Tag Archives: fingal

Seasonal Success

Causing concern

After our youngster fledged we had a few days worrying about her. We witnessed some unusual behavior from both the adults after a day or two of not seeing the fledgling. The unusual behavior did make for a brilliant trip with great views of the adults in flight. Iona took off from the empty nest carrying a freshly caught fish and flew about the clearing and nest area for a good while. Eventually she landed in an odd perch and began eating the prey. Both adults spent some time calling and a lot of time in flight together. We didn’t hear any reply from the youngster. We were initially relieved when we spotted a large dark bird coming into the area, a first year white-tailed eagle but this bird was promptly chased off by one of our adults! This wasn’t our fledged chick but must have been another from a different, nearby territory. We went home fairly concerned that evening.


Iona (adult female) being mobbed by a hooded crow

Finding your wings? Or feet?

Thankfully the next day we spotted our eaglet down on the ground below the nest site. She still hadn’t gone far but seemed to be in good health overall. She was “playing” with twigs and sticks down on the edge of the forest. This behavior is probably a combination of pure curiosity and instinctual learning. She was also flapping and helicoptering up a wee distance before landing again. Later that day she flew a short distance and disappeared from our view.


Our 2015 youngster perched below the nest site

Too tolerant

Earlier this week, Dave Sexton our RSPB Officer for the island was heading to the Mull Eagle Watch viewing hide and spotted the youngster down on the shoreline of Loch Scridain. He stopped to watch as she was “playing” again. This time unfortunately it was a piece of plastic/marine litter. She was following it as it blew away from her and picking it up again. Thankfully she didn’t swallow the litter but was content to amuse herself with it. The chick was then spooked off her shoreline spot by a local dog walker which was actually a good thing – we don’t want her to become too tolerant of people. White-tailed eagles are often tolerant of us and are the more visible of our two eagle species which makes it easy for people to target them for illegal raptor persecution. Hopefully this might make her a little more wary before she starts traveling further afield, away from the relative safety of Mull.

Eagle exploration

Hopefully in the next few weeks the youngster will gain more confidence and take to the wing again. John our RSPB ranger will continue running trips through Tiroran Forest (booking necessary) to search favorite areas for the eagle family. The all important survival skills including hunting must be learnt before she leaves the comfort of parental safety and begins to roam more of the island. Hopefully she will “buddy up” with other young eagles; they are fairly sociable and gregarious during their first few years, especially throughout winter.

Golden eagle boost?

Golden eagles may be set for a population boost in Southern Scotland after studies show their numbers are much lower than they could be. Plans are afoot to give the species a boost by taking birds from the Highlands and Islands. Hopefully this might encourage the birds to spread into Cumbria and Northumberland; two counties devoid of breeding golden eagles despite being suitable. We’ll also find out more about Scotland’s golden eagle population soon, after a detailed census this season.

Thank you

Thanks for reading the blog throughout the season and for the lovely feedback via Facebook and Twitter. This is likely to be the last blog post for a wee while as my seasonal position is over for 2015. To keep up to date over the next few weeks with ongoing trips at Mull Eagle Watch please head over to our Facebook page. We’ll also let you know the name of this years’ youngster in the next few weeks.

Mull Eagle Watch is still open for trips and you can book on by calling Craignure Visitor Information Centre on 01680 812 556.



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 🙂

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 🙂

Welcomed back with open wings…

Sula and Cuin, our eagle pair that hit stardom in 2014 have been extremely busy over the last few weeks. We were very excited to be working alongside this couple for 2015 but working with wildlife means we have to be flexible. A neighbouring eagle pair to Sula and Cuin’s territory has been ruffling some feathers. They’re now encroaching onto territory belonging to Sula and Cuin and our pair have been disputing this disagreement with the other birds. Things have settled down now as many eagle pairs have already begun incubating eggs. Sula and Cuin are likely to be incubating their own, but not on the nest they’ve used for the last few years which left Mull Eagle Watch with some last minute decision making.

Success only 40 years on

Brilliantly we’re only 30 years on from the first wild fledged white-tailed eagle chick and we now have almost 100 pairs across Scotland. This is an amazing reintroduction success story, demonstrating how conservation can work well. Back in 1970, only 40 years ago, the first white-tailed eagle eaglets were brought across seas from Norway to become pioneers in the UK. We’ve come such a long way since then with eagles expanding across the Hebrides and the Scottish West Coast to be joined by individual birds from the East Coast Scotland reintroduction. In 1918 we lost our last white-tailed eagle from the United Kingdom, but in less then 100 years since then they are back. Not only are they back but they’re thriving and are a huge asset to wildlife tourism as well as the ecosystem they’re an intrinsic part of.

