Monthly Archives: September 2014

End of season

Just a quick blog post to say thank you to all who read our blog, followed us on Twitter or supported us on Facebook throughout the last six months! We’ve had a brilliant season here at Mull Eagle Watch with fantastic sightings of Iona and Fingal as they successfully raised a chick.

Also, a big thank you to anyone that visited us and left a donation, so much of the money we raise is fed directly back into the Mull and Iona Community, so you’ve helped us achieve a lot. I’m now finished for the autumn and winter, although trips will run to the end of September at the hide.

Thistle

We’ve also named our viewing hide youngster. Ulva Primary School was chosen this year to come up with ideas for the name. I visited them a few weeks ago to work with them and we thought about everything Scottish or anything that made them think of Mull. It’s really nice to follow on from the Glasgow Commonwealth games and the Year of Homecoming too.

We had great suggestions all round but the partnership narrowed it down and chose one they though most suitable for our female chick. Thistle it is! So we now have Iona, Fingal and Thistle for 2014, with our chick from last year called Orion. Thank you to Arwen, Kate and Issy at the primary school, all three of the girls thought of Thistle and what a great name.

Seasonal spectacles

The birds are having some great September weather, compared to our usual gales and rain so hopefully this will give all of our eagle youngsters around the island a head start for the harder seasons. September is a great time of the year for wildlife, so step outside and enjoy it.

Birds are on the move; soon we’ll hear geese overhead in big numbers, with barnacle geese heading over Mull toward places like the Isle of Islay and further south again to Caerlaverock WWT. Whooper swans will also be heading down the country from summer breeding areas in colder climes north. Fieldfare and redwing will also be arriving to appreciate our warmer, less extreme winter weather. Will it be a year for the waxwing or short-eared owl? Sometimes we get a bumper year of migrants, making for amazing wildlife watching.

Along with the bird movement we’re of course treated to the colour changes in our woodlands and the outburst of unfamiliar mushrooms and fungus below the canopy. Blackberries are exploding into the deep purple colour, ripe and ready to pick – make sure you always leave some behind for wildlife though! It’s not just the birds in the UK that make a meal of berries, but mammals like wood mice, pine marten, fox and badger, as well as deer of course often rely on fruit to boost their diet.

Seeing stars

Take a look at my Mull ranger blog for an update on the star gazing event I ran last week. Another thing to make the most of throughout autumn and winter is the dark sky. We’re very lucky across the Hebridean islands to have some great dark skies with little light pollution.

The Isle of Coll has been named as a dark sky community which is brilliant. September is great for stars and as a bonus our nights are still fairly warm, so stargazing is bearable for longer with the help of a hot drink and a woolly hat. There are so many ways to learn about the night sky now too, download one of the many free smart phone or tablet apps to help. Get the whole family outside and see something amazing!

Thanks for reading as always, I’ll post a few blogs over the autumn/winter season so watch out for them as they won’t be regular and we’ll be back with you in March 2015. Rachel 🙂

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Looking back – highlights and drama of the season

Mull eagle hide

Into my final full week now, I can’t believe how fast the season has gone by. It seems like only yesterday Iona settled on her new nest site to lay and begin incubation. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the entire six months and have been privileged to watch white-tailed eagles and other species so closely. Wildlife is a passion and you can never tire of seeing even the most regular species, let alone one of the largest eagles found in the whole world.

I thought I’d recap some of the highlights and my favourite memories from the hide before I head off for winter. Of course we don’t just focus on white-tailed eagles and some of our other sightings this year have been breath-taking. Golden eagles have regularly graced us with their presence, often a very secretive bird, we’ve been thrilled to see them soaring above Glen Seilisdeir, usually in disputes with ravens, buzzards and white-tailed eagles.

Early days

It was actually a very blustery early spring day when Iona finally decided which nest to use and settled down, obviously having laid an egg. The weather during late March clearly demonstrated one reason the new nest site may have been chosen, it was very sheltered; perfect protection from harsh winds and rain. Egg laying and incubating is such a key time in the eagle cycle, if this stage goes wrong the birds don’t get a second chance till the following year. Disturbance is a big issue at this critical time too and even a very short spell away from the eggs can mean disaster.

Thankfully everything went well for Iona and Fingal at this stage. Five weeks later and we had a chick. Behaviour changes dramatically following the hatching; adults still need to incubate but food is regularly brought in for the newly born chick. We watched daily as a variety of prey was fed gently to the chick, we saw greylag goose, seabird, mountain hare, rabbit, deer carrion, fish species and more, all carried into the nest site. One thing I remember clearly is Fingal carrying in a harbour seal placenta, he dropped this rather gruesome looking bundle into the nest and perched nearby showing off his – usually yellow – very red feet!

