Category Archives: The hide

Ringed & Ready

Thursday June 29th – Ringed & Ready to explore the wider world!

How time flies! The two eaglets/chicks at our West Ardhu viewing hide are now 9 weeks old – they’re managing to feed themselves with prey in the nest, they’re standing up and exercising their enormous wing span (over 8ft) and they are almost fully grown!

Raptor Ringing

On 7th June the team of tree climbing bird ringers ascended the nest tree within the North West Community Woodland to ring the youngsters. At the time they were just coming up to the 6 week stage. We walked toward the nest tree and got great views of Hope (Yellow C) as she was perching on the edge of the nest, she waited till the last moment before taking to the air – you can see how easy it would have been to target White-tailed eagles and shoot adults eagles, no wonder we wiped them out!

Both Star (male) and Hope (female) took to the skies above the eyrie to keep an eye on us, they soared above us with a pair of local buzzards to keep them company or to irritate them… The adults remained in the air and called throughout but they’re very unlikely to ever cause harm to the ringers by attacking. Whilst they rode the thermals the ringing team got started climbing the large Sitka spruce conifer to reach the two chicks, whom at the this point were both playing dead.

From our view point looking into the nest we couldn’t make out if their were still two chicks; I was starting to panic something had gone wrong. But thankfully the slightly smaller youngster was almost completely hidden under the wing of it’s sibling – phew! The ringers reached the eaglets and got to work, firstly securing the chicks to make sure they wouldn’t fall or dive off the nest.

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The chicks are measured and weighed which gives us a good indication of their body condition and they each get two rings (one on each leg). A larger coloured ring gives us the chance of receiving records back from live birds – the colour combination tells us the year the bird hatched and if you can get a good image of the ring we can trace the individuals back to location and family history too. The smaller silver ring is the British Trust for Ornithology ring, which is standard across ringing programmes, although the size varies.

The eagles had two fulmars on the nest as prey, ready to become a quick meal for the chicks. Fulmars are basically a mini albatross – a member of the tuberose seabird family and are superb aerial masters so we’re reminded how excellent a hunter the White-tailed eagle really is. We also left a roadkill rabbit behind for the family, just incase we interfered with their hunting time or energy levels. We then left them in peace and they were back to normal the following day.

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The eaglets after the ringing process

Growing up fast

The two eaglets are now so big many of our visitors are mistaking them for the adults in the scopes, especially when the visibility isn’t great in the poor weather. White-tailed eagle chicks are usually fully grown when the reach 10 weeks old, so these two are almost there. They are now standing up in the nest and flapping a lot to build up their flight muscles, so we’re getting great views of them from our hide.

It won’t be long before they begin to ‘branch out’ and explore beyond the nest on the surrounding branches. This part is very nerve-wracking for us as the wind can easily catch them unawares, or they can misjudge a movement and leave the nest before they intended. We’ll keep our fingers and toes crossed that all goes well and they’ll hopefully fledge when they’re around 12-13 weeks old. They’re almost ready to explore the wider world and realise there’s more to life than their nest.

Once fledged, the youngsters will remain in the area for a few months to learn from their parents. The nest site will often be used as a familiar roosting location and so we should still get really good sightings of the family into August.

Saga of Sea Eagles – the man behind the re-introduction 

On 14th June, a cruise ship changed plans last minute thanks to the volatile Hebridean weather so we hosted a trip for 22 of their guests at West Ardhu. We were thrilled to realise John A Love was among their number – he was instrumental to the re-introduction of the White-tailed eagle on the Isle of Rum and is considered to be an expert on the species. His book ‘Saga of Sea Eagles’ is a great read and I’ve a very well thumbed copy! He was a pleasure to meet, and I’m sure we’re all very thankful for his work in bringing back the ‘flying barn door’.

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John Love and myself at West Ardhu

Other sightings 

Of course, during our trips we watch out for all wildlife including birds, wild flowers and insects, so we’ve always got something to enjoy if the eagles are laying low. We spot our local buzzards on most trips, another great raptor species and success story following their large population increase. Recently we’ve been seeing the more secretive corvid species in the woodland; the jay. Siskins, grey wagtail and wren are regulars for us too.

We’ve also marvelled at an incredible parasitic wasp species, commonly known as the ‘sabre wasp’. The female of the species is the largest British wasp species, with her huge ovipositor. They look rather intimidating, but are harmless to humans. They search for the larvae of their host species deep within dead wood, and drill down to lay their eggs – this can take over 30 minutes!