Welcomed back with open wings…

Sula and Cuin’s nest site from last year is now playing host to another brilliant bird, the raven! Corvids like crows and ravens happily move into larger disused nests. As our eagles are nesting at another eyrie within their territory, ravens jumped at this highly desirable housing opportunity and are now incubating their own eggs. Ravens aren’t often a favored bird, especially by the farming community as they do regularly cause issues within lambing season but they are a fantastic species. They’re one of our most intelligent birds and can have a repertoire of 70 different vocalisations.
So Mull Eagle Watch will leave the ravens to it. We’ve been welcomed back to Tiroran in Glen Seilisdeir with open wings by Iona and Fingal and we look forward to working with them again of course.

Mull Eagle Watch


Iona and Fingal

We’ve worked alongside this brilliant eagle pair for three years and watched as they’ve done a brilliant job of raising chicks. Fingal, the male bird was hatched in Norway back in 1997. Released into Wester Ross during the second reintroduction phase, Fingal helped forge the way for the white-tailed eagle’s expansion across Scotland. Iona, the female bird was a naturally raised chick from the Isle of Skye, hatching in 1998. Last year they successfully fledged one chick which you may remember Ulva Primary School naming Thistle. Thistle was ringed, but we’ve not yet had any definite sightings of her. She could still be around on the island or could be off traveling like Sona, our webcam chick from 2014. Sona has most recently been spotted in County Durham!

Mull eagle chick

Thistle – during ringing

Booking for 2015

We’re now going to take bookings for Mull Eagle Watch this year and will be open from Monday 13th April. If you’d like to book in please contact the Craignure Information Centre on 01680 812556.
Trip times are slightly different to last year;
Trips will last around two and a half hours, but visitors should feel free to leave at any time, often we’ll have seen lots of action within the first two hours!

Thanks for reading, and I hope you’re all looking forward to visiting again; it’ll be great to see Iona and Fingal in a familiar location. Rachel 🙂

New beginnings

Blimey, it’s March already and I’d promised you another blog in January, where did that time go? Well, I’m now in the office full time in preparation for Mull Eagle Watch 2015 – very exciting. Many of you will follow us through regular social media like Twitter and Facebook; if you did you’ll already know about our brand new location for the coming season. If not, we have some news!

Tiroran Forest & Glen Seilisdeir

Glen Seilisdeir has been home to Mull Eagle Watch for three years now and we had a great time there with our eagles, Iona and Fingal. All of the rangers during that time had some amazing experiences and the pair did very well in producing chicks. One youngster successfully fledged in 2014, which Ulva Primary School named Thistle. I’m sure for 2015 these birds will continue to breed in the same area and fingers crossed they manage to produce many more chicks in the future.

Last year the future of Tiroran forest was uncertain, as it was put up for sale. But thankfully the local island community the South West Mull and Iona Development (SWMID) group launched a plan to raise funds and purchase the site. Recently, we heard in the news that the Scottish Land Fund has awarded SWMID £750,000. Hopefully, Tiroran forest will transfer into community ownership and open opportunities for sustainable income, training and development of wildlife habitats. We have our fingers crossed things go to plan, and wish the development group lots of luck in their venture. I’m sure they’ll enjoy having Iona and Fingal for company!

New beginnings… almost!

So, new beginnings for Mull Eagle Watch this year for the location and our eagle stars. But, some of you might already know that John Clare and I are both returning for another season of wildlife and ranger duties, we’re both looking forward to it. So where is the viewing hide going to be?

Sula & Cuin

Loch Torr and Quinish forest in the north of the island will be playing host to our eagle viewing hide this season. If you caught any of BBC Springwatch last year, or watched the webcam we had live on a nest, you’ll remember the eagle pair; Sula and Cuin. You might even remember all the drama when the chick, now named Sona, was unceremoniously shoved from the nest by another eagle, later to be installed back to safety by Forestry Commission Scotland tree climbers. Well, you’ll get to know this pair of eagles much better this season as they’ll be our Mull Eagle Watch family.

