Small but mighty

Enjoying a break from rock poolingI thought I’d treat you all with two blog posts in one week for a change, but less of our larger wildlife and more of the smaller critters. I’ve just got in from a glorious few hours looking for signs of otters and other shoreline wildlife with a lovely couple of families. The children were thoroughly engrossed in learning, exploring and being at home with nature. Working with our younger generations is one of my favourite parts of the job, it’s brilliant to look at wildlife and simply enjoy it as it is – getting back to rock pooling, paddling, catching tadpoles and exploring the smaller things are some of the best ways to do that.

Shoreline search

We got out our nets, tubs and containers, clip boards and binoculars before trooping off to search. We looked carefully about the sandy shore line for tracks and prints, finding lots of bird tracks, although no otter tracks. We fished in rock pools to find crabs, beadlet anemones, limpets, barnacles, prawns, shrimps, cockles, fish, hermit crabs and more. We also hunted out some otter prey remains, finding lots of crab claws. We found lots of goose poo, which is basically just grass; lots of “erghhhs” and “yuks” as I pulled one apart to show them – a goose can eat more grass than a sheep! It’s safe to say we all left with wet feet, dirty hands and shell filled pockets and we loved it.

Homes for nature

The weather has been fantastic over the last few days and we’ve had plenty going on at the hide. We had a coach party yesterday join us along with lots of dragonflies and butterflies enjoying the sunshine including dark green fritillaries, golden-ringed dragonflies and common hawkers.

bug homes
I’ve been working on improving our area for wildlife and providing some homes for our smaller wee beasties. We now have some shelter for slow worms, lizards or adders – they love to hide under things for shelter and the heat. We’ve also just added two new bug homes which will hopefully become home to some bees, beetles, spiders, lacewings or ladybirds. Our larger insects like the predatory dragonflies rely on the small insects for food, so hopefully we can help them out. We already had some bird boxes up along with our barn owl/tawny owl nesting boxes.

It’s easy to make a difference by doing something simple, you don’t even need to spend any money, and you can make bug homes like ours with natural materials you can find in your garden or park. If everyone in the UK had a little space for wildlife in their back garden we’d have a huge nature reserve that we’re all a part of! How about a home for hedgehogs or a frog hotel?

Thank you

A lovely thank you

I was over the moon to receive a thank you card from Tobermory Primary school for my visit; they made a homemade eagle card with lots of lovely drawings. All the drawings have a huge yellow beak and they also have yellow feet – well remembered and they are great white-tailed eagles! Here are a few photos showcasing the art.

Thanks for reading! Rachel

Further adventures on Mull

Well the weather here recently has been classic Isle of Mull – very changeable with heavy showers and sunny spells. July often seems to be monsoon month here but often the wildlife appreciates the downpours as they create short spurts of activity. Insects launch themselves into the skies when the rain clears and the swallows, house martins, pied wagtails and more all follow to cache in on the bounty. It also designs some impressive landscapes with rushes of water tumbling down the hills and over our many cliffs, quickly reaching the lochs. We all crave those perfect days with clear blue skies and sunshine, but I find that our dramatic weather can remind you where you actually are, matching our mountains and rugged coastline. We should learn to appreciate it that little bit more.

Caliach Point

Last Thursday I ran a guided walk and sea-watching session from Calgary Bay round to Caliach Point. It was a great trip despite it being extremely windy; the sea was pretty choppy making it hard to spot any marine mammals. We had a lovely walk though, focussing a lot on our wildflowers. We were joined by a pair of kestrels whilst they used the wind to look for prey linking back to their very apt name; the Windhover. Great to see this little raptor, we don’t have huge numbers here on Mull and they are declining fairly rapidly across the UK. Lots of ravens and hooded crows about and we had some good sightings of gannets, Manx shearwaters and kittiwakes over the sea. This area is usually a nesting site for fulmars, but not one was seen. I did hear of two American mink spotted there the same week though.

