Tag Archives: bird of prey

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 🙂

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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 🙂

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 🙂

End of season

Just a quick blog post to say thank you to all who read our blog, followed us on Twitter or supported us on Facebook throughout the last six months! We’ve had a brilliant season here at Mull Eagle Watch with fantastic sightings of Iona and Fingal as they successfully raised a chick.

Also, a big thank you to anyone that visited us and left a donation, so much of the money we raise is fed directly back into the Mull and Iona Community, so you’ve helped us achieve a lot. I’m now finished for the autumn and winter, although trips will run to the end of September at the hide.

Thistle

We’ve also named our viewing hide youngster. Ulva Primary School was chosen this year to come up with ideas for the name. I visited them a few weeks ago to work with them and we thought about everything Scottish or anything that made them think of Mull. It’s really nice to follow on from the Glasgow Commonwealth games and the Year of Homecoming too.

We had great suggestions all round but the partnership narrowed it down and chose one they though most suitable for our female chick. Thistle it is! So we now have Iona, Fingal and Thistle for 2014, with our chick from last year called Orion. Thank you to Arwen, Kate and Issy at the primary school, all three of the girls thought of Thistle and what a great name.

Seasonal spectacles

The birds are having some great September weather, compared to our usual gales and rain so hopefully this will give all of our eagle youngsters around the island a head start for the harder seasons. September is a great time of the year for wildlife, so step outside and enjoy it.

Birds are on the move; soon we’ll hear geese overhead in big numbers, with barnacle geese heading over Mull toward places like the Isle of Islay and further south again to Caerlaverock WWT. Whooper swans will also be heading down the country from summer breeding areas in colder climes north. Fieldfare and redwing will also be arriving to appreciate our warmer, less extreme winter weather. Will it be a year for the waxwing or short-eared owl? Sometimes we get a bumper year of migrants, making for amazing wildlife watching.

Along with the bird movement we’re of course treated to the colour changes in our woodlands and the outburst of unfamiliar mushrooms and fungus below the canopy. Blackberries are exploding into the deep purple colour, ripe and ready to pick – make sure you always leave some behind for wildlife though! It’s not just the birds in the UK that make a meal of berries, but mammals like wood mice, pine marten, fox and badger, as well as deer of course often rely on fruit to boost their diet.

Seeing stars

Take a look at my Mull ranger blog for an update on the star gazing event I ran last week. Another thing to make the most of throughout autumn and winter is the dark sky. We’re very lucky across the Hebridean islands to have some great dark skies with little light pollution.

The Isle of Coll has been named as a dark sky community which is brilliant. September is great for stars and as a bonus our nights are still fairly warm, so stargazing is bearable for longer with the help of a hot drink and a woolly hat. There are so many ways to learn about the night sky now too, download one of the many free smart phone or tablet apps to help. Get the whole family outside and see something amazing!

Thanks for reading as always, I’ll post a few blogs over the autumn/winter season so watch out for them as they won’t be regular and we’ll be back with you in March 2015. Rachel 🙂

Looking back – highlights and drama of the season

Mull eagle hide

Into my final full week now, I can’t believe how fast the season has gone by. It seems like only yesterday Iona settled on her new nest site to lay and begin incubation. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the entire six months and have been privileged to watch white-tailed eagles and other species so closely. Wildlife is a passion and you can never tire of seeing even the most regular species, let alone one of the largest eagles found in the whole world.

I thought I’d recap some of the highlights and my favourite memories from the hide before I head off for winter. Of course we don’t just focus on white-tailed eagles and some of our other sightings this year have been breath-taking. Golden eagles have regularly graced us with their presence, often a very secretive bird, we’ve been thrilled to see them soaring above Glen Seilisdeir, usually in disputes with ravens, buzzards and white-tailed eagles.

Early days

It was actually a very blustery early spring day when Iona finally decided which nest to use and settled down, obviously having laid an egg. The weather during late March clearly demonstrated one reason the new nest site may have been chosen, it was very sheltered; perfect protection from harsh winds and rain. Egg laying and incubating is such a key time in the eagle cycle, if this stage goes wrong the birds don’t get a second chance till the following year. Disturbance is a big issue at this critical time too and even a very short spell away from the eggs can mean disaster.

