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.
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!
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!
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.
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 🙂