Perseverance paid off…

Friday morning was a wash out but thankfully we weren’t running a trip, any sensible eagle would have been sat patiently waiting out the weather. But we persevered for the afternoon session, and four hardy visitors joined me with their fingers crossed it would clear as forecast. And it did! We had a great afternoon with both adults about the area giving us some fantastic sights through the scope. We even had Iona and Fingal perched side by side companionably, we don’t see that very often. Another visitor we’re seeing a good deal at the minute is the wee sparrowhawk, a brilliant raptor. We had a close encounter as the male shot by the shelter, making a dizzying turn when he realised we were all engrossed, he then flew up above the hide to alight on a tree branch for a second, maybe recouping his nerves before powering off again. It’s always a privilege to have a visit from these birds of prey.

Growing up fast

Our chick will be nine weeks old later in the week and coming up to an important time. Fledging probably won’t take place until week twelve but, prior to that nerve wracking moment, the chick will begin to exercise, pumping those wings to develop the all important flight muscles. We’ll see the chick ‘branch-out’ too, exploring of the nest area and close braches will give the chick some experience in moving about and managing that huge 8ft wingspan. This is all rather edge of your seat, it’s very easy for this to go wrong when you’re pretty high up in a tree and still learning so we’ll be keeping a close eye on our youngster over the next few weeks. Later in the season we’ll have a local primary school group come up with a name for the eagle hide chick to go with Orion, our chick from last year. This is another brilliant way to get local youngsters enthused about the eagles and our wildlife. Don’t forget though we’ll be giving you the chance to name Sula and Cuin’s chick – the webcam star.

Coming up…

This week we’ll be at the hide enjoying our eagles, and there are plenty of spaces left for our trips. They run daily, Mon-Fri at 10am or 1pm. Easy access to our hide with binoculars and telescopes is provided. We’ll tell you all you need to know about white-tailed eagles and any other wildlife we might encounter. Lots to see and do and we’re great for children too! Call 01680 812556 to enquire or book in.

Also, Thursday this week join me to hunt for some otters on the shores of Loch Na Keal. It’s another event that’s great for all, everyone welcome. We’ll spend some time looking for otters, learning about them and we’ll also seek out some tracks and signs along the coast. For some more info call 07540 792650.

Adventure of the Week goes to…Loch Sunart & Garbh Eilean Wildlife Hide

Garbh Eilean Wildlife Hide

Not too far from our lovely isle, you can visit Loch Sunart – an absolutely breathtaking sea loch and the Forestry Commission Scotland’s wildlife hide. Loch Sunart stretches for around 20 miles, bordered by stunning scenery of Morvern and Ardnamurchan, it is a brilliant place for wildlife and has recently been proposed for a Marine Protected Area for its important marine environment and the impact it has on the wider seas nearby.

Garbh Eiliean Wildlife Hide

The FCS wildlife viewing hide is superb and having spent some time there in February this year I can highly recommend it. The hide fits in perfectly with the surrounding environment, made from all natural materials. With the comfort and protection from the often harsh weather the hide offers you can happily enjoy species like otter, white-tailed eagle, common seals, red-breasted merganser, divers, the local heronry and more. Well worth a visit and great for all; binoculars provided and you’ll also have the added benefit of a ranger’s knowledge if you pop by on a Monday!

Thanks for reading as usual – Rachel

Eagle Antics

We’re still speeding through the season, into July already and we’ve even had some glorious sunny days to show for it. Our eagle chick is eight weeks old on Wednesday this week and seems to be doing very well. Just yesterday I had some great views of it stretching and exercising those huge wings in the nest. On very hot days it often hunkers down into the nest to keep cool, raptors can only pant to lose heat, they aren’t able to sweat like we can. Despite the nest being quite sheltered from most conditions it is difficult to shelter from the sun at the very top of a tree! Still a few weeks left in the nest, most chicks fledge at around 12 weeks old and even after that we’ll still get brilliant sightings in the area. Other wildlife sightings at the minute include some brilliant dragonflies with lots of golden ringed – the longest British species. We’ve also had a small pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly. Plenty of buzzards and golden eagles, but also some great views of both male and female sparrowhawks with a few sightings of prey being carried.

Seasonal Seals

Every year white-tailed eagles make the most of seasonal food and at the minute we’re seeing Iona and Fingal bring in common seal afterbirths (the placenta and other gory treats!). Lots of people find this a bit disgusting, but if you take it from an eagles point of view it’s an excellent food source; it won’t run away, not too heavy to carry in flight to a nest and it’ll be extremely nutritional for our chick. Iona dropped into the nest on Friday after approaching the area like an arrow; she was going so fast we couldn’t tell what she had been carrying. She was closely followed by Fingal carrying a rather unpleasant looking food parcel which he ungraciously dumped with the youngster. We had great views of his very red feet whilst he perched nearby. We often see “red-tailed eagles” about at this time of year instead of that lovely crisp white tail. This demonstrates how adaptable the generalist predators are, taking what they can when it’s available.

