Last Monday 27th July, myself and RSPB ranger John Clare witnessed the first ever flight of our eagle chick. The eaglet was due to turn 12 weeks old the following day and we’d usually expect chicks to fledge at around that age. We watched our youngster fly over the forest near the nest site, surprised to see the first flight going so well. The eaglet even managed to twist over in mid-air to threaten a buzzard which was coming too close! This flight backed up our thoughts on the sex of the chick, we’re pretty sure that she is a female due to size (females are up to 25 per cent larger than males). Throughout the day we enjoyed views of her back on the nest, she spent all day exercising and preening on an outer branch – maybe that flight was enough for one day! The adults, Iona and Fingal spent some time near the nest site for the afternoon and we witnessed them perched very close together looking very much like a couple, something we don’t see very often.
After such a good first flight it couldn’t all go swimmingly and we watched the fledged eagle crash land into conifer trees near the nest a few days later. She had been attempting to land on the nest itself and badly misjudged. This is natural and is all a learning process, it’ll take some practice to fully control that large wingspan, especially when dealing with trees. Since then she has spent some time down on the ground in the grassy clearing below the nest site. The weather hasn’t been great and may be making her reluctant to try flying again. The eagles look very vulture-like when they’re on the ground, demonstrating that they’re actually closely related. The image below is of Thistle, last year’s youngster, raised in the same nest site by Iona and Fingal. This is what our current eaglet will look like, although I’ve not managed to catch a photo of her yet!
Trips will be running throughout August, and John is likely to continue running walks to look for the eagle family into September and October. My position ends mid-August, so I will be leaving at a time when the fledged youngster is learning how to survive and find food. The chick will probably stay with Iona and Fingal into October or November, and will then begin to roam wider areas. This a natural process, eagles will cover huge areas in the first few years of their life. White-tailed eagles reach adulthood at around five years old and will then settle down to create their own territory. During the sub-adult stage white-tailed eagles are fairly gregarious and often form social groups or roosts, especially during the winter. So if you can brave the wintery weather, our colder months are a perfect time to watch eagles in the UK. Along with white-tailed eagles, Mull wildlife throughout autumn and winter is incredible – otters and golden eagles don’t go anywhere, and in addition we gain many wintering bird species. Believe it or not, we’re already on the lookout for migrant birds and we’ll notice some of our summer residents leaving soon too. And we haven’t even had a summer yet!
On most of our trips we’re seeing large numbers of red deer through the telescopes. These animals are mostly feeding higher up on the hillsides during summer in an attempt to avoid midges and flies. Red deer are a native species to the UK and are the largest species of deer we have, but due to the loss of our native predators like wolves, bear and lynx deer species are now present in very large numbers.
They’re always a pleasure to see and at this time of year many of the stags are still growing their antlers, which are covered in velvet for now. Deer antler is one the fastest growing materials in the mammal kingdom, increasing by 1cm per day! Despite being a great sight, deer numbers do need to be controlled, as they cause many issues within our ecosystems. In large numbers with no predators, they prevent natural woodland regeneration, damage heather moorland and shrub and increase erosion and flooding. They can also cause real damage to timber plantations across the UK. The survey figures suggest that on Mull alone we have around 12,000 red deer. We also have some small pockets of fallow deer (a non-native species). It won’t be long until the deer are moving to lower ground for the deer rutting season. Again, another great reason to visit Mull in the colder months. September and October here go by to the sound of roaring and rutting stags.
Thanks for reading as usual.