For a brief update on recent developments please see the Comments under this blog. For now, for various reasons it's important that this story stays here as the main posting. A new blog will be coming in the next few days but meanwhile any news will be under Comments. 

After the unfolding events of this week, there could only really be one subject for the blog at the moment For details of the case of White G, please see links on the Monday 10 November blog in The Guardian and see BBC News Online.

Warning: for those seeking a happy ending, look away now.

He had an uncertain start in life. Whilst still in the egg, his parents were spooked by something and left the nest unattended for two hours. We wondered if the egg would hatch. Luck must have been shining down on the nest and him that day. The air was mild. It was dry. The early spring sunshine was warm. He carried on living inside his protective shell. He was a survivor.

The male returned and carried on incubating, soon to be relieved by the female. Everything returned to normal and on the appointed day, 38 days from laying, he fought and he struggled to break out of the egg. He was small enough to sit in the palm of your hand. Not that I tried it out. From day 1, his parents tenderly fed him on tiny strips of fish and meat. Day by day his wobbly, downy head and neck grew stronger. Soon we could hear him calling whenever he spotted one of the adults returning with food.

By four weeks old, his first feathers were coming through, he was sitting up on his own and just a week later he was beginning to try to feed himself.

Face to face with an eagle!

Another two weeks on and we came face to face for the first time. It was ringing and wing tagging time. He was lowered gently to the ground and I lifted him carefully out of the bag. I remember him as one of the feisty ones - so does our tree climber Justin who had the scars to prove it. He put up quite an impressive display for an eight week old bird!

Soon enough, the measurements, ringing and tagging were complete: white wing tags were the colour for 2007 and his letter was 'G'. White G was official! And so safely back into his nest, a gift of mackerel left for him and away we went through the wood to leave them in peace once more.

For the next month, he grew into a fine, strong young sea eagle. Rich dark chocolate feathers, bright yellow feet, dark beak and eyes. If a young sea eagle can be handsome - he certainly was. By three months old, he was ready to take his maiden flight. Before long he was joining his parents on trips to the nearby shoreline and delighting many visitors staying at the local campsite with his antics. I watched him one day 'grappling' for an hour or more with a piece of drift wood - half play, half serious training for catching his own prey in the months ahead.

Going solo

By October, he was on his own for most of the time. We had regular reports of him from Ulva, Killiechronan and one day I even saw him soaring over Salen Bay from my garden. He was well on his way. Over the winter, he spent alot of time around Loch Scridain in the south of Mull and was even photographed looking a bit wet and bedraggled in a spruce tree in Glen Seilisdeir - the glen of the irises.

At the end of March this year, he was filmed by John and Janis Allen from Mull. He was trying to pinch a fish from an otter in Loch Don. It's something sea eagles are well known for - let the otter do all the hard work and then swoop in and grab the prize. It doesn't always work and it didn't on this occasion but the fact that White G had already learned to do this proved that his prospects for survival were good. He had got through the first really tough test of his life - he'd survived his first winter away from his parents. His future should have been very bright.

Luck ran out

But that was the last time anyone saw him alive. What happened next we can never know for sure. Like all young sea eagles, he had the wander lust and began a long journey to the mainland and cross country eventually finding good, suitable habitat in the Angus Glens. It was there that his luck ran out.

One Sunday night in early May, the 'phone rang. White G had been found dead in woodland. A few days later a police and RSPB search of the area found over 30 poisoned baits littering the ground with others positioned on the tops of fence posts. A mountain hare had been cut open and it too laced with a deadly cocktail of illegal posions. Maybe this is what White G had fed on? The lethal ingredients in his contorted body in the brambles and bracken matched those on the baits.

He must have thought he'd struck gold. Hare and roe deer venison - what a discovery for a hungry, young sea eagle, far from home! On Mull he'd only ever been used to people in awe of his flight. The worst he'd ever known was a distant memory of being lowered from his nest for checking and wing tagging. Why shouldn't he trust this food bonanza? Who, on earth, could possibly wish to harm him?

