Category Archives: Iona and Fingal

Springtime Raptors & Reptiles

Springtime Raptors & Reptiles – 4th April 2017

Mull Eagle Watch reopens for trips on 11th April 2017 (bookings now being taken on 01680 812556)
Fresh faces
After a year and a half working locally at Ulva Primary School, I’ve returned to the Seasonal Eagle Ranger Post, which I filled during 2014 and 2015. I’ll be working for the Mull and Iona Ranger Service and the Mull and Iona Community Trust. Meryl Varty has taken on the RSPB Community and Information Officer post. Between the two of us we’ll be providing daily guided trips to view White-tailed eagles at two different community owned sites. You can join us at West Ardhu (North West Community Woodland) or Glen Seilisdeir (Tiroran Community Forest) to learn more about the local community forest practices, the eagles and other local wildlife species whilst hopefully viewing the eagles in the area.
Eagle Viewing Hides – ‘incubation initiated’
I’ll mostly be based at the West Ardhu viewing hide near Dervaig in the North West of the island. This area is now my home patch, having moved away from the ‘big city lights’ of Tobermory last year. This area of the island is home to brilliant wildlife, beautiful beaches and the community managed woodland in which Star and Hope have been nesting since 2014.
Hope, the female White-tailed eagle is now incubating on her nest in the West Ardhu. Along with her mate, Star they’ll share the incubation duties (although the female often does more) and we’ll expect the hatching to take place toward the end of April.
Meryl will be based at Tiroran Community Forest, where eagles Iona and Fingal are also currently incubating and hatching should take place at the beginning of May. Mull Eagle Watch has viewed this pair since 2011 and they’ve been really successful since then, raising a chick each year.

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West Ardhu Viewing Hide (North West Mull Community Woodland)

Spring Sights
Spring is a great time to explore the island, whether you’re a visitor or a local. The wildlife bursts back into being busy, making the most of the longer days and abundant food. Both White-tailed eagles and Golden eagles will be active, and often you’ll spot adult territorial eagles defending their patch from younger individuals.

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2-3 year old White-tailed eagle (Image: Ewan Miles)

Other raptor species including Hen Harrier and Buzzard will be preparing for the breeding season ahead – watch out for the famous sky-dancing male harrier. Ravens, the honorary raptor species should be breeding in full swing – they can be very early to nest.

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Raven on a Mull territory

Reptiles are a wonderful group to focus on in April, with male Adders emerging earlier than the females. We spotted two male individuals basking in the warmth of the sun at the end of March, along with a few speedy Common Lizards. Adders are highly unlikely to cause you any harm, unless trodden on and it’s a thrill to see one. Slow-worms are our third and final reptile species here on Mull and they’re harmless too – a legless lizard rather than a snake or worm!

Loch Torr roadside - same place as previous years. March 26thMale?

Male Adder

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Common Lizard

Thanks for reading! We’ll be back soon with more on our eagles – trips start from 11th April (book now on 01680 812556). See below for upcoming Ranger Service event details.

Egg-ceptional Events
The Mull and Iona Ranger Service are running a couple of events for the Easter school holiday. Our Easter Egg Hunt is in conjunction with the Glengorm Wildlife Project – come along and have some fun!
Bunessan Birdsong – Wednesday 12 April
A gentle walk around the village, listening and learning to identify the distinctive spring songs of our local birds. You don’t have to be up at dawn to appreciate beautiful birdsong!
9.30-11am
Meeting in main car park, Bunessan
£5 adults £3 children

Glengorm Easter Egg Hunt – Wednesday 12th April
Starting at the Glengorm Wildlife Lab, next to the Coffee Shop. Come in your home-made Easter bonnet to win prizes!

Activities include:
Egg-citing Scavenger Trail
Make you own basket
Egg-cellent Easter Crafts

11am-3pm
£3

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Sad news

mull eagle chick

Photo by John Clare/RSPB

We’ve just had some very sad news in from our friends at RSPB Scotland on Mull. The young sea eagle which fledged from the Mull Eagle Watch site at Tiroran this year has been found dead – it appears the young eagle has died of natural causes and shows just how tough it can be out there for young eagles in their first winter.

The team over in Mull remember many days watching the young eagle taking her first flights and practising hunting with seaweed along the shoreline of Loch Scridain. The youngster was the only chick to be reared at the viewing site this year.