Mugshot of the intruder
Mugshot of the intruder

Head for heights?

Our webcam proved extremely useful over the weekend, giving us a valuable insight into what can go wrong at eagle nest sites. First of all we had someone share a screen grab of the nest site with an intruding bird sat on the nest. We’ve seen this couple of times at the hide but the adults were always on hand to defend the nest and chase off the intruder. We’re not 100 per cent sure if the intruder is related, but it was action stations yesterday to rescue the chick. Unfortunately it had fallen about 30ft from the nest to the forest floor below. It could be that the intruding bird spooked the youngster or actually pushed it out; we’re hoping we can recover some footage and check what happened. Thankfully because of the webcam we could rush in with a rescue bid on Monday. The chick appeared healthy and was returned to the nest by FCS climbers. It was left happily feeding on some rabbit and salmon. Great outcome as every chick is important in a population of eagles – they take such a long time to build up their numbers. Thanks to everyone that was involved!

Mystery Shopper

Great news for all of us involved with Mull Eagle Watch as we flew through our mystery shopper visit and report again. It’s a brilliant feeling to know all that hard work pays off. The hide and trips are highly rated and we hope this shines through to all of our visitors. We’re into Scottish school holidays now, shortly followed by the English kids, so July and August will be busy which is great, just need some nice weather to go alongside.

Coming up…

Tomorrow I’m running a Ranger Service event starting from Calgary Bay. We’ll head off for a wander towards Caliach Point and stop plenty of times to “Sea Watch”. We’ll look for marine life including minke whales, basking sharks, dolphins, porpoise, seals and seabirds. Often scanning the area from the shore is just as productive as watching from a boat with the added bonus of wildflowers, butterflies, dragonflies and more. If you’re reading this and would like to come along give me a call on 07540 792 650 for some more information.

Next week on Thursday 10th I’m running “Out and About for Otters”. This one is great for both adults and children – a definite hit with families. We’ll spend some time on the shore of Loch Na Keal learning about otters, looking for signs and playing some games.

“Adventure of the Week” is going to be a new little feature for MEW. Every week we’ll recommend a reserve, forest, woodland or beach to visit. Some may be local to Mull; others might be further afield in West Scotland. This is a great way to support similar sites across the area that provide amazing places to view wildlife, get outdoors and enjoy the summer. Look out for our info board at the hide and our posts on Facebook/Twitter for these ideas.

Adventure of the Week this week goes to…Scottish Beaver Trial – Knapdale

european beaverA great family adventure for the beginning of the school holidays. Get outdoors to enjoy the beaver trail, explore the area and become beaver detectives to spot busy beaver signs. The Beaver Trial has been a great success, similar to our white-tailed eagle reintroduction – amazing to get some of our lost species back into the UK. Visit for the insight into a stunning mammal and the chance to see them in action – if you’re very lucky and patient!

See the Scottish Beaver Trial website.

The Beaver Trial is run in partnership with Forestry Commission Scotland (just like MEW), Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Royal ZSL.

Thanks for reading as usual, hope you enjoyed it – Rachel

Owls, eagles and kids – what could be better?

Mull eagle chick

So yet again it’s been a busy week with lots going on. Following on from my trip to clean out barn owl nesting barrels earlier in the season I joined our FCS wildlife rangers, John Jackson and James Grieg on Monday this week to ring chicks. Barn owls last year across the whole of the UK had a very poor year, with on 20 per cent of traditional nest sites being occupied according to the Barn Owl Conservation Trust. We were expecting a good season here on Mull, the winter was mild and many barrels we checked in April were occupied by both male and female birds. We were disheartened to find on Monday that none of the barrels had youngsters present. There were signs of adult owls, with moult feathers and pellets but no egg shells or young. We’re still holding out hope that we may have some later clutches, the nest sites will be checked again in a few weeks time to make sure we don’t miss them. One natural nest site we checked which is made up of a cave/tree root structure was active with two adults leaving as we approached. We could also hear chicks but we couldn’t reach them to ring, they had chosen a deeper tunnel this year.

