Tag Archives: Argyll and Bute

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

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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 🙂

Iona & Fingal – parents again

Harvest to hatching

Weeks on from the last blog post and we’re back in action at Mull Eagle Watch after a short closure. We took the decision to close our viewing hide and access to the forest during an intensive tree felling period to ensure safety of visitors and quality of the visitor experience. The Forestry Commission Scotland work was unavoidable due to a tree disease called Phytophthora ramorum, which impacts many tree species, particularly larch. To prevent further spreading of the disease the trees were removed from the forest. We know the clear felled areas can look ugly, but within a few weeks’ varied insect species and small mammals like voles will re-colonise, giving rise to a whole host of other wildlife. While we were busy running drop-in sessions elsewhere on the island Iona became a parent once again. At least one chick hatched somewhere around May 5th. We’re not yet sure if we have one or two chicks in the nest as they’re still very small and are incubated almost constantly. The parents are both very busy bringing in prey.

The view in our car park a few weeks ago!

The view in our car park a few weeks ago!

Wild weather

Despite it being the month of May, our weather isn’t playing ball and could be making things very difficult for wildlife. Many species of bird will either be incubating eggs or have youngsters to provide for. The cold temperatures can be a real threat to eggs. For Iona and Fingal this means the chicks must be constantly kept warm, they cannot regulate their own body temperature for a few weeks and certainly aren’t waterproof, so heavy rain is also an issue. Iona is spending the majority of her time on the nest, whilst Fingal hunts and returns with prey. Hunting becomes even more difficult in poor weather and requires more energy to battle against strong winds and to fly when wet. Home improvements are also on Fingal’s to do list. We watched as he took off from his perch to return minutes later with a large branch. He dropped this into the nest rather unceremoniously and returned to his perch tree. Iona was unimpressed with his décor and shuffled the branch till she was happy.

Very damp Fingal

Often the view we get after heavy rain

Sightings

Along with our white-tailed eagle pair, we’ve been seeing lots of other wildlife. We’ve had some amazing sightings of golden eagles, we think at least one non-breeding pair are holding a territory nearby. We’re seeing these birds regularly and can recognize one individual thanks to very pale plumage above. Both species of eagle were always native to the UK and so can live alongside one another. Disagreements do occur though and often in a dispute over territory the golden eagle will come out on top despite being smaller. We’ve seen interactions between the two species over the last week, very exciting to witness. Buzzards are a regular species within the glen and we’re also spotting a pair of sparrowhawks too. We even saw a female hen harrier high up on the ridge line with nearby golden eagles during one trip! Smaller wildlife is just as interesting and our bird feeders are entertaining our visitors too. We’ve had siskins make an appearance along with chaffinches, coal tits and great tits.

Booking your visit

We’re running trips as normal now but booking is essential. Please call the Craignure Visitor Information Centre on 01680 812556 to book your places. Trips are twice daily (10am-12.30pm and 1.30pm-4.00pm) Monday to Friday.
The trips can include a very short walk from the car parking area to the viewing hide. Bring your own binoculars and scope if you have them, but we do have spares and telescopes for all to use.

The viewing area this season

The viewing area this season

Scotland’s Big Nature Festival

Why not come and join in the festivities at the Big Nature Festival? Mull Eagle Watch is holding a stall on site to promote white-tailed eagles and our wonderful wildlife island. Organized by RSPB, the weekend is jam packed with talks, walks, workshops, demos and stalls – all about nature and wildlife!
The event takes place on Saturday 23rd and Sunday 24th May at Levenhall Links, Musselburgh.

Thanks for reading. Updates will be more regular now after a rocky start to the season here so check back soon! Rachel 🙂

Further adventures on Mull

Well the weather here recently has been classic Isle of Mull – very changeable with heavy showers and sunny spells. July often seems to be monsoon month here but often the wildlife appreciates the downpours as they create short spurts of activity. Insects launch themselves into the skies when the rain clears and the swallows, house martins, pied wagtails and more all follow to cache in on the bounty. It also designs some impressive landscapes with rushes of water tumbling down the hills and over our many cliffs, quickly reaching the lochs. We all crave those perfect days with clear blue skies and sunshine, but I find that our dramatic weather can remind you where you actually are, matching our mountains and rugged coastline. We should learn to appreciate it that little bit more.

