Tag Archives: eagles

Perched on the Precipice

 

Perched on the Precipice – Wednesday 12th July

Branching Out

Our two eaglets at West Ardhu (North West Mull Community Woodland) are around 11 weeks old tomorrow, and are already beginning to explore the outskirts of their nest. White-tailed eagles usually fledge around 12 weeks of age, but they can take the jump earlier, or later! We can now see a size difference in two youngsters, they’re both fully grown and it looks like we’ve a male and a female (the females can be larger by 25%).

What looks to be the female eaglet has started branching out. On Sunday 9th she teetered right onto the furthest point of the large branch supporting the nest. We watched with baited breath wondering if this would be the moment, as she was flapping a lot, and looked fairly precarious! But, thankfully, the adult male eagle returned back with a small snack in his beak – the youngster scrambled back to the nest quite quickly after that…

West Ardhu 2017 Brancing Out

Look closely among the foliage to the right to spot the other eaglet

 

Imminent Fledging

So, we’re expecting our two chicks to leave the nest at West Ardhu fairly soon. We’ll be keeping you all updated via social media and this blog. Meanwhile, trips are continuing as usual and we’re getting brilliant views through the scopes of the chicks exercising and gaining confidence. We’re still seeing Hope and Star too, often they’re perched close by and on Monday 10th the male, Star didn’t move an inch all day! Toward the fledging period it’s thought by some that the adults will bring less prey into the nest to encourage the eaglets to take the leap, so maybe they’ve been lazy for a good reason.

Even after fledging the eagle family will still be visible to us, and so we’ll still be running trips. So come along to learn about the species and watch out for one of the largest eagles in in the world.

 

Incredible Growth Rate

It doesn’t seem like long ago I was posting out first image of the chicks in the nest, days after hatching. At that stage, they would have fit in the palm of my hand. Ringing came around quickly, when the chicks were about 6 weeks old. We recently received some images taken by the ringers Rachel and Lewis Pate from in the nest itself. You can see how fast they’ve grown in just 6 weeks, and are starting to resemble real eagles here.

They are now full size, with that impressive 2.5m wingspan and they’ll stand almost 1m tall too! I think they look even larger than the adults because of their dark brown plumage.

 

Other sightings

We had one stunning afternoon recently where we didn’t know where to look. Starting off with the introduction to Mull Eagle Watch at our base we spotted Buzzards and then a Golden Eagle on the ridge top being mobbed by a male Hen Harrier. Soon after, our female White-tailed eagle gave us brilliant view whilst she soared in the blue sky above. When we arrived at the viewing hide the whole eagle family were visible through out scopes – what more could we ask for?!

Most days we’re spotting Buzzards and a local Sparrowhawk is often seen carrying prey over the forest. When the sun shines we’ve enjoyed Red Admiral and Meadow Brown butterflies, Golden-ringed dragonflies and more.

 

Back soon

Hopefully I’ll be back soon with some exciting news, In the meantime, why don’t you catch up with Iona and Fingal’s season in Tiroran Community Forest. They have one healthy chick, which is a few weeks younger than the West Ardhu pair, so not quite ready to fledge yet. Pop over to read Meryl’s blog.

Want to visit us? Book with Craignure Visitor Information Centre by popping in or calling on 01680 812556.

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Terrific Twosome!

Sunday 30th April 2017

Our West Ardhu eagle pair, Hope and Star are proud parents to two chicks this season at Mull Eagle Watch. 

We had a good idea that the pair were due to hatch around this time after settling down to incubate mid March. White-tailed eagles have a 38 day incubation period. Throughout the incubation period we were unsure how many eggs had been laid, generally one or two eggs (occasionally three) are laid in Scotland and most pairs raise one or two chicks. We’re always hopeful that pairs hatch two eaglets – the eggs hatch a few days apart, meaning one youngster is bigger and stronger; more likely to survive the hardships of weather or lack of prey.

