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What’s stopping you spotting eagles in Scotland?

Golden Eagle perched on a rock
The eagle has landed: spot the iconic golden eagle in Scotland Credit: Shutterstock

As one of the best places to see eagles in the UK, the islands scattered along Scotland’s west coast can provide plenty of unforgettable sights.

The great British outdoors is at its most rampant in Scotland. Its islands and highlands are wild, elemental places, full of windswept symphonies of glens, lochs and munros.

The colours are full and vivid – the green of the hills, the purple of the heather, the hard silver of the waves – and the skies are brooding. In terms of adventure potential, it’s a genuinely world-class destination.

Even when the eagles are proving elusive, you’ll notice the changing tones of the valleys

Even a cursory glance at the national map shows you that away from the main Scottish towns and cities, there’s a vast amount of remote coast and countryside to lose yourself in.

But when you find yourself there in the heart of it, mountain wind ruffling your hair and clouds trailing shifting patterns over the uplands, it’s not just the breadth of the panorama that holds you, but the close-at-hand details too.

Hillwalkers might fix their attention on the narrow trail ahead of them. Photographers might focus on the flowering mass of native plants, specks of brightness in horizon-wide hillscapes. Those in search of Britain’s most awe-inducing birds, however, will fix their eyes on the skies and wait.

Let us prey

A large number of magnificent birds of prey live in Scotland. Hen harriers, kestrels, ospreys, goshawks, red kites and long-eared owls are among those that can have you scrabbling for your binoculars when you’re out in the wilds.

But none of these carry the same visceral thrill as a sighting of the UK’s largest-winged predators. Nothing compares to the eagles.   

There are two species of eagle in Scotland: the white-tailed, or sea eagle, a mighty creature with a wingspan that can reach 2.5 metres, and the marginally smaller but even more iconic golden eagle, often to be seen soaring on high currents with the nonchalance of a hunter that knows exactly where its next meal is coming from.

Flying high: the white-tailed eagle soaring above the Scottish mountains Credit: Alamy

For your best chance of seeing them, it’s best head to the islands scattered along Scotland’s west coast.

This in itself guarantees an out-of-the-ordinary travel experience. Islands such as Mull, Skye, Harris and Rum aren’t just prime locations for eagles, they’re also some of the most beautiful parts of the UK.

You won’t be surprised to read that the weather can be indifferent there, but if you prepare yourself for both sun and rain, you’ll be in a position to relax and absorb the untamed splendour of the surroundings.    

Eagle eyes

Ranger-led eagle-spotting trips are organised on some islands. Mull Eagle Watch runs regular guided tours from April to September, for example, which can also give the opportunity to see nesting adult birds and, later in the year, fledged chicks.

In the hills of Harris, meanwhile, you’ll find a dedicated eagle observatory positioned in known golden eagle territory. And over on Skye, wildlife hides provide the chance to see eagles in the company of an RSPB guide.   

On the lookout: an eagle sighting is likely to get your blood pumping Credit: alamy

The beauty of eagle-watching, of course, is that having an expert on hand is by no means obligatory.

You’ll need to know what to look for (the buzzard is jokingly known as the “tourist eagle” due to the number of people who mistake it for the much larger golden eagle), but if you’re willing to give it some time, and to train your eyes on the skyline between the ridges and the hilltops, there’s a very good chance of spotting these incredible creatures yourself.

Deep calm

Spending half an hour or more scanning the hills has the added benefit of highlighting the more subtle gifts of the Scottish islands.

So even when the eagles are proving elusive, you’ll notice the changing tones of the valleys, the quiet rhythm of the waves on the beaches, maybe even a tell-tale splish that reveals a nearby seal or otter.

Enthusiasts are divided over which of the two eagle species is the more majestic – the pale-headed titan of the skies that is the sea eagle, or the regal, amber-hued beauty of the golden eagle – but a sighting of either is likely to get your blood pumping. And if you’re fortunate to see both, as many are, then you’ll never again think of Britain as lacking in imperious wildlife.   

Don’t forget to pack...

Men’s NosiLife Adventure Gilet, Pebble, £75

Men’s NosiLife Adventure Long Sleeved Shirt, Smoke Blue, £60

Men’s NosiLife Cargo Trousers, Black Pepper, £60

• To see the full range, and for travel inspiration, go to craghoppers.com