Online sea eagle star re-emerges four years on

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A sea eagle, whose movements as a youngster were followed online by people around the world, has been found successfully raising a family in the northern Highlands.

Known as Shelly, she was fitted with a satellite tag as a chick on the Isle of Mull in 2010 as part of a pioneering project funded by Scottish Natural Heritage and Natural Research Ltd, and tracked by RSPB Scotland and Mull Eagle Watch with her travels being reported on a dedicated webpage.

For three years conservationists and enthusiasts delighted in charting her ever increasing journeys from her nest in Tiroran Forest, a Forestry Commission Scotland plantation, to keeping to Mull and the west coast in her first year. As she got older she began wandering further afield to Skye, the central Highlands, and the far north west coast before exploring the Outer Hebrides, spending a lot of time on Lewis.

However, in 2013, her tag signalled to eagle expert Roy Dennis at the Highland Foundation for Wildlife that, while still on Lewis, it was no longer moving. The tag had been designed to last for up to five years and was successfully retrieved but there was no sign of Shelly; it was believed that it had simply come off as planned. With no tag to follow her with the chances re-connecting with Shelly seemed remote.

That was the case until this summer when a sea eagle was photographed as it fished in a remote sea loch in Sutherland. Iain Paterson who took the photo reported the bird’s blue and silver colour leg ring with the figures ‘C9 39’. Dave Sexton, RSPB Scotland’s Mull Officer, quickly realised the significance of the discovery. It was Shelly.

Dave said: “I knew the blue and silver combo meant 2010 and my heart was racing as I looked back at the ringing and tagging records for that year. I’d always wondered how Shelly was and where she might be. And there it was on the breeding summary: ‘C9 39; chick satellite tagged’. We’d found her! She’s aged seven now, so fully mature and transformed from the rather scruffy brown chick we’d encountered in the nest.”

Yet, that wasn’t all. Iain reported that she was paired up with a male and that this year they were raising two chicks. The male bird’s ring numbers revealed he hatched in 2010 on the Isle of Lewis. It seems likely that Shelly met her future mate while she was there in 2013 and they then explored the Highlands and Islands together before settling down to breed in Sutherland.

Iain, a keen birder, said: “One thing I can say about Shelly is her elegance for such a big bird. When she picks up a fish there’s hardly a splash yet her mate, either his aim is slightly off target or he doesn’t bother because he causes a much bigger splash! All amazing to watch though.”