If she'd stayed in Scotland, there's no guarantee she would have been any safer. And yet I can't help feeling we betrayed her. A young golden eagle chick from Mull - like others before her - was donated last year to the bold and successful golden eagle reintroduction project in Ireland. She was from a brood of two and was whisked off to her new home along with other young Scottish goldies. Her sibling fledged successfully and I watched him soaring wih his parents over the Glen More hills last Autumn. The Mull female also 'fledged' successfully in Ireland and was tracked all winter by the team from the Golden Eagle Trust. Earlier this month her satellite signal showed the worrying pattern that she wasn't moving anymore. Maybe the tag had fallen off? Maybe it had malfunctioned in some way? As the trackers moved in on the signal on a remote hillside inside a National Park, their worst fears were realised. There lying under a blanket of fresh snow was our 10 month old golden eagle. Later tests by the Irish authorities showed she had been poisoned. So just like our young sea eagle 'White G' in Tayside last year and many birds of prey since, she had fed on one of the countless poisoned baits scattered carelessly and lazily around UK and Irish hills and fields. Set to kill anything and everything which takes a bite of a free meal. It will be their last. The knee jerk reaction for some may be to say 'no more eagles to be donated'. But this would be quite wrong. Imagine if the Norwegian authorities, who have been so generous in donating their white-tailed eagles to Scotland since 1975, shouted "Stop!" every time there had been a poisoning incident here? If they had we wouldn't be in the healthy and encouraging position we are today with some 45 pairs of sea eagles established on the west coast and more arriving every year in the east. Scotland is in no position to lecture anyone on the indiscriminate killing of our birds of prey. The person who poisoned the Mull golden eagle in Ireland will probably claim they were 'only after crows and foxes' as if it's okay to give them a horrific and painful death. The long, primary feathers of our young goldie were broken and torn, showing she had writhed and struggled for who knows how long in the dark Irish peat. The gentle, soft snow which had covered her contorted body blanked out the pain and presented a scene of calm and peace to the angry and frustrated fieldworkers from the project who found her. Whoever was responsible is lucky they didn't meet them on their way back down the hill with her frozen corpse in a black plastic sack. She was in very good condition showing she would have done well in her new home - given half a chance.

And I guess that's the real message here. The golden eagles are generally doing very well back home in Ireland. Indeed Scottish estates and fieldworkers who help every year should feel proud that they are trying to make a difference to this sometimes stricken planet. Last year the Irish project celebrated with the first successful fledging of a golden eagle chick since the reintroduction began. As we know only too well with the sea eagles from Norway, it can be a long haul to get to that point. For us it took ten years since the first release to the first wild chick. For the Irish golden eagle project to succeed so quickly proves that it will work, that it is working. So long as we all hold firm and chart a steady course through sometimes troubled waters. So do I feel guilty about being part of the process that ended in the untimely death of a healthy young golden eagle from Mull? Yes, of course I do. If she'd still been exploring Mull's hills, barring natural hazards, she would still be alive today. But this spring, she would have started wandering as all young eagles do - just as Mara and Breagha will - across the length and breadth of Scotland. And as readers of this blog will know only too well, their safety in our hills is far from certain. Let's though keep an optimistic outlook: she was healthy and had thrived in her adopted home; she has helped show it can work and that we can right some wrongs as others of her kind are still proving in the mountains of Ireland. As we enter another spring of breeding attempts for that new, young pioneering population, she did not die in vain. We wish our Golden Eagle Trust friends and colleagues well in all their endeavours to make it work and to eradicate the threats which can still cause such painful setbacks. We stand ready to help again just as we have been supported by others helping to bring back lost majestic species to our skies. But as I watch her parents in their glen, as I did this week visiting their nest, I will say a silent 'sorry' on behalf of all of us.   

If you haven't done so already, please consider signing the Bird of Prey Pledge. Just click on the link to the right of this blog. To read the extensive press coverage in Ireland about this case, just Google 'golden eagle poisoned in Donegal' and you'll see how serious the Irish authorities are taking this incident and what is being done to solve it.

Dave Sexton RSPB Scotland Mull Officer

Anonymous
  • Delighted to say that a young white-tailed sea eagle has been around Fullerton Dam/Pollan Dam for a few days now (near Sliabh Sneacht in Inishowen, North Donegal), having made its way up from Kerry. Mull and Islay are easily visible from here in clear weather.

  • We were on Ardnamurchan for a few days. On Tues 31 March 09 we saw a golden eagle over Loch Muddle at approximately 11am. Then in the afternoon at around 1520, at Camas-na-Gael, we stopped for the view, as had some other folk. Overhead was a golden eagle, and in almost the same breath we saw two sea eagles, flying together, tumbling and 'showing-off' in their flight. the other man that was watching them had a fab camera with a lens as long as your arm, and he got a brilliant photo, which he could then zoom in on. After they flew off we all trooped along to the centre and met the RSPB guy there (I never got his name - from Dundee originally). He confirmed from the photo that they were juveniles, probably Mara and Breagha.  Then on Wed 01 April we were out in the afternoon. On our way back from Kilchoan, we were just past the junction with the Ockle road, on the Salen road, when this enormous eagle rose out of the heather about 30yds ahead of us. It flew right by us. I was so shocked I nearly drove off the road. It was so clear to see, in good bright light. Yellow beak and legs, some white patches on the underwings, very dark end-of wing feathers, and definitely wedge-shaped tail that was dark underneath (Ireally must learn the lingo). I wish I had known to look carefully for a tag under the wing, but I was so excited!!! We followed it as it rose to the west-northwest, where it joined three other eagles, soaring around the sky, really only visible with binos. For a brief time there was a fifth eagle that went away. Was that a curioous goldie? Of course, on our way back along Ardnamurchan we stopped off again to see (what-his-name?) at Glenborrodale, and share the news if our sightings with him.

    I have only ever seen a golden eagle a couple of times, last century even, so I have been so excited by all these sightings. I am determined now to get myself a slightly better pair of binos (without causing bankruptcy). And I can't wait to get back to Ardnamurchan - I am so lucky to have a relative living there.

  • The innocence of nature destroyed by the ignorance of humans. In a world that has so much destruction caused by humans, there are at least some of us who appreciate the natural beauty that exists within it, and for that we should continue to protect and fight for its right to be preserved. There was a time that this loss would be felt by only those who were involved in the struggle to protect nature, but the coverage in the press and the strength of feelings expressed in response to the loss, shows that the work that you and many others continue to strive to achieve, is growing both in its recognition and respect.

  • PS. I should have made it clear that even though these recent deaths are not on UK soil, the involvment of the Scottish project makes it worth contacting MPs (and MSPs) as well as MEPs. I don't know about the hierarchy in Eire....
  • I looked up Neil's reference and it must be from http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2009/0317/1224242946654.html  The article is about the latest death, probably by poisoning - of a sea eagle, in Co.Kerry. It says the bird was one re-introduced there two years ago and that 5 of the first 15 birds that were re-introduced have now been poisoned. How sad for humanity as well as the birds.