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Sabre Wasp – parasitic species

 

Thanks for reading, back again sooner this time! Meanwhile, head over to read Meryl’s RSPB blog about Iona and Fingal, who are raising one chick in Tiroran Community Forest.

If you’re visiting the island and would like to join a Mull Eagle Watch tour, you can call 01680 812556 or call into Craignure Visit Scotland to book.

 

 

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Growing season…

Sunday 28th May 2017

Eagle parents working hard at West Ardhu (North West Mull Community Woodland)
I’m so impressed with our West Ardhu eagles and their parenting skills! Our two chicks/eaglets are now about 31 days old – just over four weeks into their lives already and the adults, Hope and Star have been doing wonderfully. Throughout the incubation the female, Hope (Yellow C) spent the majority of the 38 days on the nest, with respite offered only occasionally by the male, Star. With white-tailed eagles the female tends to do around 70% or more of the incubation which makes sense as she is the bigger and more defensive adult. We were then thrilled to announce the successful hatch and have been enthralled with their progress since. Their success featured online and in the Press & Journal with a phone scope image I managed to take of the tiny chicks in the nest (under SNH license).

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Chicks being fed – only a few days old here!

Growth spurt
The youngsters are growing incredibly fast and we’re now getting great views of them through our brilliant Viking Optics telescopes. One chick is definitely larger and more developed; it will have hatched ahead of the smaller one, giving it an advantage if things become tough, but at the moment both are looking strong and healthy.

Hopefully in another few weeks the eaglets will be ringed in the nest by the ringing team. We use large coloured rings along with the standard British Trust for Ornithology ring- these will remain on the eagles for life – the hope with the coloured rings is that we’ll get some records of movements around the country but monitoring each individual eagle isn’t as critical now the West Coast with a more established population. Eagles from the Irish and the Scottish East Coast are usually still being wing tagged – the re-introductions are more recent and are still gaining a foothold in these areas and illegal raptor persecution is still a substantial threat.

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Chicks beginning to grow – 14th May 2017

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Hope (adult female) & her two chicks 28th May 2017

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Youngest chick having a stretch! 28th May 2017

Food, glorious food!

Prey is being brought into the nest/eyrie regularly by both the male and female, although you need keen eyes to spot them as they drop into the nest with incredible speed – probably hoping the local hooded crows, buzzards and ravens don’t catch onto the potential of a free meal. From our vantage point it’s quite difficult to identify which prey items they’re bringing in but we’re sure rabbits have featured. The pair’s territory covers Loch Cuin and the coastal stretch toward Langamull and Croig so it would be safe to assume that seabirds and fish will be on the menu too. White-tailed eagles are opportunistic and have an extensive list of possible prey items – all of which is caught in their large feet and talons.

Darting Dragonflies

We’re enjoying increased activity at our viewing hide with the adults working hard to feed their eaglets, but at the same time we often enjoy a variety of other species nature offers. We see buzzards on numerous occasions throughout each day – often in flight alongside the eagles which gives us a great size comparison. We’ve been hailed by the call of the cuckoo recently too and have marveled at their incredible complexity and evolution in action. Other bird species have included grey wagtail, wren, tree pipit, willow warbler, sparrowhawk and the occasional juvenile golden eagle passing through.

In the last few days our local insect life has taken to the wing and dragonflies are hawking about in the sunny woodland. The two species I’ve spotted so far are four-spotted chaser and golden-ringed. The female golden-ringed dragonfly is longest British insect! Large red damselflies are also gracing our skies, and are a beautifully delicate. We’ve also recorded orange tip and green-veined white butterflies, particularly enjoying the cuckoo flowers along the forest track. We’re on the look out for the stunning common blue butterflies which will be on the wing now.

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Four-spotted chaser

Thanks for reading, I’ll be back soon but in the meantime watch out for news from Tiroran Community Forest, our eagles Iona and Fingal and our RSPB Ranger Meryl on her blog.

Rachel : )

 

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!

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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

Chicks in the Mist

The glen leading down to West Ardhu is a fickle place.

Though the massive rock terraces are themselves immovable, weather conditions lend them a shadow-life that belies their static nature. It is a place fit for eagles.

There are days when the sun slants over the geological scars in this landscape, calling to mind the great steppe of Ethiopia.

