Monthly Archives: June 2016

Easy Living

The white-tailed eagle family at NWMCWC’s West Ardhu site is ticking along at a steady pace.

The chick, now nine weeks old, is both well grown and well fed. He only has one more week of growing to get through before attention turns to his first flight.

For the last ten days “Star” has maintained a stoic presence by his nest. “Hope” is often away, and when she returns, she is mostly empty-handed (so to speak).

Though we cannot see what the eagles have in their larder from the hide, I get the impression that the hunting is good and the living is easy.

When watching the adult eagles, it strikes me that they have very different “personalities”. Further, unless they are united by a common cause – such as the need to protect their nest, they seem to work to a rather individual schedule.

White-tailed eagles pair for life. At up to 30-years in the wild, this can represent a very long and productive relationship indeed.

However, unlike many of the other socially monogamous birds that I have observed, I have never seen them preen one another [allopreening] or demonstrate anything that could be interpreted through human eyes as affection, now that the main pairing period is over.

They sometimes perch close – but I have not yet seen them side by side. They occasionally vocalise together or engage in a brief bout of mutual soaring, but that’s about as saucy as it gets at this time of year.

If I’m honest, they treat each other with what appears to be a mixture of tolerance and indifference.

I don’t see the continuous pair-bond reinforcing behaviour that is so obvious in parrots or cranes for example.

I suppose the eagles are just a bit more subtle about it, and don’t engage in Public Displays of Affection?!

Hope seems to have a more confident and curious attitude than her partner. This week, for the first time, we were able to enjoy prolonged views of her on the ground in front of the hide.

The huge talons of a white-tailed eagle give it a somewhat “considered” gait when it wanders through the brash.

Watching the majestic Hope tootle about like an extra-large chicken certainly raised a smile or two from the group. I’m not sure what she was up to – looking for small mammals, possibly.

She had that fluffy, mischievous look about her that birds sometimes get when they’re really interested in something.

Star, meanwhile, has been busy causing traffic pile-ups on the Dervaig hairpin bends.

Tom (my work experience student) and I were driving back from a Ranger Service drop-in at the Torr hide.

As we hit the highest part of the road, I almost had to swerve to avoid Star – who looked like he was on course to fly through my side window!

There were quite a few cars and campers about, so the scramble was on for everyone to get off the road safely and get their optics out.

I often wonder if the eagles are able to recognise my van, crawling like a wee green snail up to the hide every day.

It was an incredible encounter. Star stayed with us all for quite some time before floating back to his family at West Ardhu.

IMG_8316

Here are Star [top] and Hope [bottom] engaging in a spot of mutual soaring!

Remember, booking is essential if you would like to join a trip. The number to contact is: 01680 812 556

Stephanie Cope

Community Ranger for Mull Eagle Watch

To get the latest from our sister site at Tiroran Community Forest, please see:

https://www.rspb.org.uk/community/wildlife/b/mulleagles/default.aspx

Running Rings

My goodness, what a busy – but exciting –  few weeks it’s been.

We’ve had primary school visits, beautiful weather, sensational views of the eagles… and of course, the ringing of the chicks!

At West Ardhu, the single chick was fitted with its leg rings on Tuesday June 7th.

As the team arrived, “Hope” [the female eagle] was away hunting and “Star” [the male eagle] was on babysitting duty.

It had been a quiet sort of day, but gloriously sunny and warm. As a result, Star was half asleep when the team approached his stand of conifers – it must have been quite a rude awakening for him?!

Once he realised what was happening, he lurched out of his tree and started to circle, calling, directly in front of the hide.

There are several pockets of plantation conifers left standing at West Ardhu. Each one has its own resident pair of buzzards, and these neighbours were quick to notice that something was amiss with their larger cousin.

The buzzard pair that live opposite the eagle nest were first on the scene, launching a very confident and persistent attack.

On the one hand, Star was trying his best to watch what was going on at his nest – but on the other, he was being mobbed and shunted by the buzzards, who simply wouldn’t leave him alone.

Star kept flashing his talons, but in his distracted state, this threat was having little effect on his antagonists.

I found myself looking around, wondering where his mate was. When push comes to shove, it is usually Hope that escorts any intruders off the premises: she doesn’t mess about when it comes to “chucking-out time”.

I knew that she had returned when I saw a large shadow streak across the escarpment to the left of the hide.

Looking up, Hope had her wings pulled in and was heading directly for her mate. When she arrived, the two of them circled so close together it seemed that they were almost touching.

The buzzards, knowing that discretion is the better part of valour, discreetly piped down and split the scene.

Meanwhile at the nest, ringers Rachel and Lewis were faced with a very indignant seven-week old eaglet.

In most cases, after an initial nod to bravery, eagle chicks resign themselves to their fate and sit quietly during the ringing process.

By all accounts, Star and Hope’s chick was “a feisty one”. This was corroborated by Rachel’s rather sore looking arms (!)

I couldn’t help but smile at this, thinking of his mother and her no-nonsense attitude.

Initial measurements suggest that this chick is a male – but we will need to wait for the DNA sexing results to know for sure.

Star and Hope stayed close to their nest throughout, and returned quickly once the ringers had moved away. By the following morning, normal service had resumed.

Elsewhere in Scotland, Lewis and Rachel have been busy fitting very different rings… They were married on Saturday!

Rachel is, in fact, my former senior keeper from the bird section at Bristol Zoo. It was an interesting combination of strange and lovely to bump into her at an eagle nest on Mull?!

I’m sure you’ll all join me in wishing her and Lewis every happiness together.

If you would like to visit the eagles and learn more about their lives here on Mull, please contact: 01680 812 556

Stephanie Cope

Community Ranger for Mull Eagle Watch.

Now, as is often the case in life, we must go from happiness to sadness: there is also ringing news from our sister site at Tiroran Community Forest.

Though Fingal and Iona still have one very healthy chick, unfortunately, the smaller of the two was found dead on the nest.

You can find out more here:

http://www.rspb.org.uk/community/wildlife/b/mulleagles/archive/2016/06/13/all-was-going-so-well-until.aspx