Growing up

Things develop very quickly when you’re a raptor and chicks across the island were fully grown only 6-7 weeks after hatching. I was very lucky this year to attend two eagle nest sites to watch the ringing process. It was fascinating to be underneath an active eagle nest, obviously not a regular occurrence! The prey remains, feathers and pellets littering the ground gave a detailed insight into the lives of each pair. Maybe someday it’ll be me climbing the tree to ring eaglets!

Leaving home

Our chick progressed nicely and we began to see her exercising those huge wings, whilst branching out to explore the nest site. At times this was unnerving for us and we watched with bated breath – again this is a very critical time for the eagle youngster, as often they make a mistake of taking off from the nest by the wind too early.

Thankfully this didn’t happen and our chick managed to cling onto the nest site and familiarity for 13 weeks – slightly longer than the average fledging time of 12 weeks. Another memorable moment happened whilst she was down on the ground, not quiet understanding the idea of flight. Both Iona and Fingal were on hand to give support, encouragement and food of course. Fingal brought a lovely silver mackerel in and we watched as the family enjoyed a meal together.

Good luck

Things are drawing to a close for me now, although John will still be running walks at the hide until the end of September. Right now our juvenile is still with Iona and Fingal, busy learning all she needs to know to survive winter alone. She’ll embark on her real life soon, heading off into Scotland and the unknown. She could cover huge distances; maybe she’ll take a fancy to the East Scotland or Ireland? We’ll keep our fingers crossed for her, as we know eagles have a lot to contend with these days, not only does she have to survive by finding enough prey but she has to avoid dangerous wind turbines and avoid the ongoing illegal raptor persecution.

I’m still around for a week so, and I’ll get another post out before I leave. Thanks for reading as usual, Rachel 🙂

Eagle heights

Silhouette of white tailed sea eagle

I returned to the eagle hide last Monday after a week off the island and what a treat I got for my first trip back. We were a select bunch that morning and after an introduction we set off for a walk along the forest track in search of our eagle family.

They are now spending much less time around the nest site and are to be found nearer the hunting area of Loch Scridain. We stopped to view the 2013 nest site and were thrilled to see our juvenile female roosting there. We had a good sighting before she readied herself for takeoff and took to the air. Carrying on further through the forest the track opens out over the stunning vista of the loch.

It was a very blustery day and our eagles were taking full advantage, our youngster appeared overhead, very low and demonstrated she knew exactly what to do with those huge 2.5m wings. She floated above us for minutes; what an amazing encounter with a bird we’ve watched grow up! It only got better when both Iona and Fingal came in on the wind to do the same thing, almost like they were having a wee look at us for a change and not the other way round. Wildlife is incredible but even better when you feel a connection like this one.

Going for gold

Some of you may know we are a green tourism business and for the last two years we have been awarded silver for our efforts to be sustainable, ethical and environmentally friendly. We focussed even harder this year and developed a detailed “green file” and came up with ideas for the future too. So, we are thrilled to let you know we have been awarded the GTBS Gold Award for 2014 following our visit a few weeks ago. This shows our dedication to the wilderness we work in and our aim to keep it that way, whilst having a minimum impact on the environment and the smallest carbon footprint possible. Hopefully we can continue to develop this and encourage other businesses on Mull to join in too.

We also had our mystery visitor from Visit Scotland recently too. They thoroughly enjoyed the trip and we held onto our five stars as an excellent wildlife experience.

Shelley, Orion and…

At the end of last week I made another trip to Ulva Primary School, a group I have seen a couple of times this season and thoroughly enjoy working with. They were chosen as the local school to name Iona and Fingal’s chick this year so I went along to spend an hour with them and gather their ideas.

We recapped things I had taught them about eagles earlier and they remembered everything really well! We then thought about some of the eagles that already have names on the island and matched up pairs and found the odd names out. I asked them to draw something that conjured up Scotland and home for them, with thistles, haggis, kilts, heather and Ben More amongst the ideas. I wanted our name to link in with themes of Scotland, the Commonwealth Games and the Year of Homecoming – and it’s safe to say we had some fantastic suggestions from the group.

John and I will narrow this down and hopefully we’ll have a name for our youngster by the end of the week. The previous names for the Glen Seilisdeir chicks are Shelley and Orion, both great names!

Some don’t like the idea of naming a wild, majestic bird like the white-tailed eagle and I wouldn’t appreciate it if every bird on the island had cute and fluffy names, but the benefits of getting children involved are brilliant. It’s worthwhile for our few “high-profile” birds I think.

Thanks for reading again. Only a few weeks till the end of my season now but time for a few more blog posts.

Rachel 🙂