Welcomed back with open wings…

Sula and Cuin, our eagle pair that hit stardom in 2014 have been extremely busy over the last few weeks. We were very excited to be working alongside this couple for 2015 but working with wildlife means we have to be flexible. A neighbouring eagle pair to Sula and Cuin’s territory has been ruffling some feathers. They’re now encroaching onto territory belonging to Sula and Cuin and our pair have been disputing this disagreement with the other birds. Things have settled down now as many eagle pairs have already begun incubating eggs. Sula and Cuin are likely to be incubating their own, but not on the nest they’ve used for the last few years which left Mull Eagle Watch with some last minute decision making.

Success only 40 years on

Brilliantly we’re only 30 years on from the first wild fledged white-tailed eagle chick and we now have almost 100 pairs across Scotland. This is an amazing reintroduction success story, demonstrating how conservation can work well. Back in 1970, only 40 years ago, the first white-tailed eagle eaglets were brought across seas from Norway to become pioneers in the UK. We’ve come such a long way since then with eagles expanding across the Hebrides and the Scottish West Coast to be joined by individual birds from the East Coast Scotland reintroduction. In 1918 we lost our last white-tailed eagle from the United Kingdom, but in less then 100 years since then they are back. Not only are they back but they’re thriving and are a huge asset to wildlife tourism as well as the ecosystem they’re an intrinsic part of.

Welcomed back with open wings…

Sula and Cuin’s nest site from last year is now playing host to another brilliant bird, the raven! Corvids like crows and ravens happily move into larger disused nests. As our eagles are nesting at another eyrie within their territory, ravens jumped at this highly desirable housing opportunity and are now incubating their own eggs. Ravens aren’t often a favored bird, especially by the farming community as they do regularly cause issues within lambing season but they are a fantastic species. They’re one of our most intelligent birds and can have a repertoire of 70 different vocalisations.
So Mull Eagle Watch will leave the ravens to it. We’ve been welcomed back to Tiroran in Glen Seilisdeir with open wings by Iona and Fingal and we look forward to working with them again of course.

Mull Eagle Watch
Fingal

Iona and Fingal

We’ve worked alongside this brilliant eagle pair for three years and watched as they’ve done a brilliant job of raising chicks. Fingal, the male bird was hatched in Norway back in 1997. Released into Wester Ross during the second reintroduction phase, Fingal helped forge the way for the white-tailed eagle’s expansion across Scotland. Iona, the female bird was a naturally raised chick from the Isle of Skye, hatching in 1998. Last year they successfully fledged one chick which you may remember Ulva Primary School naming Thistle. Thistle was ringed, but we’ve not yet had any definite sightings of her. She could still be around on the island or could be off traveling like Sona, our webcam chick from 2014. Sona has most recently been spotted in County Durham!

Mull eagle chick
Thistle – during ringing

Booking for 2015

We’re now going to take bookings for Mull Eagle Watch this year and will be open from Monday 13th April. If you’d like to book in please contact the Craignure Information Centre on 01680 812556.
Trip times are slightly different to last year;
10am-12.30pm
1.30pm-3.30pm
Trips will last around two and a half hours, but visitors should feel free to leave at any time, often we’ll have seen lots of action within the first two hours!

Thanks for reading, and I hope you’re all looking forward to visiting again; it’ll be great to see Iona and Fingal in a familiar location. Rachel 🙂

Eagle Watch Update

Working with wildlife

Whoever said working with children and animals was a bad idea almost hit the nail on the head. They should have emphasised working with wildlife can also be very trying. We’re waiting patiently to see whether Cuin and Sula decide to settle on their previous nest site, they’ve been very busy having territorial disputes with a neighboring eagle pair and so have been slightly distracted. We won’t know anything further until Sula actually sits down and lays an egg, so Mull Eagle Watch is waiting with baited breath. We’re hopeful and we should know fairly soon, some birds have laid already and are now incubating eggs but each pair are quite faithful to their timings each season.

Gribun
Loch na Keal and Gribun Cliffs

Booking for 2015

We’re aware that many of you are looking forward to your visit this season and many of you have already tried to book in. Unfortunately we can’t take any definite bookings yet, until we’re 100% sure of an opening date. So, if you’ve already called the Visitor Information Centre in Craignure the best option is to wait a few more weeks before calling back – and keep an eye on our social media too.
Don’t panic; if you’re trying to book well in advance you won’t miss out if you don’t book now. But we’re sorry for those of you that are visiting in the next few weeks as we might not be up and running quite yet.

