West Ardhu chick names and a final farewell for 2017

24th September 2017

Mull Eagle Watch tours have come to an end after another successful season in 2017.

Thursday 21st was the last day of tours and, after cancelling on the Wednesday due to a return of miserable weather, I was pleased to be greeted at West Ardhu with sunshine and clear views.

Visitors saw Star swoop in and perch in the nest tree where he proceeded to sit for the rest of the day. It’s easy to think that eagles have easy lives when you see them like this but Star and Hope and indeed Fingal and Iona have all been incredibly busy parents this season, managing to raise three chicks between them despite the gruelling weather that Mother Nature has thrown at them.

The parents are doing all they can to equip their eaglets with the skills needed to survive and we have our fingers crossed for all three. They should now be catching their own prey but they will remain with their parents throughout most of the winter before beginning their long journeys around Scotland in search of a mate and their own territory for the next few years.

And we finally have names for the West Ardhu chicks! Gael and Storm have been chosen by Dervaig Primary School. So I think its safe to say that, along with the name ‘Arwen’ that was chosen for our Tiroran chick, we have some good strong names for these majestic birds. Thank goodness we dodged Eagley McEagleyface as some visitors suggested!

I’m already back at home in Windermere. Today, I went for a walk near Ambleside and enjoyed the familiar views of the surrounding mountains that the Lake District is famous for (as well as the lakes) and I couldn’t help but scan the summits, expecting and hoping an eagle to pop up any second. Needless to say, none were seen. But the Lake District was home to the last golden eagle in England until last year and before their extinction, the last pair of white-tailed eagles resided here too in the 1800’s. After the successful reintroduction of the latter species, it’s only a matter of time before they re-colonise England and I’m hoping it will be here, on my doorstep.

Thank you all for supporting the project this year whether you visited one of our two hides or just followed us on our blogs and social media. The money we raised will now be divided up and donated to the two community forests to aid with their conservation and education projects.

I’m already thinking about when I can return to Mull to visit but in the meantime, I’m hoping I’ll receive eagle updates from Dave Sexton who does such a fantastic job of monitoring these eagles and leading this partnership project.

Here are some of my favourite photos from the season. Enjoy!

Iona and chick

Ringed chick

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WA ringing

Tour

WA chicks in nest

Fighting chicks

Arwen

Cruise trip

Fingal

Best wishes,

Meryl

RSPB Community Information and Tourism Officer

Mull Eagle Watch

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And the name is…

30th August 2017

Bunessan Primary School visited Tiroran Community Forest last week for a day of fun and learning with The Mull and Iona Ranger Service and Mull Eagle Watch.

Children got messy making plaster casts of animal hoof prints along the forest tracks before learning about dinosaurs – the ancestors of eagles – with Emily and Kate from the Ranger Service. Over at the eagles hide, they learnt all about white-tailed eagles and enjoyed handling the real eagle feathers and other props but sadly, our eagle family was nowhere to be seen!

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How many children make a white-tailed eagle? (photos: Sue Hawkes)

Over lunch time, with mouthfuls of ham sandwiches and cheesy wotsits, they shouted out name suggestions for our one female chick in the forest and the list was then handed over to John Clare, the Forest Officer, for him to choose the winning name. Which was…

Arwen!

This translates as ‘muse’ or ‘noble-woman’ form Celtic languages. It is also one of the main female characters from J R R Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings – a half-elf, half human who eventually becomes a queen. A strong name for a powerful bird.

Dervaig Primary School are currently coming up with names for the two chicks at West Ardhu so watch out for these in the next few weeks.

Arwen is the most commonly seen eagle around Tiroran now, with Fingal and Iona proving trickier to track down these days but we’ve been seeing golden eagles, buzzards and kestrels and a juvenile great-spotted woodpecker on the feeders along with the chattering of crossbills high up in the conifers.

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Arwen on her parents’ perch 

Trips at both hides are running until late September and you can book on a tour by calling The Visitor Information Centre in Craignure on 01680 812556 or by popping in in person. Tours are free for locals.

Thanks for reading,

Meryl

Finally fledged

Wednesday 2nd August 2017

The second of our chicks at West Ardhu finally fledged on Monday 31st July so they’re both now on the wing and doing well.

The North West Mull Community Woodland eagle chicks will be around 14 weeks old tomorrow, so the chick we suspect to be a smaller male was hanging on like a teenager that won’t leave home– they usually fledge when they’re around 12 weeks old. We’ve since had some really nice views of the whole family, with both the adults, Hope and Star perched up in the trees nearby the two fledglings. The youngsters themselves are quite hard to spot when they’re in the dark green conifer trees as they’re primarily dark brown – such great camouflage.