Sona on leg ringing day, a few weeks before being pushed out!

Sona on leg ringing day, a few weeks before being pushed out!

East coast of Scotland eagle

This is a really interesting pair of eagles. Cuin was born and bred on the island and is now almost 8 years old. Sula is a bigger bird because she’s the female, and we’ll know it’s her because she is wing tagged. They’re white with the black number 5 showing. This is the interesting part; she travelled over to Mull from the Scottish east coast where she was re-introduced as a chick. So in reality, she is actually a Norwegian bird. This just demonstrates how successful the whole re-introduction of white-tailed eagles has been, with the final east coast phase ending in 2012. You can find out more on the East Coast RSPB eagle blog .

Sona – 6 months on

The webcam chick that successfully fledged even after the traumatic fall was named Sona. Thanks to the leg rings fitted to her in the nest we’ve been able to follow her progress and are happy to say she is doing well! She’s made her way down to Dumfries and Galloway, where she is enjoying the plentiful wintering geese. Lots of wildlife watchers have caught her in photographs and regularly report her movements.

Sona, captured in Dumfries and Galloway (thanks to Ruth Eastwood)

Sona, captured in Dumfries and Galloway (thanks to Ruth Eastwood)

Thanks for reading, check back soon for more and I’ll get some photographs of the new location too! In the next few weeks our webcam should go live again, but in the meantime here’s another camera to keep you entertained.
Rachel 🙂

Eagle heights

Silhouette of white tailed sea eagle

I returned to the eagle hide last Monday after a week off the island and what a treat I got for my first trip back. We were a select bunch that morning and after an introduction we set off for a walk along the forest track in search of our eagle family.

They are now spending much less time around the nest site and are to be found nearer the hunting area of Loch Scridain. We stopped to view the 2013 nest site and were thrilled to see our juvenile female roosting there. We had a good sighting before she readied herself for takeoff and took to the air. Carrying on further through the forest the track opens out over the stunning vista of the loch.

It was a very blustery day and our eagles were taking full advantage, our youngster appeared overhead, very low and demonstrated she knew exactly what to do with those huge 2.5m wings. She floated above us for minutes; what an amazing encounter with a bird we’ve watched grow up! It only got better when both Iona and Fingal came in on the wind to do the same thing, almost like they were having a wee look at us for a change and not the other way round. Wildlife is incredible but even better when you feel a connection like this one.

Going for gold

Some of you may know we are a green tourism business and for the last two years we have been awarded silver for our efforts to be sustainable, ethical and environmentally friendly. We focussed even harder this year and developed a detailed “green file” and came up with ideas for the future too. So, we are thrilled to let you know we have been awarded the GTBS Gold Award for 2014 following our visit a few weeks ago. This shows our dedication to the wilderness we work in and our aim to keep it that way, whilst having a minimum impact on the environment and the smallest carbon footprint possible. Hopefully we can continue to develop this and encourage other businesses on Mull to join in too.

We also had our mystery visitor from Visit Scotland recently too. They thoroughly enjoyed the trip and we held onto our five stars as an excellent wildlife experience.

Shelley, Orion and…

At the end of last week I made another trip to Ulva Primary School, a group I have seen a couple of times this season and thoroughly enjoy working with. They were chosen as the local school to name Iona and Fingal’s chick this year so I went along to spend an hour with them and gather their ideas.

We recapped things I had taught them about eagles earlier and they remembered everything really well! We then thought about some of the eagles that already have names on the island and matched up pairs and found the odd names out. I asked them to draw something that conjured up Scotland and home for them, with thistles, haggis, kilts, heather and Ben More amongst the ideas. I wanted our name to link in with themes of Scotland, the Commonwealth Games and the Year of Homecoming – and it’s safe to say we had some fantastic suggestions from the group.

John and I will narrow this down and hopefully we’ll have a name for our youngster by the end of the week. The previous names for the Glen Seilisdeir chicks are Shelley and Orion, both great names!

Some don’t like the idea of naming a wild, majestic bird like the white-tailed eagle and I wouldn’t appreciate it if every bird on the island had cute and fluffy names, but the benefits of getting children involved are brilliant. It’s worthwhile for our few “high-profile” birds I think.

Thanks for reading again. Only a few weeks till the end of my season now but time for a few more blog posts.

Rachel 🙂