Farewell from Mull Eagle Watch 2018

3rd November 2018

My goodness, it has been the most challenging season for Mull Eagle Watch! We’ve had some great highs and way too many lows but still, we managed to salvage the season and end with some fantastic and well-deserved news. Here is a summary of the key events that occurred this summer.

The season got off to a fantastic start at our brilliant new host site, Craignure Golf Course, where we watched the long-established white-tailed eagle pair, Scalla and Anna, beginning their breeding season. Sadly, within a week of Anna laying her eggs – and within a week of us starting our tours – the nesting attempt had failed. We think the cause was another adult bird whose interference may be to blame for their eggs breaking. The pair remained around the golf course for the next month, giving our visitors fantastic views, but ultimately decided to explore further afield.

Anna landing in the nest at Craignure Golf Club

With no sea eagles to see, we turned our attention to the coast and were pleasantly surprised by the rewarding sights of distant golden and white-tailed eagles, otters and seals in the Sound of Mull, common and Arctic terns and a great variety of waders including curlew, ringed plover, turnstone, dunlin, common sandpiper and sanderling.

Common seals

Ringed plover on the beach

Arctic tern at Craignure Golf Course


Tern chick at Craignure Golf Course

We also decided to return to our usual location at Tiroran Community Forest to watch our old friends Fingal and Iona. The view of their nest this year was unbelievable! It was relatively close and very visible, giving our visitors unbeatable views of the parents and chick at all times. But disaster struck again; just two weeks into our tours here, the chick passed away. The post-mortem revealed that it had died from a chest infection. A huge blow to the project but even more heart-breaking for the eagles.

Iona and chick on the nest in Tiroran Community Forest

Just as we felt well and truly defeated, the opportunity arose to return to West Ardhu to run tours and we jumped at the chance! Parents, Hope and Star, had two adult-sized healthy eaglets when we arrived and visitors flocked to the site to see them. Here, we saw lots of young kestrels whizzing around, the occasional sparrowhawk, the very rare golden eagle and of course, the white-tail family flying in and out and all around to the delight of our visitors.

Hope flying past at West Ardhu

Hope and Star’s male eaglet

So despite the challenges this summer has thrown at us – due in large part to the high nest faliure rate of the eagles (9/22 failed) -, we seem to have unbelievably pulled through and even ended on a surprising high; amazingly last night, we took home the Working Together for Tourism award from the Highland and Islands Tourism Awards. A real testament to the success of this partnership and how the partners and other organisations can pull together. And not forgetting the 5* Visit Scotland rating we were awarded based on an eagle-less tour at Craignure Golf Course!

RSPB Mull Officer, Dave, collecting the HITA award!

Thank you to all who supported us this season whether that be by attending a tour, donating to us or just reading this blog and our other social media posts. And thank you to all the partners: Mull and Iona Community Trust, Police Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, Forestry Commission Scotland and the RSPB and also to Craignure Golf Club, South West Mull and Iona Development (Tiroran) and North West Mull Community Woodland Company (West Ardhu) for hosting us.

We hope to be back next year, so see you then!

Meryl

RSPB Community Information and Tourism Officer

An update on Shelly – the sea eagle rediscovered after 7 years

15th October 2018

In 2010, MEW watched as sea eagle pair, Fingal and Iona, raised a chick. The female was named Shelly after Glen Seilisdeir, the valley in which the birds reside on the Isle of Mull.

Shelly chick
Shelly as a chick in 2010 having her leg rings and satellite tag fitted ( Forestry Commission Scotland)

Shelly was fitted with a satellite tag which was designed to track her movements. Disappointingly, after only three years, the tag stopped transmitting on the Isle of Lewis. Luckily though, it was recovered with no eagle attached so it was hoped she was still alive.

Last year, RSPB Mull Officer, Dave Sexton, received an exciting email from a birder named Iain who had been photographing eagles on a loch up in Sutherland. In one photo, the bird’s leg rings could quite clearly be read as C9 39.

