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





11 thoughts on “Watching the White-Tailed Eagle

  1. 4th biggest bird in the world? Ostrich, Emu, Cassowary, Emperor Penguin, Albatross, Condor, Vulture, Buzzard…

  2. Well spotted. I should have said fourth largest eagle in the world. Anyway, what do I know?

    The post will be corrected.

  3. I don’t see it as a competition. It’s a good thing that we’re reintroducing this bird into the Irish habitat after such a long absence and I’m happy to publicise the effort in any way I can, even with the occasional error.

  4. You’re a gifted photographer Bock.
    Nice pics.
    I was overlooking Mountshannon the other day, at the look-out up the hill past Killaloe in Ballina.. didn’t fancy the drive over though.

  5. I’m not. I stole the picture of the eagle, but for the best of reasons. I don’t think the originator will mind in the circumstances.

  6. you might not be a gifted photographer, but you tell a good story. it’s a good thing to have these birds reintroduced to the country and i’m glad you told me about it

  7. If you want to see one up close the last time I was in Fota wildlife park they had a pair.
    From what I understand they reintroduced the golden eagle into Donegal, as well as the red kite in Wicklow.
    The next time you are up by the allwee caves call into the birds of pray centre its well worth the visit.

  8. I saw a white-tailed eagle a few years back, here in west clare, what a majestic sight it was. I reported it to bird-watch Ireland and they phoned right away to ask me some questions, just to make sure I wasn’t imagining it. They were very appreciative of my effort.
    There are some great people working with various wildlife departments in this country, sometimes against great adversity.
    I would encourage everybody to put a bird feeder in their back yard, you won’t regret it!

  9. That’s some hell of a bird. Good blog and pic.
    @ heedy mortal: Always have bird feeders in the garden. Had a sparrow hawk feeding from it once. That turns it into a different sort of bird feeder though. Not quite what’s planned.

  10. Dara, The Sparrow-hawk is very quick to exploit the opportunity presented by the feeder, especially at this time of year when there are lots of naive fledglings around. I haven’t seen one making a kill yet though, but, I have seen the remains of Sparrows and Blue-tits on a pillar near by. I live in hope!

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