A secret mission. I met my guide, Derek, at the leisure centre car park at 8am. Not only am I sworn to secrecy, but I have to travel in his car blindfolded.
Well, I was hoping; always the optimist. In reality, he let me look out of the windows, drink my tea, and chat just like normal people.
Derek’s a proper “eagle monitor”, with all the licences necessary to approach nests, under a strict protocol, where any intrusion has to be justified. You could say it’s his “day job”. Mainly Golden Eagles, but some Sea Eagles too. Bit of a dream, isn’t it!
Well, there was a price to pay, today at least.
I am one lucky person today; he’s allowing me to accompany him to a ledge near a nest which had twin chicks to check on their progress. He says its unusual for two chicks to survive in west coast nests.
I’ve got my camera (Nikon D750) and a big lens (Sigma 150-600), and its heavy. Its heavy because we have to walk 9 miles each way.
The walk itself was particularly scenic, walking through the middle of a really long glen; mountains on both sides. After a couple of hours walking, we stop for coffee, and have to ford a burn. I’ve carried my sandals for 6 miles so I don’t fill my walking boots with water. The water was…… actually very nice!
We’ve managed to talk our way through 8.75 miles very effectively; we came from a similar profession, so it was Reminiscences-R-Us. Now we’re quiet, and I tentatively follow him towards the edge of a cliff and onto a precarious ledge. I don’t like heights; did I mention that before?
There is no room for manoeuvre, and even less room for mistakes. The nest is clearly visible; well half of it is… you know, the half with no eagles on it. At least it was a good view. For the next hour, I sat clinging to the heather watching a black-throated diver on the loch 400 feet below. The water was clear enough to see it whilst it was diving too.
There were a few pathetic little ”cheeps”; enough to tell us that something was behind the rock in the bit of nest we couldn’t see. Then there was the fountain of golden-eagle-chick-poo that probably vaporised before it hit anything below the vertical drop.
Eventually, a not so little fluffy head peered out from behind the rock, and I exercised my shutter release finger. Three shots and its gone again. I reckon the autofocus was trying to do me a favour by making sure the rock face was pin sharp and ignoring the chick. Oh dear.
Now its back again, and I get what I came for.
An adult bird does a fly-by; its got nothing in its talons, so it must’ve been just a welfare check.
Now we’ve been rumbled, its time to leave.
Don’t look over the edge, just concentrate on climbing the grassy bank. No, I said, don’t look over the edge! Too late, and I’m terrified. Ridiculous. If it weren’t for that 400 foot drop, this is actually pretty straightforward.
Only 9 miles back to the car.
Its a hot sunny day, and I get Derek to sing that song about going through the desert on a horse with no name.
A greenshank had been scolding us, but I realise that it had just gone into overdrive….. a lovely adult Golden Eagle flew past, and we got a fantastic view. A bonus indeed. Ten minutes later, it happened again, and a fully grown juvenile went past. Its a 4-eagle-day!
Crossing the river in sandals was soooo nice, I didn’t want to get out.
The price to pay: counting the cost afterwards, the hot day meant a lot of perspiration, and nappy rash. I thought I was too old for that. And later I found “jogger’s toe nail” too.
We celebrated a successful mission with a pint of Northern Light on the way back, and I had a couple more when I got home.
I”m extremely grateful to Derek for giving me this “chance of a lifetime”; it might be the day job for him, but its pretty special for the rest of us!