At some point I must have wandered back from the phone box to Eastcroft. The team were exhausted but couldn't sleep. We began to prepare ourselves mentally for what had probably happened out on the loch today. And we began to prepare how we were going to explain it to the waiting conservation world. There was little sleep for anyone. We just longed for the dawn to come. Some morning light so we could survey the scene again, just to be sure.
At the junction we split up. One team to the south side of the loch and I headed for the north shore, just above the nest wood. It was a horrible walk in, across tussocky Molinia terrain, forestry ditches and bog. I got there within the hour and sat on the rocky outcrop. After getting my breath back I raised my binoculars and started to scan, far and wide, across the loch, down below to the water's edge (half dreading what I'd find), anywhere, everywhere. Nothing. I could see the others arriving on the far side, clambering out, setting up tripods and telescopes. We made contact on the walkie-talkies, channel 9: "Anything yet?" "No - nothing..." The radio clicked off.
It's bizarre what you remember about such occasions. Despite the deepening gloom we all felt inside, I remember it was the most stunningly beautiful mid-summer day . Curlews nesting on the moor were calling their liquid, cascading, bubbly flight song; the occasional high pitched peep of golden plovers drifted over on the breeze. A pair of ravens criss-crossed the glen, their amazing aerobatics normally so impressive - but not today. Two long hours later, we had all but given up hope. Every few minutes, we'd checked in on the radio. Desperately wishing for positive news, anything to give us a glimmer of hope. "Hi guys, anything from your side?" "We'll call you if we see anything - over and out". Messages were short. Nerves were frayed. Tempers on the edge. It was probably time to call it a day.
My eye caught a movement over the wood. It was Blondie, circling low over the tops of the trees. Then there was the male. The pair of them together - but alone. They slowly gained height. That's it, I thought. Game over. With that, Blondie closed her wings, legs down and stooped earthwards, closely followed by the male. I stayed with them as best I could but lost them both as they dipped below the ridge. Had they spotted something?
I daren't try the radio again. I knew what the response would be. It was another very long 30 minutes before the radio crackled again: "Dave? I've got him! I've got the chick!" I couldn't see him. I didn't need to. He was alive, sitting on the edge of the loch with both parents nearby. He must have struggled ashore, out of our gaze, as the light fell last night.
There would be many more adventures, many more highs and many more lows with these birds over the coming years. But at that moment, only one thing mattered. The chick - our precious chick -was alive! I just switched off the radio, listened to the curlews and lay back in the sun. Then I found myself quite overwhelmed with it all and unexpectedly in tears - probably from both exhaustion and relief. I quickly looked around, hoping no-one was watching. Of course nobody was. Far below me sat the historic sea eagle family, oblivious to all the heartache they'd caused. And not for the last time, they'd caused our emotions to go from rock bottom to sky high. This life with eagles was going to be a rollercoaster. With that I think I fell asleep in the heather, completely drained - but very, very happy.
Dave Sexton RSPB Scotland Mull Officer
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