Excited about eggs

We’re into May already, this season is flying past, it feels like only a few days ago when I wrote about Iona deciding on a nest site and laying her first egg. Well it’s been almost 38 days since that first post…and 38 days is the incubation period of the white-tailed eagle. Now the anticipation is rising at Glen Seilisdeir as we await the imminent hatching of the first egg, if our calculations are correct that could be today, or maybe Wednesday. Unfortunately for our pair, the weather has turned over the weekend. No more blue skies and sunshine for Mull, but heavy rain and gusty winds instead. Hopefully both Iona and Fingal are experienced enough to cope with this weather as the eggs hatch out, and we think the situation of this year’s new nest will help a lot too.

Mull eagle watch flag

We should see a change in behaviour when the first chick hatches. So far the birds have not brought much prey into the nest but we’ll probably see this increase. The youngsters need freshly caught prey rather than carrion to gain enough energy and nutrition to grow so prey like fish and seabirds will become important. The chicks will be incubated for a while after hatching, they are still very vulnerable, especially when the weather is poor but the parents may begin to move around much more on the nest too.

Fingal and Iona raised one chick last year which was named Orion by some local school children. Across Scotland white-tailed eagles often raise two chicks to fledging, they’re much more productive than golden eagles that usually only raise one chick and have a very high chance of failure. Fingers crossed that our pair do a little better this year at their new nest and hopefully we’ll have two chicks to contribute to the Scotland-wide population.

Ticking over

Things have been ticking over nicely after Easter, albeit a little more quietly with the children back to school. There have been some good sightings as usual at the hide, with regular golden eagles, a first year white-tailed eagle and sub-adult birds about still too – we even had a young bird attempt to land on the nest with the adults again! Last week there was a sheep carcass nearby too, and our visitors got some great views of Fingal, our adult male feeding on it.

As soon as we know something about the hatching and chicks I’ll let you all know. Don’t forget to keep in touch on our Facebook page too. I have my first classroom visit this week too, to teach the children about eagles and our island wildlife with some games which will be fun, as well as our drop in day on Thursday this week – if you are reading this and live or work on the island do come along and see us.

Mull Eagle Watch visitor nest

Legally protected

Also, a quick reminder that the white-tailed eagles are a heavily protected bird and disturbance won’t be tolerated. You should not be within 200m of a nest site – if you find you are, without being aware initially, please carefully retreat as soon as you notice. Please be aware of birds and any signs advising you not to stop, it is illegal to park in passing places as this is dangerous and blocks the road.

We’ve had an alert about a particular individual this week enquiring about getting within 30m of an active nest site – this is completely illegal, disturbing and dangerous to the birds. If you see anything suspicious anywhere on the island please call either the police on 121 or Dave Sexton, the RSPB officer on 07818 803 382.

Thanks for reading!

Drop-in day at Mull Eagle Watch

Mull Eagle Watch is holding a drop-in day for all local business owners. If you own or run a B&B, self catering facilities, a hotel, you are a tour operator or shop owner on the Isle of Mull this session is for you.

We’ll have the hide open for local visitors from 11am – 2pm on Thursday 8th May, you can call in during this time, whenever suits you. You can stay for five minutes or two hours – entirely up to you, we know everyone is pretty busy with the season picking up but this is an ideal chance to come along before the mad rush starts.

Mull sea eagle
It’s a great opportunity to come along and see what we offer at the hide, it will give you an understanding of how things run at Glen Seilisdeir – I know many people had been to see us at Loch Frisa. If you have guests who are interested, you can say you’ve been…and hopefully recommend us! You’ll meet John Clare, our RPSB officer and Rachel, the Mull and Iona Community Trust ranger, at the hide. We can answer any questions you might have, share some leaflets and just have a chat.

It’s free of course, so no excuses not too come along and say hello.

Super spring and (hopefully) super summer

Bluebells on Mull

Another lovely week here on Mull, we’ve been blessed with some great weather; glorious sunny afternoons, making for brilliant wildlife watching. Everything is still going to plan with Iona and Fingal who are sharing incubation duties throughout the day. Not too long now before we hope to have hatching chicks!

Sensational season?

