Golden eagle would sound nice as the star species of an ascent of the island’s highest point but consider this: the 2007 Arran Bird Report notes only half a dozen sightings from thousands of contributions. These may not be all the submitted records and certainly they don’t include the known nest sites. Quite right too: persecution in Scotland is an ongoing problem.
In any case, what chance a sighting in a few footbound hours, still kilometres away from the ridges and peaks that the eagles prefer?
Imagine this too: try to spot a human being on one of these ridges. They would have to be exactly profiled against the sky and even then would only show as a dot. An eagle would also be just such a dot with its wings in full stretch, albeit a dot in motion and probably detached from terra firma. Binoculars may just be sufficient to separate the species from the far more likely buzzard.
Ptarmigan would be nice too – just like that shown on an interpretive board near the start of the climb. Back to 2007 again and just one sighting in the Report makes the likelihood less than remote. Miniscule, in fact, for a bird far more cryptic than an eagle.
Such is the stuff of hope but it’s still a powerful motivation to visit Arran. Besides, Manx shearwaters and gannets populate the crossing from Ardrossan. Black guillemots bob in the harbours at each end, with additional breeding red-breasted mergansers at Brodick. And a host of woodland birds accompany the first 300 metres of ascent. Then the moorland starts and the day visitor can stop. At this stage, when the meadow pipits kick in, that’s your lot all the way to the summit. It’s barren habitat and, frankly, a bit boring birdwise.
Fortunately at this juncture of the Goat Fell climb a different path leads back to Brodick Castle, past a wee hydro dam. Here were roving coal tit families, close views of a buzzard and, at the tiny pool, a grey wagtail.
No star species then but a fine haul of birds all the same.