Author Archives: Forestry Commission Scotland

Checking in for duty

Hello everybody,

This is just a short post to introduce myself and update you on developments with Mull Eagle Watch for 2016.

I am one of the two rangers that will be leading hide visits to view the eagles this year.

My name is Stephanie Cope, and I will be largely based at the West Ardhu site (near Dervaig) where our first hide is being generously hosted by North West Mull Community Woodlands.

My colleague, Debby Thorne of the RSPB, will be taking the lead at the Tiroran Community Forest site (towards the south of Mull) where our second hide will be hosted, courtesy of South West Mull and Iona Development.

I’m delighted to confirm that Mull Eagle Watch will be accepting bookings for hide visits to both sites from the 4th of April 2016. To book call: 01680 812 556.

White-tailed sea eagle in flight

I’ve worked on Mull for almost four years as a wildlife guide, but this will be my first season with the Mull and Iona Ranger Service and Eagle Watch.

On Friday, I accompanied Jan Dunlop to go and visit the birds at West Ardhu. The female was sitting tight as it was rather wet and blustery. She’s been incubating for a couple of weeks already, and so far, everything looks just as it should.

I have a hunch that this pair will be really enjoyable to work with; they already have something of a reputation for being nosy parkers!

Apparently, the birds take a keen interest in forestry operations within their territory and over successive years have always chosen to nest close to the most active areas.

Who knows – perhaps they’re working towards their HNC!

Our new hides are coming along nicely – thanks to the efforts of the respective community forest teams, and both offer an excellent view of the nests and surrounding airspace.

So, here’s to an exciting season full of fun, fly-bys and possibly Fulmars… judging by what was on the menu at West Ardhu last season (!)

I look forward to welcoming you to our new sites, and sharing the story of our partnership.

Stephanie Cope

Mull and Iona Ranger for the Eagle Watch

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Sad news

mull eagle chick

Photo by John Clare/RSPB

We’ve just had some very sad news in from our friends at RSPB Scotland on Mull. The young sea eagle which fledged from the Mull Eagle Watch site at Tiroran this year has been found dead – it appears the young eagle has died of natural causes and shows just how tough it can be out there for young eagles in their first winter.

The team over in Mull remember many days watching the young eagle taking her first flights and practising hunting with seaweed along the shoreline of Loch Scridain. The youngster was the only chick to be reared at the viewing site this year.

Remembering the eaglet

We wanted to share these lovely shots of the chick when she was still in the nest. As you can see, she certainly had a feisty spirit!

mull chick

Photo by Rachel Moore/RSPB

mull chick 2

Photo by Rachel Moore/RSPB

The photos were taken by Rachel Moore who was helping the RSPB & FCS ring her under SNH licence in June 2015. In the first photo, you can see some prey remains including a fish and a rabbit. She was about 6 weeks old at that stage and had another 4 weeks of growth before she was fully grown. Another 2 weeks after that and she was ready for her first flight. In her short life, she gave a lot of pleasure to a lot of visitors to the Mull Eagle Watch hide.

Her parents Fingal and Iona will already be prospecting their nest sites for next year. Life goes on for them. We wish them good luck for 2016.

Autumn update

We’re deep into autumn here in the Hebrides, battling regular gale force winds and torrential rain. We’ve had some flooding across Tobermory main street and drastic landslides along the Gribun cliff road just showing how powerful weather and nature can be. I enjoyed my first wintery frost on an early morning start this week too, something I always relish; it just feels so fresh, although it was a one off and we were quickly back to the warmer rain. I thought I’d give you all an autumn blog post, despite Mull Eagle Watch being closed for the season. We’ll be opening again at the end of March 2015 – please check details closer to the time, for trip times, locations and bookings. In the mean time though I thought I’d share some goings on from Mull and the Hebrides.

City lights

David Sexton our Mull RSPB Officer, Stuart Findlay our Mull FCS Forester and myself attended the Scottish Thistle Awards regional ceremony on Friday 7th. We were shortlisted under the “Warmest Welcome” category and so off we went to the big city lights of Glasgow to enjoy a lovely lunch and the awards themselves. Mackinlay Kidd were the winners of our category, and a big well done to them. Despite not winning, we are still thrilled to have been shortlisted and of course we’ll try our luck again next year! The lunch menu was fantastic, with local Scottish produce and mouthwatering venison, worth the journey.

We’re now looking forward to November 20th when the whole partnership are off to Edinburgh for the Nature of Scotland awards evening, we’re shortlisted under the innovation category. It’ll be a great night no matter the outcome and a brilliant chance to meet lots of likeminded organisations working to save nature across Scotland. Chris Packham is host, which is very exciting, a well-known figure in nature conservation.

community hide

Community wildlife hide

Back on Mull itself and exciting things have been happening here too. Laing O’Rourke and Scottish Water have donated a brilliant new community wildlife viewing hide to the island following the ongoing water and road works between Salen and Craignure. The hide is situated at Fishnish overlooking the Sound of Mull. Mull Otter Group, Mull and Iona Ranger Service, Mull Eagle Watch, RSPB, the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust and the Forestry Commission Scotland are all involved. We had a great opening day with lovely food from the Isle of Mull Hotel and stalls from all organisations, despite the horrendous weather the day was a success.

The hide is now open for everyone, drop by and watch out for otters, eagles, seabirds, and cetaceans like harbour porpoise and bottlenose dolphins. If you do go by be sure to send us your sightings via Facebook – soon we’ll have a sightings board and visitor book inside. Next season the hide will give some new opportunities for school use and events too, brilliant for the island and its visitors. Read more about the hide in this Argyll News article.

