Mike Birkhead Associates - Eagle Island

Eagle Island

A Mike Birkhead Associates Production for BBC ‘Natural World’
Series Editor: Tim Martin

Eagle Island is being shown on PBS nature in America, although the title has been changed to 'Eagles of Mull.'

Available on DVD
Broadcast on Wednesday 8pm October 26h BBC2 and Sunday 30th October. Nearly 5 million people viewed the programme.

Mike Birkhead

The wonderful photograph above was taken by Iain Erskine. "Copyright Iain Erskine"

Breathtaking scenery, huge minke whales under the filming boat, basking sharks filmed from a kayak and spectacular shots of eagles at the nest make this an unmissable film. And it was all filmed in Britain - Scotland to be precise.

Scottish cameraman and presenter Gordon Buchanan returns home to the Isle of Mull, after 15 years absence, to rediscover its wonderful wildlife and magnificent scenery. And it didn’t take Gordon long to realise what he had been missing; sea eagles, golden eagles, otters, dolphins, whales and basking sharks make the island one of Britain’s undisputed wildlife hotspots. Gordon had just one chance to film the sea eagle but felt confident about the abundant Mull otters. But not everything went according to plan. But the biggest bonus of all was totally unexpected – whales, sharks, seals and dolphins were not something Gordon used to see here so much as boy.

Producer Mike Birkhead
Principal Photography Gordon Buchanan
Offline Editor Nigel Buck
Online Editor Tim Bolt
Dubbing Editor Paul Clark
Dubbing Mixer Graham Wild
Music David Mitcham
Script Editor Jeremy Evans
Scientific Consultant David Sexton

This film is about the Isle of Mull off the west coast of Scotland, its wildlife and Gordon Buchanan – who left the island when he was just 17. After 15 years away – travelling the world as a wildlife cameraman – Gordon returns to find Mull has become a wildlife Mecca – with the highest density of eagles in the UK, otters in every bay and even whales and sharks in the surrounding seas.

The prospect of filming on home turf really excited Gordon.

“The west coast of Scotland and particularly an island on the west coast of Scotland has this cloak of romanticism about it and you might think that living here that the hard facts are very different.

But I grew up here and I felt, all through my childhood, that I was living in one of the most special places in the world and you only had to walk out your front door to realise that – you know you just walk through the streets and you see all the smoking chimneys you know the people inside that have known you all your life and then you’ve got this most spectacular setting – the sea being right in front of you and its changing moods – and a huge sky with its changing moods.”

“And for me it’s just this is the best place in the world – to be back here is just the most fantastic opportunity I have ever had.”

Gordon’s mission was to find and film the Sea Eagle – the biggest bird of prey in Europe and one that only recently returned to the Isle of Mull. Mull also has an exceptional population of Golden Eagles and truly deserves the name “Eagle Island.” Filming the eagles was going to be a challenge every bit as difficult as filming leopards or tigers – something that Gordon had become more used to over recent years. But to put his mind at rest Gordon also decided to film the otter – a relatively easy subject on Mull where they are particularly common – but the otters proved to be more than a handful and clearly did not recognise Gordon as a local.

“Eagle Island” lived up to its name for sure and the otters were as plentiful as expected – even if they were a bit camera shy – but the marine life around Mull proved to be a real bonus. Minke whales, basking sharks and dolphins gave Gordon some of his favourite wildlife moments to compare with anything he has seen in the Africa, India or South America.

So after a year back on Mull what does Gordon feel now about Mull?

“Having spent this time on Mull I have actually got to know a place which in many ways is very different from the island that I grew up on – it has changed but the real fundamental parts of Mull haven’t changed and I don’t think they ever will and I think its part of that magic and I did hope at the start of this year I’d be able to put my finger on what it is about Mull what that special magic something is, but I’m glad to say that after a year I still don’t know what that magic something is but it’s magic….”

“………overlooking Loch na Keil with Ben More in the background is, pretty much sums Mull up. It's a wild, rugged landscape, but it provides a home for some of the most incredible animals in this part of the world, and I just hope that my time here has done the island and all of its inhabitants justice. It's kind of sad in a way that it's actually, for me to appreciate Mull fully I've had to leave the island and spend a big of my life away from it, but Mull's still here, it's always going to be here and it's always going to be home.”

The film appears to have gone down very well and Gordon appears to be more popular that ever - see the review:

Sam Wollaston
Thursday October 27, 2005
The Guardian

I hate Gordon Buchanan. Not because he's a bad person in any way. In fact, quite the opposite. I think he may be the perfect man, and I'm just jealous. He's dark and rugged and healthily handsome, he has a gentle Hebridean accent, a poetic outlook, and for a living he photographs baby otters. He's the presenter of Natural World: Eagle Island (BBC2) - or Natural Werrold as he says it - and I imagine many women watching will have been sneaking sideways glances over at the slobs sharing the sofa with them. Why can't you be a bit more like Gordon Buchanan?

Gordon's been away from the Scottish island of Mull where he grew up - the best place in the werrold - for a while. Now he's back for a year to make this film about some of the lovely creatures there - the white-tailed sea eagles, otters, seals and dolphins, basking sharks, maybe even a minke whale. There's a lot of waiting around involved in filming wildlife, but that's OK with Gordon; he can use the time to reflect, to appreciate Scotland's light and landscapes in new ways, to bask in the cloak of romanticism that his homeland comes wrapped in. Actually I am beginning to hate him seriously now.

Some of the eagles have nested, there are young mouths to feed. So their parents go off to fetch dinner. A sea eagle will fly lazily along bove the water, looking down, like a shopper browsing the aisles at Tesco, deciding what kind of fish to get. Then, when he's made his choice, he just reaches down and plucks it out, a lovely fresh fish supper. One minute the poor thing was swimming happily in the sea, the next it's up at the top of a fir tree having its eyes pecked out by a couple of hungry eaglets. That's on a Friday, obviously. Other days there might be game - rabbit or hare perhaps. And on a Sunday, there could even be lamb.

They're massive birds, sea eagles, eight feet from wing tip to wing tip. But even so a lamb is quite a load to take back home. They look like those huge American helicopters, carrying enormous hanging cargoes around war zones. If I had a small baby and I lived in Mull, I think I'd constantly be scouring the sky. It must be a nightmare, having to go and fetch them back down from the top of those huge trees, worried sick you won't get there in time to save their eyes. Or lives.

Otters prove more elusive than eagles, harder to film. Throughout the spring Gordon can't find a family to get close to. He takes off across the sea, in his kayak (he's an action man as well as a poet). But all he can find is a basking shark to play with, considerably longer than his boat. And a school of bottlenose dolphins, leaping happily out of the water. No otters though. And it's not much better through the summer. It turns out that the stormy autumn months are a better time to find an otter than July. As Stevie Wonder said (sorry). Gordon finds a mother with two young cubs, beautiful animals - playful, slippery and whiskery. They do aquarobics for Gordon, in the silver water against the sunlight.

Best of all though are the lonely Mull landscapes, the big skies, and the
seas, whipped up into an angry frenzy by the autumn gales. Gordon loves it when the weather is rough. To him, the sea always symbolises escape and endless opportunity. Yes, of course it does. Shut up Mr Perfect, you're boring me now.



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