Mull - White Tailed Sea Eagles
The island of Mull in the Scottish Inner Hebrides is, without doubt, one of the best places in the UK to view wildlife. I visited Mull in May 2013 and one of the highlights was a boat trip with Mull Charters to see and photograph white tailed eagles.
I went on Mull Charters standard wildlife watching trip. This lasts for about three hours and provides a tremendous opportunity to see a wide range of wildlife, on the trip I made I saw otter, porpoise, red throated divers, common seals, guillemots, razorbills and puffins in addition to the white tailed eagle.
One of the aspects of this trip that make it so appealing to the wildlife photographer is that Mull Charters feed the eagles. During May a pair of eagles nest on the shoreline. The skipper of the boat stops a good distance off shore from the location of the nest and waits for an eagle to fly off the nest towards the boat. When the eagle gets close the skipper throws a fish into the water and the eagle swoops down and plucks it off the surface. The fish is never going to land too far from the boat so the eagle comes in very close giving an excellent view and terrific opportunity for the photographer.
In order to avoid the birds becoming dependent on being fed, a maximum of three fish are provided to the eagles on each trip. However, if the eagles have already eaten they may only take one or two fish. Unfortunately for me I was there on a day when the eagle only took one fish.
The boat holds up to twelve people. The trip I went on was full and quite a few of the passengers were photographers. Unfortunately this meant that a number of the photographers (myself included) were not able to get into a position from which it was possible to try and photograph the eagle taking the fish. The skipper explained that he varies where he throws each fish in order to try and give everyone an equal chance of getting a shot, however as the eagle only fed once on the trip I was on there was no opportunity to try again.
If I was going to Mull again I'd try and book two trips in order to maximimse the chance of getting better shots. An alternative would be to go on one of Mull Charters specialised photography trips (see their website for details).
White tailed eagles are very large birds and when they are fed from the boat they have to come very close. For crop camera users I think a 200mm lens could be long enough to provide good shots. However as I've only had a single experience of this trip you may want to perform more research before making a lens selection.
Although I didn't get the eagle shots that I would have liked, I really enjoyed the experience offered by the boat trip. To get so close to the eagle was a terrific wildlife moment and there was lots of other wildlife to see too. In addition the skipper and his assistant were extremely knowledgeable about the local birds and animals and also had a nice line in humour.