The juveniles have been taking their first flights and have been doing pretty well, although the landing can be pretty tricky! Despite this, they’ve been managing to land back into the nest tree, spending a lot of time perched up above their eyrie and popping back into it, probably in the hope of a meal.

It’s been so nice to watch this pair of eagles throughout the season, especially as they’ve been so successful by producing two healthy chicks and raising them to this stage. I feel particularly connected to Hope and Star as they’re my local white-tailed eagle family – I spot them regularly near my home on the North West peninsular of Mull in the Caliach Point area. They frequent the machair habitat by Langamull beach which is exceptionally productive for rabbits, a great meal for an eagle. In the winter, I spotted Hope (also known as Yellow C) down on the rocky shoreline on many occasions.

Other wildlife in West Ardhu

One of the highlights for me recently whilst running trips at West Ardhu has been the local Sparrowhawk pair. They’re nesting nearby and are passing over the viewing hide and the visitor car park regularly. Often, they’re carrying prey in their talons which will consist of small birds like finches and tits. So, it seems a good assumption that they have chicks to feed at the moment. Sparrowhawks are such incredible hunters, and often make use of our garden bird tables as a takeaway option. Make sure you embrace them if they arrive in your patch – they’re an indication that your garden is doing well, with enough food to support them!

We spotted a Scotch Argus butterfly when the sun chose to shine, a species which is fairly restricted to Scotland, with two known sites in the North of England. Thistles are in flower right now and are often deemed to be a weed, but they are teeming with insect life too, make sure you check them out. In West Ardhu the thistle heads are covered with bees, hoverflies and more.

Scotch Argud

Scotch Argus butterfly

 

Visiting Mull Eagle Watch – August and September

So, the West Ardhu eagle family are all in the area and we’ve great chances of spotting them perched or in flight. The chick in Tiroran Community Forest hasn’t yet fledged but will be ready to make the jump soon. Even after fledging, we’ll still be running trips to see the White-tailed eagles as the newly fledged juveniles will be in the area with their parents for a few more months yet.

At the moment trips are running as normal, 7 days a week across our two viewing hides. At the end of next week (Friday 11th August), things change a little with trips running 5 days per week with opportunities to visit both sites. Once the chick fledges the nest in Tiroran, it’s likely that the tour will comprise of more walking, in search of the youngster, whereas West Ardhu will be the regular shorter walk to the viewing hide only.

As usual though, all of our bookings are taken by the Craignure Visitor Information Centre so if you’d like to book please call them on 01680 812556 or pop in when you arrive.

Meanwhile, if you’re reading from home and need more eagle reading, don’t forget to check out Meryl’s blog posts on Fingal, Iona and their youngster. (https://www.rspb.org.uk/community/wildlife/b/mulleagles/archive/2017/07/22/watching-waiting-anticipating-a-fledge.aspx).

Thanks for reading as usual and I’ll be back once more with next week’s blog post before ending for the season.

Rachel : )

Fledge!

Wednesday 19th July 2017

One day after posting about the imminent fledging and the larger, female chick made the jump!

Fledged Female

On arriving at West Ardhu (North West Mull Community Woodland) on Thursday 13th July to set up for the forthcoming trips I checked the nest site and suspected that one of the eaglets may have fledged, but it wasn’t until further into the morning session we knew for sure when we were only seeing one youngster in the eyrie. The smaller chick, which looks like a male was still in there, giving us great displays of wing flapping and helicoptering but he was definitely alone! He was also very vocal and I suspect that he could see his sibling beyond the conifer trees – maybe he was wondering why she’d made a break for it?

Hope and Star

Great view of Hope (below) and Star (above) sitting together recently

 

First flight

We didn’t spot the fledged bird at all throughout Thursday, so after two days off I retuned on Sunday to provide a trip and see if we could confirm that she was okay. We had good views through the telescope of Star (the adult male) and also enjoyed the remaining eaglet’s antics in the nest. Suddenly, the male took off and the fledging appeared in the air alongside him! The visitors were treat to amazing views of the two in flight together over the woodland – this also confirmed my suspicions that the fledgling was a female; she was much larger than the adult male when in flight.

The male quickly settled back down to conserve energy, whilst the youngster relished the opportunity to stretch her wings with a strong wind to help. She gained height and disappeared out of sight.