Heart-racing, knowing that the blue/silver colour combination of the ring was worn by birds hatched in 2010, Dave searched the database of leg rings and found it was her! He had finally found the answer to her disappearance all those years ago. As it turns out, Shelly had been breeding at this location since 2015 and had raised four chicks with her partner who was from Lewis, the Isle where Shelly had lost her tag.

This Summer, Iain kindly gave us an update on Shelly and her family. She has hatched another two chicks this year and the whole family can be seen in the photo below. Thank you to Iain Paterson for this revelation, the update and the fantastic photos.

Eagle C9 39
Sea eagle Shelly (C9 39) as an adult in Sutherland
Eagle C9 23
Shelly’s mate (C9 23) from the Isle of Lewis
Shelly nest
Male in the nest with the two large chicks (one’s head only just visible below male’s left wing) and Shelly coming in to land

Meanwhile, Mull’s class of 2018 are getting ready to leave thier parents. Where will they end up?

We are into our last week of tours this season. So for a chance to see Hope, Star and their chicks, book on a tour at West Ardhu on 01680 812556.

Thanks for reading,

Meryl

RSPB Community Information and Tourism Officer

Buzz off!

2nd September 2018

We were spolit with eagle action last Thursday at West Ardhu!

Hope arrived with a measly portion of food but, instead of dropping it in the nest, she perched underneath Misak to eat it herself, despite the incessant calling from the hungry chick.

Ulva, appeared at the same time but, realising the food wasn’t for sharing, she swiftly moved on and soared up high for our visitors for a while before being mobbed by ravens.

Ulva, one of the chicks, soars overhead
Ulva, one of the chicks, soars overhead

And there was more mobbing to come! The visitors would have gone home happy then but in the final moments of the tour, Hope flew past us over the nearby hillside. Instead of following her normal route, she strangely decided to stop and perch precariously atop a very spindly tree. She was now sat about 100 metres away from us – something we rarely see them do.

Almost immediately, she was greeted with hostility by one of the local buzzards who proceeded to mob her as she called out, swooping past her again and again until she finally up and left, with the buzzard in pursuit. Here is the series of Cian’s photos to illustrate the story!

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Hope comes in to land nearby
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The buzzard swoops in
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Hope looks up at the buzzard
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Hope has had enough! She leaves…

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… still pursued!

 

Tours at West Ardhu are still running throughout September. To book on a tour, please call 01680 812 556. Of course these are wild birds so please bear in mind that you may not get as lucky as this!

Thanks for reading,

Meryl

RSPB Community Information and Tourism Officer

An Unwelcome Visitor at the Nest

23rd August 2018

At West Ardhu Eagle Watch, we are having the odd sighting of an immature white-tailed eagle who is obviously very inquisitive about what’s going on in the nest.

One day, it went as far as to sit in the nest tree, peering down at the eaglet in the nest before Hope crashed in to chase it off. The nearby group of five kestrels also joined in!

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Intruder looking at eaglet in nest
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Hope to the rescue!
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The intruder leaves… before circling back!
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One of the eaglets escapes the commotion

We are still running tours until the end of September so call the VisitScotland Craignure iCentre on 01680 812556 to book.

Thanks for reading,

Meryl

RSPB Community Information and Tourism Officer

Soggy eagles (and visitors) at Wet Ardhu!

20th August 2018

Where did all that lovely weather go?

I’m once again, living in waterproof overtrousers and boots which have been damp for days. However I can’t help but pity the eagles more than myself as they sit sheltering under branches, holding their wings out to dry.

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Hope drying out her wings
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Star drying off
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An eagle on the drive home! Possiby Hope

Despite the dismal weather our eagles have still been going about their daily business to the delight of cheerful but sodden visitors.

We’ve seen Hope and Star bringing food back to nest and the eaglets flying around and even perching closer to us to investigate!

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Star bringing food to the nest
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Hope carrying food in talons and beak!
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One of the eaglets stretching its wings

So, even on the dismal days, we are still seeing good action (although tours may be cancelled if the visibility is too bad due to the rain/cloud). We are still running tours until the end of September so to book on one, call the VisitScotland iCentre on 01680 812556.

