Jonathan: A couple of days ago I noticed that one of this year’s lambs was looking out of sorts. The usual first signs of something amiss: standing apart from the others, not running to its mother, not getting milk or eating grass, head down, not very determined effort to escape capture. I couldn’t see anything obviously wrong with it, other than a mild case of diarrhea. It was a good weight, apparently well nourished, its fleece beautiful, teeth okay, eyes bright. Hmmm. I went back to the store and returned with treatments for worms, and a dose of lamb tonic (contains water, extracts of yeast and malt, glucose, bicarbonate of soda, salt). His mum watched the proceedings very closely, and when I’d finished, she set off with him sluggishly following. I set off too, up the hill to continue fencing work. I would return …
The next morning the lamb seemed no better, but neither any worse. He seemed to be following his mother, though I didn’t actually see him take milk. I decided to leave it another day, and then decide if more drastic action was required.
This morning I couldn’t see any lamb standing apart from the others, so assumed he was restored to normal behaviour, making him nearly indistinguishable from his half-brothers. Having put down the morning feed, I did my routine count and … one missing. Count lambs: one lamb missing. Search the field: nothing. Count again: difficult because the sheep are now spreading out and disappearing behind rock outcrops or down in gullies, or behind each other or me. An hour or more later of counts and re-counts, searching the entire field meticulously and searching again, I was one lamb down for sure. I moved out into the surrounding open croft land, searching systematically up to 100m from the field. Absolutely nothing.
I found no lamb, dead or alive. There were no remains of a lamb, no blood or wool or flattening of the rushes, no circling and calling ravens or gulls clearing up the remains … absolutely nothing. On the mainland – certainly outwith the NW Highlands, the assumption would be theft. Well, even if the lamb had been in good health and worth stealing, here in Uist – in Eriskay, theft would be the very last thing we’d assume.
No, actually, I guess I do assume theft – of sorts. I suspect the lamb has been taken by eagles. The lamb would have weighed 12-15 kg. I don’t have a clear idea of how much a full-grown eagle can lift, but I’m certain that if it’s snatching a full payload, it won’t want it wriggling much as well, putting up a fight. And that lamb would have fitted the bill perfectly.
I returned home to find Denise serving some German tourists with something from the Hebridean Woolshed. They were telling Denise of their excitement, this morning at the Eriskay ferry terminal, on seeing a pair of Golden Eagles. Well we knew already that there is a pair that nest each year at the south of the island, but there are suspicions of juveniles from South Uist intruding on their territory in the NE of Eriskay.
We don’t have foxes, or wolves, and we don’t suffer from dog attacks or people with air guns or other such horribleness. But we do have golden eagles, sea eagles, as well as ravens, hoodie crows and gulls. They’re entitled to their lives as much as we are to ours, and they are welcome to it. They bring in the tourists which we rely on to book our cottages or buy our craftwork or produce. Denise and I are sorry for the loss of the lamb, we’re sorry for any suffering he experienced, but it is natural, and we can accept that. He’s just gone with the wind.