Thursday June 29th – Ringed & Ready to explore the wider world!
How time flies! The two eaglets/chicks at our West Ardhu viewing hide are now 9 weeks old – they’re managing to feed themselves with prey in the nest, they’re standing up and exercising their enormous wing span (over 8ft) and they are almost fully grown!
On 7th June the team of tree climbing bird ringers ascended the nest tree within the North West Community Woodland to ring the youngsters. At the time they were just coming up to the 6 week stage. We walked toward the nest tree and got great views of Hope (Yellow C) as she was perching on the edge of the nest, she waited till the last moment before taking to the air – you can see how easy it would have been to target White-tailed eagles and shoot adults eagles, no wonder we wiped them out!
Both Star (male) and Hope (female) took to the skies above the eyrie to keep an eye on us, they soared above us with a pair of local buzzards to keep them company or to irritate them… The adults remained in the air and called throughout but they’re very unlikely to ever cause harm to the ringers by attacking. Whilst they rode the thermals the ringing team got started climbing the large Sitka spruce conifer to reach the two chicks, whom at the this point were both playing dead.
From our view point looking into the nest we couldn’t make out if their were still two chicks; I was starting to panic something had gone wrong. But thankfully the slightly smaller youngster was almost completely hidden under the wing of it’s sibling – phew! The ringers reached the eaglets and got to work, firstly securing the chicks to make sure they wouldn’t fall or dive off the nest.
The chicks are measured and weighed which gives us a good indication of their body condition and they each get two rings (one on each leg). A larger coloured ring gives us the chance of receiving records back from live birds – the colour combination tells us the year the bird hatched and if you can get a good image of the ring we can trace the individuals back to location and family history too. The smaller silver ring is the British Trust for Ornithology ring, which is standard across ringing programmes, although the size varies.
The eagles had two fulmars on the nest as prey, ready to become a quick meal for the chicks. Fulmars are basically a mini albatross – a member of the tuberose seabird family and are superb aerial masters so we’re reminded how excellent a hunter the White-tailed eagle really is. We also left a roadkill rabbit behind for the family, just incase we interfered with their hunting time or energy levels. We then left them in peace and they were back to normal the following day.
Growing up fast
The two eaglets are now so big many of our visitors are mistaking them for the adults in the scopes, especially when the visibility isn’t great in the poor weather. White-tailed eagle chicks are usually fully grown when the reach 10 weeks old, so these two are almost there. They are now standing up in the nest and flapping a lot to build up their flight muscles, so we’re getting great views of them from our hide.
It won’t be long before they begin to ‘branch out’ and explore beyond the nest on the surrounding branches. This part is very nerve-wracking for us as the wind can easily catch them unawares, or they can misjudge a movement and leave the nest before they intended. We’ll keep our fingers and toes crossed that all goes well and they’ll hopefully fledge when they’re around 12-13 weeks old. They’re almost ready to explore the wider world and realise there’s more to life than their nest.
Once fledged, the youngsters will remain in the area for a few months to learn from their parents. The nest site will often be used as a familiar roosting location and so we should still get really good sightings of the family into August.
Saga of Sea Eagles – the man behind the re-introduction
On 14th June, a cruise ship changed plans last minute thanks to the volatile Hebridean weather so we hosted a trip for 22 of their guests at West Ardhu. We were thrilled to realise John A Love was among their number – he was instrumental to the re-introduction of the White-tailed eagle on the Isle of Rum and is considered to be an expert on the species. His book ‘Saga of Sea Eagles’ is a great read and I’ve a very well thumbed copy! He was a pleasure to meet, and I’m sure we’re all very thankful for his work in bringing back the ‘flying barn door’.
John Love and myself at West Ardhu
Of course, during our trips we watch out for all wildlife including birds, wild flowers and insects, so we’ve always got something to enjoy if the eagles are laying low. We spot our local buzzards on most trips, another great raptor species and success story following their large population increase. Recently we’ve been seeing the more secretive corvid species in the woodland; the jay. Siskins, grey wagtail and wren are regulars for us too.
We’ve also marvelled at an incredible parasitic wasp species, commonly known as the ‘sabre wasp’. The female of the species is the largest British wasp species, with her huge ovipositor. They look rather intimidating, but are harmless to humans. They search for the larvae of their host species deep within dead wood, and drill down to lay their eggs – this can take over 30 minutes!
Thanks for reading, back again sooner this time! Meanwhile, head over to read Meryl’s RSPB blog about Iona and Fingal, who are raising one chick in Tiroran Community Forest.
If you’re visiting the island and would like to join a Mull Eagle Watch tour, you can call 01680 812556 or call into Craignure Visit Scotland to book.