Thanks for reading,

Meryl

RSPB Community Information and Tourism Officer

Tern after tern this season

As you’ll know, it has been a rollercoaster of a season here at Mull Eagle Watch this year.

However, for our terns at Craignure, it has been slightly smoother.
SSSI Tern

The picture above is of Scallastle bay, the beach that surrounds Craignure Golf Course. This area has been designated a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) because of the ground-nesting birds such as the two tern species we get here, arctic and common, as well as ringed plover and common gulls.

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Ringed plover

There was quite the storm here four weeks ago when, unfortunately, some of the nest sites were washed away with the tide.
A few nests on the beach closest to the golf course remained unscathed and are in a great place for us to observe them at a distance without causing disturbance.

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Although, even when walking on the golf course and away from the beach, the terns do come and say ‘hello’!
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These arctic terns tend to nest in the same area where they hatched themselves. So there is a good chance some of these birds hatched here, at least three or four years ago, as it takes that long to reach sexual maturity.  They will then return to breed once every one-to-three years, depending on their mating cycle.

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If you look at the photo above, you might be able to make out the speckled beige egg hidden amongst the pebbles below the tern.
This nest appeared to have just the one egg in but they can lay up to three. The incubation takes between 22-34 days depending on levels of disturbance.

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They share incubation duties and feed one another during this period.

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Yesterday, we were finally lucky enough to get a glimpse of the chicks. At less than a week old, they won’t be fledging for at least another two weeks.

Tern feeding chick

These chicks are so camouflaged that it was a real struggle to pick them out. Luckily, the parents have to check on them, so we just waited for them to show us where they were hiding!

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We will keep an eye on these chicks for the next couple of weeks and see how they get on. Hopefully they’ll be joined by ringed plover chicks this week!

If you want to come and see these wonderful birds, get booked onto our Craignure Golf Course coastal wildlife watch tours through the Craignure Visit Scotland iCentre.

We hope to see you soon!

Cian

P.S All photographs are taken with a 600mm lens and a 1.4x teleconverter, this means the subjects are photgraphed from distance without disturbance.

Tiroran chick post-mortem

2nd July 2018

Sadly, on Thursday 14th June, the Tiroran chick was confirmed dead. It had only been ringed on the Monday and the team remarked at how placid it had been when being handled.

The Tiroran chick being ringed

Looking back, that wasn’t a good sign. Cian had been watching the chick all week with visitors and had seen it feeding well on Monday and Tuesday but hunkered down on the Wednesday during storm Hector. By Thursday afternoon, it was apparent to him that the chick was lifeless.

The ringing team were visiting their last nest of the day when they were informed. Instead of clocking off at 6pm, they journeyed back to Tiroran to retrieve the body.

It was sent off for post-mortem and the results suggested that it had a birth defect or a chest infection and it is likely that the storm was the final straw. It also had no food in its crop (the pouch in the throat used to temporarily store food) which suggested it had not been feeding despite there being food in the nest and the parents attending to it.

A very sad tale for Fingal and Iona this year. I had the honour of watching them raising their chick, Arwen, last year and seeing her go from egg to fledge in such a short space of time was very special. But they aren’t alone. Sadly a higher-than-average 9/20 white-tailed eagle nests have failed this year on Mull.

Despite having lost their chick, Fingal and Iona are still around Tiroran and have even been seen sitting in the nest tree on our tours.

Iona sat above the nest having lost her chick

 

If you would like to book on a tour here or at Craignure Golf Club where we are running coastal wildlife watches, please call the Visit Scotland Craignure iCentre on 01680 812377.

Thanks for reading,

Meryl

RSPB Ranger

Open Farm Sunday at Treshnish: farming, flowers and fantastic food!

 11th June 2018

The Mull Eagle Watch rangers attended the beautiful Treshnish (and Haunn cottages) Farm on Sunday 10th June for their Open Farm Sunday event. This national scheme run by LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) gives farmers an opportunity to show people how they are farming in an environmentally-friendly way and for us, as consumers, to learn about where our food comes from – one of the most beautiful places on Mull apparently!

