Tag Archives: buzzard

First flight

Proud parents

Last Monday 27th July, myself and RSPB ranger John Clare witnessed the first ever flight of our eagle chick. The eaglet was due to turn 12 weeks old the following day and we’d usually expect chicks to fledge at around that age. We watched our youngster fly over the forest near the nest site, surprised to see the first flight going so well. The eaglet even managed to twist over in mid-air to threaten a buzzard which was coming too close! This flight backed up our thoughts on the sex of the chick, we’re pretty sure that she is a female due to size (females are up to 25 per cent larger than males). Throughout the day we enjoyed views of her back on the nest, she spent all day exercising and preening on an outer branch – maybe that flight was enough for one day! The adults, Iona and Fingal spent some time near the nest site for the afternoon and we witnessed them perched very close together looking very much like a couple, something we don’t see very often.

Iona & Fingal perched together, taken through the scope (Thanks to Rachel Duffy)

Iona & Fingal perched together, taken through the scope (Thanks to Rachel Duffy)

Crash landing

After such a good first flight it couldn’t all go swimmingly and we watched the fledged eagle crash land into conifer trees near the nest a few days later. She had been attempting to land on the nest itself and badly misjudged. This is natural and is all a learning process, it’ll take some practice to fully control that large wingspan, especially when dealing with trees. Since then she has spent some time down on the ground in the grassy clearing below the nest site. The weather hasn’t been great and may be making her reluctant to try flying again. The eagles look very vulture-like when they’re on the ground, demonstrating that they’re actually closely related. The image below is of Thistle, last year’s youngster, raised in the same nest site by Iona and Fingal. This is what our current eaglet will look like, although I’ve not managed to catch a photo of her yet!

Thistle after fledging in 2014

Thistle after fledging in 2014

Almost autumn

Trips will be running throughout August, and John is likely to continue running walks to look for the eagle family into September and October. My position ends mid-August, so I will be leaving at a time when the fledged youngster is learning how to survive and find food. The chick will probably stay with Iona and Fingal into October or November, and will then begin to roam wider areas. This a natural process, eagles will cover huge areas in the first few years of their life. White-tailed eagles reach adulthood at around five years old and will then settle down to create their own territory. During the sub-adult stage white-tailed eagles are fairly gregarious and often form social groups or roosts, especially during the winter. So if you can brave the wintery weather, our colder months are a perfect time to watch eagles in the UK. Along with white-tailed eagles, Mull wildlife throughout autumn and winter is incredible – otters and golden eagles don’t go anywhere, and in addition we gain many wintering bird species. Believe it or not, we’re already on the lookout for migrant birds and we’ll notice some of our summer residents leaving soon too. And we haven’t even had a summer yet!

Drastic deer

On most of our trips we’re seeing large numbers of red deer through the telescopes. These animals are mostly feeding higher up on the hillsides during summer in an attempt to avoid midges and flies. Red deer are a native species to the UK and are the largest species of deer we have, but due to the loss of our native predators like wolves, bear and lynx deer species are now present in very large numbers.

reddeerThey’re always a pleasure to see and at this time of year many of the stags are still growing their antlers, which are covered in velvet for now. Deer antler is one the fastest growing materials in the mammal kingdom, increasing by 1cm per day! Despite being a great sight, deer numbers do need to be controlled, as they cause many issues within our ecosystems. In large numbers with no predators, they prevent natural woodland regeneration, damage heather moorland and shrub and increase erosion and flooding. They can also cause real damage to timber plantations across the UK. The survey figures suggest that on Mull alone we have around 12,000 red deer. We also have some small pockets of fallow deer (a non-native species).  It won’t be long until the deer are moving to lower ground for the deer rutting season. Again, another great reason to visit Mull in the colder months. September and October here go by to the sound of roaring and rutting stags.

Thanks for reading as usual.

Rachel 🙂






Fast approaching fledging

Edging closer to fledging

Things are progressing on Mull and our eaglet is now almost 11 weeks old. We’re getting rapidly closer to the time of fledging for our chick which will be in the next 1-2 weeks. Many other eaglets from other nest sites around the island hatch earlier than Iona and Fingal’s, so will be nearer the all-important first flight than ours. This is a really critical time in the life of a young bird, even more so when you have an 8ft wingspan – mastering these wings on your maiden voyage isn’t easy and it can all go very wrong, so we’ll be watching with both nerves and excitement as the time draws closer. Our chick has already started exploring some of the branches edging the nest and is often really visible whilst standing up tall and prominent. Our adult eagles are still bringing prey into the nest site and we’re often getting great views of them in flight. They don’t usually spend much time on the nest itself now though and our chick will be feeding itself.

Raptor sightings

We’ve been veering from one extreme to another with weather again. It seems we get one glorious day with clear blue skies, and then two wet days making the midges explode in the forest. The eagles have been active though and on most trips we’ve had great views throughout the trip time, we’ve even been struggling to fit all of our usual talks and information in – but we don’t mind being interrupted by eagles! Golden eagles and buzzards have been showing well, yesterday we were treated to a fantastic close view of a golden eagle, with a buzzard following closely to mob the larger bird. Very privileged to see golden eagles close up, they’re normally very secretive! Have a look at the golden eagle ringing process in photos to get an insight into their eyrie. Some days we also get a visit from the local sparrowhawk. These small raptors get a lot of hatred, even in the bird watching world unfortunately as they are wrongly accused of eating ALL of our garden birds.  The raptors are an indicator of the health of the other wildlife and so if you have a visiting sparrowhawk it means you have plenty of prey to support the next level of the food chain – we should cherish our raptors, especially in our garden.


