This photograph represents the climax of a fifteen year project. White-tailed eagles (also known as “sea eagles”) were re-introduced to west Scotland from 1975 onwards, and in 1985 the first birds bred successfully in the wild on the isle of Mull. When I first started trying to photograph them here for my former employer, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, it was with a Nikon F3 and a Nikkor 400mm f5.6 manual lens on Kodachrome 64. One early episode involved ten consecutive days in a hide during December with nothing much to show for my pains. After that, it was an on-off affair, occasionally visiting remote nest sites at far-flung sea cliffs, still not making much progress.
From about 1997, my hit rate improved significantly with the advent of Nikon’s AF-S autofocus lenses and the discovery of a pair of eagles further north which had developed the habit of following prawn fishing boats. This is my favourite image of the series, and took many attempts to successfully position the bird against the light. I was shooting from a small boat with a Nikon F5 and 500mm telephoto lens on a monopod, and at the time was still using Fuji Provia 100 film. The baiting technique has been much copied since, and nowadays you can even book a holiday in Norway where the birds are commoner and all facilities laid on.
Although this image has never been successful in competition, I used it on the hardback cover of my book “Photographing Wild Birds” and stock sales have always been healthy. And while I still visit the Hebrides two or three times a year and enjoy seeing the eagles, I’m having a bit of a rest from trying to photograph them until I can think of a way to improve on this.
There are now about 30 breeding pairs of white-tailed eagles resident throughout west Scotland, and further re-introduction programmes are underway or planned for eastern Scotland, Ireland, and England.
Chris Gomersall began his photographic career working as a staff photographer for the RSPB in 1984. Fourteen years later he began working as a self-employed photographer and is a regular contributor to BBC Wildlife, Outdoor Photography and the RSPB’s Birds magazines, his clients include Natural England, The Environment Agency and the WWF (UK). He has won six awards in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition since 1989 and his book “Photographing Wild Birds” was published by David & Charles in 2001. Chris is also a workshop tutor and tour leader for Nikon (UK) Ltd, Naturetrek, Wildshots, etc.
Photographer since 1984, EPUK member since 2001.
See more work by Chris Gomersall