Over the whole island it looks like it may be a productive year. We’ve already heard of the first minke whale sightings in our waters, along with news of basking sharks heading north, passing the Irish coast as I type! Last season the sharks were slow in arriving, probably linked to low temperatures and therefore low amounts of plankton that these giant fish feed on. You can follow some sharks that were tagged in our Hebridean waters last season online.
Puffins are back in the waters here now after a winter out at sea and they should be heading onto islands like Lunga soon to start breeding.puffins

The trees seem to have burst into various shades of green recently, obviously making the most of the energy from sun. The blackthorns are in flower and the flag irises should be about to open too, followed by our lovely bluebells soon enough. We’ve seen a lot of butterflies about too, mostly Peacocks. We even came across a rare oil beetle on the track up to the hide one day. These beetles have a fascinating lifecycle; they rely on solitary bees, without them the larvae would never reach maturity. The beetle larvae hide in a flower to hitch a ride back to the bee’s nest, once inside the larvae feed on the bee’s eggs and its store of pollen and nectar to eventually emerge as an adult. These beetles are declining, as are bees. We’re very lucky to have them in the forest at Glen Seilisdeir.

An oil beetle
A rare Oil Beetle

So many eagles!

Thursday morning started out being a dull, chilly day. It was a morning for woolly hats and gloves. We were a select few for the first trip that day and enjoyed interesting debates and discussions about various wildlife issues, from the badger cull and pine martens on Mull, to the on-going raptor persecution across the mainland. We had a volunteer from an osprey watch too and it was great to compare the white-tailed eagles to the amazing migratory fish specialist. We waited patiently for a changeover and were rewarded when Fingal came into the nest, he sat around for a while before taking over duties too so we got a good view of him.

Eagle on Mull

Over lunch the sun came out and really warmed the area, giving way to stunning, clear blue skies. Perfect for eagles! A larger group for the afternoon session, and what an afternoon it was! We lost count of eagles; they were obviously making use of the warm air thermals, enjoying the height without wasting energy. We saw both white-tailed eagles and golden eagles distantly over the hillsides and by the peak of Ben More. We also had a changeover, with both Iona and Fingal taking turns to pose for us on a nearby treetop. As we enjoyed this spectacle, I looked directly up to see five eagles right above us – four sub-adult white-tailed eagles and a young golden eagle! What a sight! Safe to say we were all very excited. The sightings continued in the area until we all had to tear ourselves away with some guests heading off for a quick BBQ before rushing for the ferry.

Progress

As you may know, with Iona choosing a new nest site this year we had to make some quick adjustments to the viewing area with some tree felling and a new shelter. One thing we are still in the process of changing is the camera we had on the nest last year. We’ve had problems with our cable and then our TV screen… We’re almost sorted with it now though and should have a live feed of the nest site inside our hide and hopefully an online webcam too.

Lastly, I’ve been busy working on some new activities for our younger visitors so watch this space for some interesting videos and photos of us enjoying the new tasks. I’ll also have some school visits too, making sure our younger generations get a balanced education on our island wildlife, eagles and how everything interacts.

Thanks for reading!

A busy Easter at the nest

We’re now a few weeks into our 2014 season at Mull Eagle Watch, and have enjoyed a busy Easter. Iona and Fingal are now sharing the duties of incubation although it seems Iona has been doing the lion’s share of work! However over the last few days the pair have shared the job with regular changeovers at the nest. We aren’t sure how many eggs the pair have but we’re hoping they probably have 2 or 3, we’ll know more when the chicks begin to hatch which will be on the 6th or 7th May. The new nest is holding up well with the wind and rain we’ve had over the last few weeks, with much more shelter than last year to protect the incubating bird and eggs.

Visitors to Mull Eagle Watch over Easter at the hide
Visitors to Mull Eagle Watch at the hide over Easter

With it being the Easter holidays we’ve had some great families and groups of children visiting the hide. Lots of them were really knowledgeable about wildlife and eagles already. They asked fantastic questions throughout the trips, showing a huge interest in the birds. We spent some time most days building up an eagle nest, getting hands-on and active. We all worked together as a team to build the nest – which can be up to the size of a double bed! We learnt about eagles and their nest as we built; how deep do they get? How many years can one nest be active? Are they always big enough or do chicks sometimes fall out? What is the biggest nest ever recorded? Did you know that sometimes nests get so big they can cause a tree to fall over? All the children got good views of the eagles and other wildlife too.

Kids having fun in a nest they built at Mull Eagle Watch
Kids having fun in a nest they built at Mull Eagle Watch

An Easter treat

One day we had a really special morning; the eagles had a carcass up on the ridge above the nest site and there was a huge amount of activity taking place. Carrion plays an important part in the diet of many species of eagle, especially throughout winter – although they will readily feed on carcasses whenever it is available. We counted six eagles at one point, a combination of white-tailed eagles (both adults and sub-adults) and golden eagles all flying around the ridge and often landing to feed. The whole time this was going on Iona sat quietly on the nest. Moments like that are very special and our visitors were extremely lucky to see such a spectacle.

