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

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