During several years of living on the West coast I was fortunate enough to be able to see eagles frequently – on occasions literally from my front door. I have had some remarkable experiences with eagles whilst out climbing in the mountains or exploring the coastline and I’ve come to know plenty of very reliable spots for watching eagles throughout the Highlands.
Both white-tailed and golden eagles are actually quite easy to see on the West coast if you know where to look. Though eagles have vast territories and hunting grounds they will often frequent the same areas and due to their sheer size they are ‘hard to miss’ compared to most other birds.
However, whilst eagles are relatively easy to see in some places, taking good images of them is a different matter. You will almost always be looking at an eagle from below or at quite a distance, or will come across them at close quarters when you aren’t at all prepared. Over the years I’d taken hundreds of photos of eagles whilst I out walking or climbing but none of them were much good, and I’d never made any effort to get anything better.
Bright conditions and beautiful light.
An adult white-tailed eagle in flight against the backdrop of Mull’s hills.
A week-long holiday on Mull for my partner and I seemed like a good opportunity, so I booked a morning trip for us both on Mull Charters – a boat-trip operating from Ulva Ferry which is well-known for offering good eagle photography opportunities. Several pairs of eagles live on this part of Mull and the birds will regularly come very close indeed to the boat with a fish thrown into the water as an incentive.
Luck was on our side as a week of high-pressure had brought bright conditions and beautiful light for photography. I figured that shutter speeds of 1/1600sec at the slowest would be required and some tests shots at the water confirmed that this was going to be easy without ever exceeding ISO 400. I’ve not done too much bird-in-flight photography so I’ll confess to feeling nervous but excited as the boat left Ulva Ferry, but mainly just looking forward to seeing the huge birds themselves.
Ideal conditions for eagle photography.
The white-tailed eagle has on average the largest wingspan of any eagle and is overall one of the largest raptors in the world.
Ten minutes later and we spotted a pair of white-tailed eagles stood on a small island a few hundred metres away. Before I knew it they were up in the air and heading towards us. Despite being very familiar with the way eagles fly I found myself surprised at how slowly they seemed to fly compared to most birds. I think I was still in the mindset of photographing breaching dolphins as I was ready to react very quickly indeed, but instead found the eagle’s flight pace to be almost leisurely in comparison.
Gulls would regularly fly near the eagles, providing some interesting compositions.
Coming in to land on a small island.
The image that most photographers want to get is the ‘fishing shot’, and although I successfully kept focus on the eagle as it made contact I unfortunately missed the best opportunity as another photographer’s head filled my frame just at the wrong moment. No matter though, as I was more interested in getting images of the eagles against the wider backdrop of the island. The birds obliged and with the bright conditions I was able to get some lovely backgrounds.
Taking a fish
Spying the water below.
After heading further out for a while we came across a beautiful juvenile eagle sat in a prominent position on the edge of an island. I’ve seen juvenile white-tailed eagles in flight several times before but never sat still so this was a real highlight. Further down the loch still and we encountered another pair of eagles which soared on a thermal for several minutes almost directly above the boat before heading inland.
A juvenile eagle showing the much darker colouring.
The juvenile eagle with a fish.
The juvenile in the distance.
Just a few hundred metres before getting back to the jetty and we were paid another visit by a pair of eagles which stuck around for quite a while – an unexpected bonus at the end of an already superb 3 hours. Being able to photograph these birds at such close proximity was brilliant, and seeing them up close is always a humbling experience. It is a pleasure to see white-tailed eagles recovering so well in Scotland after being persecuted to extinction in the past.
Flying overhead in warm sunshine.
Passing over Ulva Ferry.