trees above. It was Orion, her chick of this year, recently fledged and now almost as masterful in the air as its parents. Iona veered away, still flying very low over the sea with Orion in hot pursuit. The two birds began a spectacular aerobatic display, the juvenile closing in and flipping over. In an instant Orion had the prey in its talons. Without the aid of slow-motion it was impossible to tell whether she had stolen it from her mother, or whether Iona had passed the food. As the two eagles disappeared behind the trees on the near bank there was a collective exhalation of the breath everyone had been holding.

At the end of last week we received confirmation that the inspection by Visit Scotland of a few weeks earlier had again yielded the top award for a wildlife attraction of five-stars. What a great way to bring Mull Eagle Watch 2013 to a close.

STOP PRESS: I may be leading occasional Mull Eagle Watch walks during the winter months, so keep an eye on the blogs and tweets and for more details contact the Visitor Information Centre in Craignure on 01680 812556.

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