Happy family

Weather over the last week has been classic Mull with constant changes, going from bright sunshine to mist, haze and drizzle – great for midges! Earlier this week we had a very damp day and true to the nature of large predators, our adults eagles decided they’d much rather sit around for long periods of time. Thankfully their favourite perches are easily seen from the hide meaning we could enjoy views of white-tailed eagles preening, resting and monitoring the area for incomers all day – brilliant. We have our first photographs of Iona and Fingal’s 2014 chick, very exciting to see. On yet another drizzly, dull day the ringing team made it to Glen Seilisdeir to climb the nest tree. We can now 100 per cent confirm we have one healthy chick, with no un-hatched eggs or any indication of another chick being present earlier in the season.

Mull eagle chick held by ringing team

This took place on 13th June; the chick was 5 weeks and a few days old. In the photos you can clearly see the size – just look at that powerful beak! It looks like the body has some catching up to do, the beak is often a good indication of sex (females always being substantially larger), but we’re still waiting on confirmation of this – last year’s chick was a female. For now the beak is dark, along with the eye. Gradually over years this will change, the beak turning bright yellow and the iris will turn golden, giving rise to the Gaelic name for our sea eagles;  Iolair Suil na Grein, meaning “eagle with the sunlit eye”. Plumage is currently predominantly brown. The white tail and blonde head take around four and half years to gradually moult in.

mull eagle in flight picture by melanie milne
Picture by Melanie Milne

Tobermory Primary – top kids!

Yesterday I spent the entire day at Tobermory Primary School with four different classes going from teeny tiny P1 children, through to P6/7. I have to say I was slightly nervous for a whole day in school with the kids, I usually have one group for an hour and give them back…but it was brilliant. I thoroughly enjoyed it all and met some fantastic children. All were keen and excited, never failing to tell me lovely stories about their own wildlife encounters or asking me innovative questions. As I’ve said before I think it’s so important to get our younger generations interested in wildlife and I think we managed this yesterday.

Here are some of the things the kids said they learnt..

“That all animals and wildlife are linked together, like a giant web”
“I didn’t know that golden eagles were smaller than white-tailed eagles”
“I know that golden eagles have feathers all down their legs, sea-eagles don’t”
“that plankton is one of the most important things in the world”

Hopefully they’ll have lots of exciting wildlife encounters over their summer holidays and I might see them again. Last week I also popped down to Iona Primary School to spend some time outside in the sun with the kids there, and it was a great afternoon.

Visit to Iona

Wonderful webcam

I hope you’re all enjoying our live webcam online at the minute, the chick is looking enormous now (the webcam is running from 6am-8pm currently). If you see anything interesting we’d love for you to send us some details or for you to post it directly onto our Mull Eagle Watch Facebook page, unfortunately I can’t watch it as much as I’d like, although I do get to see the real thing most days. I’d just like to thank all of our partners and those involved with the webcam; Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, RSPB, Mull and Iona Community Trust, Police Scotland. With a special thanks to Peter Carnyx and Chris Baker for making it all work.

Thanks for reading again, I’ll be back soon! Meanwhile, keep an eye on the webcam and our Facebook page. We have another addition to social media for you too; we’re now on Twitter as @Mulleaglewatch. We’ll run alongside the existing @skyeandfrisa page but follow us for tweets about Iona, Fingal and their chick at the hide.

Rachel

Live and Wild Webcam

As promised, I shared some photos of the chicks that were ringed last week when I joined the teams. Lots of you on our facebook page enjoyed seeing them, so here they are again for those of you that may have missed them. We visited two nests with one chick each, both at a slightly different age.

The older chick
The older chick
The younger chick
The younger chick

You can clearly see that the older chick is almost fully grown and has lost all of its downy feathers. It still has another five or six weeks in the nest to finish developing its important flight feathers though. The younger chick is still showing a good amount of down and isn’t quite fully grown yet, it is definitely shocked at being interrupted in the nest but it soon settled back down.

