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The Moor and the Loch
On Eagles


Few sportsmen, who have been much in the wilds of Scotland, have not occasionally seen an eagle ; but, except at the hatching season, it is extremely difficult to get a shot at one. Even then it is no easy task, for the nest is often in the face of some precipice which few dare to scale.

The golden-eagle is not nearly so great a foe to the farmer as to the sportsman ; for although a pair, having young ones, will occasionally pounce upon very young and unprotected lambs, and continue their depredations until scared away, the more usual prey consists of hares, rabbits, and grouse-a fact sufficiently proved by the feathers and bones found in their eyries. A pair used to build every year in Balquhidder, another in Glen-Ogle, and a third in Glenartney. The shepherds seldom molested the old ones ; but by means of ladders, at considerable risk, took the young and sold them. One of these brought to Callander, not long ago, when scarcely full-fledged, would seize a live cat thrown to it for food, and, bearing it away with the greatest ease, tear it to pieces, the cat unable to offer any resistance, and

uttering the most horrid yells. From the havoc they made among the game, especially when they had young, the keepers in the neighbourhood have been very diligent of late years in searching out the eyries, and trapping the old birds ; so that now, in this part of Perthshire, there is not one for three nests that there were formerly.

I recollect, some time ago, an eyrie in Glen-Luss, where a pair hatched yearly; but since the female was shot, no others have haunted the place. The shooting of this eagle was a service of great danger, and the man who undertook it a most hardy and determined fellow. The cliff was nearly perpendicular, and the only way of access was over the top, where a single false step would have sent him headlong into the gulf below. After creeping down a considerable way, he saw the eagle sitting on her eggs, a long shot off; but his gun was loaded with swanshot, so, taking a deliberate aim, he fired; she gave one shrill scream, extended her wings, and died on her nest. His greatest difficulty now was, how to avail himself of his success. He was not, however, the man to be balked : so, at the most imminent risk, he managed to get to the eyrie, tumbled the eagle over the cliff, and pocketed the two eggs. They were set under a hen but did not hatch. Had they been left, the male would, probably, have brought them out, as he has been often known to do in similar cases. I afterwards broke one of the shells, and was quite astonished at its thickness.

A fair shot may sometimes be got at the male when there are young ones in the nest, as he will often swoop down in their defence: at any other time, he is the most shy and wild of birds. I only know of one instance to the contrary, and that was in the depth of a very severe winter, when the creature was rendered desperate by hunger. The gamekeeper of my late father was shooting wild-fowl, and having killed one, sent his retriever to fetch it out of the water. The dog was in the act of doing so, when an eagle stooped down, and seizing him, endeavoured to carry off the duck: it was only by shouting with all his might that the keeper could alarm the eagle so far as to make it fly a little clear of the dog, when he shot it with his second barrel. The scuffle took place only twenty yards from where he stood, and he told me that he thought the eagle would certainly have drowned his dog.

When two eagles are in pursuit of a hare, they show great tact-it is exactly as if two well-matched greyhounds were turning a hare-as one rises, the other descends, until poor puss is tired out : when one of them succeeds in catching her, it fixes a claw in her back, and holds by the ground with the other, striking all the time with its beak. I have several times seen eagles coursed in the same way by carrion-crows and ravens, whose territories they had invaded : the eagle generally seems to have enough to do in keeping clear of his sable foes, and every now and then gives a loud whistle or scream. If the eagle is at all alarmed when in pursuit of his prey, he instantly bears it off alive. Where alpine hares are plentiful, it is no unfrequent occurrence, when the sportsman starts one, for an eagle to pounce down and carry it off, struggling, with the greatest ease : in this case, he always allows the hare to run a long way out of shot before he strikes, and is apt to miss altogether. When no enemy is near, he generally adopts the more sure way of tiring out his game.

The colour of the golden-eagle differs very much: some are so dark as almost to justify the name of "the black eagle," which they are often called in the Highlands-in others, the golden tint is very bright; and many are of an even muddy-brown. I do not think that the age of the bird has anything to do with this, as I have seen young and old equally variable. The sure mark of a young one is the degree of white on the tail: the first year the upper half is pure, which gradually becomes less so by streaks of brown-about the third or fourth year no white is to be seen.