Caliach Point

Last Thursday I ran a guided walk and sea-watching session from Calgary Bay round to Caliach Point. It was a great trip despite it being extremely windy; the sea was pretty choppy making it hard to spot any marine mammals. We had a lovely walk though, focussing a lot on our wildflowers. We were joined by a pair of kestrels whilst they used the wind to look for prey linking back to their very apt name; the Windhover. Great to see this little raptor, we don’t have huge numbers here on Mull and they are declining fairly rapidly across the UK. Lots of ravens and hooded crows about and we had some good sightings of gannets, Manx shearwaters and kittiwakes over the sea. This area is usually a nesting site for fulmars, but not one was seen. I did hear of two American mink spotted there the same week though.

Perseverance paid off…

Friday morning was a wash out but thankfully we weren’t running a trip, any sensible eagle would have been sat patiently waiting out the weather. But we persevered for the afternoon session, and four hardy visitors joined me with their fingers crossed it would clear as forecast. And it did! We had a great afternoon with both adults about the area giving us some fantastic sights through the scope. We even had Iona and Fingal perched side by side companionably, we don’t see that very often. Another visitor we’re seeing a good deal at the minute is the wee sparrowhawk, a brilliant raptor. We had a close encounter as the male shot by the shelter, making a dizzying turn when he realised we were all engrossed, he then flew up above the hide to alight on a tree branch for a second, maybe recouping his nerves before powering off again. It’s always a privilege to have a visit from these birds of prey.

Growing up fast

Our chick will be nine weeks old later in the week and coming up to an important time. Fledging probably won’t take place until week twelve but, prior to that nerve wracking moment, the chick will begin to exercise, pumping those wings to develop the all important flight muscles. We’ll see the chick ‘branch-out’ too, exploring of the nest area and close braches will give the chick some experience in moving about and managing that huge 8ft wingspan. This is all rather edge of your seat, it’s very easy for this to go wrong when you’re pretty high up in a tree and still learning so we’ll be keeping a close eye on our youngster over the next few weeks. Later in the season we’ll have a local primary school group come up with a name for the eagle hide chick to go with Orion, our chick from last year. This is another brilliant way to get local youngsters enthused about the eagles and our wildlife. Don’t forget though we’ll be giving you the chance to name Sula and Cuin’s chick – the webcam star.

Coming up…

This week we’ll be at the hide enjoying our eagles, and there are plenty of spaces left for our trips. They run daily, Mon-Fri at 10am or 1pm. Easy access to our hide with binoculars and telescopes is provided. We’ll tell you all you need to know about white-tailed eagles and any other wildlife we might encounter. Lots to see and do and we’re great for children too! Call 01680 812556 to enquire or book in.

Also, Thursday this week join me to hunt for some otters on the shores of Loch Na Keal. It’s another event that’s great for all, everyone welcome. We’ll spend some time looking for otters, learning about them and we’ll also seek out some tracks and signs along the coast. For some more info call 07540 792650.

Adventure of the Week goes to…Loch Sunart & Garbh Eilean Wildlife Hide

Garbh Eilean Wildlife Hide

Not too far from our lovely isle, you can visit Loch Sunart – an absolutely breathtaking sea loch and the Forestry Commission Scotland’s wildlife hide. Loch Sunart stretches for around 20 miles, bordered by stunning scenery of Morvern and Ardnamurchan, it is a brilliant place for wildlife and has recently been proposed for a Marine Protected Area for its important marine environment and the impact it has on the wider seas nearby.

Garbh Eiliean Wildlife Hide

The FCS wildlife viewing hide is superb and having spent some time there in February this year I can highly recommend it. The hide fits in perfectly with the surrounding environment, made from all natural materials. With the comfort and protection from the often harsh weather the hide offers you can happily enjoy species like otter, white-tailed eagle, common seals, red-breasted merganser, divers, the local heronry and more. Well worth a visit and great for all; binoculars provided and you’ll also have the added benefit of a ranger’s knowledge if you pop by on a Monday!