The farmers, Somerset and Carolyne, gave us an interesting insight into their annual itinerary regarding lambing and meadow management before guiding us around their land.

The meadows looking over to Calgary Bay

And their meadows host the most magnificent myriad of wildflowers you can imagine!

We had orchids (butterfly, heath spotted, common spotted, fragrant, northern marsh to name a few).

Northern Marsh Orchid

 

Heath Spotted Orchid

 

Butterfly Orchid

 

Me smelling the Fragrant Orchid

And the most colourful swathes of other flowers including the pink lousewort, white burnet rose, blue speedwells, yellow buttercups, purple vetch, red sorrel, heaps of wood bitter vetch and even a rare moonwort.

Burnet Rose

Moonwort

We finished the walk with a delicious Moveable Feast by Jeannette’s at Ballygown which we all tucked into on the array of multi-coloured picnic blankets that had been laid out down the lawn, giving us a superb view across to the Isle of Coll. We were joined in our picnic by a group of porpoise who were feeding in the sea below us!

A fantastic event; great farming, great wildlife, great people and great food!

If you fancy seeing this wonder for yourself, why not take a peek at their cottages for your next holiday!

Thanks,

Meryl

RSPB Ranger

Trouble at Tiroran!


Due to the nest failure at Craignure Golf Club, we have now re-opened tours at Tiroran Community Forest! We are still running tours at the golf course but sightings of eagles can, sadly, no longer be 100% guaranteed.

The first week of tours at Tiroran are now over and Fingal and Iona have not disappointed!

We’ve watched as the eagles fly in to feed the chick who’s now stumbling around the nest and slumping face-down, exhausted from the heat.

But yesterday, on arrival, I was greeted with a view of two adults. Iona was on the nest but it wasn’t Fingal perched above. It was another eagle!

Iona nervously stared up at the bird, intermittently calling for over an hour until Fingal finally smashed into the top of the tree to shoo the intruder away. As it flew, I noticed it’s tail – white with a dark terminal band, making it a 4 year-old/sub-adult. Was this their young from a previous year or a stranger thinking of moving in?

And so the drama continues…

  

 

With thanks to Viking Optical and Swarovski Optik for the annual loan of their amazing telescopes, allowing us to capture these moments!

Meryl

RSPB Ranger

Coastal antics

So… Unfortunately, as many of you know, the first nesting attempt of the Golf Course eagles failed and we were crossing everything in hope that they may re-lay. They teased us with some promising signs such as bringing back nesting material, performing aerial displays and then for four days, they appeared on the nest in the incubation position but… nothing.

Experts were consulted and books were read, all in hope of giving our pair a bit more time to re-lay but we have now truly passed that window of possibility. It’s not all doom and gloom though as Scalla & Anna have used this site for a decade and are showing no signs of moving on. They are still gracing us with their presence on almost every tour, being very vocal and showing their ginormous wingspans!

What we are even more excited about here at Mull Eagle Watch is all the other fantastic wildlife we are seeing. Now that we know they are not going to lay any more eggs, we can cast our eyes towards the coast and watch the nests of ringed plover, oystercatchers and a variety of gull species forming on the beach around us.

Not to mention our first couple of otter sightings! A big shout out to Gill from Devon who was our otter expert for the morning, she spotted an otter from the site for the first time this season. There were in fact two there that morning and we have since seen them on a similar outcrop in the Sound of Mull a few metres away.

The shoreline here is really starting to buzz with the calls of our coastal birds like common sandpiper, turnstone and dunlin. Not to mention the return of the terns! (Excuse the poor joke) We have seen and heard a flock of common and arctic terns on the skerries. Though these may not be the birds that attempt to nest here this year, it’s the start of a very interesting few months at Craignure Golf Club.
We also just wanted to thank NWMCWC (North West Mull Community Woodland Company) for providing our shelter with woodchips to protect us from the mud, thanks!

Cian

Eagle Ranger

A few pictures of the wildlife we’ve been enjoying