Category Archives: Visitors

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

Hide and Seek

The first week of Mull Eagle Watch 2016 is complete and under our belt!

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the many, lovely guests that have visited West Ardhu and Tiroran since we opened last Monday.

Though the weather has been a bit of a mixed bag, the eagles – Star, Hope, Fingal and Iona – have provided some exceptional views for our visitors.

Guests at West Ardhu were treated to an absolutely breath-taking fly over from Hope on Tuesday, as she left the nest and headed east right over the top of the hide. She did three laps of the clearing to the front of us, low down and perfectly lit by the afternoon sun.

At this point, she had been on the nest almost all day, and was visibly enjoying the chance to stretch her enormous wing.

Hope’s manner was very relaxed – demonstrating that she was comfortable with our presence at the hide. As a guide, it’s very satisfying to be rewarded in this way for considerate behaviour. Courtesy and patience are the most important ingredients for successful wildlife watching.

I’ve been fortunate enough to live alongside Mull’s white-tailed eagles for several years, but this encounter must rank as one of the closest and most beautiful moments that I have experienced with them. The atmosphere, as she passed directly above us, was one of silent and respectful wonder.

Unforgettable.

Stephanie Cope

Community Ranger for Mull Eagle Watch

To get the latest from our sister site at Tiroran Community Forest, visit the RSPB’s Mull Eagles blog.

 

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 🙂