Crash landing

On Monday morning we had some more great sightings. The fledgling had returned to the nest tree and was perched above the remaining chick, probably wondering why he was hanging around in there! She took off and then returned to a nearby conifer tree but missed the first three branches at least, managing to settle a little lower in the tree than she’d anticipated. The next day she popped back into the nest – maybe in hope of an easy meal. She then played at being a kite – hanging onto the branch with her enormous yellow feet whilst allowing her open wings to be buffeted by the wind.

Fledged eagle

Fledged eaglet perched up above the eyrie

 

Visiting soon? What to expect…

So, at the moment when visiting West Ardhu be prepared to for an array of sightings – we’re still seeing the remaining chick in the nest through the scopes, although we’ll be expecting him to fledge in the next few days. He hasn’t yet branched out much and so should have some exploring to do around the edge of the eyrie first. When he does fledge we’ll have four eagles in the patch, giving us really great chances of spotting birds in flight, as well as perching close by. The fledged juvenile eagles will remain in the area for another couple of months to learn from their parents and get to grips with being an eagle before spending much of their first winter fending for themselves.

Sightings can be slightly less predictable without birds being confined to the nest, but we’ll do our best to give you a great visit, share our knowledge and to spot wildlife for you – including our eagle family.

Other sightings

As usual we’ve been watching out for the vast array of species found in the woodland at West Ardhu. Along with our White-tailed eagle family we’ve spotted Buzzards, Bullfinches, Siskins and Crossbills. A Sparrowhawk pair appear to be nesting nearby and often fly past carrying prey. Insect life has included Red Admiral butterfly, Golden-ringed dragonfly, Giant Wood Wasp (Horntail) and lots of Clegs!

Join us for a guided trip…

You can book with Mull Eagle Watch by calling 01680 812556 or by calling into the Craignure Visitor Information Centre.

Visit Hope, Star and their two youngsters (both soon to be fledged, but in/around the area) or why not visit Iona, Fingal and their eaglet at Tiroran Community Forest? This chick has a couple of weeks before it’s ready to fledge, so watch out for updates on that in the near future. You can head over the read Meryl’s RSPB Mull Eagle Watch blog.

Back soon with more updates and you can watch out for the Mull country shows coming up too; we’ll be at Bunessan Show on Friday 4th August and Salen Show on Thursday 10th August so pop over and say hello!

Thanks for reading, Rachel : )

Perched on the Precipice

 

Perched on the Precipice – Wednesday 12th July

Branching Out

Our two eaglets at West Ardhu (North West Mull Community Woodland) are around 11 weeks old tomorrow, and are already beginning to explore the outskirts of their nest. White-tailed eagles usually fledge around 12 weeks of age, but they can take the jump earlier, or later! We can now see a size difference in two youngsters, they’re both fully grown and it looks like we’ve a male and a female (the females can be larger by 25%).

What looks to be the female eaglet has started branching out. On Sunday 9th she teetered right onto the furthest point of the large branch supporting the nest. We watched with baited breath wondering if this would be the moment, as she was flapping a lot, and looked fairly precarious! But, thankfully, the adult male eagle returned back with a small snack in his beak – the youngster scrambled back to the nest quite quickly after that…

West Ardhu 2017 Brancing Out

Look closely among the foliage to the right to spot the other eaglet

 

Imminent Fledging

So, we’re expecting our two chicks to leave the nest at West Ardhu fairly soon. We’ll be keeping you all updated via social media and this blog. Meanwhile, trips are continuing as usual and we’re getting brilliant views through the scopes of the chicks exercising and gaining confidence. We’re still seeing Hope and Star too, often they’re perched close by and on Monday 10th the male, Star didn’t move an inch all day! Toward the fledging period it’s thought by some that the adults will bring less prey into the nest to encourage the eaglets to take the leap, so maybe they’ve been lazy for a good reason.

Even after fledging the eagle family will still be visible to us, and so we’ll still be running trips. So come along to learn about the species and watch out for one of the largest eagles in in the world.

 

Incredible Growth Rate

It doesn’t seem like long ago I was posting out first image of the chicks in the nest, days after hatching. At that stage, they would have fit in the palm of my hand. Ringing came around quickly, when the chicks were about 6 weeks old. We recently received some images taken by the ringers Rachel and Lewis Pate from in the nest itself. You can see how fast they’ve grown in just 6 weeks, and are starting to resemble real eagles here.

They are now full size, with that impressive 2.5m wingspan and they’ll stand almost 1m tall too! I think they look even larger than the adults because of their dark brown plumage.

 

Other sightings

We had one stunning afternoon recently where we didn’t know where to look. Starting off with the introduction to Mull Eagle Watch at our base we spotted Buzzards and then a Golden Eagle on the ridge top being mobbed by a male Hen Harrier. Soon after, our female White-tailed eagle gave us brilliant view whilst she soared in the blue sky above. When we arrived at the viewing hide the whole eagle family were visible through out scopes – what more could we ask for?!