Meanwhile…

I thoroughly enjoy working with our local schools and children, and I’ll visit as many as possible throughout the season to run sessions on both of our eagle species. This allows me to help dispel myths about our birds. These include “the birds are big enough to carry off children and dogs”, “eagles eat all the lambs on the island”, and “white-tailed eagles are bad news for golden eagles”.

In the last few weeks I’ve had the chance to do some bird box and bug hotel building with Lochdon and Ulva primary schools. This is great fun and gets the children outside and excited about our smaller wildlife. Getting muddy to create a bug hotel is especially fun. This is a brilliant way to collect up unwanted garden materials or items – just add them to your bug house. The kids will be able to enjoy this year round and continue to develop it.

I also joined up with Emily, the NTS Ranger for the south of the island to run a mountain session in Bunessan Primary school. We worked together to learn about mountain climbing and human needs, and how we must take the correct equipment otherwise things could go drastically wrong. This led nicely onto our mountain wildlife and the adaptations they need to allow survival in a difficult habitat.

 

Go geocaching

“Geocaching?” I hear you say.
Geocaching is a worldwide game revolving around GPS and hidden boxes. It can be accomplished with a simple and free app on a mobile phone or tablet device and a bit of fresh air. It’s a great way to encourage families to spend more time outdoors, bringing a tiny bit of technology into a regular walk. The excitement of hunting out a hidden box without being caught by “muggles” is brilliant for children and whilst they’re out there nature might catch their imaginations too. I’ve been out and about to hide some more geocache boxes which are hidden and maintained by the Mull and Iona Ranger Service. It’s a good excuse to get out of the office and I’m now hooked on geocaching.
If you’d like to know more head to the geocaching website.

River Seilisdeir
River Seilisdeir

Springtime wildlife

If you’re heading to Mull soon, or are lucky enough to live here this is a great time for our wildlife. Eagles are busy all around the island. You might catch either species displaying, or defending their territory. I was privileged enough to witness a male golden eagle displaying recently whilst the larger female soared above. Buzzards and hen harriers are also more visible right now. Meadow pipits, pied wagtails and wheatears are arriving on our shores, just in time to provide a tasty snack to our raptors. Alongside voles and mice these small birds are highly important for hen harriers and buzzards. Adders and slow worms will be warming up and considering emerging from hibernation. Other amphibians are already busy; frogs and toads have laid their spawn in most cases.

Bat Bonanza

Lastly, if you’re on the island around Easter time look out for our Ranger Service events, the first one is an evening bat walk in Aros Park.

Wednesday 1st April at 6.30pm – join us for a walk around the part with bat detectors! All welcome. £5 adults £3 children. Please call 07540792650 for more information.

You can find more event information on the ranger service blog.

New beginnings

Blimey, it’s March already and I’d promised you another blog in January, where did that time go? Well, I’m now in the office full time in preparation for Mull Eagle Watch 2015 – very exciting. Many of you will follow us through regular social media like Twitter and Facebook; if you did you’ll already know about our brand new location for the coming season. If not, we have some news!

Tiroran Forest & Glen Seilisdeir

Glen Seilisdeir has been home to Mull Eagle Watch for three years now and we had a great time there with our eagles, Iona and Fingal. All of the rangers during that time had some amazing experiences and the pair did very well in producing chicks. One youngster successfully fledged in 2014, which Ulva Primary School named Thistle. I’m sure for 2015 these birds will continue to breed in the same area and fingers crossed they manage to produce many more chicks in the future.

Last year the future of Tiroran forest was uncertain, as it was put up for sale. But thankfully the local island community the South West Mull and Iona Development (SWMID) group launched a plan to raise funds and purchase the site. Recently, we heard in the news that the Scottish Land Fund has awarded SWMID £750,000. Hopefully, Tiroran forest will transfer into community ownership and open opportunities for sustainable income, training and development of wildlife habitats. We have our fingers crossed things go to plan, and wish the development group lots of luck in their venture. I’m sure they’ll enjoy having Iona and Fingal for company!

New beginnings… almost!

So, new beginnings for Mull Eagle Watch this year for the location and our eagle stars. But, some of you might already know that John Clare and I are both returning for another season of wildlife and ranger duties, we’re both looking forward to it. So where is the viewing hide going to be?