Juv white-tailed eagle with mountain backdrop (Ewan Miles)

Butterflies and wildflowers

Along with the larger species associated with Mull it’s a great time to enjoy the smaller species like our wildflowers and insects. We’re lucky here that most of our road verges aren’t strimmed regularly, meaning they look amazing and are teeming with wildlife. Unfortunately elsewhere in the UK this isn’t the case as we lose a huge area of habitat due to council regulations each summer. Next time you’re out, take a moment to appreciate how good the road edges look! We had a great ranger event at Treshnish Farm, an area farmed in a wildlife friendly manner. The Coronation Meadow there is fantastic, full of incredible flowers and all the associated bird and insect life. Walking through a meadow like this is a great way to connect with nature and we’ve lost the majority of our UK wild flower meadows due to changes in management practice. Dark-green fritillary are on the wing right now, they’re a large butterfly with powerful flight, along with common blue and day flying moths like the chimney sweeper.


Dark-green fritillary (Ewan Miles

Chimney Sweeper Moth

Chimney sweeper moth

Thanks for reading and look back soon to see how our eaglet fares in the next few weeks. Rachel 🙂


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


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

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.


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 🙂

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 🙂

Nerve-racking nature

close up

We’re nearing that time of year once again when our eaglets begin to edge closer to the precarious outskirts of their nest. That innate instinct to take the jump from the relative safety of the only home it has known for twelve weeks takes over. We’ve seen evidence of this from both our stars this year; our youngster at the hide has begun exercising those huge wings and the chick on the webcam had been branching out.

My heart was in my stomach as I checked up on her earlier in the week to see her gripping tightly to a nearby branch whilst her wings were attempting to take the lift of the heavy gale.  Both of these sites are behind in the process compared to others, one well known pair have managed to fledge their chicks and they’ve been seen in flight alongside the proud parents.

Tough winters

Iona and Fingal’s chick should still have a couple of weeks to go before taking the leap but lots of important practice is taking place. Building up those pectoral muscles is key; they must be strong enough to support the youngster after fledging. A chick that isn’t fit enough will really struggle to survive after leaving its parents.

The first winter after fledging is difficult as with most wild animals. Winters can be tough and when you have little experience in life, and things can go easily wrong – from the Isle of Rum reintroduction a survival rate was estimated between 50 and 80 per cent. This was for reintroduced birds without parents there to guide, and so for wild fledged birds the figures could be very different. But it does show that in some cases half of our juveniles may not make it through to spring.

Amazing adaptations

Thankfully white-tailed eagles do have some adaptations to make things easier. When feeding on a carrion carcass or a large prey item lots of food can be taken into their crop. This is a little like a storage compartment, before the stomach and can hold enough prey to last for 3 or 4 days, a great way to withstand bad winter storms. Across Scotland carrion is often readily available in the hills.

Our over-population of deer means many don’t find enough food and die. Additionally, deer stalking provides unwanted remains for carrion eaters to feast on. Some scientists think that an eagle’s eyesight can be up to 8 times better than ours, with much more detail at longer distances. This is the main tool in seeking out prey or carrion. Surprisingly, smell isn’t as important, even when seeking out a dead animal! Only one family of raptors has been confirmed to use scent to find food – the new world vultures, for example the turkey vulture!

Here in Scotland our eagles are lucky compared to some of the other countries they inhabit. Unlike ospreys here they don’t migrate and stay in their territories all year round, the climate is tough but not too extreme and prey is there if they can find it or catch it! In other parts or Europe and also Japan white-tailed eagles have learnt to migrate south to find food and seek out more acceptable weather.

Adventure of the week…

This time we’re focussing on a couple of lovely RPSB reserves over on the Isle of Islay, one of our nearby Hebridean islands. Loch Gruinart and the Oa are brilliant sites to visit for wildlife and landscapes.

Loch Gruinart is known for its autumn and winter goose spectacle, with thousands of barnacle and white-fronted geese arriving from their northern breeding areas. Throughout summer though the reserve is just as interesting with woodland and moorland guided walks. Listen out for corncrakes and look out for rare butterflies like marsh-fritillary.

The Oa is known for spectacular views and coastal cliffs, perfect for golden eagles and chough. Islay is a laid back and welcoming island, well worth the trip.

Coming up…

I’ve another event coming up next week for those of you on the island; a guided walk on the Isle of Ulva. This is a great one for wildlife including eagles and hen harriers, wildflowers, seabirds and marine mammals. Also an added bonus of some interesting geology like basalt rock columns and even history, the isle has some fantastic links and a monument linked to the ownership and highland clearances.
Tuesday 22nd July – 10am-3pm, £7.50/£5 (plus Ulva ferry fare)
Give me a call to book on 07540792650 or 01680 300640

Thanks for reading! Rachel