Shocked and horrified

Anything or anyone could have touched those baits tossed at random about the land. Pet dogs, children - the end result could have been the same. And so the police investigation got underway and continues today. Many here on the island, across Scotland and the UK are shocked and horrified that we are still killing our birds of prey in 2008. Responsible landowners and gamekeepers of which there are many will feel as sickened as we all do.

The fact that a sea eagle from Mull was one of the victims has helped to make it 'a story' but a common buzzard too was found dead nearby, also poisoned. It didn't make it very far from the bait on which it had fed. White G struggled down the hill, seeking sanctuary in the cover of woodland as the toxins took hold of his nervous system. I pray his end was swift but experience tells us that this is not always the case with the pesticides involved here. We're grateful to the landowner who found and reported him - as shocked as anyone at the turn of events.

'A national disgrace'

Over ten years ago as Devolution was getting underway, Donald Dewar called the poisoning of raptors in Scotland "a National disgrace". It still is. So what can we do about it? Sometimes we feel helpless in these circumstances but there are practical, useful and meaningful actions you can take. You can help the RSPB fight this menace in the countryside.

What you can do

A. sign the 'Help Birds of Prey' pledge on this website;

B. join the RSPB to support our work;

C. let your views be known to your MSP, MP and relevant Ministers at Holyrood and Westminster.

White G was a healthy, strong one year old sea eagle with his whole life ahead of him - maybe 30 years if he was lucky.

He may have drifted back to the west coast or somewhere else and in a few years time paired up and started to breed. He may have built a nest that was easily viewable and brought pleasure to thousands of visitors every year, just like his parents did on Mull this year at Loch na Keal. He and a mate could have helped boost a local economy, he could have inspired many - young and old, he could have just been an eagle living and surviving in his native land. Not too much to ask really in 21st Century Scotland?

Dave Sexton, RSPB Scotland Mull Officer

Anonymous
  • I am a bit late reading this update, as have been caught up with other things.  I only became aware of this blog after following Deshar and Nethy this season.  it is disgraceful that this indiscriminate poisoning still goes on,  and I am so sorry to hear that it has taken one of the sea eagles.  I signed the pledge back in the summer and also joined the RSPB this summer.  I just hope that somehow we can make a difference.  RIP White G.

  • Sorry to hear the news of White G, have already signed the pledge but I am now about to get intouch withmr hussain my MP about the poisoning of wildlife & other animals, hopefully every small ripple in the pond will eventually mean that White G's death was not in vain. Happy belated birthday, Glynis

  • Thanks for answering my questions Dave and a   v e r y  belated 'Happy Birthday'.  Weather report today looks as though you might get some sunshine so hoping Breagha sits somewhere in the sun to put all our minds at rest.  I'm so please that you have received such an enormous amount of support after the terrible fate of White G - a little ray of sunshine in such an ugly and evil world.  We must all keep persevering in our efforts for all our beautiful birds.

  • I decided to try to do what little I could to help. I have written to the EFRA Committee at Westminster, as well as to my MP and to two MEPs on relevant Committess in the EU. I copied it all to the Holyrood Committee on Tourism as well as to that on Rural Affairs and Environment.  We each have to do whatever we can to protect birds of prey from the vicissitudes of human nature (in this case the malice of unprincipled landowners). This is a good time to make this stand, as the recent BBC Autumnwatch series has brought your sea eagle project to the forefront of public attention in the UK. So - let us trust that some good may come from White G's too-short life. Perhaps that may, just possibly, may make it feel a little better? It is important to protect the wonderful environment of Scotland from such barbarism, not to mention the fact that we have to stand up against this 'persecution mentality' in any walk of human life.

  • Dave thanks for all the news and so nice Gordon and Simon contacted you. It is good to know that these stories now do touch the heart of people worldwide, it can only help. Sorry not to hear any news on Breagha but keeping my fingers crossed for you.