We also had a sub-adult bird spending a lot of time in the area; both Iona and Fingal are very tolerant of this individual, allowing it to sit up above the nest. Well, most of the time…one afternoon it pushed its luck and actually landed on the nest and was promptly pushed straight back out! We think it may be one of the pair’s youngsters from a previous year; they would be much less tolerant of a stranger.

A Siskin bird on a feeder
A Siskin bird on a feeder

We’re seeing lots of other wildlife around the hide too. There are bird feeders up nearby with chaffinches, siskins and coal tits feeding regularly. We’ve had some sightings of the common crossbill around the hide and forest too. Look out for any trees which are heavy with cones and you might come across some feeding with their distinctive bill. The children unearthed an interesting beetle too – the “bloody-nosed beetle”. This is a leaf beetle that can’t fly but can “spew” blood from its nose to defend against small mammal predators, interesting…

A Bloody Nosed Beetle
A Bloody Nosed Beetle

We are lucky to be seeing golden eagles almost every day; they use the ridge line above the forest and soar around beside Ben More. Of course the buzzard tends to make daily appearances, along with ravens and hooded crows. We’ve even had some distant sightings of kestrels, hen harriers and sparrowhawks.

Along with our regular blog we have some various ways you can keep up to date with us at Mull Eagle Watch; you can “like” us on Facebook to see daily updates, sightings, photographs and more, both myself and John update daily on this dedicated page. We’re also on Twitter: just search “skyeandfrisa” for regular tweets. Lastly, we’re on TripAdvisor – we’re a five star attraction and would like to thank everyone that has left us a review. Thanks for reading!

Fingal and Iona choose their nest

Mull Eagle Watch re-opened for the season this week, with our first visitors on Monday, after the previous week of preparations. We spent time getting the hide ready and full of information with examples of tags, pellets, leg rings, feathers…and even some stuffed birds! There was a spot of tidying up to do after some recent renovations, and we also had to wait while Iona and Fingal decided on a nest site.

Mull sea eagle hide
Mull sea eagle hide

The feathered pair were seen near the nest site they have used for the past few years, with some mating and both birds appeared to be using the tree as a roost site. But they were regularly seen on the other side of the glen too – on a different site where they also used to nest, although we know that this nest itself no longer exists. The question was…where had they built their new nest?

We waited impatiently, with John our RSPB Information Officer spending a lot of time following the birds and carefully watching their activities. White-tailed eagles are usually very faithful to their own laying date. For Iona and Fingal last year this was the 26th March. But this date came and went without event. Thankfully by Friday 28th Iona had decided she was happy and settled into a brand new nest site across the glen to lay her first egg. Luckily we have good views of the new nest site from the hide itself and we also have a shelter slightly further down the track to give two viewing points.

Sea eagle at nest on Mull
Iona at nesting site

The nest is further away than previous years, but we have great cinematic and picturesque views of the whole glen, including the stunning peak of Ben More, the island’s only munro. This gives us a better opportunity to see the birds in flight around the nest site, along with other birds including golden eagles, buzzards, hen harriers and much more. We provide telescopes and binoculars to help our visitors spot them and we will also have a camera up and running soon too. Another bonus is the new nest site may be much safer for the chicks, with a more sheltered position from inclement weather. Last year’s nest had dealt with some strong winds and rain and had looked rather precarious over the winter.

This week we had some great views with our first few groups of visitors. Iona and Fingal are sharing incubation, so we witnessed some changeovers, during which Iona perched nearby in a favourite tree, enjoying her time off the nest to preen. Of course we had lots of other wildlife too, including spectacular views of golden eagles over the hide and glen and our local pair of Buzzards being very vocal whilst soaring around the site.

If you’d like to join us for a trip to visit Mull Eagle Watch and the opportunity to see Fingal and Iona in action, please call the Craignure Tourist Information Centre to book (booking is essential) on 01680 812556. We are open Mon-Fri and run two trips per day at 10am and 1pm, with trips lasting about 2 hours. Both John the RPSB officer and I (Rachel the new Seasonal Community Trust and Forestry Commission Ranger), will be on hand the entire time to provide information, help you spot the birds and answer your questions.

Isle of Mull landscape