Thanks for reading as usual – Rachel

Eagle Antics

We’re still speeding through the season, into July already and we’ve even had some glorious sunny days to show for it. Our eagle chick is eight weeks old on Wednesday this week and seems to be doing very well. Just yesterday I had some great views of it stretching and exercising those huge wings in the nest. On very hot days it often hunkers down into the nest to keep cool, raptors can only pant to lose heat, they aren’t able to sweat like we can. Despite the nest being quite sheltered from most conditions it is difficult to shelter from the sun at the very top of a tree! Still a few weeks left in the nest, most chicks fledge at around 12 weeks old and even after that we’ll still get brilliant sightings in the area. Other wildlife sightings at the minute include some brilliant dragonflies with lots of golden ringed – the longest British species. We’ve also had a small pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly. Plenty of buzzards and golden eagles, but also some great views of both male and female sparrowhawks with a few sightings of prey being carried.

Seasonal Seals

Every year white-tailed eagles make the most of seasonal food and at the minute we’re seeing Iona and Fingal bring in common seal afterbirths (the placenta and other gory treats!). Lots of people find this a bit disgusting, but if you take it from an eagles point of view it’s an excellent food source; it won’t run away, not too heavy to carry in flight to a nest and it’ll be extremely nutritional for our chick. Iona dropped into the nest on Friday after approaching the area like an arrow; she was going so fast we couldn’t tell what she had been carrying. She was closely followed by Fingal carrying a rather unpleasant looking food parcel which he ungraciously dumped with the youngster. We had great views of his very red feet whilst he perched nearby. We often see “red-tailed eagles” about at this time of year instead of that lovely crisp white tail. This demonstrates how adaptable the generalist predators are, taking what they can when it’s available.

Mugshot of the intruder

Mugshot of the intruder

Head for heights?

Our webcam proved extremely useful over the weekend, giving us a valuable insight into what can go wrong at eagle nest sites. First of all we had someone share a screen grab of the nest site with an intruding bird sat on the nest. We’ve seen this couple of times at the hide but the adults were always on hand to defend the nest and chase off the intruder. We’re not 100 per cent sure if the intruder is related, but it was action stations yesterday to rescue the chick. Unfortunately it had fallen about 30ft from the nest to the forest floor below. It could be that the intruding bird spooked the youngster or actually pushed it out; we’re hoping we can recover some footage and check what happened. Thankfully because of the webcam we could rush in with a rescue bid on Monday. The chick appeared healthy and was returned to the nest by FCS climbers. It was left happily feeding on some rabbit and salmon. Great outcome as every chick is important in a population of eagles – they take such a long time to build up their numbers. Thanks to everyone that was involved!

Mystery Shopper

Great news for all of us involved with Mull Eagle Watch as we flew through our mystery shopper visit and report again. It’s a brilliant feeling to know all that hard work pays off. The hide and trips are highly rated and we hope this shines through to all of our visitors. We’re into Scottish school holidays now, shortly followed by the English kids, so July and August will be busy which is great, just need some nice weather to go alongside.

Coming up…

Tomorrow I’m running a Ranger Service event starting from Calgary Bay. We’ll head off for a wander towards Caliach Point and stop plenty of times to “Sea Watch”. We’ll look for marine life including minke whales, basking sharks, dolphins, porpoise, seals and seabirds. Often scanning the area from the shore is just as productive as watching from a boat with the added bonus of wildflowers, butterflies, dragonflies and more. If you’re reading this and would like to come along give me a call on 07540 792 650 for some more information.

Next week on Thursday 10th I’m running “Out and About for Otters”. This one is great for both adults and children – a definite hit with families. We’ll spend some time on the shore of Loch Na Keal learning about otters, looking for signs and playing some games.

“Adventure of the Week” is going to be a new little feature for MEW. Every week we’ll recommend a reserve, forest, woodland or beach to visit. Some may be local to Mull; others might be further afield in West Scotland. This is a great way to support similar sites across the area that provide amazing places to view wildlife, get outdoors and enjoy the summer. Look out for our info board at the hide and our posts on Facebook/Twitter for these ideas.

Adventure of the Week this week goes to…Scottish Beaver Trial – Knapdale

european beaverA great family adventure for the beginning of the school holidays. Get outdoors to enjoy the beaver trail, explore the area and become beaver detectives to spot busy beaver signs. The Beaver Trial has been a great success, similar to our white-tailed eagle reintroduction – amazing to get some of our lost species back into the UK. Visit for the insight into a stunning mammal and the chance to see them in action – if you’re very lucky and patient!

See the Scottish Beaver Trial website.