Other times, the light is full and bright and flat; tempting the casual observer to a higher place, where the air drips with the song of skylarks and the sleepy drone of distant cuckoos.

Each step on this terrace is a green and gold. Above, curlews trill a soulful lament. Below, sheep peer out from roofless dwellings on the valley floor.

Lately the glen has been hidden. Familiar lines in the fabric of the landscape are shrouded in low cloud.

Trees steam as the water vapour leaving their needles condenses and feeds into a burgeoning mass of grey above.

At the the nest, the chick’s efforts to exercise have been somewhat dampened. Water droplets dribble from his horny beak, and his feathers must be shaken often to dislodge the moisture collecting there.

With tendrils of mist curling about them, the adult birds sit in strange half-light. No insects fizz in the ditches. No small birds twitter from the birch stands.

The silence is heavy, but the spectacle is magnificent.

At the time of writing the chick is approaching his twelfth week. He has developed a preference for sitting out on a branch at the side of his nest platform, but as yet, he has not taken his maiden flight.

Conditions are set to improve as we move towards the weekend, and I feel sure that this will bring about a change.

It won’t be long before his shadow joins the play of sun and cloud and rain that animates our glen.

I hope you’ll come and see it too.

Remember, booking is essential if you would like to join a trip. The number to contact is: 01680 812 556

Stephanie Cope

Community Ranger for Mull Eagle Watch

To get the latest from our sister site at Tiroran Community Forest, please see:

https://www.rspb.org.uk/community/wildlife/b/mulleagles/default.aspx

Branching Out

It can’t be easy, learning how to eagle.

Wobbling inexpertly on a spruce branch, you can almost see the brow of NWMCWC’s 10-week old chick furrowing as he tries to marshal his gigantic wings and make them flap at the same time.

So far his efforts have yielded mixed results: on Monday, he jumped from a side branch back into the nest – but finished by skidding on his keel and almost bumping into the tree trunk. Tuesday saw two yellow feet and a pair of brown, bird trousers dangling optimistically a foot above the nest platform… before crashing down in a mess of dark feathers and pine needles.

Once his dignity was recovered, beady eyes popped out from behind the foliage. The short feathers on the back of the chick’s head were spiked up in excitement; it was clear that he couldn’t wait to try it all again.

The adults, meanwhile, perch in stately silence above. Their capacity for sitting seems to be almost limitless.

At times it feels like civilizations could rise and fall and Star would still be stapled to the right of the nest, staring into the middle distance and brooding over his eagle thoughts – whatever those might be.

Luckily, these marathon bouts of sitting are interspersed with nuggets of action.

The parent birds still like to give us all the once-over from time to time, circling low and lazy over the hide for their adoring public (Hope’s hand wave needs a bit of work; aside from that, she could give any Royal a run for their monarchy).

The mood at the nest tree is relaxed. The chick is able to tear up prey for itself, so carcasses are pretty much dropped and left for it by the adults.

Though it isn’t always easy to see what is being brought in, Fulmar appears to be a popular menu choice.

It has to be said that Star’s beautiful white tail is looking somewhat grubby these days – being a much besmirched shade of vomit yellow (!) This is likely thanks to fulmar oil.

So, as we approach fledging time, I expect there’ll be some skinned knees, collisions and calamities… but when the stabilizers come off and this youngster takes his first “proper” flight, I guarantee that I will be as pleased and as proud as punch.

Remember, booking is essential if you would like to join a trip. The number to contact is: 01680 812 556

Stephanie Cope

Community Ranger for Mull Eagle Watch

To get the latest from our sister site at Tiroran Community Forest, please see:

https://www.rspb.org.uk/community/wildlife/b/mulleagles/default.aspx

Running Rings

My goodness, what a busy – but exciting –  few weeks it’s been.

We’ve had primary school visits, beautiful weather, sensational views of the eagles… and of course, the ringing of the chicks!

At West Ardhu, the single chick was fitted with its leg rings on Tuesday June 7th.

As the team arrived, “Hope” [the female eagle] was away hunting and “Star” [the male eagle] was on babysitting duty.

It had been a quiet sort of day, but gloriously sunny and warm. As a result, Star was half asleep when the team approached his stand of conifers – it must have been quite a rude awakening for him?!

Once he realised what was happening, he lurched out of his tree and started to circle, calling, directly in front of the hide.

There are several pockets of plantation conifers left standing at West Ardhu. Each one has its own resident pair of buzzards, and these neighbours were quick to notice that something was amiss with their larger cousin.