Sula & Cuin

Loch Torr and Quinish forest in the north of the island will be playing host to our eagle viewing hide this season. If you caught any of BBC Springwatch last year, or watched the webcam we had live on a nest, you’ll remember the eagle pair; Sula and Cuin. You might even remember all the drama when the chick, now named Sona, was unceremoniously shoved from the nest by another eagle, later to be installed back to safety by Forestry Commission Scotland tree climbers. Well, you’ll get to know this pair of eagles much better this season as they’ll be our Mull Eagle Watch family.

Sona on leg ringing day, a few weeks before being pushed out!
Sona on leg ringing day, a few weeks before being pushed out!

East coast of Scotland eagle

This is a really interesting pair of eagles. Cuin was born and bred on the island and is now almost 8 years old. Sula is a bigger bird because she’s the female, and we’ll know it’s her because she is wing tagged. They’re white with the black number 5 showing. This is the interesting part; she travelled over to Mull from the Scottish east coast where she was re-introduced as a chick. So in reality, she is actually a Norwegian bird. This just demonstrates how successful the whole re-introduction of white-tailed eagles has been, with the final east coast phase ending in 2012. You can find out more on the East Coast RSPB eagle blog .

Sona – 6 months on

The webcam chick that successfully fledged even after the traumatic fall was named Sona. Thanks to the leg rings fitted to her in the nest we’ve been able to follow her progress and are happy to say she is doing well! She’s made her way down to Dumfries and Galloway, where she is enjoying the plentiful wintering geese. Lots of wildlife watchers have caught her in photographs and regularly report her movements.

Sona, captured in Dumfries and Galloway (thanks to Ruth Eastwood)
Sona, captured in Dumfries and Galloway (thanks to Ruth Eastwood)

Thanks for reading, check back soon for more and I’ll get some photographs of the new location too! In the next few weeks our webcam should go live again, but in the meantime here’s another camera to keep you entertained.
Rachel 🙂

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 🙂

Flying high

sea eagle Iona on MullSo eventually – almost a whole seven days after our chick turned 12 weeks old – she fledged. Last Monday, she was right on the edge of the nest, exercising those huge wings, looking like she’d be off any minute, but she clung on to familiarity till Tuesday.

She didn’t get far and spent all of Wednesday out of sight, low down in the brash below the nest site. We could hear her calling, and both Iona and Fingal were perched about giving moral support. Thursday we were very privileged to see her get to grips with flight, she soared above the trees, breaking the skyline to demonstrate her fantastic size and shape. She dropped her legs down to break as she came in to land, showing instinctual behaviour. Absolutely brilliant to see and it almost brought a tear to my eye after three months of watching her grow up!

Experienced eagles

Despite having fledged, we’ll still see the youngster and the adults around the area. Chicks tend to stay with the adults for another few months after fledging, often until October time. This period is critical for the survival of the juveniles, as they need to learn how to hunt and fend for themselves before winter, which is one of the toughest times during their life. Iona and Fingal are experienced eagles and will probably teach her how to hunt, how to find carrion carcasses and more. Then instinct will take over again and she’ll head off into the big wide world, nor forcing from the adults.

Juveniles have four to five years of roaming around before hitting adulthood themselves and so our youngster could head off in any direction, maybe to Ireland and back, or over to East Scotland. She’ll likely find a mate whilst far away from home here on Mull, meaning less chance they’ll be related. She’ll eventually settle down in a territory of her own, maybe not far from her home nest site on Mull.

Persecution problems

Thankfully the Isle of Mull is a relatively safe place for all our raptors to breed, without the issue of illegal persecution. Unfortunately not all of the UK matches up to our standards and our eagles have a lot to face when they move away from the safety of the island. Illegal persecution of our birds of prey is worse now than it has been in years, with many birds being shot, poisoned and trapped – despite the fact it has been illegal to do so since 1954. Hopefully our fledgling won’t cross over any particularly bad areas but it’s very likely she will, we wish her all the luck.