Remembering the eaglet

We wanted to share these lovely shots of the chick when she was still in the nest. As you can see, she certainly had a feisty spirit!

mull chick

Photo by Rachel Moore/RSPB

mull chick 2

Photo by Rachel Moore/RSPB

The photos were taken by Rachel Moore who was helping the RSPB & FCS ring her under SNH licence in June 2015. In the first photo, you can see some prey remains including a fish and a rabbit. She was about 6 weeks old at that stage and had another 4 weeks of growth before she was fully grown. Another 2 weeks after that and she was ready for her first flight. In her short life, she gave a lot of pleasure to a lot of visitors to the Mull Eagle Watch hide.

Her parents Fingal and Iona will already be prospecting their nest sites for next year. Life goes on for them. We wish them good luck for 2016.

Seasonal Success

Causing concern

After our youngster fledged we had a few days worrying about her. We witnessed some unusual behavior from both the adults after a day or two of not seeing the fledgling. The unusual behavior did make for a brilliant trip with great views of the adults in flight. Iona took off from the empty nest carrying a freshly caught fish and flew about the clearing and nest area for a good while. Eventually she landed in an odd perch and began eating the prey. Both adults spent some time calling and a lot of time in flight together. We didn’t hear any reply from the youngster. We were initially relieved when we spotted a large dark bird coming into the area, a first year white-tailed eagle but this bird was promptly chased off by one of our adults! This wasn’t our fledged chick but must have been another from a different, nearby territory. We went home fairly concerned that evening.

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Iona (adult female) being mobbed by a hooded crow

Finding your wings? Or feet?

Thankfully the next day we spotted our eaglet down on the ground below the nest site. She still hadn’t gone far but seemed to be in good health overall. She was “playing” with twigs and sticks down on the edge of the forest. This behavior is probably a combination of pure curiosity and instinctual learning. She was also flapping and helicoptering up a wee distance before landing again. Later that day she flew a short distance and disappeared from our view.

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Our 2015 youngster perched below the nest site

Too tolerant

Earlier this week, Dave Sexton our RSPB Officer for the island was heading to the Mull Eagle Watch viewing hide and spotted the youngster down on the shoreline of Loch Scridain. He stopped to watch as she was “playing” again. This time unfortunately it was a piece of plastic/marine litter. She was following it as it blew away from her and picking it up again. Thankfully she didn’t swallow the litter but was content to amuse herself with it. The chick was then spooked off her shoreline spot by a local dog walker which was actually a good thing – we don’t want her to become too tolerant of people. White-tailed eagles are often tolerant of us and are the more visible of our two eagle species which makes it easy for people to target them for illegal raptor persecution. Hopefully this might make her a little more wary before she starts traveling further afield, away from the relative safety of Mull.

Eagle exploration

Hopefully in the next few weeks the youngster will gain more confidence and take to the wing again. John our RSPB ranger will continue running trips through Tiroran Forest (booking necessary) to search favorite areas for the eagle family. The all important survival skills including hunting must be learnt before she leaves the comfort of parental safety and begins to roam more of the island. Hopefully she will “buddy up” with other young eagles; they are fairly sociable and gregarious during their first few years, especially throughout winter.

Golden eagle boost?

Golden eagles may be set for a population boost in Southern Scotland after studies show their numbers are much lower than they could be. Plans are afoot to give the species a boost by taking birds from the Highlands and Islands. Hopefully this might encourage the birds to spread into Cumbria and Northumberland; two counties devoid of breeding golden eagles despite being suitable. We’ll also find out more about Scotland’s golden eagle population soon, after a detailed census this season.

Thank you

Thanks for reading the blog throughout the season and for the lovely feedback via Facebook and Twitter. This is likely to be the last blog post for a wee while as my seasonal position is over for 2015. To keep up to date over the next few weeks with ongoing trips at Mull Eagle Watch please head over to our Facebook page. We’ll also let you know the name of this years’ youngster in the next few weeks.

Mull Eagle Watch is still open for trips and you can book on by calling Craignure Visitor Information Centre on 01680 812 556.

 

First flight

Proud parents

Last Monday 27th July, myself and RSPB ranger John Clare witnessed the first ever flight of our eagle chick. The eaglet was due to turn 12 weeks old the following day and we’d usually expect chicks to fledge at around that age. We watched our youngster fly over the forest near the nest site, surprised to see the first flight going so well. The eaglet even managed to twist over in mid-air to threaten a buzzard which was coming too close! This flight backed up our thoughts on the sex of the chick, we’re pretty sure that she is a female due to size (females are up to 25 per cent larger than males). Throughout the day we enjoyed views of her back on the nest, she spent all day exercising and preening on an outer branch – maybe that flight was enough for one day! The adults, Iona and Fingal spent some time near the nest site for the afternoon and we witnessed them perched very close together looking very much like a couple, something we don’t see very often.

