Monthly Archives: June 2014

Owls, eagles and kids – what could be better?

Mull eagle chick

So yet again it’s been a busy week with lots going on. Following on from my trip to clean out barn owl nesting barrels earlier in the season I joined our FCS wildlife rangers, John Jackson and James Grieg on Monday this week to ring chicks. Barn owls last year across the whole of the UK had a very poor year, with on 20 per cent of traditional nest sites being occupied according to the Barn Owl Conservation Trust. We were expecting a good season here on Mull, the winter was mild and many barrels we checked in April were occupied by both male and female birds. We were disheartened to find on Monday that none of the barrels had youngsters present. There were signs of adult owls, with moult feathers and pellets but no egg shells or young. We’re still holding out hope that we may have some later clutches, the nest sites will be checked again in a few weeks time to make sure we don’t miss them. One natural nest site we checked which is made up of a cave/tree root structure was active with two adults leaving as we approached. We could also hear chicks but we couldn’t reach them to ring, they had chosen a deeper tunnel this year.

Happy family

Weather over the last week has been classic Mull with constant changes, going from bright sunshine to mist, haze and drizzle – great for midges! Earlier this week we had a very damp day and true to the nature of large predators, our adults eagles decided they’d much rather sit around for long periods of time. Thankfully their favourite perches are easily seen from the hide meaning we could enjoy views of white-tailed eagles preening, resting and monitoring the area for incomers all day – brilliant. We have our first photographs of Iona and Fingal’s 2014 chick, very exciting to see. On yet another drizzly, dull day the ringing team made it to Glen Seilisdeir to climb the nest tree. We can now 100 per cent confirm we have one healthy chick, with no un-hatched eggs or any indication of another chick being present earlier in the season.

Mull eagle chick held by ringing team

This took place on 13th June; the chick was 5 weeks and a few days old. In the photos you can clearly see the size – just look at that powerful beak! It looks like the body has some catching up to do, the beak is often a good indication of sex (females always being substantially larger), but we’re still waiting on confirmation of this – last year’s chick was a female. For now the beak is dark, along with the eye. Gradually over years this will change, the beak turning bright yellow and the iris will turn golden, giving rise to the Gaelic name for our sea eagles;  Iolair Suil na Grein, meaning “eagle with the sunlit eye”. Plumage is currently predominantly brown. The white tail and blonde head take around four and half years to gradually moult in.

mull eagle in flight picture by melanie milne

Picture by Melanie Milne

Tobermory Primary – top kids!

Yesterday I spent the entire day at Tobermory Primary School with four different classes going from teeny tiny P1 children, through to P6/7. I have to say I was slightly nervous for a whole day in school with the kids, I usually have one group for an hour and give them back…but it was brilliant. I thoroughly enjoyed it all and met some fantastic children. All were keen and excited, never failing to tell me lovely stories about their own wildlife encounters or asking me innovative questions. As I’ve said before I think it’s so important to get our younger generations interested in wildlife and I think we managed this yesterday.

Here are some of the things the kids said they learnt..

“That all animals and wildlife are linked together, like a giant web”
“I didn’t know that golden eagles were smaller than white-tailed eagles”
“I know that golden eagles have feathers all down their legs, sea-eagles don’t”
“that plankton is one of the most important things in the world”

Hopefully they’ll have lots of exciting wildlife encounters over their summer holidays and I might see them again. Last week I also popped down to Iona Primary School to spend some time outside in the sun with the kids there, and it was a great afternoon.

Visit to Iona

Wonderful webcam

I hope you’re all enjoying our live webcam online at the minute, the chick is looking enormous now (the webcam is running from 6am-8pm currently). If you see anything interesting we’d love for you to send us some details or for you to post it directly onto our Mull Eagle Watch Facebook page, unfortunately I can’t watch it as much as I’d like, although I do get to see the real thing most days. I’d just like to thank all of our partners and those involved with the webcam; Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, RSPB, Mull and Iona Community Trust, Police Scotland. With a special thanks to Peter Carnyx and Chris Baker for making it all work.

Thanks for reading again, I’ll be back soon! Meanwhile, keep an eye on the webcam and our Facebook page. We have another addition to social media for you too; we’re now on Twitter as @Mulleaglewatch. We’ll run alongside the existing @skyeandfrisa page but follow us for tweets about Iona, Fingal and their chick at the hide.

Rachel

Live and Wild Webcam

As promised, I shared some photos of the chicks that were ringed last week when I joined the teams. Lots of you on our facebook page enjoyed seeing them, so here they are again for those of you that may have missed them. We visited two nests with one chick each, both at a slightly different age.

The older chick

The older chick

The younger chick

The younger chick

You can clearly see that the older chick is almost fully grown and has lost all of its downy feathers. It still has another five or six weeks in the nest to finish developing its important flight feathers though. The younger chick is still showing a good amount of down and isn’t quite fully grown yet, it is definitely shocked at being interrupted in the nest but it soon settled back down.