It isn’t just our eagles that are killed though, the hen harrier is on the brink of extinction in the UK and others like the buzzard, red kites, peregrine and goshawk are regularly killed too. Often this is linked in with driven grouse shooting, although not all estates are responsible. This Sunday gone it was Hen Harrier Day 2014, to raise awareness of the ongoing raptor persecution in the UK. If you didn’t get along to a gathering, please take a minute to show your support by signing Mark Avery’s petition, taking a hen harrier selfie with a poster or changing your Facebook profile picture!

red admiral butterfly

Visiting hide

We’re still running daily trips at the viewing hide; we have a good chance of seeing our eagles and lots of other wildlife too. Often we will go for a wander through the forest to look for our eagles hunting, butterflies, golden eagles, red deer and more. Knapweed is flowering at the moment and when the sun is out our butterflies make a feast of it. We’ve had lovely dark-green fritillaries, peacock, red admiral, scotch argus, meadow brown and common blue enjoying it recently. We’re also thrilled to have the company of a sparrowhawk regularly, often coming into the bird feeders to hunt – fantastic birds!

Call 01680 812556 to book – we run a 10am trip and a 1pm trip, Mon-Fri.

Thanks for reading, I’ll keep you all posted on our chicks progress. Also, please send your eagle name ideas for our webcam chick. We need lots so we can come up with a great shortlist!

Scottish success!

Still sitting…

Our chick is still in the nest! Probably not for long now though, as it turned 11 weeks old yesterday. We’re waiting with baited breath for that first flight – or jump as it can sometimes be. The adults, Iona and Fingal seem to be bringing in less prey. They’re still around the area, spending a lot of time perched nearby in a tree or the ridgeline, but it might be that they’re trying to encourage the chick to take that leap. Adult eagles don’t get much holiday time and so the faster the chick fledges the better. It will probably stick with them for a few more months and leave in October, giving Iona and Fingal some free time. Not for long though as they can begin pair bonding, nest building and territory defence as early as December or January.

We’re still getting great sightings at the hide. Our chick is much more visible now and this fantastic sunny weather makes for brilliant soaring and golden eagles have been up in the air too. We’ve also had some lovely butterflies about, with meadow brown and Scotch Argus of note recently.

Fantsatic weather at Gribun Cliffs

East coast celebrations

Absolutely brilliant to hear the latest from our friends over on the east coast of Scotland where the final reintroduction of white-tailed eagles took place. This came to an end in 2012, when enough birds had been brought over from Norway and released. They’re still being heavily monitored with the use of wing tags, leg rings and VHF radios. Last year saw the first successful breeding pair over there, although their chick disappeared in April this year. The same pair this season have raised another chick. It was ringed a few weeks ago and East Coast Officer, Rhian Evans thinks it might be a male. Let’s wish him every success for fledging. Unfortunately, the eagles have lots to contend with including wind turbines and illegal persecution. Hopefully the eagles will increase on this season’s three nesting attempts across east and central Scotland in 2015.

Springwatch youngster has flown

You might have seen our famous webcam star in the news again recently. Following the issue of the intruding eagle and the chick’s 30ft drop adventure, it has successfully fledged. She has been seen in flight within the territory and is doing fantastically well. She has been one of the stars of favourite TV show, Springwatch this year, along with featuring on the UK’s first ever white-tailed eagle webcam, available for the whole world to see.

Name that eagle

We’re now asking you to get involved; can you contribute a name idea for this chick?

We’d like it to be appropriate for an eagle and have something to do with Scotland to go along with the Scottish Homecoming 2014, the Commonwealth Games and all the other exciting things happening here this year. Maybe something Gaelic or traditional? If you have an idea you can send it to us via a private message on our facebook page, leave a comment on this blog post or even email me on mull.ranger@forestry.gsi.go.uk.

You’ll get entered into a pot; we’ll then shortlist our favourites and let everyone vote online. Get naming!

August – Show extravaganza

We’ve got lots going on over the next month so if you’re about on the island come and join us. I’ll be at both Bunessan and Salen shows in August (1st and 7th August). I’ll be there for Mull Eagle Watch with some lovely displays and some eagle related activities for children. On the same stall we’ll have the Ranger Service display and again, lots of activities for the children to enjoy. Come and say hi, ask questions and just have a chat.

If you enjoy a good blog, we have a Mull and Iona Ranger Service blog now too. Follow us to keep up to date on events, shows, activities, talks, walks and more. Look out for some lovely local photos and posts on the recent goings-on.

Mull Eagle Watch Trips

Still lots going on the hide too so call 01680 812556 to book in. Great for families, we’ve got plenty to keep the children occupied throughout the trip and hopefully they’ll get to see one of the largest eagles in the world! Even after our chick has flown the nest we’ll still have good sightings and we’ll often take a wander through our forest to see what we can find.

Mull Eagle Watch

Thanks for reading. I’m looking forward to those eagle name ideas!

Rachel 🙂