Iona & Fingal perched together, taken through the scope (Thanks to Rachel Duffy)

Iona & Fingal perched together, taken through the scope (Thanks to Rachel Duffy)

Crash landing

After such a good first flight it couldn’t all go swimmingly and we watched the fledged eagle crash land into conifer trees near the nest a few days later. She had been attempting to land on the nest itself and badly misjudged. This is natural and is all a learning process, it’ll take some practice to fully control that large wingspan, especially when dealing with trees. Since then she has spent some time down on the ground in the grassy clearing below the nest site. The weather hasn’t been great and may be making her reluctant to try flying again. The eagles look very vulture-like when they’re on the ground, demonstrating that they’re actually closely related. The image below is of Thistle, last year’s youngster, raised in the same nest site by Iona and Fingal. This is what our current eaglet will look like, although I’ve not managed to catch a photo of her yet!

Thistle after fledging in 2014

Thistle after fledging in 2014

Almost autumn

Trips will be running throughout August, and John is likely to continue running walks to look for the eagle family into September and October. My position ends mid-August, so I will be leaving at a time when the fledged youngster is learning how to survive and find food. The chick will probably stay with Iona and Fingal into October or November, and will then begin to roam wider areas. This a natural process, eagles will cover huge areas in the first few years of their life. White-tailed eagles reach adulthood at around five years old and will then settle down to create their own territory. During the sub-adult stage white-tailed eagles are fairly gregarious and often form social groups or roosts, especially during the winter. So if you can brave the wintery weather, our colder months are a perfect time to watch eagles in the UK. Along with white-tailed eagles, Mull wildlife throughout autumn and winter is incredible – otters and golden eagles don’t go anywhere, and in addition we gain many wintering bird species. Believe it or not, we’re already on the lookout for migrant birds and we’ll notice some of our summer residents leaving soon too. And we haven’t even had a summer yet!

Drastic deer

On most of our trips we’re seeing large numbers of red deer through the telescopes. These animals are mostly feeding higher up on the hillsides during summer in an attempt to avoid midges and flies. Red deer are a native species to the UK and are the largest species of deer we have, but due to the loss of our native predators like wolves, bear and lynx deer species are now present in very large numbers.

reddeerThey’re always a pleasure to see and at this time of year many of the stags are still growing their antlers, which are covered in velvet for now. Deer antler is one the fastest growing materials in the mammal kingdom, increasing by 1cm per day! Despite being a great sight, deer numbers do need to be controlled, as they cause many issues within our ecosystems. In large numbers with no predators, they prevent natural woodland regeneration, damage heather moorland and shrub and increase erosion and flooding. They can also cause real damage to timber plantations across the UK. The survey figures suggest that on Mull alone we have around 12,000 red deer. We also have some small pockets of fallow deer (a non-native species).  It won’t be long until the deer are moving to lower ground for the deer rutting season. Again, another great reason to visit Mull in the colder months. September and October here go by to the sound of roaring and rutting stags.

Thanks for reading as usual.

Rachel 🙂

 

 

 

 

Fast approaching fledging

Edging closer to fledging

Things are progressing on Mull and our eaglet is now almost 11 weeks old. We’re getting rapidly closer to the time of fledging for our chick which will be in the next 1-2 weeks. Many other eaglets from other nest sites around the island hatch earlier than Iona and Fingal’s, so will be nearer the all-important first flight than ours. This is a really critical time in the life of a young bird, even more so when you have an 8ft wingspan – mastering these wings on your maiden voyage isn’t easy and it can all go very wrong, so we’ll be watching with both nerves and excitement as the time draws closer. Our chick has already started exploring some of the branches edging the nest and is often really visible whilst standing up tall and prominent. Our adult eagles are still bringing prey into the nest site and we’re often getting great views of them in flight. They don’t usually spend much time on the nest itself now though and our chick will be feeding itself.

Raptor sightings

We’ve been veering from one extreme to another with weather again. It seems we get one glorious day with clear blue skies, and then two wet days making the midges explode in the forest. The eagles have been active though and on most trips we’ve had great views throughout the trip time, we’ve even been struggling to fit all of our usual talks and information in – but we don’t mind being interrupted by eagles! Golden eagles and buzzards have been showing well, yesterday we were treated to a fantastic close view of a golden eagle, with a buzzard following closely to mob the larger bird. Very privileged to see golden eagles close up, they’re normally very secretive! Have a look at the golden eagle ringing process in photos to get an insight into their eyrie. Some days we also get a visit from the local sparrowhawk. These small raptors get a lot of hatred, even in the bird watching world unfortunately as they are wrongly accused of eating ALL of our garden birds.  The raptors are an indicator of the health of the other wildlife and so if you have a visiting sparrowhawk it means you have plenty of prey to support the next level of the food chain – we should cherish our raptors, especially in our garden.

