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    A few days ago, as part of a railway-based tour of Northern Scotland, we were on a coach trip around the northern part of the Isle of Skye, with a local guide providing a commentary. Every now and then the coach stopped at places of particular beauty or interest for us to get out and take photos. We were lucky to have glorious sunny weather to help us enjoy the breathtaking beauty of the Isles, but that wasn’t the end of the good fortune.

    We’d stopped at Kilt Rock, where a waterfall plunges in one long fall down the cliffs into the sea, and were milling about snapping, when all at once Rosie, the guide, called out, ‘Eagle! Over there!’ I was a little way back and there were a few bodies between me and the sea, but I did catch a glimpse of a large dark bird gliding down over the water past us and the waterfall to vanish round a corner of the rocks, presumably coming in to land on the cliffs behind. It was, Rosie told us, a Sea Eagle. ‘My spot,’ she said, looking rather pleased with herself.

    The Sea Eagle (or White-tailed Eagle) is slightly larger than the Golden Eagle, which makes it Britain’s largest bird of prey. It is also one of the rarest. After we’d got back on the coach and were continuing on our way Rosie told us how the British population had been persecuted to extinction by the early twentieth century, the last one having been shot in the Shetlands in 1918 by some arsehole who apparently thought that making the long trip especially for that purpose was a worthwhile way of spending his time.

    The bird remained extinct in Britain until the mid-seventies when a re-introduction programme was started with specimens from Norway, initially on the Isle of Rum. It took a few years for them to become established and start breeding, but there are now about 150 breeding pairs in Scotland and introductions have begun in England as well. This still means that they are a far from common sight.

    I was sitting on the seaward side of the coach, and as Rosie was telling us this I happened to look out of the window, to see a bird up in the sky, soaring past in the opposite direction. It was big and dark, with long, broad wings and a white tail. I don’t think anyone else saw it.

    I didn’t want to jump to conclusions and get all excited about nothing, so at our next stop I told Rosie what I’d seen. ‘Are there any other large dark birds around here with a pure white tail?’ I asked.

    She didn’t answer me directly, but smiled and said, ‘You’re a lucky man.’


    You were lucky. That sounds like a wonderful day. I know that some people oppose restorative activity, whether it’s re-wilding, re-introduction or even support for remaining wildlife poulations. We’re told it’s only nature. It’s natural for things to change and species to fail. My view is that it isn’t nature. We are not natural. We reason and choose like nothing else. We hold parties to celebrate that we are hunting Passenger Pigeons to extinction. Walkers out in the countryside idly tear up ferns and break down tree branches.

    Yesterday, out walking, I saw one of the many excited, busy, enegetic swarms of starlings busy feeding in one spot then another. In amongst them was one pure white starling, totally unaware that it was any different. I felt quite lucky too.


    @richardb how cool is that!! Thank you for sharing your special day and moment 😃✨

    We are not natural’

    I couldn’t have said it more aptly myself, nor could I agree more. How beautiful it is to re-introduce a species we made the unnatural choice (and for pleasure no less!) to hunt to near-extinction. And how hideous it is to have hunted it to that point in the first place. Nature does not fail. We fail nature. All the *EXPLETIVE* time. And for no reason other than our own unmagnificence.

    Anyway this is a blog about beautiful, lucky things and happy endings for the sea eagle. I’ll leave my seething misanthropy at the door now, haha.

    As an animal totem the starling teaches us about sympathy and mindfulness, and how important unity in this world is. So to have seen a pure white starling sighting is also really quite special, and fitting symbolism for this blog I think.

    Also as a point of interest, the sea eagle as a totem gives us enormous awareness on hunting processes and ecological measures in our world, and teaches us about environmental responsibility and equilibrium. It does this by occupying that balance between earth and sky, and also between sea and earth, in its daily life; it does this by asking us to do the same.

    And that’s pretty cool too 😊


    Lucky? Yes, and I didn’t even mention the boat trip out of Mallaig, again in beautiful weather, where we got close up to a school of dolphins. Magic.

    Actually, I feel quite privileged every time a kite comes over our house, even though they they are about the biggest conservation success story of the past century. It’s simply because they are so beautiful.

    As for ‘We are not natural,’ I am in emphatic agreement with you both. This does particularly apply to the case of the sea eagle, as its extinction was entirely due to deliberate and calculated killing by humans. As the RSPB website puts it, ‘habitat loss was not an issue.’

    I don’t know it it’s still there, but there used to be a notice in Regents Park Zoo that read, ‘This is the world’s most dangerous animal.’ It was hung above a mirror.

    I’m sadly sure it still goes on at a reduced scale on the sly, but for many years the biggest cause of scarcity and sometimes outright extinction of predatory birds and mammals was gamekeepers. Gamekeepers gibbets, where they’d hang the corpses of the birds and animals they’d killed, used to be a common sight in some parts of the country. And why? Because they were perceived to be a threat, often on minimal or no evidence, to the game birds the keepers were paid to look after – so that the game birds those predators might just possibly have killed so that they could eat and survive could be slaughtered by some bunch of self-entitled toffee-nosed bastards, just for fun.

    Likewise, some years back we (actually it was mostly MrsB) got into an argument in the rugby club bar with a member of the angling club that had stocked the pond behind our house with fish. He was seething because a cormorant had taken to hanging around the pond and ‘stealing’ ‘their’ fish. In vain did we point out the cormorant was killing to eat and survive, whereas coarse fishermen do their thing (again) just for fun, throwing everything back rather then eating it. But no, the bloody bird ought to be shot. A week or two later, while taking a stroll round the pond, we saw the cormorant’s body slung over a fence.


    What a beautiful bird and how evil to kill it. But then, I probably don’t understand “country ways”. Actually, my mother was born and bred in a tiny farming community in the heart of Somerset and my father was born into a tiger-murdering family in Kanpur (Cawnpore as was) Northern India. I’m quite familiar with country ways. Generally, country ways are “we really like killing things, we’ve been doing it for ages, and it keeps us in our place“.

    As for the Red Kite – wonderful birds. Back when I used to waste the World’s natural resources ploughing a path between the midlands and the south coast for single hour-long meetings, I remember driving down the M40 and about half way between Birmingham and the M25 the Kites began. Lined up with the motorway, the only way I can describe it is that they approached me as I approached them, one after another like aircraft queuing for Gatwick. There must have been 20 or 30. Amazing sight.


    Country ways are a mixed blessing.

    Environmental news is generally so depressing that it’s a relief to have some good news with which to start the week. Seal numbers in the Thames estuary continue to increase – a news piece in the Guardian. If the link below doesn’t work, the item is currently on the website’s front page.



    The link works, @libby, and the news really warmed my heart along with my morning coffee. The fact that the river was declared dead in the 1950s also brought to mind The Great Stink in @kazg’s Time Catchers, though the Stink and the declaration were almost a hundred years apart. So happy to hear about the baby seals, sunning on the banks, eating all you can eat sushi everyday. That heaven. I wonder if the pandemic contributed any to a rise in their numbers. I’ve found that human absence, or lack of activity, seems proliferate the earth’s abundance. Thanks so much for sharing!

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