Monthly Archives: July 2014

Scottish success!

Still sitting…

Our chick is still in the nest! Probably not for long now though, as it turned 11 weeks old yesterday. We’re waiting with baited breath for that first flight – or jump as it can sometimes be. The adults, Iona and Fingal seem to be bringing in less prey. They’re still around the area, spending a lot of time perched nearby in a tree or the ridgeline, but it might be that they’re trying to encourage the chick to take that leap. Adult eagles don’t get much holiday time and so the faster the chick fledges the better. It will probably stick with them for a few more months and leave in October, giving Iona and Fingal some free time. Not for long though as they can begin pair bonding, nest building and territory defence as early as December or January.

We’re still getting great sightings at the hide. Our chick is much more visible now and this fantastic sunny weather makes for brilliant soaring and golden eagles have been up in the air too. We’ve also had some lovely butterflies about, with meadow brown and Scotch Argus of note recently.

Fantsatic weather at Gribun Cliffs

East coast celebrations

Absolutely brilliant to hear the latest from our friends over on the east coast of Scotland where the final reintroduction of white-tailed eagles took place. This came to an end in 2012, when enough birds had been brought over from Norway and released. They’re still being heavily monitored with the use of wing tags, leg rings and VHF radios. Last year saw the first successful breeding pair over there, although their chick disappeared in April this year. The same pair this season have raised another chick. It was ringed a few weeks ago and East Coast Officer, Rhian Evans thinks it might be a male. Let’s wish him every success for fledging. Unfortunately, the eagles have lots to contend with including wind turbines and illegal persecution. Hopefully the eagles will increase on this season’s three nesting attempts across east and central Scotland in 2015.

Springwatch youngster has flown

You might have seen our famous webcam star in the news again recently. Following the issue of the intruding eagle and the chick’s 30ft drop adventure, it has successfully fledged. She has been seen in flight within the territory and is doing fantastically well. She has been one of the stars of favourite TV show, Springwatch this year, along with featuring on the UK’s first ever white-tailed eagle webcam, available for the whole world to see.

Name that eagle

We’re now asking you to get involved; can you contribute a name idea for this chick?

We’d like it to be appropriate for an eagle and have something to do with Scotland to go along with the Scottish Homecoming 2014, the Commonwealth Games and all the other exciting things happening here this year. Maybe something Gaelic or traditional? If you have an idea you can send it to us via a private message on our facebook page, leave a comment on this blog post or even email me on mull.ranger@forestry.gsi.go.uk.

You’ll get entered into a pot; we’ll then shortlist our favourites and let everyone vote online. Get naming!

August – Show extravaganza

We’ve got lots going on over the next month so if you’re about on the island come and join us. I’ll be at both Bunessan and Salen shows in August (1st and 7th August). I’ll be there for Mull Eagle Watch with some lovely displays and some eagle related activities for children. On the same stall we’ll have the Ranger Service display and again, lots of activities for the children to enjoy. Come and say hi, ask questions and just have a chat.

If you enjoy a good blog, we have a Mull and Iona Ranger Service blog now too. Follow us to keep up to date on events, shows, activities, talks, walks and more. Look out for some lovely local photos and posts on the recent goings-on.

Mull Eagle Watch Trips

Still lots going on the hide too so call 01680 812556 to book in. Great for families, we’ve got plenty to keep the children occupied throughout the trip and hopefully they’ll get to see one of the largest eagles in the world! Even after our chick has flown the nest we’ll still have good sightings and we’ll often take a wander through our forest to see what we can find.

Mull Eagle Watch

Thanks for reading. I’m looking forward to those eagle name ideas!

Rachel 🙂

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Nerve-racking nature

close up

We’re nearing that time of year once again when our eaglets begin to edge closer to the precarious outskirts of their nest. That innate instinct to take the jump from the relative safety of the only home it has known for twelve weeks takes over. We’ve seen evidence of this from both our stars this year; our youngster at the hide has begun exercising those huge wings and the chick on the webcam had been branching out.

My heart was in my stomach as I checked up on her earlier in the week to see her gripping tightly to a nearby branch whilst her wings were attempting to take the lift of the heavy gale.  Both of these sites are behind in the process compared to others, one well known pair have managed to fledge their chicks and they’ve been seen in flight alongside the proud parents.

Tough winters

Iona and Fingal’s chick should still have a couple of weeks to go before taking the leap but lots of important practice is taking place. Building up those pectoral muscles is key; they must be strong enough to support the youngster after fledging. A chick that isn’t fit enough will really struggle to survive after leaving its parents.

The first winter after fledging is difficult as with most wild animals. Winters can be tough and when you have little experience in life, and things can go easily wrong – from the Isle of Rum reintroduction a survival rate was estimated between 50 and 80 per cent. This was for reintroduced birds without parents there to guide, and so for wild fledged birds the figures could be very different. But it does show that in some cases half of our juveniles may not make it through to spring.