Most days we’re spotting Buzzards and a local Sparrowhawk is often seen carrying prey over the forest. When the sun shines we’ve enjoyed Red Admiral and Meadow Brown butterflies, Golden-ringed dragonflies and more.

 

Back soon

Hopefully I’ll be back soon with some exciting news, In the meantime, why don’t you catch up with Iona and Fingal’s season in Tiroran Community Forest. They have one healthy chick, which is a few weeks younger than the West Ardhu pair, so not quite ready to fledge yet. Pop over to read Meryl’s blog.

Want to visit us? Book with Craignure Visitor Information Centre by popping in or calling on 01680 812556.

Ringed & Ready

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!

Raptor Ringing

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.

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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.

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The eaglets after the ringing process

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’.

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John Love and myself at West Ardhu

Other sightings 

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!

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Sabre Wasp – parasitic species

 

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.

 

 

Growing season…

Sunday 28th May 2017

Eagle parents working hard at West Ardhu (North West Mull Community Woodland)
I’m so impressed with our West Ardhu eagles and their parenting skills! Our two chicks/eaglets are now about 31 days old – just over four weeks into their lives already and the adults, Hope and Star have been doing wonderfully. Throughout the incubation the female, Hope (Yellow C) spent the majority of the 38 days on the nest, with respite offered only occasionally by the male, Star. With white-tailed eagles the female tends to do around 70% or more of the incubation which makes sense as she is the bigger and more defensive adult. We were then thrilled to announce the successful hatch and have been enthralled with their progress since. Their success featured online and in the Press & Journal with a phone scope image I managed to take of the tiny chicks in the nest (under SNH license).

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Chicks being fed – only a few days old here!

Growth spurt
The youngsters are growing incredibly fast and we’re now getting great views of them through our brilliant Viking Optics telescopes. One chick is definitely larger and more developed; it will have hatched ahead of the smaller one, giving it an advantage if things become tough, but at the moment both are looking strong and healthy.

Hopefully in another few weeks the eaglets will be ringed in the nest by the ringing team. We use large coloured rings along with the standard British Trust for Ornithology ring- these will remain on the eagles for life – the hope with the coloured rings is that we’ll get some records of movements around the country but monitoring each individual eagle isn’t as critical now the West Coast with a more established population. Eagles from the Irish and the Scottish East Coast are usually still being wing tagged – the re-introductions are more recent and are still gaining a foothold in these areas and illegal raptor persecution is still a substantial threat.

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Chicks beginning to grow – 14th May 2017

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Hope (adult female) & her two chicks 28th May 2017

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Youngest chick having a stretch! 28th May 2017

Food, glorious food!

Prey is being brought into the nest/eyrie regularly by both the male and female, although you need keen eyes to spot them as they drop into the nest with incredible speed – probably hoping the local hooded crows, buzzards and ravens don’t catch onto the potential of a free meal. From our vantage point it’s quite difficult to identify which prey items they’re bringing in but we’re sure rabbits have featured. The pair’s territory covers Loch Cuin and the coastal stretch toward Langamull and Croig so it would be safe to assume that seabirds and fish will be on the menu too. White-tailed eagles are opportunistic and have an extensive list of possible prey items – all of which is caught in their large feet and talons.

Darting Dragonflies

We’re enjoying increased activity at our viewing hide with the adults working hard to feed their eaglets, but at the same time we often enjoy a variety of other species nature offers. We see buzzards on numerous occasions throughout each day – often in flight alongside the eagles which gives us a great size comparison. We’ve been hailed by the call of the cuckoo recently too and have marveled at their incredible complexity and evolution in action. Other bird species have included grey wagtail, wren, tree pipit, willow warbler, sparrowhawk and the occasional juvenile golden eagle passing through.

In the last few days our local insect life has taken to the wing and dragonflies are hawking about in the sunny woodland. The two species I’ve spotted so far are four-spotted chaser and golden-ringed. The female golden-ringed dragonfly is longest British insect! Large red damselflies are also gracing our skies, and are a beautifully delicate. We’ve also recorded orange tip and green-veined white butterflies, particularly enjoying the cuckoo flowers along the forest track. We’re on the look out for the stunning common blue butterflies which will be on the wing now.

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Four-spotted chaser

Thanks for reading, I’ll be back soon but in the meantime watch out for news from Tiroran Community Forest, our eagles Iona and Fingal and our RSPB Ranger Meryl on her blog.

Rachel : )