Environment Favourites

Watching the White-Tailed Eagle

Sea eagle MountshannonI happened to be up the lake today for assorted nefarious reasons, when I happened on the charming harbour of Mountshannon, a place well-known to me.

The Hound of Satan is in his sulphurous element, snarling at swans, but my eye is taken by a small forest of tripods, mounted with telescopes, all pointing in the same direction.

What’s this?  Is a tumbling meteor about to strike Lough Derg at this precise point, extinguishing all human life apart from a hundred carefully-chosen and genetically perfect volunteers in deep stasis?  Eighty hotties and twenty hunks, all with PhDs in nuclear astro-aesthetics, to repopulate the planet.

White-tailed sea eagle Mountshannon

Have these men been sent from the future to  document the final moments, I wonder?  Will a man-made singularity tear open the space-time fabric, just as the calamity happens, and whisk them back to the safety of the future, just as the Hound, its master and the rest of humanity are vaporised?

Eh, no Ted.  These guys don’t look like the descendants of the hundred most perfect specimens the world has ever known.  They look like you and me, so it must be something else.


I say, my good man, I accost the nearest of them  Explain yourself!

No, I don’t.  Instead, I wander over and say, Go on.  Tell me.  What’s this about?

They’re nice, pleasant guys, all waiting for a sighting of a white-tailed sea eagle.

A sea eagle?  I ask, in my ignorance.  On a lake?

Yeah, they tell me.  The eagles don’t care where the fish comes from.

A nesting pair of eagles have a pair of chicks on an island in Mountshannon Bay, which is a huge thing for Ireland.  At one time, we had sea eagles, golden eagles, kites, goshawks, buzzards, ospreys and marsh harriers throughout Ireland, but guess what?  That’s right.  We killed them all.  We whacked the last sea eagle in 1898, fair play to us.

Since 2007, the guys tell me, we’ve reintroduced 100 white-tailed eagles taken as chicks from Norway.  Unfortunately, 21 of them have been found dead, at least nine of the deaths caused by poison, which is a sad reflection on our farming community, some of whom continue to believe that eagles take lambs, despite the absence of evidence.  I say some, because many farmers understand the importance of restoring these birds to their natural habitats, and now we have this pair producing two chicks.  Wonderful.

What sort of animal is this? I’m curious to know.  Is it big?

Eight-foot wingspan, one of them says.

Jesus Christ!

He’d come up to here, says the tall fellow, indicating his belt buckle.

That’s a big bird, I’m thinking.  This isn’t the creature you’d have on your wrist if you were one of those Sheriff-of-Nottingham chaps in chain mail. This is one serious bird.  He’d tear the arm off you if you tried to hold him on your wrist.  Not a chap to mess with.

sea eagle


Eight feet!  Holy shit.  As it turns out, this is the fourth-biggest eagle in the world, right here in Ireland.

Isn’t that something to rejoice in?



The white-tailed eagle