Amazing adaptations

Thankfully white-tailed eagles do have some adaptations to make things easier. When feeding on a carrion carcass or a large prey item lots of food can be taken into their crop. This is a little like a storage compartment, before the stomach and can hold enough prey to last for 3 or 4 days, a great way to withstand bad winter storms. Across Scotland carrion is often readily available in the hills.

Our over-population of deer means many don’t find enough food and die. Additionally, deer stalking provides unwanted remains for carrion eaters to feast on. Some scientists think that an eagle’s eyesight can be up to 8 times better than ours, with much more detail at longer distances. This is the main tool in seeking out prey or carrion. Surprisingly, smell isn’t as important, even when seeking out a dead animal! Only one family of raptors has been confirmed to use scent to find food – the new world vultures, for example the turkey vulture!

Here in Scotland our eagles are lucky compared to some of the other countries they inhabit. Unlike ospreys here they don’t migrate and stay in their territories all year round, the climate is tough but not too extreme and prey is there if they can find it or catch it! In other parts or Europe and also Japan white-tailed eagles have learnt to migrate south to find food and seek out more acceptable weather.

Adventure of the week…

This time we’re focussing on a couple of lovely RPSB reserves over on the Isle of Islay, one of our nearby Hebridean islands. Loch Gruinart and the Oa are brilliant sites to visit for wildlife and landscapes.

Loch Gruinart is known for its autumn and winter goose spectacle, with thousands of barnacle and white-fronted geese arriving from their northern breeding areas. Throughout summer though the reserve is just as interesting with woodland and moorland guided walks. Listen out for corncrakes and look out for rare butterflies like marsh-fritillary.

The Oa is known for spectacular views and coastal cliffs, perfect for golden eagles and chough. Islay is a laid back and welcoming island, well worth the trip.

Coming up…

I’ve another event coming up next week for those of you on the island; a guided walk on the Isle of Ulva. This is a great one for wildlife including eagles and hen harriers, wildflowers, seabirds and marine mammals. Also an added bonus of some interesting geology like basalt rock columns and even history, the isle has some fantastic links and a monument linked to the ownership and highland clearances.
Tuesday 22nd July – 10am-3pm, £7.50/£5 (plus Ulva ferry fare)
Give me a call to book on 07540792650 or 01680 300640

Thanks for reading! Rachel

Small but mighty

Enjoying a break from rock poolingI thought I’d treat you all with two blog posts in one week for a change, but less of our larger wildlife and more of the smaller critters. I’ve just got in from a glorious few hours looking for signs of otters and other shoreline wildlife with a lovely couple of families. The children were thoroughly engrossed in learning, exploring and being at home with nature. Working with our younger generations is one of my favourite parts of the job, it’s brilliant to look at wildlife and simply enjoy it as it is – getting back to rock pooling, paddling, catching tadpoles and exploring the smaller things are some of the best ways to do that.

Shoreline search

We got out our nets, tubs and containers, clip boards and binoculars before trooping off to search. We looked carefully about the sandy shore line for tracks and prints, finding lots of bird tracks, although no otter tracks. We fished in rock pools to find crabs, beadlet anemones, limpets, barnacles, prawns, shrimps, cockles, fish, hermit crabs and more. We also hunted out some otter prey remains, finding lots of crab claws. We found lots of goose poo, which is basically just grass; lots of “erghhhs” and “yuks” as I pulled one apart to show them – a goose can eat more grass than a sheep! It’s safe to say we all left with wet feet, dirty hands and shell filled pockets and we loved it.

Homes for nature

The weather has been fantastic over the last few days and we’ve had plenty going on at the hide. We had a coach party yesterday join us along with lots of dragonflies and butterflies enjoying the sunshine including dark green fritillaries, golden-ringed dragonflies and common hawkers.

bug homes
I’ve been working on improving our area for wildlife and providing some homes for our smaller wee beasties. We now have some shelter for slow worms, lizards or adders – they love to hide under things for shelter and the heat. We’ve also just added two new bug homes which will hopefully become home to some bees, beetles, spiders, lacewings or ladybirds. Our larger insects like the predatory dragonflies rely on the small insects for food, so hopefully we can help them out. We already had some bird boxes up along with our barn owl/tawny owl nesting boxes.

It’s easy to make a difference by doing something simple, you don’t even need to spend any money, and you can make bug homes like ours with natural materials you can find in your garden or park. If everyone in the UK had a little space for wildlife in their back garden we’d have a huge nature reserve that we’re all a part of! How about a home for hedgehogs or a frog hotel?