Our first indication of something exciting occurring in North West Mull Community Woodland was last Tuesday. From our viewing hide we watched as the adult female (Hope or Yellow C) began to move around much more in the nest – throughout the incubation period she had spent the majority of the time sitting steadily, with little activity. But, she began to spend more time stood up, looking down into the nest cup and we could only imagine what was happening at her reptilian feet. Was the first chick hatching? Could she hear the chick from inside the egg? Eagles chicks are audible from inside the egg up to 15 hours before the hatching process begins. The hatching process itself is arduous and can take over 30 hours in some cases.

This increased behaviour on the nest has continued since. Th eagle pair have been busy on the eyrie and the male has been spending more time visible, often perching nearby or on the nest tree itself.

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Star perched near the nest (Image: Meryl Varty)

 

We had confirmation from Dave Sexton, our RSPB Officer for the island on Friday 28th April that the nest held two very young chicks or eaglets – at only a couple of days old! We’re now keeping our fingers and toes crossed that this pair of youngsters will both make it. The weather has been fairly unkind so far, with strong, cold Northerly winds. It seems we’re coming into warmer weather in the next few days which will help. Star and Hope fledged two eaglets in 2015, and one last year so we know they’re good parents – lets wish them all the support for 2017!

More than eagles…

As well as our adult pair of eagles, we’re spotting juvenile white-tailed eagles often. Plus, we’ve recently had brilliant views of a female hen harrier working the rough area in front of the eagle nest tree! We’ve also enjoyed buzzards, sparrowhawk, drinker moth caterpillars, violet oil beetles, willow warblers and our first grasshopper warbler of the season today!

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Phone photo of a juvenile white-tailed eagle!

Join us on a tour: 

You can join us on tours to see Star and Hope at West Ardhu or head to see Iona and Fingal in Tiroran Community Forest. Iona and Fingal are still incubating and are due to hatch soon! You can keep up with Meryl, our RSPB Ranger based at Tiroran, along with the pair, Iona and Fingal by reading the RSPB Blog.

Booking is through the Craignure Visitor Information Centre – you can call them on 01680 812556.

Tours run everyday and last around two hours each.

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.

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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.

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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 🙂

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 🙂

Excited about eggs

We’re into May already, this season is flying past, it feels like only a few days ago when I wrote about Iona deciding on a nest site and laying her first egg. Well it’s been almost 38 days since that first post…and 38 days is the incubation period of the white-tailed eagle. Now the anticipation is rising at Glen Seilisdeir as we await the imminent hatching of the first egg, if our calculations are correct that could be today, or maybe Wednesday. Unfortunately for our pair, the weather has turned over the weekend. No more blue skies and sunshine for Mull, but heavy rain and gusty winds instead. Hopefully both Iona and Fingal are experienced enough to cope with this weather as the eggs hatch out, and we think the situation of this year’s new nest will help a lot too.

Mull eagle watch flag

We should see a change in behaviour when the first chick hatches. So far the birds have not brought much prey into the nest but we’ll probably see this increase. The youngsters need freshly caught prey rather than carrion to gain enough energy and nutrition to grow so prey like fish and seabirds will become important. The chicks will be incubated for a while after hatching, they are still very vulnerable, especially when the weather is poor but the parents may begin to move around much more on the nest too.

Fingal and Iona raised one chick last year which was named Orion by some local school children. Across Scotland white-tailed eagles often raise two chicks to fledging, they’re much more productive than golden eagles that usually only raise one chick and have a very high chance of failure. Fingers crossed that our pair do a little better this year at their new nest and hopefully we’ll have two chicks to contribute to the Scotland-wide population.

Ticking over

Things have been ticking over nicely after Easter, albeit a little more quietly with the children back to school. There have been some good sightings as usual at the hide, with regular golden eagles, a first year white-tailed eagle and sub-adult birds about still too – we even had a young bird attempt to land on the nest with the adults again! Last week there was a sheep carcass nearby too, and our visitors got some great views of Fingal, our adult male feeding on it.

As soon as we know something about the hatching and chicks I’ll let you all know. Don’t forget to keep in touch on our Facebook page too. I have my first classroom visit this week too, to teach the children about eagles and our island wildlife with some games which will be fun, as well as our drop in day on Thursday this week – if you are reading this and live or work on the island do come along and see us.