The buzzard pair that live opposite the eagle nest were first on the scene, launching a very confident and persistent attack.

On the one hand, Star was trying his best to watch what was going on at his nest – but on the other, he was being mobbed and shunted by the buzzards, who simply wouldn’t leave him alone.

Star kept flashing his talons, but in his distracted state, this threat was having little effect on his antagonists.

I found myself looking around, wondering where his mate was. When push comes to shove, it is usually Hope that escorts any intruders off the premises: she doesn’t mess about when it comes to “chucking-out time”.

I knew that she had returned when I saw a large shadow streak across the escarpment to the left of the hide.

Looking up, Hope had her wings pulled in and was heading directly for her mate. When she arrived, the two of them circled so close together it seemed that they were almost touching.

The buzzards, knowing that discretion is the better part of valour, discreetly piped down and split the scene.

Meanwhile at the nest, ringers Rachel and Lewis were faced with a very indignant seven-week old eaglet.

In most cases, after an initial nod to bravery, eagle chicks resign themselves to their fate and sit quietly during the ringing process.

By all accounts, Star and Hope’s chick was “a feisty one”. This was corroborated by Rachel’s rather sore looking arms (!)

I couldn’t help but smile at this, thinking of his mother and her no-nonsense attitude.

Initial measurements suggest that this chick is a male – but we will need to wait for the DNA sexing results to know for sure.

Star and Hope stayed close to their nest throughout, and returned quickly once the ringers had moved away. By the following morning, normal service had resumed.

Elsewhere in Scotland, Lewis and Rachel have been busy fitting very different rings… They were married on Saturday!

Rachel is, in fact, my former senior keeper from the bird section at Bristol Zoo. It was an interesting combination of strange and lovely to bump into her at an eagle nest on Mull?!

I’m sure you’ll all join me in wishing her and Lewis every happiness together.

If you would like to visit the eagles and learn more about their lives here on Mull, please contact: 01680 812 556

Stephanie Cope

Community Ranger for Mull Eagle Watch.

Now, as is often the case in life, we must go from happiness to sadness: there is also ringing news from our sister site at Tiroran Community Forest.

Though Fingal and Iona still have one very healthy chick, unfortunately, the smaller of the two was found dead on the nest.

You can find out more here:

http://www.rspb.org.uk/community/wildlife/b/mulleagles/archive/2016/06/13/all-was-going-so-well-until.aspx

In the Eye of the Beholder

There’s been a little bit of excitement to start my week at West Ardhu…

I’m delighted to tell you that on Monday, for the very first time, we were able to see Star and Hope’s single chick from the hide!

Admittedly, it’s not at the most visually appealing stage in its development [think half-plucked chicken with the head of a vulture] – but nevertheless, watching it flop about enthusiastically with every appearance of good cheer and good health really made my day.

At just over three weeks old, the West Ardhu chick has a spongy coating of smoke-grey down. This down is somewhat thicker than the white, wispy covering that it hatched with. Now that the chick is a bit more robust, the adults often perch to the side of the nest and no longer feel the need to brood it constantly. This has produced some prolonged and very beautiful views.

Over the next two weeks, our chick will “feather up”. Spiky, tube-like protrusions will appear all over its body, and from the tip of each, a chocolate brown feather will gradually emerge.

These strange tubes shield the delicate growing structure inside. Once the feather has started to form, bits of this covering will be nibbled and preened away by the chick. The youngsters can look a bit disheveled and dandruffy at this stage.

By five weeks of age, our chick should look more or less like an eagle (!) This is also the time that it will start to pick off morsels of food for itself.

Meanwhile, both Star and Hope have continued to wow our guests. There’s no real necessity for them to come over the hide, or indeed, to casually circle above it – but they do. It’s quite an amazing thing to experience.

I think Star must have taken umbrage at my comments in the previous blog… he seems to be trying his very best to out perform Hope! This is one of my own photographs from last week:

Star

We’ve also enjoyed regular sightings of Golden Eagle [both adult and immature birds] and some spectacular Sparrowhawk action!

It’s all GO at NWMCWC’s West Ardhu…

Remember, booking is essential if you would like to join a trip. The number to contact is: 01680 812 556

Stephanie Cope

Community Ranger for Mull Eagle Watch

To get the latest from our sister site at Tiroran Community Forest, please see:

https://www.rspb.org.uk/community/wildlife/b/mulleagles/default.aspx