Sula and Cuin

We have some very exciting news to share with you all; thanks to a lot of hard work from many people involved and Forestry Commission Scotland for funding we have a live webcam up and running showing a constant feed of a Mull pair of white-tailed eagles. Unfortunately, due to Iona and Fingal building a new site this year we couldn’t get them online, but we do have two online stars to share with you. Meet Sula and Cuin, along with their chick! You can enjoy keeping up with this pair online whenever you fancy. How exciting – this is the first webcam in the UK to give a live feed of white-tailed eagles!

Tune into our Mull Eagle Watch webcam >

Sula is our female, she is easy to identify from the male because she has wing tags on either side; they are white with a black 5. She was hatched in Norway but was then released as part of the final reintroduction phase on the Scottish East Coast around seven years ago. She then made her way to Mull. She settled here with a Mull bred male called Cuin, also seven years old, and they are doing a great job of raising chicks every year. You may recognise them from Springwatch stardom over the last few weeks, this is the Mull pair that featured on TV. So if you’re dreading the end of Springwatch, not to worry as you can keep up with the stars all season. Enjoy the adults perched by the nest, bringing prey in, feeding the chick, and follow the chick as it grows up, learning to feed, building up muscles and preparing for that all important first flight.

Notorious names

We usually task a local school with the important job of naming our Mull Eagle Watch chick. Last year Iona and Fingal’s chick was named Orion. This year we’re going to give our online followers and fans the chance to name Sula and Cuin’s youngster. This will probably be through our facebook page; we’ll take suggestions and then create a shortlist before finally selecting a winner. So get watching the chick online and start thinking of a fitting name. Keep an eye out for an announcement to start the competition.

Meanwhile…

Back in Glen Seilisdeir our parents are working hard bringing in lots of prey ranging from greylag goslings through to mountain hare. Our chick is now just over five weeks old and is due to be ringed anytime soon, so next week I’ll be able to share some photos of our very own youngster with you.

Other wildlife sightings of course include our golden eagles, buzzards and ravens. Willow warblers and chiff chaffs are still signing and we have some lovely wildflowers coming out too. Germander speedwell, ivy-leaved speedwell, cat’s ear, birds-foot trefoil, foxglove and bugle are but a few. We also had a brilliant sighting of a marsh fritillary butterfly on the track, one of the UK’s rare species; its caterpillars are primarily reliant on devil’s-bit scabious.

We’ve had the pleasure of Tobermory Primary and Ulva Primary Schools visiting the hide recently too, great to get them outdoors learning about our wildlife. More school visits to come soon, I’m heading out to Iona Primary in the next week and then visiting four different classes in Tobermory!

Thanks for reading again, hope you all enjoy our webcam. If you’re watching and see anything interesting, let me know! Unfortunately I have to tear myself away often, so I’d love to hear what you’re seeing when I’m out and about.

A recent sunset
A recent sunset

 

Eagle ringing

Climbers ringing Mull eaglesThis week I was privileged enough to head out with the FCS and RSPB eagle ringing groups to two different eagle territories. I was so grateful for the opportunity, as I’d not yet had the chance to view a ringing before, and it was a brilliant learning experience. Unfortunately the Mull Eagle Watch chick was too young to be ringed this week but it’s on the list for the next ringing trip to the isle.

Ringing birds and actually getting up to the nests themselves isn’t for the fainthearted and it takes a lot of training. You have to be a trained tree climber with the knowledge to safely use the climbing equipment to make it up to the eagle nest sites which can often be extremely high up in awkward trees like Sitka spruce and larch. Safety obviously comes first for both the birds and the climbers, some nests aren’t ringed due to being too dangerous and inaccessible. You also have to be trained in ringing with experience of handling birds, especially large raptors. Training to ring birds is a long process requiring perseverance and an experienced ringer who is willing to teach you for at least a year. You need to be equipped with the correct climbing equipment and ringing equipment.

Starting climb to second nest (Medium)

Arduous climb

We first headed out to a well know pair who nested on a very exposed sea stack last year after their original tree nest collapsed. Over winter they repaired the tree nest and are now happily back in their regular home with one large chick. We approached the nest, getting our first view of the huge structure and a dark brown head looking out. It felt very odd going so close, usually in any other circumstances this would be highly illegal – the ringers and climbers have licences allowing us to be there. As the climbers got their gear out and began to harness up we scouted around the base of the tree for feathers, pellets and prey remains. There wasn’t much to be found other than a few small eagle feathers and some fulmar feathers. How on earth do you tell if it’s a fulmar? They smell very strange, very recognisable after it’s been pointed out!