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Juv white-tailed eagle with mountain backdrop (Ewan Miles)

Butterflies and wildflowers

Along with the larger species associated with Mull it’s a great time to enjoy the smaller species like our wildflowers and insects. We’re lucky here that most of our road verges aren’t strimmed regularly, meaning they look amazing and are teeming with wildlife. Unfortunately elsewhere in the UK this isn’t the case as we lose a huge area of habitat due to council regulations each summer. Next time you’re out, take a moment to appreciate how good the road edges look! We had a great ranger event at Treshnish Farm, an area farmed in a wildlife friendly manner. The Coronation Meadow there is fantastic, full of incredible flowers and all the associated bird and insect life. Walking through a meadow like this is a great way to connect with nature and we’ve lost the majority of our UK wild flower meadows due to changes in management practice. Dark-green fritillary are on the wing right now, they’re a large butterfly with powerful flight, along with common blue and day flying moths like the chimney sweeper.

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Dark-green fritillary (Ewan Miles

Chimney Sweeper Moth

Chimney sweeper moth

Thanks for reading and look back soon to see how our eaglet fares in the next few weeks. Rachel 🙂

Introducing…

Introducing our eaglet…

First of all, apologies for the lack of blog posts over the last month, we’ve just been so busy with so many things going on. Along with the regular viewing hide trips, I’ve been trying to visit all of the primary schools, last day of term today! Things are going well here with our eagle family, despite the poor weather we’ve had throughout the spring and summer so far. We have one very large and healthy chick in the nest. Over seven weeks old now, the youngster is looking great. The eaglet was ringed by trained bird ringers on Monday 15th June so we are privileged to see some images from the nest itself.  The images were taken when the youngster was just about to turn six weeks old. Even at six weeks the chick is huge, although the most important flight feathers are yet to develop. The feet and beak are already very substantial and can sometimes give an indication whether the bird is male or female (females being larger).

Eaglet June 2015

Eaglet June 2015 (Thanks to Rachel Moore for the images)

Why ring?

We ring as many chicks as possible on the island, although we can’t reach all of the nest sites. Some are very difficult to reach due to location’ white-tailed eagles will nest on coastal cliff ledges as well as trees in Scotland. The ringing process doesn’t take long and the adult eagles usually settle down to normality shortly afterward. Ringing gives us a means of monitoring some of the eagles, if you follow the blog you’ll know we managed to monitor Sona earlier this year as she spent time in Dumfries and Galloway – all thanks to her coloured leg ring. Here on the Scottish west coast we no longer use the large coloured wing tags and only use rings, but do look out for tagged birds around the country – Irish and Scottish East Coast eagles are still tagged making them easier to monitor. If you see any eagles with leg rings or tags please do get in touch.

Eaglet June 2015

Eaglet June 2015 (Thanks to Rachel Moore for the images)

Prey remains

Always interesting to hear about prey remains found in or around an eagle nest site. We’ve been enjoying the buzzard and white-tailed eagle disputes all season, often with the buzzards harassing the eagles non-stop. We discovered that the buzzards are nesting near to Iona and Fingal and may be regretting that decision now. The ringers noted a buzzard chick as a prey item on the nest! Sad though this may be, it is a natural process, some less experienced eagles pairs could allow the same to happen to their young chicks. Along the with buzzard they recorded fish species and lamb remains at our nest that day. The eagles have a vast diet which has been known to include octopus, hedgehog, feral cats, pine martens and more, they are opportunistic hunters and will also steal prey from otters and ospreys if the opportunity was to arise.

Visiting Mull

If you’re visiting the island soon and would like to come along to Mull Eagle Watch please call to book onto a trip. The contact number is 01680 812556 and you’ll get through to Craignure Visitor Information Centre, or you could just pop in. Trips run Mon-Fri and last around 2 hours, starting at 10am or 1.30pm.

Plenty of other event opportunities to join throughout July with the Mull and Iona Ranger Service, you can head over to their website and blog to find out more. There’s so many different events, so something for everyone to get involved with, from moth trapping to sea watching.