The Beaver Trial is run in partnership with Forestry Commission Scotland (just like MEW), Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Royal ZSL.

Thanks for reading as usual, hope you enjoyed it – Rachel

Eagle ringing

Climbers ringing Mull eaglesThis week I was privileged enough to head out with the FCS and RSPB eagle ringing groups to two different eagle territories. I was so grateful for the opportunity, as I’d not yet had the chance to view a ringing before, and it was a brilliant learning experience. Unfortunately the Mull Eagle Watch chick was too young to be ringed this week but it’s on the list for the next ringing trip to the isle.

Ringing birds and actually getting up to the nests themselves isn’t for the fainthearted and it takes a lot of training. You have to be a trained tree climber with the knowledge to safely use the climbing equipment to make it up to the eagle nest sites which can often be extremely high up in awkward trees like Sitka spruce and larch. Safety obviously comes first for both the birds and the climbers, some nests aren’t ringed due to being too dangerous and inaccessible. You also have to be trained in ringing with experience of handling birds, especially large raptors. Training to ring birds is a long process requiring perseverance and an experienced ringer who is willing to teach you for at least a year. You need to be equipped with the correct climbing equipment and ringing equipment.

Starting climb to second nest (Medium)

Arduous climb

We first headed out to a well know pair who nested on a very exposed sea stack last year after their original tree nest collapsed. Over winter they repaired the tree nest and are now happily back in their regular home with one large chick. We approached the nest, getting our first view of the huge structure and a dark brown head looking out. It felt very odd going so close, usually in any other circumstances this would be highly illegal – the ringers and climbers have licences allowing us to be there. As the climbers got their gear out and began to harness up we scouted around the base of the tree for feathers, pellets and prey remains. There wasn’t much to be found other than a few small eagle feathers and some fulmar feathers. How on earth do you tell if it’s a fulmar? They smell very strange, very recognisable after it’s been pointed out!

This particular tree was quite difficult and slow going for the climbers due to lots of brash and branches running up the trunk from the base. As we stood watching the first member of the team head up the adult female returned calling in annoyance, she flew about above us and was soon joined by the male, both uttering calls with a slight difference in pitch. I asked plenty of questions, learning about the whole process and what interesting prey remains had been found in nests before. There was currently a fresh mackerel and what looked like deer liver in with the chick! Once up there, the climber called for the ringing bag to be sent up and he began the process of weighing, measuring and ringing the bird. We no long use wing tags here in West Scotland. We finished and left the adults and the chick to settle back down and trooped back to the vehicles.

Prey remains from Mull eagle nest

Delicious delights

Our next visit was to the pair that have recently been featured on Springwatch. The female is noticeable with wing tags because she’s an east coast released bird called Sula. This nest site was much more interesting in regard to prey remains, we found a lot including shag, fulmar, greylag goose, puffin, guillemot and some lamb. The ringers are so experienced that they can identify a prey species from one bone in some cases – fascinating!  Prey with white-tailed eagles is very varied as they’re opportunistic – they take what they can, when they can. Fish are important and can vary from mackerel and sea trout to freshwater pike. Seabirds include puffins, razorbills, guillemots, greylag geese, herons, fulmar, herring gulls and even great black-backed gulls. Mammals also play a large part including rabbits, mountain hare, hedgehogs, feral cats, American mink and red deer calves. On the mainland, good size fox cubs and roe deer youngsters are often recorded and even a badger cub once. Another healthy chick was measured and ringed in this nest whilst we battled against midges and ticks.

Ringing equipment

Rings and tags

A lot of the birds across West Scotland now have no wing tags making it difficult to tell who’s who but we now use chunky colour rings as well as the small silver BTO ring. If you have binoculars, camera or a scope you can still see the detail and let us know. Similarly some birds around still do have big, bright wing tags. The Irish reintroduction and east coast reintroductions are much more recent and still rely on sightings to understand how the birds are doing. If you see any birds with tags let us know colours and letters, we’ll be able to pass the info on and tell you the age and where the bird came from too. Tags and rings play an important part in dealing with the ongoing raptor persecution across the UK too, allowing us to monitor birds easily.

Thanks for reading again, hope you enjoyed the insight into the ringing process. Hopefully soon I will have some photos of the chicks in the nest itself I couldn’t get any as all of the ringing takes place up in the tree. Keep an eye for those coming soon – Rachel.