A SEA eagle fitted with a satellite tag as a chick on the Isle of Mull in 2010, as part of a project funded by Scottish Natural Heritage, and tracked by RSPB Scotland, has been found successfully raising a family in the northern Highlands.

Christened Shelly for her online audience on the Mull Eagle Watch website, she had been closely watched for three years as she ventured out from her nest in Tiroran Forest, 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 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, and with no tag to follow her, re-connecting with Shelly became more difficult.

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

“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’.

"She’s aged seven now, so fully mature and transformed from the rather scruffy brown chick we’d encountered in the nest.”

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.”