Thankfully everything went well for Iona and Fingal at this stage. Five weeks later and we had a chick. Behaviour changes dramatically following the hatching; adults still need to incubate but food is regularly brought in for the newly born chick. We watched daily as a variety of prey was fed gently to the chick, we saw greylag goose, seabird, mountain hare, rabbit, deer carrion, fish species and more, all carried into the nest site. One thing I remember clearly is Fingal carrying in a harbour seal placenta, he dropped this rather gruesome looking bundle into the nest and perched nearby showing off his – usually yellow – very red feet!

Growing up

Things develop very quickly when you’re a raptor and chicks across the island were fully grown only 6-7 weeks after hatching. I was very lucky this year to attend two eagle nest sites to watch the ringing process. It was fascinating to be underneath an active eagle nest, obviously not a regular occurrence! The prey remains, feathers and pellets littering the ground gave a detailed insight into the lives of each pair. Maybe someday it’ll be me climbing the tree to ring eaglets!

Leaving home

Our chick progressed nicely and we began to see her exercising those huge wings, whilst branching out to explore the nest site. At times this was unnerving for us and we watched with bated breath – again this is a very critical time for the eagle youngster, as often they make a mistake of taking off from the nest by the wind too early.

Thankfully this didn’t happen and our chick managed to cling onto the nest site and familiarity for 13 weeks – slightly longer than the average fledging time of 12 weeks. Another memorable moment happened whilst she was down on the ground, not quiet understanding the idea of flight. Both Iona and Fingal were on hand to give support, encouragement and food of course. Fingal brought a lovely silver mackerel in and we watched as the family enjoyed a meal together.

Good luck

Things are drawing to a close for me now, although John will still be running walks at the hide until the end of September. Right now our juvenile is still with Iona and Fingal, busy learning all she needs to know to survive winter alone. She’ll embark on her real life soon, heading off into Scotland and the unknown. She could cover huge distances; maybe she’ll take a fancy to the East Scotland or Ireland? We’ll keep our fingers crossed for her, as we know eagles have a lot to contend with these days, not only does she have to survive by finding enough prey but she has to avoid dangerous wind turbines and avoid the ongoing illegal raptor persecution.

I’m still around for a week so, and I’ll get another post out before I leave. Thanks for reading as usual, Rachel 🙂

Fledged but not flown

The busy, busy period of country shows and beach games is just about over now, with Lifeboat Day tying it all up and the Scottish children are now back to school. This last month has flown by even faster than all the rest.

Adult white-tailed eagle (John Clare)
Our female juvenile is doing well after fledging although she still hasn’t gone all that far from the main area of the territory, near the nest. All of this wet and windy weather won’t have been much encouragement to get going so she’s spent a lot of time sat on the grass below the tree line looking wet and miserable. She has managed some good flights above the forest but she’s always managed to come back down in her well known area.

Mackerel & gannet bonanza

It seems that Iona and Fingal are fairly frustrated with her and spend a good amount of time nearby giving her a glare of parental annoyance; they still want her to make her way to their prime hunting territory over the loch. Despite this, they’ve still been bringing in prey and often spend time down on the grass alongside feasting together. We’ve had great sightings of feeding behaviour with prey items like mackerel featuring a lot – this matches anecdotes of people catching 100 plus in no time at all around the Mull coastline.

We also had some visitors this week that have been enjoying a spectacle – white-tailed eagles hunting gannets! I always say they can and do, but I’ve never been lucky enough to witness that yet. Gannets have a wingspan of 2m, they’re a huge bird in their own right and they’ll be busy feasting on the glut of mackerel.

Awesome autumn

Despite it only being August the air has a distinct autumnal feel. Rowan berries have burst into colour and hooded crows among others have been making off with large beakfuls. Leaves are turning and falling, on a woodland walk yesterday I was trooping through falling leaves of sweet chestnut and oak. We’ve had a rush of poor weather too, with some strong winds and torrential rain, feeling much more like September than August! Not that I’m complaining, autumn is a great season and one of change. Everything is busy, on the move or collecting up fat stores and caching food.

I was treated to a family group of Jay yesterday with their harsh call, they’ll be preparing for winter now and beginning to cache food, they have an extensive territory map and a brilliant memory. I’m looking forward to hearing the first fieldfare crossing overhead and seeing the familiar v-shape silhouettes of wintering geese.