Thanks for reading and I’ll be back much sooner with a blog this time!

Rachel 🙂

Natural connections

Iona incubating

We’ve been running trips at Mull Eagle Watch since Monday 13th April and are thrilled to watch our eagle pair every day along with great golden eagle and sparrowhawk sightings too. Our pair are currently incubating having laid their first egg on 28th March. We’re not sure how many eggs Iona has laid, but hopefully it will be two or three, and fingers crossed we’ll have one or two healthy chicks hatch around the 5th or 6th May. Iona is doing the majority of incubating at the moment, whilst Fingal is on hunting duty, often dropping into the nest with a prey item or spending time nearby in a favorite perch tree to keep a watchful eye over the area. We’ve also had some good views of a sub-adult white-tailed eagle and on our very first trip of 2015 this bird gave us a stunning fly by, really showing off those enormous wings. We have some brand new interpretation on site for this season, including life size silhouettes of the confusion species we have here on Mull; white-tailed eagle, golden eagle, buzzard and hooded crow.

Life size!

Life size!

Spring arrivals

Our long awaited springtime migrants have been arriving over the last few weeks. Wheatear have been around for a while now, watch out for their white rump as you drive along the single track roads here on the island. Common sandpipers have appeared in numbers recently and can be spotted along our shoreline, often calling out in anger and whizzing across in front of your car. I’ve heard a few chiffchaff, but the explosive sound of spring has to be the willow warbler. It seems wherever you are on the island you can hear the descending notes of their song. I spotted my first swallows on April 19th and now eagerly await the sound of a cuckoo. The British Trust for Ornithology has a great tool online, it shows our first arrivals and when species are likely to be incubating eggs or raising chicks.

Sona update

Sona was enjoying Dumfries and Galloway in March to the joy of local birdwatchers. She then moved on, heading south easterly. She was sighted in County Durham, close to my Northumbrian home patch. We’ve not had any confirmed sightings of her since the 4th April and so we’d love to hear from you if you have spotted a first year white-tailed eagle somewhere in England with a black leg ring! We’re hopeful she has simply moved on but we’re always concerned about illegal persecution of raptors, particularly in England. Raptors like the hen harrier are on the brink of extinction in England, despite their being enough habitat to support 300 pairs. We’re hoping Sona is just on the move, maybe further south to somewhere like Norfolk! Historically white-tailed eagles would have been found throughout much of the UK, not just Scotland and into the future they may well recolonize lost territory.

Sona carrying a rabbit lunch in County Durham

Sona carrying a rabbit lunch in County Durham

What to watch

Nature is a brilliant way to connect with the outdoors and as well as our eagles on Mull we have plenty of other spectacles to enjoy. The last two years here haven’t been great for voles and therefore owls, but this season short-eared owls are here in good numbers. Well worth heading out for an evening to catch these stunning birds in the lovely light of a hebridean sunset. Before the night sky becomes too light with minimal hours of darkness take the time to appreciate our dark skies. This week will see the peak of the Lyrid meteor shower, the moon is a waxing crescent and so our skies will be dark. Both Venus and Jupiter are also showing very well, and you may be lucky enough to catch the Aurora Borealis showing to the North. We’ve had a few amazing views of the northern lights in the last week here on the island.

Thanks to Ewan Miles for this stunning image of the Aurora, looking toward Ardnamurchan  www.ewanmiles.com

Thanks to Ewan Miles for this stunning image of the Aurora, looking toward Ardnamurchan
www.ewanmiles.com

Responsible wildlife watching

As the busy visitor season begins so does the sensitive time for much of our wildlife. I’d just like to remind everyone that lots of the species we have here on the island are protected and disturbing them is illegal. Most people are brilliant and enjoy wildlife responsibly. Thanks to many eagle-eyed visitors and locals though, the minority that don’t stick to the rules can often be deterred or moved on. Some of the best natural connections are when the wildlife comes to you or takes you by surprise. As well as our eagles bear in the mind the many sensitive ground nesting bird life around the island. Sheep are now lambing of course and are another important reason to keep dogs under control.

Booking

Unfortunately due to timber harvesting and extraction we have to close Mull Eagle Watch temporarily for a period of around two weeks. Due to the heavy machinery on site our access is limited, parking is difficult and it would deter from a great experience. We’d much rather everyone who visits have a peaceful trip without lots of activity going on around us. The work will be completed quickly, the timber is diseased larch and therefore must be removed as soon as possible. Please check back with us or the Craignure Information Office on 01680 812556 for more details and re-opening dates.

Rachel 🙂