Isle of Mull, Scotland | September 14, 2011
A gaggle of seagulls circle and hiccaw in the sky above Tobermory Bay, seeking easy pickings as the catch comes in. Peeling fishing boats, schooners with folded sails, small ferries, and sleek speedboats bob in orderly rows beneath the broken cloud cover dressing in oranges and pinks for the sun’s farewell. Ravens and buzzards fleck the sky, and a host of typically small birds dip and dart among the buildings and streets. A kind of false homeostasis reigns, for Mull’s coast and lochs were once home to kings of the sky: the massive white-tailed sea eagles. Slandered as livestock menaces, poisoned with foul bait, and greedily shot from the sky, the sea eagles’ home and very lives were snatched away by its only predator. Man.
Knowing this history, it seems in bad taste to call Mull the “eagle island.” As the eagles vanished, the grassy hillsides and heathery moors grew populous with the island’s elk-like red deer, their trumpeting filling the cool autumn air. Along the beaches and breakwaters, otters and seals rollick on the slippery rocks and make meals of shellfish plucked from rich underwater beds. Everywhere Mull seems to burst with wildlife rare to the rest of the United Kingdom. But not so, the skies.
The Muileachs are in atonement for the wrongs of the past. Forty years ago sea eagles from Norway were brought to the Hebrides and fostered with grim determination for decades. From those first chicks to the amazing fledglings, the population returned. As I stand here overlooking Tobermory Bay, I know that somewhere over Mull’s lochs and ridges, majestic birds with eight-foot wingspans glide and gyre on the currents, their low kleking call echoing from unknown heights.
The birds have returned home.
We can bring back what we have destroyed, but it is magnitudes more difficult. Just as it takes a concerted effort to eradicate, so it takes a concerted effort to repopulate. Today the sea eagles of Mull are a totem of the people here, the Muileachs. I see it as a candle in darknesses humanity has wrought.