Difficult times

This is a tough time for many species, but especially for this years youngsters as they fight to learn the all important life skills needed to survive. Over the last week I had three barn owl sightings in two days which is great news; ongoing wind and rain is bad news if you happen to be a barn owl. Silent flight means the species loses out on waterproofing, and they weigh very little, most of the body being feathers! Needing food everyday to survive, these owls can succumb very easily during poor conditions. Thankfully when things look up they can breed as early as January or February, depending on food availability and body condition, they can often raise two broods, very unlike our eagles, limited to one clutch and usually only one or two eggs.

fungi

Seasonal sights

Despite being a tough time for wildlife, autumn is also a perfect time to get outside and enjoy it. It’s a season of change and movement. An array of species arrive, whilst others leave to grace warmer shores. Migration is a natural wonder and the species are always eagerly awaited, whatever the weather. The arrival of the swallow heralds spring just as whooper swans, redwings, fieldfare and geese brighten up those increasingly shorter days in autumn. Ospreys leave us for colder months, heading to sunny and fruitful Gambia and Senegal, but thankfully our white-tailed eagles brave the wintery weather and hold their territories all year round. Juveniles and sub-adults are less tied, able to cover huge areas, but often they group together in a communal roost, offering up a chance to see maybe five or six domineering eagles at once.

Our other iconic Scottish species don’t pack their bags either, so otters, golden eagles and red deer are still easily spotted if you look in the right places. Even better though, are the less admired seasonal highlights. As the trees lose their foliage an awe inspiring range of lichens and mosses are exposed, with fascinating life cycles they deserve a look. Fungus push through the leaf litter all over the woodland floor and deadwood, as always, is teeming with life. Even moths are still active, some right through December despite the temperatures. So use autumn as a great excuse to get out there, to get muddy and to learn.

Iona, Fingal & Thistle

I took a drive to Glen Seilisdeir over the weekend to see if I could spot any members of our eagle family. The sun was already dropping by the time I reached the territory; as always I got sidetracked on route, but I can’t complain because the Mull wildlife didn’t disappoint. A golden eagle was showing brilliantly through the glen road, very low and close. We also spotted a male hen harrier and a further two harriers which were probably a juvenile male and female with a definite size difference. No sign of Iona, Fingal or Thistle but undoubtedly they’ll be around. It might well be that Thistle, by now has left home and is probably fending for herself. Iona and Fingal will continue life in the glen, beginning territory defence, nest building and courtship during the winter.

Thanks for reading as usual and I’ll aim to post another blog in December or January, not long till we’re back in full swing in March! Rachel 🙂

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 🙂

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 🙂

Fledged but not flown

The busy, busy period of country shows and beach games is just about over now, with Lifeboat Day tying it all up and the Scottish children are now back to school. This last month has flown by even faster than all the rest.

Adult white-tailed eagle (John Clare)
Our female juvenile is doing well after fledging although she still hasn’t gone all that far from the main area of the territory, near the nest. All of this wet and windy weather won’t have been much encouragement to get going so she’s spent a lot of time sat on the grass below the tree line looking wet and miserable. She has managed some good flights above the forest but she’s always managed to come back down in her well known area.

Mackerel & gannet bonanza

It seems that Iona and Fingal are fairly frustrated with her and spend a good amount of time nearby giving her a glare of parental annoyance; they still want her to make her way to their prime hunting territory over the loch. Despite this, they’ve still been bringing in prey and often spend time down on the grass alongside feasting together. We’ve had great sightings of feeding behaviour with prey items like mackerel featuring a lot – this matches anecdotes of people catching 100 plus in no time at all around the Mull coastline.

We also had some visitors this week that have been enjoying a spectacle – white-tailed eagles hunting gannets! I always say they can and do, but I’ve never been lucky enough to witness that yet. Gannets have a wingspan of 2m, they’re a huge bird in their own right and they’ll be busy feasting on the glut of mackerel.

Awesome autumn

Despite it only being August the air has a distinct autumnal feel. Rowan berries have burst into colour and hooded crows among others have been making off with large beakfuls. Leaves are turning and falling, on a woodland walk yesterday I was trooping through falling leaves of sweet chestnut and oak. We’ve had a rush of poor weather too, with some strong winds and torrential rain, feeling much more like September than August! Not that I’m complaining, autumn is a great season and one of change. Everything is busy, on the move or collecting up fat stores and caching food.

I was treated to a family group of Jay yesterday with their harsh call, they’ll be preparing for winter now and beginning to cache food, they have an extensive territory map and a brilliant memory. I’m looking forward to hearing the first fieldfare crossing overhead and seeing the familiar v-shape silhouettes of wintering geese.

Winter prey

Eagles and other top predators will begin to change their main prey items as the seasons change too. Fish like mackerel will move off, for example, but other prey becomes more important. Beginning late September and into October our largest deer species begins its annual rut for dominance. The stags don’t fed throughout this period, so many lose fat and stores and many will also be injured. Heading into winter, our eagles and other carrion feeders can cache in on the glut of deer carcasses. Rabbits and hares will also play more of a part as many seabirds leave the coastal breeding area and head out to open waters for winter feeding.

Nature of Scotland Awards

Great news for Mull Eagle Watch, we’ve been shortlisted for the Nature of Scotland Awards under the Innovation category. We’ll be attending the award ceremony in November with naturalist, author and TV presenter, Chris Packham hosting – very exciting!

Thanks for reading as usual. Still looking for webcam chick names, tweet me some ideas or message on our Facebook page! Rachel 🙂