Mull Eagle Watch visitor nest

Legally protected

Also, a quick reminder that the white-tailed eagles are a heavily protected bird and disturbance won’t be tolerated. You should not be within 200m of a nest site – if you find you are, without being aware initially, please carefully retreat as soon as you notice. Please be aware of birds and any signs advising you not to stop, it is illegal to park in passing places as this is dangerous and blocks the road.

We’ve had an alert about a particular individual this week enquiring about getting within 30m of an active nest site – this is completely illegal, disturbing and dangerous to the birds. If you see anything suspicious anywhere on the island please call either the police on 121 or Dave Sexton, the RSPB officer on 07818 803 382.

Thanks for reading!

Super spring and (hopefully) super summer

Bluebells on Mull

Another lovely week here on Mull, we’ve been blessed with some great weather; glorious sunny afternoons, making for brilliant wildlife watching. Everything is still going to plan with Iona and Fingal who are sharing incubation duties throughout the day. Not too long now before we hope to have hatching chicks!

Sensational season?

Over the whole island it looks like it may be a productive year. We’ve already heard of the first minke whale sightings in our waters, along with news of basking sharks heading north, passing the Irish coast as I type! Last season the sharks were slow in arriving, probably linked to low temperatures and therefore low amounts of plankton that these giant fish feed on. You can follow some sharks that were tagged in our Hebridean waters last season online.
Puffins are back in the waters here now after a winter out at sea and they should be heading onto islands like Lunga soon to start breeding.puffins

The trees seem to have burst into various shades of green recently, obviously making the most of the energy from sun. The blackthorns are in flower and the flag irises should be about to open too, followed by our lovely bluebells soon enough. We’ve seen a lot of butterflies about too, mostly Peacocks. We even came across a rare oil beetle on the track up to the hide one day. These beetles have a fascinating lifecycle; they rely on solitary bees, without them the larvae would never reach maturity. The beetle larvae hide in a flower to hitch a ride back to the bee’s nest, once inside the larvae feed on the bee’s eggs and its store of pollen and nectar to eventually emerge as an adult. These beetles are declining, as are bees. We’re very lucky to have them in the forest at Glen Seilisdeir.

An oil beetle

A rare Oil Beetle

So many eagles!

Thursday morning started out being a dull, chilly day. It was a morning for woolly hats and gloves. We were a select few for the first trip that day and enjoyed interesting debates and discussions about various wildlife issues, from the badger cull and pine martens on Mull, to the on-going raptor persecution across the mainland. We had a volunteer from an osprey watch too and it was great to compare the white-tailed eagles to the amazing migratory fish specialist. We waited patiently for a changeover and were rewarded when Fingal came into the nest, he sat around for a while before taking over duties too so we got a good view of him.

Eagle on Mull

Over lunch the sun came out and really warmed the area, giving way to stunning, clear blue skies. Perfect for eagles! A larger group for the afternoon session, and what an afternoon it was! We lost count of eagles; they were obviously making use of the warm air thermals, enjoying the height without wasting energy. We saw both white-tailed eagles and golden eagles distantly over the hillsides and by the peak of Ben More. We also had a changeover, with both Iona and Fingal taking turns to pose for us on a nearby treetop. As we enjoyed this spectacle, I looked directly up to see five eagles right above us – four sub-adult white-tailed eagles and a young golden eagle! What a sight! Safe to say we were all very excited. The sightings continued in the area until we all had to tear ourselves away with some guests heading off for a quick BBQ before rushing for the ferry.

Progress

As you may know, with Iona choosing a new nest site this year we had to make some quick adjustments to the viewing area with some tree felling and a new shelter. One thing we are still in the process of changing is the camera we had on the nest last year. We’ve had problems with our cable and then our TV screen… We’re almost sorted with it now though and should have a live feed of the nest site inside our hide and hopefully an online webcam too.

Lastly, I’ve been busy working on some new activities for our younger visitors so watch this space for some interesting videos and photos of us enjoying the new tasks. I’ll also have some school visits too, making sure our younger generations get a balanced education on our island wildlife, eagles and how everything interacts.

Thanks for reading!