This particular tree was quite difficult and slow going for the climbers due to lots of brash and branches running up the trunk from the base. As we stood watching the first member of the team head up the adult female returned calling in annoyance, she flew about above us and was soon joined by the male, both uttering calls with a slight difference in pitch. I asked plenty of questions, learning about the whole process and what interesting prey remains had been found in nests before. There was currently a fresh mackerel and what looked like deer liver in with the chick! Once up there, the climber called for the ringing bag to be sent up and he began the process of weighing, measuring and ringing the bird. We no long use wing tags here in West Scotland. We finished and left the adults and the chick to settle back down and trooped back to the vehicles.

Prey remains from Mull eagle nest

Delicious delights

Our next visit was to the pair that have recently been featured on Springwatch. The female is noticeable with wing tags because she’s an east coast released bird called Sula. This nest site was much more interesting in regard to prey remains, we found a lot including shag, fulmar, greylag goose, puffin, guillemot and some lamb. The ringers are so experienced that they can identify a prey species from one bone in some cases – fascinating!  Prey with white-tailed eagles is very varied as they’re opportunistic – they take what they can, when they can. Fish are important and can vary from mackerel and sea trout to freshwater pike. Seabirds include puffins, razorbills, guillemots, greylag geese, herons, fulmar, herring gulls and even great black-backed gulls. Mammals also play a large part including rabbits, mountain hare, hedgehogs, feral cats, American mink and red deer calves. On the mainland, good size fox cubs and roe deer youngsters are often recorded and even a badger cub once. Another healthy chick was measured and ringed in this nest whilst we battled against midges and ticks.

Ringing equipment

Rings and tags

A lot of the birds across West Scotland now have no wing tags making it difficult to tell who’s who but we now use chunky colour rings as well as the small silver BTO ring. If you have binoculars, camera or a scope you can still see the detail and let us know. Similarly some birds around still do have big, bright wing tags. The Irish reintroduction and east coast reintroductions are much more recent and still rely on sightings to understand how the birds are doing. If you see any birds with tags let us know colours and letters, we’ll be able to pass the info on and tell you the age and where the bird came from too. Tags and rings play an important part in dealing with the ongoing raptor persecution across the UK too, allowing us to monitor birds easily.

Thanks for reading again, hope you enjoyed the insight into the ringing process. Hopefully soon I will have some photos of the chicks in the nest itself I couldn’t get any as all of the ringing takes place up in the tree. Keep an eye for those coming soon – Rachel.

Ringing Week

Thanks to Mull Charters for the photograph
Thanks to Mull Charters for the photograph

One chick?

We’re into June already, and things are going by so quickly especially after our busiest week yet at Mull Eagle Watch. We were jam-packed for May bank holiday week and thankfully the weather was pretty good in the most part too. If I was to put money on how many chicks we have I’d go with one. We started out thinking Iona and Fingal may have two beaks to feed but I’m fairly confident going off the amount of prey going in and the movement on the nest that we now only have one chick. We’ve had some good views of the chick’s head amongst the nest material and the adults are regularly in and out of the territory. Not to worry though, one chick is still a great achievement if they manage to raise it to fledging. After a poor year across the island in 2013, with many nests failing and a lot only producing one youngster we’re confident that this year may be better overall. More details to come as we confirm nests in the next few weeks.

I’m very excited this week, as it’s eagle ringing week on Mull. Unfortunately we think our chick may be too young and too small to ring – as Iona and Fingal are a late nesting pair, our youngster will only be 4 weeks old on Wednesday. Chicks should usually be around 6 weeks old at ringing; almost fully grown in size but still a lot of feather growth and another 5/6 weeks on the nest. I’m lucky that I have the chance to attend another nest site ringing to view the process though and get a new series of photographs for the hide. I’ve not yet been to see an eagle ringing and this is something I’d ideally like to train to do so it’ll give me a great insight into the challenge of tree climbing and raptor ringing. Check back soon as I’ll post some photos at the end of the week.