Winter prey

Eagles and other top predators will begin to change their main prey items as the seasons change too. Fish like mackerel will move off, for example, but other prey becomes more important. Beginning late September and into October our largest deer species begins its annual rut for dominance. The stags don’t fed throughout this period, so many lose fat and stores and many will also be injured. Heading into winter, our eagles and other carrion feeders can cache in on the glut of deer carcasses. Rabbits and hares will also play more of a part as many seabirds leave the coastal breeding area and head out to open waters for winter feeding.

Nature of Scotland Awards

Great news for Mull Eagle Watch, we’ve been shortlisted for the Nature of Scotland Awards under the Innovation category. We’ll be attending the award ceremony in November with naturalist, author and TV presenter, Chris Packham hosting – very exciting!

Thanks for reading as usual. Still looking for webcam chick names, tweet me some ideas or message on our Facebook page! Rachel 🙂

A busy Easter at the nest

We’re now a few weeks into our 2014 season at Mull Eagle Watch, and have enjoyed a busy Easter. Iona and Fingal are now sharing the duties of incubation although it seems Iona has been doing the lion’s share of work! However over the last few days the pair have shared the job with regular changeovers at the nest. We aren’t sure how many eggs the pair have but we’re hoping they probably have 2 or 3, we’ll know more when the chicks begin to hatch which will be on the 6th or 7th May. The new nest is holding up well with the wind and rain we’ve had over the last few weeks, with much more shelter than last year to protect the incubating bird and eggs.

Visitors to Mull Eagle Watch over Easter at the hide

Visitors to Mull Eagle Watch at the hide over Easter

With it being the Easter holidays we’ve had some great families and groups of children visiting the hide. Lots of them were really knowledgeable about wildlife and eagles already. They asked fantastic questions throughout the trips, showing a huge interest in the birds. We spent some time most days building up an eagle nest, getting hands-on and active. We all worked together as a team to build the nest – which can be up to the size of a double bed! We learnt about eagles and their nest as we built; how deep do they get? How many years can one nest be active? Are they always big enough or do chicks sometimes fall out? What is the biggest nest ever recorded? Did you know that sometimes nests get so big they can cause a tree to fall over? All the children got good views of the eagles and other wildlife too.

Kids having fun in a nest they built at Mull Eagle Watch

Kids having fun in a nest they built at Mull Eagle Watch

An Easter treat

One day we had a really special morning; the eagles had a carcass up on the ridge above the nest site and there was a huge amount of activity taking place. Carrion plays an important part in the diet of many species of eagle, especially throughout winter – although they will readily feed on carcasses whenever it is available. We counted six eagles at one point, a combination of white-tailed eagles (both adults and sub-adults) and golden eagles all flying around the ridge and often landing to feed. The whole time this was going on Iona sat quietly on the nest. Moments like that are very special and our visitors were extremely lucky to see such a spectacle.

We also had a sub-adult bird spending a lot of time in the area; both Iona and Fingal are very tolerant of this individual, allowing it to sit up above the nest. Well, most of the time…one afternoon it pushed its luck and actually landed on the nest and was promptly pushed straight back out! We think it may be one of the pair’s youngsters from a previous year; they would be much less tolerant of a stranger.

A Siskin bird on a feeder

A Siskin bird on a feeder

We’re seeing lots of other wildlife around the hide too. There are bird feeders up nearby with chaffinches, siskins and coal tits feeding regularly. We’ve had some sightings of the common crossbill around the hide and forest too. Look out for any trees which are heavy with cones and you might come across some feeding with their distinctive bill. The children unearthed an interesting beetle too – the “bloody-nosed beetle”. This is a leaf beetle that can’t fly but can “spew” blood from its nose to defend against small mammal predators, interesting…

A Bloody Nosed Beetle

A Bloody Nosed Beetle

We are lucky to be seeing golden eagles almost every day; they use the ridge line above the forest and soar around beside Ben More. Of course the buzzard tends to make daily appearances, along with ravens and hooded crows. We’ve even had some distant sightings of kestrels, hen harriers and sparrowhawks.

Along with our regular blog we have some various ways you can keep up to date with us at Mull Eagle Watch; you can “like” us on Facebook to see daily updates, sightings, photographs and more, both myself and John update daily on this dedicated page. We’re also on Twitter: just search “skyeandfrisa” for regular tweets. Lastly, we’re on TripAdvisor – we’re a five star attraction and would like to thank everyone that has left us a review. Thanks for reading!