Sula and Cuin

We have some very exciting news to share with you all; thanks to a lot of hard work from many people involved and Forestry Commission Scotland for funding we have a live webcam up and running showing a constant feed of a Mull pair of white-tailed eagles. Unfortunately, due to Iona and Fingal building a new site this year we couldn’t get them online, but we do have two online stars to share with you. Meet Sula and Cuin, along with their chick! You can enjoy keeping up with this pair online whenever you fancy. How exciting – this is the first webcam in the UK to give a live feed of white-tailed eagles!

Tune into our Mull Eagle Watch webcam >

Sula is our female, she is easy to identify from the male because she has wing tags on either side; they are white with a black 5. She was hatched in Norway but was then released as part of the final reintroduction phase on the Scottish East Coast around seven years ago. She then made her way to Mull. She settled here with a Mull bred male called Cuin, also seven years old, and they are doing a great job of raising chicks every year. You may recognise them from Springwatch stardom over the last few weeks, this is the Mull pair that featured on TV. So if you’re dreading the end of Springwatch, not to worry as you can keep up with the stars all season. Enjoy the adults perched by the nest, bringing prey in, feeding the chick, and follow the chick as it grows up, learning to feed, building up muscles and preparing for that all important first flight.

Notorious names

We usually task a local school with the important job of naming our Mull Eagle Watch chick. Last year Iona and Fingal’s chick was named Orion. This year we’re going to give our online followers and fans the chance to name Sula and Cuin’s youngster. This will probably be through our facebook page; we’ll take suggestions and then create a shortlist before finally selecting a winner. So get watching the chick online and start thinking of a fitting name. Keep an eye out for an announcement to start the competition.

Meanwhile…

Back in Glen Seilisdeir our parents are working hard bringing in lots of prey ranging from greylag goslings through to mountain hare. Our chick is now just over five weeks old and is due to be ringed anytime soon, so next week I’ll be able to share some photos of our very own youngster with you.

Other wildlife sightings of course include our golden eagles, buzzards and ravens. Willow warblers and chiff chaffs are still signing and we have some lovely wildflowers coming out too. Germander speedwell, ivy-leaved speedwell, cat’s ear, birds-foot trefoil, foxglove and bugle are but a few. We also had a brilliant sighting of a marsh fritillary butterfly on the track, one of the UK’s rare species; its caterpillars are primarily reliant on devil’s-bit scabious.

We’ve had the pleasure of Tobermory Primary and Ulva Primary Schools visiting the hide recently too, great to get them outdoors learning about our wildlife. More school visits to come soon, I’m heading out to Iona Primary in the next week and then visiting four different classes in Tobermory!

Thanks for reading again, hope you all enjoy our webcam. If you’re watching and see anything interesting, let me know! Unfortunately I have to tear myself away often, so I’d love to hear what you’re seeing when I’m out and about.

A recent sunset

A recent sunset

 

Eagle ringing

Climbers ringing Mull eaglesThis week I was privileged enough to head out with the FCS and RSPB eagle ringing groups to two different eagle territories. I was so grateful for the opportunity, as I’d not yet had the chance to view a ringing before, and it was a brilliant learning experience. Unfortunately the Mull Eagle Watch chick was too young to be ringed this week but it’s on the list for the next ringing trip to the isle.

Ringing birds and actually getting up to the nests themselves isn’t for the fainthearted and it takes a lot of training. You have to be a trained tree climber with the knowledge to safely use the climbing equipment to make it up to the eagle nest sites which can often be extremely high up in awkward trees like Sitka spruce and larch. Safety obviously comes first for both the birds and the climbers, some nests aren’t ringed due to being too dangerous and inaccessible. You also have to be trained in ringing with experience of handling birds, especially large raptors. Training to ring birds is a long process requiring perseverance and an experienced ringer who is willing to teach you for at least a year. You need to be equipped with the correct climbing equipment and ringing equipment.

Starting climb to second nest (Medium)

Arduous climb

We first headed out to a well know pair who nested on a very exposed sea stack last year after their original tree nest collapsed. Over winter they repaired the tree nest and are now happily back in their regular home with one large chick. We approached the nest, getting our first view of the huge structure and a dark brown head looking out. It felt very odd going so close, usually in any other circumstances this would be highly illegal – the ringers and climbers have licences allowing us to be there. As the climbers got their gear out and began to harness up we scouted around the base of the tree for feathers, pellets and prey remains. There wasn’t much to be found other than a few small eagle feathers and some fulmar feathers. How on earth do you tell if it’s a fulmar? They smell very strange, very recognisable after it’s been pointed out!

This particular tree was quite difficult and slow going for the climbers due to lots of brash and branches running up the trunk from the base. As we stood watching the first member of the team head up the adult female returned calling in annoyance, she flew about above us and was soon joined by the male, both uttering calls with a slight difference in pitch. I asked plenty of questions, learning about the whole process and what interesting prey remains had been found in nests before. There was currently a fresh mackerel and what looked like deer liver in with the chick! Once up there, the climber called for the ringing bag to be sent up and he began the process of weighing, measuring and ringing the bird. We no long use wing tags here in West Scotland. We finished and left the adults and the chick to settle back down and trooped back to the vehicles.

