Tag Archives: fledging

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 🙂

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 🙂

Flying high

sea eagle Iona on MullSo eventually – almost a whole seven days after our chick turned 12 weeks old – she fledged. Last Monday, she was right on the edge of the nest, exercising those huge wings, looking like she’d be off any minute, but she clung on to familiarity till Tuesday.

She didn’t get far and spent all of Wednesday out of sight, low down in the brash below the nest site. We could hear her calling, and both Iona and Fingal were perched about giving moral support. Thursday we were very privileged to see her get to grips with flight, she soared above the trees, breaking the skyline to demonstrate her fantastic size and shape. She dropped her legs down to break as she came in to land, showing instinctual behaviour. Absolutely brilliant to see and it almost brought a tear to my eye after three months of watching her grow up!

Experienced eagles

Despite having fledged, we’ll still see the youngster and the adults around the area. Chicks tend to stay with the adults for another few months after fledging, often until October time. This period is critical for the survival of the juveniles, as they need to learn how to hunt and fend for themselves before winter, which is one of the toughest times during their life. Iona and Fingal are experienced eagles and will probably teach her how to hunt, how to find carrion carcasses and more. Then instinct will take over again and she’ll head off into the big wide world, nor forcing from the adults.

Juveniles have four to five years of roaming around before hitting adulthood themselves and so our youngster could head off in any direction, maybe to Ireland and back, or over to East Scotland. She’ll likely find a mate whilst far away from home here on Mull, meaning less chance they’ll be related. She’ll eventually settle down in a territory of her own, maybe not far from her home nest site on Mull.

Persecution problems

Thankfully the Isle of Mull is a relatively safe place for all our raptors to breed, without the issue of illegal persecution. Unfortunately not all of the UK matches up to our standards and our eagles have a lot to face when they move away from the safety of the island. Illegal persecution of our birds of prey is worse now than it has been in years, with many birds being shot, poisoned and trapped – despite the fact it has been illegal to do so since 1954. Hopefully our fledgling won’t cross over any particularly bad areas but it’s very likely she will, we wish her all the luck.

It isn’t just our eagles that are killed though, the hen harrier is on the brink of extinction in the UK and others like the buzzard, red kites, peregrine and goshawk are regularly killed too. Often this is linked in with driven grouse shooting, although not all estates are responsible. This Sunday gone it was Hen Harrier Day 2014, to raise awareness of the ongoing raptor persecution in the UK. If you didn’t get along to a gathering, please take a minute to show your support by signing Mark Avery’s petition, taking a hen harrier selfie with a poster or changing your Facebook profile picture!

red admiral butterfly

Visiting hide

We’re still running daily trips at the viewing hide; we have a good chance of seeing our eagles and lots of other wildlife too. Often we will go for a wander through the forest to look for our eagles hunting, butterflies, golden eagles, red deer and more. Knapweed is flowering at the moment and when the sun is out our butterflies make a feast of it. We’ve had lovely dark-green fritillaries, peacock, red admiral, scotch argus, meadow brown and common blue enjoying it recently. We’re also thrilled to have the company of a sparrowhawk regularly, often coming into the bird feeders to hunt – fantastic birds!

Call 01680 812556 to book – we run a 10am trip and a 1pm trip, Mon-Fri.

Thanks for reading, I’ll keep you all posted on our chicks progress. Also, please send your eagle name ideas for our webcam chick. We need lots so we can come up with a great shortlist!

Scottish success!

Still sitting…

Our chick is still in the nest! Probably not for long now though, as it turned 11 weeks old yesterday. We’re waiting with baited breath for that first flight – or jump as it can sometimes be. The adults, Iona and Fingal seem to be bringing in less prey. They’re still around the area, spending a lot of time perched nearby in a tree or the ridgeline, but it might be that they’re trying to encourage the chick to take that leap. Adult eagles don’t get much holiday time and so the faster the chick fledges the better. It will probably stick with them for a few more months and leave in October, giving Iona and Fingal some free time. Not for long though as they can begin pair bonding, nest building and territory defence as early as December or January.

We’re still getting great sightings at the hide. Our chick is much more visible now and this fantastic sunny weather makes for brilliant soaring and golden eagles have been up in the air too. We’ve also had some lovely butterflies about, with meadow brown and Scotch Argus of note recently.

Fantsatic weather at Gribun Cliffs

East coast celebrations

Absolutely brilliant to hear the latest from our friends over on the east coast of Scotland where the final reintroduction of white-tailed eagles took place. This came to an end in 2012, when enough birds had been brought over from Norway and released. They’re still being heavily monitored with the use of wing tags, leg rings and VHF radios. Last year saw the first successful breeding pair over there, although their chick disappeared in April this year. The same pair this season have raised another chick. It was ringed a few weeks ago and East Coast Officer, Rhian Evans thinks it might be a male. Let’s wish him every success for fledging. Unfortunately, the eagles have lots to contend with including wind turbines and illegal persecution. Hopefully the eagles will increase on this season’s three nesting attempts across east and central Scotland in 2015.

Springwatch youngster has flown

You might have seen our famous webcam star in the news again recently. Following the issue of the intruding eagle and the chick’s 30ft drop adventure, it has successfully fledged. She has been seen in flight within the territory and is doing fantastically well. She has been one of the stars of favourite TV show, Springwatch this year, along with featuring on the UK’s first ever white-tailed eagle webcam, available for the whole world to see.

Name that eagle

We’re now asking you to get involved; can you contribute a name idea for this chick?

We’d like it to be appropriate for an eagle and have something to do with Scotland to go along with the Scottish Homecoming 2014, the Commonwealth Games and all the other exciting things happening here this year. Maybe something Gaelic or traditional? If you have an idea you can send it to us via a private message on our facebook page, leave a comment on this blog post or even email me on mull.ranger@forestry.gsi.go.uk.

You’ll get entered into a pot; we’ll then shortlist our favourites and let everyone vote online. Get naming!

August – Show extravaganza

We’ve got lots going on over the next month so if you’re about on the island come and join us. I’ll be at both Bunessan and Salen shows in August (1st and 7th August). I’ll be there for Mull Eagle Watch with some lovely displays and some eagle related activities for children. On the same stall we’ll have the Ranger Service display and again, lots of activities for the children to enjoy. Come and say hi, ask questions and just have a chat.

If you enjoy a good blog, we have a Mull and Iona Ranger Service blog now too. Follow us to keep up to date on events, shows, activities, talks, walks and more. Look out for some lovely local photos and posts on the recent goings-on.

Mull Eagle Watch Trips

Still lots going on the hide too so call 01680 812556 to book in. Great for families, we’ve got plenty to keep the children occupied throughout the trip and hopefully they’ll get to see one of the largest eagles in the world! Even after our chick has flown the nest we’ll still have good sightings and we’ll often take a wander through our forest to see what we can find.

Mull Eagle Watch

Thanks for reading. I’m looking forward to those eagle name ideas!

Rachel 🙂