The return of the sea eagle – or white-tailed eagle – to Scotland is one of the great conservation success stories. The last native bird was shot on Shetland in 1918 but in the 1970s the raptor was reintroduced and experts estimate there are now 200, most roosting in the isolated western isles. Thanks to ongoing work, Britain’s largest bird of prey is now soaring over east coast waters too.
The Tay Estuary is the perfect environment for sea eagles. Although many people associate the bird with Scotland’s rugged west coast, elsewhere in the world they prefer wetlands and estuaries where shallow waters offer a rich source of food.
Recently the bird was reintroduced to eastern Scotland. Fifteen chicks were released and they quickly spread their wings, finding new territory in areas like Tentsmuir Forest.
This vast tract of Scots and Corsican Pine covers 1500 hectares bordering the Tay Estuary and the North Sea. Separating river from ocean is Tentsmuir Point, a national nature reserve that attracts eider ducks, pink-footed geese, bar-tailed godwits, grey plovers, oystercatchers and curlew. To this list is now added the sea eagle.
The walk starts at Lundin Bridge, at the eastern end of Tayport. Head east on a track that passes a derelict meteorological station. As the way curves right, below a wartime pillbox, to enter Tentsmuir Forest, carry straight on along a beach path that runs parallel with a line of concrete blocks installed during the Second World War to prevent enemy tanks coming ashore. They remain a constant companion as you follow the shoreline, the expansive mudflats offering rich pickings for waders and seabirds.
Look for sea eagles here. The raptor has brown body plumage, a pale head and neck and white tail feathers. In flight, it has long, broad wings with fingered ends. Some sightings have involved the eagles being harassed by gulls or crows so keep an eye out for such behaviour.
At Green Scalp a sandy path offers a pleasant detour from a muddy stretch of foreshore and the way continues through marram grass to reach interpretive boards at the entrance to the nature reserve. Pass though a gate and walk straight on, crossing open heath and grassland, until you hit Tentsmuir Sands.
On a sunny day there is no better place to be. The beach is truly magnificent, fine golden sand sloping down into shimmering blue water. Turn right and head south. The sandbanks are popular with grey and common seals. Look out for an observation post (a green cabin on stilts) at the top of the beach and head for this. The beach here is one of the best places to spot seals.
Leave the beach at the cabin and head inland. The path enters Tentsmuir Forest at a gate just short of a 19th century ice house built to store salmon netted on the coast. The stone structure is now home to a colony of Natterer bats. Join the forest road, turn right and head north. Stay on the main track and it will lead you back to Lundin Bridge.
Distance: 7 miles/11.2 km
Time: 4 hours
Start/finish: Lundin Bridge, Tayport (GR: NO 467279)
Terrain: Level paths, solid forest tracks and some beach walking. Great walk for dogs, but keep your pet on the lead in the nature reserve and near seals on beach. Take great care when walking on to sandbanks as they can quickly become cut off by the rising tide.
Maps: Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger map 54 or 59; Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer map 371
Information: Kingdom of Fife Tourist Board (Tel: 01334 472021; http://www.visitfife.com)
Public transport: The nearest railway station is Dundee. Regular bus services from Dundee (Seagate Bus Station) to Tayport are operated by Strathtay Scottish (01382 228345; http://www.stagecoachbus.com).
Looking for other quirky, off-beat visitor attractions in Scotland? Visit our sister site secretscotland.co.uk.