THE SEA EAGLE.

I have not had an opportunity of noticing the habits of the sea-eagle, never having been for any time in the neighbourhood of its haunts. All my information regarding them is derived from watching one or two tame ones which I met with in Ireland, where they are more numerous than in Scotland, whose mountains are the grand resort of the golden-eagle. The prey of both seems pretty much alike, except that the sea-eagle is fonder of dead carcases, which may in part account for its partiality to the sea-shore. Those I allude to devoured crows, jackdaws, livers, fish, or almost any carrion that was thrown to them. Their eyries are mostly in the precipitous cliffs on the coast.

The sea-eagle is rather larger than the golden, and of a lighter brown. The bill, which is longer and broader, but not so hooked as the other, is of a dull yellowish white. The whole of the tail-feathers of the young ones are brown, when they gradually change to white, which is complete about the fourth year-the very reverse of the golden-eagle. The tail is also shorter, and the legs are not feathered to the toes, like the other ; but quite enough to show that the bird was not intended to subsist by fishing, like the osprey, whose legs are bare to the thighs, which have only a thin covering of short feathers.

THE OSPREY

The osprey, or water-eagle, frequents many of the Highland lochs ; a pair had their eyrie for many years on the top of a ruin, in a small island on Loch Lomond. I am sorry to say I was the means of their leaving that haunt, which they had occupied for generations.

It was their custom, when a boat approached the island, to come out and meet it, always keeping at a most respectful distance, flying round in very wide circles until the boat left the place, when, having escorted it a considerable way, they would return and settle on the ruin. Aware of their habit, I went, when a very young sportsman, with a gamekeeper, and having concealed myself behind the stump of an old tree, desired him to pull away the boat. The ospreys, after following him the usual distance, returned, and gradually narrowing their circles, the female, at last, came within fair distance-I fired, and shot her. Not content with this, the gamekeeper and I ascended the ruin, and finding nothing in the nest but a large seatrout, half-eaten, we set it in a trap, and returning, after two or three hours, found the male caught by the legs. They were a beautiful pair : the female, as in most birds of prey, being considerably the largest-the woodcut is a most correct likeness. The eggs of these ospreys had been regularly taken every year, and yet they never forsook their eyrie. It was a beautiful sight to see them sail into our bay on a calm summer night, and flying round it several times, swoop down upon a good-sized pike, and bear it away as if it had been a minnow.

I have been told, but cannot vouch for the truth of it, that they have another method of taking their prey in warm weather, when fish bask near the shore. They fix one claw in a weed or bush, and strike the other into the fish ; but I never saw them attempt any other mode of " leistering " than that I have mentioned : when they see a fish, they immediately settle in the air-lower their flight, and settle again-then strike down like a dart. They always seize prey with their claws, the outer toes of which turn round a considerable way, which gives them a larger and firmer grasp. Owls have also this power, to enable them with greater certainty to secure their almost equally agile victims; while the fern-owl has the toe turned round like a parrot, to assist it in the difficult task of catching insects in the air. But if this were the case with the others, although it might be an advantage in the first instance, it would very considerably weaken their hold when prey was struck.

I remember seeing another pair of ospreys on Loch Menteith, that had their eyrie on the gnarled branch of an old tree. They became so accustomed to the man who lets boats there, that the female never even left her nest when he landed on the island, unless a stranger was with him. Once, when he returned home after a short absence, he saw one of them sitting on the tree, making a kind of wailing cry: suspecting all was not right, he rowed to the island, and found the female was missing, and the nest harried. They have never hatched there since : the male has been frequently seen, but he has never found another mate. When they had young, they did not confine their depredations to Loch Menteith, but used to go, in quest of prey, to the other lochs in the neighbourhood ; and, in the evening, would fly down the glen, carrying a fish a foot long in their claws.

The nest of the osprey is lined with coarse waterplants and grasses: the outside fenced with thick boughs, some of them four inches round, and three feet and a-half long: proof enough of the strength of its legs and wings. The eggs are as large as a hen's, with reddish-brown spots. The osprey is about the size of the herring-gull ; the breast nearly white, spotted with brown; back and wings dull brown ; the thighs very muscular ; legs and claws, which are of bluish flesh colour, equally so.


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