Thank you

A lovely thank you

I was over the moon to receive a thank you card from Tobermory Primary school for my visit; they made a homemade eagle card with lots of lovely drawings. All the drawings have a huge yellow beak and they also have yellow feet – well remembered and they are great white-tailed eagles! Here are a few photos showcasing the art.

Thanks for reading! Rachel

Further adventures on Mull

Well the weather here recently has been classic Isle of Mull – very changeable with heavy showers and sunny spells. July often seems to be monsoon month here but often the wildlife appreciates the downpours as they create short spurts of activity. Insects launch themselves into the skies when the rain clears and the swallows, house martins, pied wagtails and more all follow to cache in on the bounty. It also designs some impressive landscapes with rushes of water tumbling down the hills and over our many cliffs, quickly reaching the lochs. We all crave those perfect days with clear blue skies and sunshine, but I find that our dramatic weather can remind you where you actually are, matching our mountains and rugged coastline. We should learn to appreciate it that little bit more.

Caliach Point

Last Thursday I ran a guided walk and sea-watching session from Calgary Bay round to Caliach Point. It was a great trip despite it being extremely windy; the sea was pretty choppy making it hard to spot any marine mammals. We had a lovely walk though, focussing a lot on our wildflowers. We were joined by a pair of kestrels whilst they used the wind to look for prey linking back to their very apt name; the Windhover. Great to see this little raptor, we don’t have huge numbers here on Mull and they are declining fairly rapidly across the UK. Lots of ravens and hooded crows about and we had some good sightings of gannets, Manx shearwaters and kittiwakes over the sea. This area is usually a nesting site for fulmars, but not one was seen. I did hear of two American mink spotted there the same week though.

Perseverance paid off…

Friday morning was a wash out but thankfully we weren’t running a trip, any sensible eagle would have been sat patiently waiting out the weather. But we persevered for the afternoon session, and four hardy visitors joined me with their fingers crossed it would clear as forecast. And it did! We had a great afternoon with both adults about the area giving us some fantastic sights through the scope. We even had Iona and Fingal perched side by side companionably, we don’t see that very often. Another visitor we’re seeing a good deal at the minute is the wee sparrowhawk, a brilliant raptor. We had a close encounter as the male shot by the shelter, making a dizzying turn when he realised we were all engrossed, he then flew up above the hide to alight on a tree branch for a second, maybe recouping his nerves before powering off again. It’s always a privilege to have a visit from these birds of prey.

Growing up fast

Our chick will be nine weeks old later in the week and coming up to an important time. Fledging probably won’t take place until week twelve but, prior to that nerve wracking moment, the chick will begin to exercise, pumping those wings to develop the all important flight muscles. We’ll see the chick ‘branch-out’ too, exploring of the nest area and close braches will give the chick some experience in moving about and managing that huge 8ft wingspan. This is all rather edge of your seat, it’s very easy for this to go wrong when you’re pretty high up in a tree and still learning so we’ll be keeping a close eye on our youngster over the next few weeks. Later in the season we’ll have a local primary school group come up with a name for the eagle hide chick to go with Orion, our chick from last year. This is another brilliant way to get local youngsters enthused about the eagles and our wildlife. Don’t forget though we’ll be giving you the chance to name Sula and Cuin’s chick – the webcam star.

Coming up…

This week we’ll be at the hide enjoying our eagles, and there are plenty of spaces left for our trips. They run daily, Mon-Fri at 10am or 1pm. Easy access to our hide with binoculars and telescopes is provided. We’ll tell you all you need to know about white-tailed eagles and any other wildlife we might encounter. Lots to see and do and we’re great for children too! Call 01680 812556 to enquire or book in.

Also, Thursday this week join me to hunt for some otters on the shores of Loch Na Keal. It’s another event that’s great for all, everyone welcome. We’ll spend some time looking for otters, learning about them and we’ll also seek out some tracks and signs along the coast. For some more info call 07540 792650.

Adventure of the Week goes to…Loch Sunart & Garbh Eilean Wildlife Hide

Garbh Eilean Wildlife Hide

Not too far from our lovely isle, you can visit Loch Sunart – an absolutely breathtaking sea loch and the Forestry Commission Scotland’s wildlife hide. Loch Sunart stretches for around 20 miles, bordered by stunning scenery of Morvern and Ardnamurchan, it is a brilliant place for wildlife and has recently been proposed for a Marine Protected Area for its important marine environment and the impact it has on the wider seas nearby.

Garbh Eiliean Wildlife Hide

The FCS wildlife viewing hide is superb and having spent some time there in February this year I can highly recommend it. The hide fits in perfectly with the surrounding environment, made from all natural materials. With the comfort and protection from the often harsh weather the hide offers you can happily enjoy species like otter, white-tailed eagle, common seals, red-breasted merganser, divers, the local heronry and more. Well worth a visit and great for all; binoculars provided and you’ll also have the added benefit of a ranger’s knowledge if you pop by on a Monday!

