The Isle of Harris has the highest population density of eagles in northern Europe, and we saw both Golden and White Tailed Eagles every day we were on the island.
Whether a distant silhouette turning on a thermal, or a huge shape beating close overhead, they're a magnificent sight. We thought that this bird was an immature Golden Eagle, photographed right overhead the cottage we were staying in; an hour or so earlier an adult White Tailed Eagle had passed purposefully by at close range too.
I always get a thrill from watching eagles; they're a symbol of wild land and very much "of their place". We chatted to our hosts at the cottage who also have croft ground which extends up into the hills of North Harris. They too admire the birds, but for them eagles are a mixed blessing. Every year they lose lambs to eagles, but the losses are difficult to quantify as the ewes are on high ground or in moorland glens during the spring and summer. Only when the "gather" has taken place can numbers be assessed, and a farmer needs hard evidence to claim any compensation for losses of lambs. Eagles don't predate lambs exclusively, and some of what they do take will be carrion, lost to harsh weather, but there's no doubt that with the high breeding density there are live lambs taken too.
Angus knows his birds, and knows their behaviours and techniques too. He absolutely knows that ewes "hefted" to ground on the top of ridges will suffer more predated lambs than those in the glens, and that in some years he'll bring down almost no lambs from such ground. This is down to the hunting techniques of the birds, Golden Eagles are fast, supreme hunters while White Tailed Eagles are more likely to take carrion, but also hunt effectively. There surely has to be a better system to keep crofters like Angus on croft ground and balance that with the conservation of eagles. Angus wouldn't ever persecute or disturb eagle nests - he admires and respects them, but his livestock losses can be an existential threat. There's no easy answer, but perhaps supporting crofter financially to promote eagles and the undoubted wildlife tourism benefit might be a better way forward?
South of Tarbert, the road climbs over a lunar-like moorland landscape before dropping back to the sea on the west side of South Harris. The views get ever more jaw dropping, like here at Horgabost, looking over Seilebost towards Luskentyre......
...and here at nearby Traigh Iar (West Beach) which is more prone to surf than most as it faces directly into the Atlantic. Each time we passed this beach it had good rollers coming in, great for surfers, not so good for kayakers!
Dragging ones eye away from the sumptuous widescreen views, there was plenty of interest in smaller scale too. Thrift (Armeria maritima) also known as Sea Pink is one of my favourite wildflowers. A real flowerof late Spring into early Summer it seems to relish harsh conditions and thrives on rocky coasts and right up onto the summit of mountains.
We'd enjoyed superb wildlife, views to make you gasp out loud and magnificent beaches....and it was still only mid morning! We headed to a little gem of a place to buy a picnic lunch. Croft 36 at Northton sells bread, pies and all manner of superb food from this tiny shop. Baking and cooking are done in the crofthouse over the road and the food is placed in the shop; you pay using an honesty box. Check out the website or Facebook page and if you're on Harris, don't miss a visit to Croft 36. The food is healthy, local and excellent - the prepared meals were better than any of the restaurant meals we ate. Don't leave it late in the day though, Croft 36's reputation means that they sell out quickly.
Well provisioned with pies, rolls and cakes, we were ready to enjoy the rest of the day.....