Tag Archives: birding

Ringed & Ready

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

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

Raptor Ringing

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

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

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

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

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

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The eaglets after the ringing process

Growing up fast

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

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

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

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

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

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John Love and myself at West Ardhu

Other sightings 

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

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

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Sabre Wasp – parasitic species

 

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

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

 

 

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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