Category Archives: The hide

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.

17499497_1236742496373465_6296216445832474789_n

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.

12SP

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.

P1010705

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

P1010983

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

 

Life in the Limelight

Well ladies and gentlemen, I think we might have a bit of a poser in our midst at NWMCWC’s West Ardhu site!

[…and no, I’m not talking about Malcolm, who has been braving shorts since March…]

As the single chick passes the two-week mark, Hope – the resident female – has been taking every opportunity to stretch her wings and deliver the kind of jaw-dropping encounters that Mull Eagle Watch is famous for.

With a massive 2.5m wingspan, you’re always going to have a bit of charisma if you happen to be a white-tailed eagle; but as I get to know her better, it strikes me that Hope has a little extra sass and presence – a certain je ne sais quoi.

Part of this is her willingness to spend time directly over the hide, doing nothing in particular. At 10-years old, she seems to exude a confidence that comes with being in the absolute prime of life.

Here are some of my own photographs of her from last week:

Hope with the Undercarriage Out

Hope Looking Down

Star, the resident male, is a little more clandestine. Though we get lovely views of him coming in and out of the nest, or sitting quietly next to his family, he hasn’t yet demonstrated the showmanship of his Mrs.

One of my favourite encounters with Star was following a band of light rain. He was perched in the nest tree, all fluffed up with his wings drooping, apparently enjoying the opportunity to take a quick shower and dry off afterwards!

At the time of writing, we have yet to see the newest member of our eagle family from the viewing hide. However, it could happen soon! Mull is currently bathed in glorious sunshine (!) making this week an ideal time to come and help us spot Star and Hope’s chick.

Booking is essential, and our ranger led trips are filling up quickly. To join me, Star and Hope at West Ardhu Community Woodland, please call: 01680 812 556

Here’s Hope, giving us a pretty amazing fly-over! You can clearly see her yellow wing tag:

Hope Overhead

That’s all for now folks, watch this space for more chick news!

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

There’s No Business Like Snow-Business

We’ve had a Happy Event here at Mull Eagle Watch – but true to form, the Scottish weather is threatening to throw a spanner in the works…

This week it was confirmed that Star and Hope, the White-tailed Eagles of West Ardhu Community Forest, had hatched a single chick.

Our suspicions that an arrival was imminent were raised when Hope’s behaviour underwent a noticeable change.

After 38-days of sitting quietly during her turn at incubation, Hope was suddenly animated – standing up often and peering curiously between her legs. She seemed reluctant to leave the nest, and wouldn’t change places with the male when he solicited a swap.

By lunchtime the following day, Star was bringing in prey and we could see Hope reaching down to feed their tiny eaglet.

However, the good times didn’t last. No sooner had the chick enjoyed its first meal than an arctic blast of icy weather swept over Mull; bringing sleet, snow and bone-chilling winds.

Eagle chicks are unable to regulate their own body temperature until they are around 10-days old. As such, this unseasonal snowfall represents a very real risk of hypothermia for our hatchling.

Watching the silent flakes accumulate, I can’t help but pity this scrap of life – clinging to the warm underside of its parent as the cold gathers around them.

Star and Hope are experienced. They know that they must sit tight at all costs.

For now, all we can do is wait.

To watch the drama unfold, come and see us at NWMCWC’s West Ardhu site.

Booking is essential, so please call: 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