IMG_5277 (Medium)

Captivating questions

We’ve had some great visitors over the last week. And with the children being off school, it‘s so important to encourage our young generation of conservationists, bird watchers and wildlife lovers – we’d be nowhere in the future without their minds and influence. So many brilliant questions about wildlife and eagles, some kids had such an in-depth knowledge already. One in particular sticks in my mind; a young boy who had a fascination for all predators, prey and hunting methods – both eagle species and the red fox were some of his favourites. Adults often get our predator versus prey relationship the wrong way around, and we have a tendency to blame our predators for everything. Usually though our predators can only survive if there’s lots of food for them – a classic example being the sparrowhawk; think yourself lucky if one visits your garden, don’t worry about the small birds!

My bat walk last week went well with a good turn out of adults and children. We had a lovely time in Aros Park learning about our bats, habitats, prey, woodland management and how to use a bat detector. It was a great evening, despite the midges. Looking forward to next week’s “Skydancer Spotting” afternoon, you can come along and join me at north Loch Frisa for a gentle walk – we’ll look for hen harriers, short-eared owls, eagles and more, maybe even some newts along the track…

IMG_5254

I have some school visits coming up for the hide, with Tobermory primary school coming out to see us on Thursday this week, looking forward to that, got some new activities planned for them too.

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) (1) (Medium)

There is plenty of wildlife to look out for at the minute; the flag irises are in full display and the foxgloves are beginning to show too and don’t forget to keep an eye for orchids around the island too. Lots of young birdlife around, greylag geese all have goslings in tow – great food for eagles. I’ve been watching a newly fledged family of starlings from my window learning what is edible and what isn’t and species like willow warbler and chiff chaff are still singing their hearts out.

Thanks again for reading– Rachel

Protective parents

Almost two weeks on and things are still going well with Iona, Fingal and the offspring. John managed to get a glimpse of at least one chick in the nest for the first time this week when Fingal perched his heavy weight on a branch, giving us a clear view in. So we know one chick at least is doing great. We have our suspicions that we do have two youngsters but still cannot say for definite. Now that the chick(s) can maintain their own body temperature a little better, the adults are incubating far less. They still work hard to keep them dry in our rainy weather but now spend a lot of time sat on favourite perches nearby, keeping an ever watchful eye over the territory and one adult will always be on hand to defend the chick(s). Despite growing quickly they are still very vulnerable at this stage, species like hooded crow, raven, buzzard, golden eagles or intruding white-tailed eagles pose a threat if the chicks were left unattended for long.

Very damp Fingal

One morning last week we had a great deal of action. Both Iona and Fingal were getting pretty agitated by an intruding sub-adult white-tailed eagle. They have been fairly tolerant of the birds that hang around but it must have been pushing its luck this time. It took to flying around directly above the nest, often stopping briefly to perch nearby, but not for long before it was pestering the pair again. We heard lots of vocalisation from Iona and Fingal, both showing their annoyance at the bird. With one parent on the nest the other took to the air multiple times, we had no real conflict – often you see things like talon grappling in similar scenarios. Maybe they settled their differences amicably?

I had an extra special moment yesterday during lunch, so unfortunately I was the only one to witness – a golden eagle flew right overhead and the best part was the constant calling coming from it; so rare to hear this species, they are much less vocal than our white-tailed eagles. I know people who’ve watched eagles for a long time and still never heard one!

Tripadvisor certificate

Certificate of Excellence

We’ve just been award a Certificate of Excellence 2014 from Tripadvisor. This is brilliant and really shows our hard work and efforts put in. Thank you to everyone who has left us a review – it means a lot to everyone working here, and of course Iona and Fingal are thrilled too!
We are also applying for the Scottish Thistle Awards this year which will be very exciting if we are shortlisted. Right now, I’m working on our green tourism file – we are currently rated at silver although we’re always trying to improve things to reach for gold.

Another eagle education

Since my last post I’ve been to another of our primary schools; Lochdon Primary this time. Another great group of children and they enjoyed learning about the island’s wildlife, eagles and how predators and prey link together to keep everything running smoothly. I love working with the children; they are always enthusiastic and come up with brilliant, interesting questions that I try my best to answer.

Lots of scopes and cameras

I also had a visit from George Watson’s college. We got some views of the eagles and nest through the scope before building up our eagle nest – this proved to be exhausting as they’d already climbed Ben More – our only Munro – earlier that day. Unfortunately I discovered that our life size nest might be out of action for a while due to our very bad tick year.

