A golden eagle sat in the cage. In half an hour it had killed, plucked and devoured the crows, leaving only feathers and seven pairs of feet

Alan, a Highland gamekeeper, set out up the glen in his Land Rover, and as he passed his crow-trap, which stood 50 yards off the track, he noticed a flurry of movement. Scrutiny with binoculars revealed that the wire-netting cage had caught seven hoodie crows. He made a mental note to despatch six of them as soon as possible, leaving one as a decoy; but at that moment his wife came through on the radio to say that somebody wanted to speak to him urgently on the telephone. He therefore turned round and drove home.

Back on the spot 40 minutes later, he again looked at the crow trap and was surprised to see no movement. His first thought was that some officious hiker had opened the door and released the captives; but when he went closer he discerned a single golden eagle, sitting half-stupefied on the ground.

Somehow the huge bird, with its eight-foot wingspan, had slid down the narrow funnel in the roof of the cage. In little over half an hour it had killed, plucked and devoured all the crows, leaving nothing but a mass of feathers and seven pairs of feet. By the time Alan let it out, it was, as he put it, "stuffed to the beak", and could scarcely take off, but away it lumbered, leaving him amazed at the eating power of one large raptor.

Such are the stories one hears during a deer-stalking holiday; and although the prime object of the enterprise is to cull stags, the peripheral observation of nature is always one of the chief delights. Once you have laboured up to the high ridges and corries which the deer frequent, you are in a different world.

This year we were haunted by ravens - although whether they were a sign of good luck or bad, nobody could agree. To the Romans it would have mattered greatly if they had appeared flying from left (sinister) to right (dexter), a bad omen: with us, they were often circling high overhead, and their abrupt, guttural cries seemed to be urging us to hurry up and produce a gralloch - the intestines of a deer - for them to feast on. As I ground up steep faces, I sought to ease my passage by mentally reciting lines from Edgar Allen Poe and frequently returned to the hypnotic refrain: "Quoth the raven, 'Nevermore'."

Otters also entertained us. One stalking party, looking down from the heights above Loch Shiel, spotted some creature crossing the half-mile- wide sheet of water and sending out a wide, V-shaped wake. Excitable observers might have leapt to the conclusion that this was Shiela, the local monster; but in fact our people, watching through binoculars and telescopes, could see that it was an otter, which in due course came ashore and, after an exploratory lollop along a forestry track, swam back the way it had come.

Another evening as we drove home along a river-bank, we noticed movement in a grassy ditch beside the track on our right. Inadvertently we had cut off two teenaged otter cubs from the water: charming creatures, furry and almost black, the size of magnum ferrets, they scampered up and down, chippering furiously, until they got their bearings and made a dash for home.

By no means all the wildlife was so attractive. The grass and heather were alive with ticks, and bath-time every evening revealed several embedded like nasty little black scabs in legs or body. Opinions varied about how best to dislodge them. "Salt," said some people. "Disinfectant or insect repellent," said others - but all agreed that if you pull off the body, leaving the jaws embedded in your skin, the place is liable to fester.

Less injurious, but almost more irritating, were the insects known as keds, which land on face or hands and sidle crab-like into the nearest recess they can find, mercifully without biting. Davy, another stalker, recalled how one evening in the pub a ked crawled out of his hair and advanced across his forehead - whereupon all the other customers fled in disorder, supposing this wild man of the woods to be alive with vermin.

On a loftier plane, every day we saw golden eagles, and none more majestic than the one that launched off from a crag below us. Out it went over the glen, gliding arrow-straight like a Stealth fighter, with never the slightest movement of its wings. For at least two minutes we watched it through binoculars: in that time it must have flown a mile out over the abyss - and still its wings were motionless. In its power and menace, its range and grace, it seemed the very spirit of that high and rock-bound wilderness.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future