Thanks for reading as usual – Rachel

Eagle Antics

We’re still speeding through the season, into July already and we’ve even had some glorious sunny days to show for it. Our eagle chick is eight weeks old on Wednesday this week and seems to be doing very well. Just yesterday I had some great views of it stretching and exercising those huge wings in the nest. On very hot days it often hunkers down into the nest to keep cool, raptors can only pant to lose heat, they aren’t able to sweat like we can. Despite the nest being quite sheltered from most conditions it is difficult to shelter from the sun at the very top of a tree! Still a few weeks left in the nest, most chicks fledge at around 12 weeks old and even after that we’ll still get brilliant sightings in the area. Other wildlife sightings at the minute include some brilliant dragonflies with lots of golden ringed – the longest British species. We’ve also had a small pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly. Plenty of buzzards and golden eagles, but also some great views of both male and female sparrowhawks with a few sightings of prey being carried.

Seasonal Seals

Every year white-tailed eagles make the most of seasonal food and at the minute we’re seeing Iona and Fingal bring in common seal afterbirths (the placenta and other gory treats!). Lots of people find this a bit disgusting, but if you take it from an eagles point of view it’s an excellent food source; it won’t run away, not too heavy to carry in flight to a nest and it’ll be extremely nutritional for our chick. Iona dropped into the nest on Friday after approaching the area like an arrow; she was going so fast we couldn’t tell what she had been carrying. She was closely followed by Fingal carrying a rather unpleasant looking food parcel which he ungraciously dumped with the youngster. We had great views of his very red feet whilst he perched nearby. We often see “red-tailed eagles” about at this time of year instead of that lovely crisp white tail. This demonstrates how adaptable the generalist predators are, taking what they can when it’s available.

Mugshot of the intruder

Mugshot of the intruder

Head for heights?

Our webcam proved extremely useful over the weekend, giving us a valuable insight into what can go wrong at eagle nest sites. First of all we had someone share a screen grab of the nest site with an intruding bird sat on the nest. We’ve seen this couple of times at the hide but the adults were always on hand to defend the nest and chase off the intruder. We’re not 100 per cent sure if the intruder is related, but it was action stations yesterday to rescue the chick. Unfortunately it had fallen about 30ft from the nest to the forest floor below. It could be that the intruding bird spooked the youngster or actually pushed it out; we’re hoping we can recover some footage and check what happened. Thankfully because of the webcam we could rush in with a rescue bid on Monday. The chick appeared healthy and was returned to the nest by FCS climbers. It was left happily feeding on some rabbit and salmon. Great outcome as every chick is important in a population of eagles – they take such a long time to build up their numbers. Thanks to everyone that was involved!

Mystery Shopper

Great news for all of us involved with Mull Eagle Watch as we flew through our mystery shopper visit and report again. It’s a brilliant feeling to know all that hard work pays off. The hide and trips are highly rated and we hope this shines through to all of our visitors. We’re into Scottish school holidays now, shortly followed by the English kids, so July and August will be busy which is great, just need some nice weather to go alongside.

Coming up…

Tomorrow I’m running a Ranger Service event starting from Calgary Bay. We’ll head off for a wander towards Caliach Point and stop plenty of times to “Sea Watch”. We’ll look for marine life including minke whales, basking sharks, dolphins, porpoise, seals and seabirds. Often scanning the area from the shore is just as productive as watching from a boat with the added bonus of wildflowers, butterflies, dragonflies and more. If you’re reading this and would like to come along give me a call on 07540 792 650 for some more information.

Next week on Thursday 10th I’m running “Out and About for Otters”. This one is great for both adults and children – a definite hit with families. We’ll spend some time on the shore of Loch Na Keal learning about otters, looking for signs and playing some games.

“Adventure of the Week” is going to be a new little feature for MEW. Every week we’ll recommend a reserve, forest, woodland or beach to visit. Some may be local to Mull; others might be further afield in West Scotland. This is a great way to support similar sites across the area that provide amazing places to view wildlife, get outdoors and enjoy the summer. Look out for our info board at the hide and our posts on Facebook/Twitter for these ideas.

Adventure of the Week this week goes to…Scottish Beaver Trial – Knapdale

european beaverA great family adventure for the beginning of the school holidays. Get outdoors to enjoy the beaver trail, explore the area and become beaver detectives to spot busy beaver signs. The Beaver Trial has been a great success, similar to our white-tailed eagle reintroduction – amazing to get some of our lost species back into the UK. Visit for the insight into a stunning mammal and the chance to see them in action – if you’re very lucky and patient!

See the Scottish Beaver Trial website.

The Beaver Trial is run in partnership with Forestry Commission Scotland (just like MEW), Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Royal ZSL.

Thanks for reading as usual, hope you enjoyed it – Rachel