Prey remains from Mull eagle nest

Delicious delights

Our next visit was to the pair that have recently been featured on Springwatch. The female is noticeable with wing tags because she’s an east coast released bird called Sula. This nest site was much more interesting in regard to prey remains, we found a lot including shag, fulmar, greylag goose, puffin, guillemot and some lamb. The ringers are so experienced that they can identify a prey species from one bone in some cases – fascinating!  Prey with white-tailed eagles is very varied as they’re opportunistic – they take what they can, when they can. Fish are important and can vary from mackerel and sea trout to freshwater pike. Seabirds include puffins, razorbills, guillemots, greylag geese, herons, fulmar, herring gulls and even great black-backed gulls. Mammals also play a large part including rabbits, mountain hare, hedgehogs, feral cats, American mink and red deer calves. On the mainland, good size fox cubs and roe deer youngsters are often recorded and even a badger cub once. Another healthy chick was measured and ringed in this nest whilst we battled against midges and ticks.

Ringing equipment

Rings and tags

A lot of the birds across West Scotland now have no wing tags making it difficult to tell who’s who but we now use chunky colour rings as well as the small silver BTO ring. If you have binoculars, camera or a scope you can still see the detail and let us know. Similarly some birds around still do have big, bright wing tags. The Irish reintroduction and east coast reintroductions are much more recent and still rely on sightings to understand how the birds are doing. If you see any birds with tags let us know colours and letters, we’ll be able to pass the info on and tell you the age and where the bird came from too. Tags and rings play an important part in dealing with the ongoing raptor persecution across the UK too, allowing us to monitor birds easily.

Thanks for reading again, hope you enjoyed the insight into the ringing process. Hopefully soon I will have some photos of the chicks in the nest itself I couldn’t get any as all of the ringing takes place up in the tree. Keep an eye for those coming soon – Rachel.

Ringing Week

Thanks to Mull Charters for the photograph

Thanks to Mull Charters for the photograph

One chick?

We’re into June already, and things are going by so quickly especially after our busiest week yet at Mull Eagle Watch. We were jam-packed for May bank holiday week and thankfully the weather was pretty good in the most part too. If I was to put money on how many chicks we have I’d go with one. We started out thinking Iona and Fingal may have two beaks to feed but I’m fairly confident going off the amount of prey going in and the movement on the nest that we now only have one chick. We’ve had some good views of the chick’s head amongst the nest material and the adults are regularly in and out of the territory. Not to worry though, one chick is still a great achievement if they manage to raise it to fledging. After a poor year across the island in 2013, with many nests failing and a lot only producing one youngster we’re confident that this year may be better overall. More details to come as we confirm nests in the next few weeks.

I’m very excited this week, as it’s eagle ringing week on Mull. Unfortunately we think our chick may be too young and too small to ring – as Iona and Fingal are a late nesting pair, our youngster will only be 4 weeks old on Wednesday. Chicks should usually be around 6 weeks old at ringing; almost fully grown in size but still a lot of feather growth and another 5/6 weeks on the nest. I’m lucky that I have the chance to attend another nest site ringing to view the process though and get a new series of photographs for the hide. I’ve not yet been to see an eagle ringing and this is something I’d ideally like to train to do so it’ll give me a great insight into the challenge of tree climbing and raptor ringing. Check back soon as I’ll post some photos at the end of the week.

IMG_5277 (Medium)

Captivating questions

We’ve had some great visitors over the last week. And with the children being off school, it‘s so important to encourage our young generation of conservationists, bird watchers and wildlife lovers – we’d be nowhere in the future without their minds and influence. So many brilliant questions about wildlife and eagles, some kids had such an in-depth knowledge already. One in particular sticks in my mind; a young boy who had a fascination for all predators, prey and hunting methods – both eagle species and the red fox were some of his favourites. Adults often get our predator versus prey relationship the wrong way around, and we have a tendency to blame our predators for everything. Usually though our predators can only survive if there’s lots of food for them – a classic example being the sparrowhawk; think yourself lucky if one visits your garden, don’t worry about the small birds!

My bat walk last week went well with a good turn out of adults and children. We had a lovely time in Aros Park learning about our bats, habitats, prey, woodland management and how to use a bat detector. It was a great evening, despite the midges. Looking forward to next week’s “Skydancer Spotting” afternoon, you can come along and join me at north Loch Frisa for a gentle walk – we’ll look for hen harriers, short-eared owls, eagles and more, maybe even some newts along the track…

IMG_5254

I have some school visits coming up for the hide, with Tobermory primary school coming out to see us on Thursday this week, looking forward to that, got some new activities planned for them too.

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) (1) (Medium)

There is plenty of wildlife to look out for at the minute; the flag irises are in full display and the foxgloves are beginning to show too and don’t forget to keep an eye for orchids around the island too. Lots of young birdlife around, greylag geese all have goslings in tow – great food for eagles. I’ve been watching a newly fledged family of starlings from my window learning what is edible and what isn’t and species like willow warbler and chiff chaff are still singing their hearts out.

Thanks again for reading– Rachel