Wonderful wildlife

Other sightings at the hide include our local golden eagles and buzzards, often perfectly timed to arrive just at the end of our trips. We have a large herd of red deer feeding on one ridge line. We’ve lots of flying beetles around, including the tiger beetle. Many more butterflies around making use of our sunny spells. Greenfinches have been joining our regular chaffinches and siskins. I’ll also take the time to mention midge repellent for anyone that is due to visit us – thankfully most days we have a nice breeze to keep them at bay but if not they can make a lovely meal of us all.

Brilliant bats

This week in addition to the hide I am also running a ranger service event, if you are about come along to my bat walk – we’ll spend some time leaning about our island bats and take a walk with detectors to listen and see them. We’re meeting in Aros park, one of our lovely forestry commission sites near Tobermory at 8.30pm, give me a call on 01680 300640 or 07540792650 to book for the session.

Thanks for reading again – Rachel.

 

Happy Birthday chick

One week on and our first chick was one week old yesterday, still unable to maintain it’s own body temperature, still very vulnerable to bad weather and still very small and downy. We haven’t yet been able to get a good view of the chick itself, nor have we confirmed whether or not we have a second chick. The second egg would have hatched over the weekend if at all, so we’ll keep an eye out for any signs. As the chick or chicks get bigger they’ll be able to keep themselves warm, meaning the parents don’t need to incubate, we should begin to see them sat next to the nest more and hopefully give a better view in. They’ll also need to increase the prey brought in, to support quickly developing youngsters, a growing chick needs a vast amount of energy.

Visitors at Mull Eagle Hide

We’ve had some great visitors at the hide, along with some great sightings too. On Monday we had a large coach party of visitors after our regular trips, many of these visitors were bird ringers around the country. To make my day even more special, I got the chance to put a face to a name; Brian Little MBE. I’m from Northumberland, and Brian has been integral to bird of prey research based in the county. He has been ringing birds for over 50 years and created the basis for monitoring merlin and tawny owls. He was amazingly knowledgeable, and it was brilliant to chat to him.

Eagle education

On Tuesday afternoon I visited Ulva Primary school to run a session about eagles and wildlife. I thoroughly enjoyed it and so did the kids I think! It was lovely sunshine so we spent the whole time outside, with a bit of running about as predators and prey, then various activities afterwards – all aimed at highlighting the wildlife on our island and how every species links together. I think it’s important to look at things as a whole, rather than one species like the white-tailed eagle.

Ulva schoolchildren

I’m looking forward to seeing them again in June, when they visit the hide for some more fun and games. I have another school visit on Friday too, it’s great to work with the children.

Wildlife watching

Some good wildlife to look out for in general on the island at the minute, things like green hairstreak butterflies on gorse, the flag irises are beginning to flower too, along with sea pinks.

Sea pinks
Sea pinks

Most of our migrant bird species are here now and settled down for business; listen out for chiffchaff, common sandpipers and warblers. You’ll see our swallows, house martins and sand martins are here too and our auks are back in our waters, breeding out on the Treshnish Isles.

Shore at Mull

Marine life is looking great too, with good sightings from our local Hebridean waters, lots of common dolphins around, plus our local bottlenose dolphins have been seen in Salen bay this week.

Thanks for reading!

Parents again

Just a very quick post, but I had to let you all know we’re now parents! The first egg hatched on Wednesday, with a dramatic change in behaviour; much more prey being brought into the nest site and a lot more activity on the nest itself. We can clearly see the adults bending over to pull small pieces of prey off for the chick. Still lots of incubating going on, first of all due to the cold and wet weather we’re having, the young chick needs to be kept warm and dry and also because we hope a second is still to hatch. Fingers crossed!

White sea eagle on nest

Our drop-in day yesterday went well with a nice group of locals calling into to see how things work at Mull Eagle Watch this year. Thank you to those that did make the time to come along, great to see you all and put some faces to names. Lots of people also enjoying our influx of siskins to our feeders, taking plenty of photographs.

Mull eagle watch
We’re getting a little busier again after a small lull following the late Easter. Some good sized groups today with great views of both adults throughout the session, in flight, perched nearby and right on the nest. Iona took herself down to the burn and came back up looked wet and dishevelled after clearly having a bath, she then sat holding her wings out to dry in the breeze, great to see.

I’ll have more for you early next week and maybe another addition to the family.