Tag Archives: forestry commission

Springtime Raptors & Reptiles

Springtime Raptors & Reptiles – 4th April 2017

Mull Eagle Watch reopens for trips on 11th April 2017 (bookings now being taken on 01680 812556)
Fresh faces
After a year and a half working locally at Ulva Primary School, I’ve returned to the Seasonal Eagle Ranger Post, which I filled during 2014 and 2015. I’ll be working for the Mull and Iona Ranger Service and the Mull and Iona Community Trust. Meryl Varty has taken on the RSPB Community and Information Officer post. Between the two of us we’ll be providing daily guided trips to view White-tailed eagles at two different community owned sites. You can join us at West Ardhu (North West Community Woodland) or Glen Seilisdeir (Tiroran Community Forest) to learn more about the local community forest practices, the eagles and other local wildlife species whilst hopefully viewing the eagles in the area.
Eagle Viewing Hides – ‘incubation initiated’
I’ll mostly be based at the West Ardhu viewing hide near Dervaig in the North West of the island. This area is now my home patch, having moved away from the ‘big city lights’ of Tobermory last year. This area of the island is home to brilliant wildlife, beautiful beaches and the community managed woodland in which Star and Hope have been nesting since 2014.
Hope, the female White-tailed eagle is now incubating on her nest in the West Ardhu. Along with her mate, Star they’ll share the incubation duties (although the female often does more) and we’ll expect the hatching to take place toward the end of April.
Meryl will be based at Tiroran Community Forest, where eagles Iona and Fingal are also currently incubating and hatching should take place at the beginning of May. Mull Eagle Watch has viewed this pair since 2011 and they’ve been really successful since then, raising a chick each year.

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West Ardhu Viewing Hide (North West Mull Community Woodland)

Spring Sights
Spring is a great time to explore the island, whether you’re a visitor or a local. The wildlife bursts back into being busy, making the most of the longer days and abundant food. Both White-tailed eagles and Golden eagles will be active, and often you’ll spot adult territorial eagles defending their patch from younger individuals.

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2-3 year old White-tailed eagle (Image: Ewan Miles)

Other raptor species including Hen Harrier and Buzzard will be preparing for the breeding season ahead – watch out for the famous sky-dancing male harrier. Ravens, the honorary raptor species should be breeding in full swing – they can be very early to nest.

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Raven on a Mull territory

Reptiles are a wonderful group to focus on in April, with male Adders emerging earlier than the females. We spotted two male individuals basking in the warmth of the sun at the end of March, along with a few speedy Common Lizards. Adders are highly unlikely to cause you any harm, unless trodden on and it’s a thrill to see one. Slow-worms are our third and final reptile species here on Mull and they’re harmless too – a legless lizard rather than a snake or worm!

Loch Torr roadside - same place as previous years. March 26thMale?

Male Adder

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Common Lizard

Thanks for reading! We’ll be back soon with more on our eagles – trips start from 11th April (book now on 01680 812556). See below for upcoming Ranger Service event details.

Egg-ceptional Events
The Mull and Iona Ranger Service are running a couple of events for the Easter school holiday. Our Easter Egg Hunt is in conjunction with the Glengorm Wildlife Project – come along and have some fun!
Bunessan Birdsong – Wednesday 12 April
A gentle walk around the village, listening and learning to identify the distinctive spring songs of our local birds. You don’t have to be up at dawn to appreciate beautiful birdsong!
9.30-11am
Meeting in main car park, Bunessan
£5 adults £3 children

Glengorm Easter Egg Hunt – Wednesday 12th April
Starting at the Glengorm Wildlife Lab, next to the Coffee Shop. Come in your home-made Easter bonnet to win prizes!

Activities include:
Egg-citing Scavenger Trail
Make you own basket
Egg-cellent Easter Crafts

11am-3pm
£3

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Introducing…

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 🙂

End of season

Just a quick blog post to say thank you to all who read our blog, followed us on Twitter or supported us on Facebook throughout the last six months! We’ve had a brilliant season here at Mull Eagle Watch with fantastic sightings of Iona and Fingal as they successfully raised a chick.

Also, a big thank you to anyone that visited us and left a donation, so much of the money we raise is fed directly back into the Mull and Iona Community, so you’ve helped us achieve a lot. I’m now finished for the autumn and winter, although trips will run to the end of September at the hide.

Thistle

We’ve also named our viewing hide youngster. Ulva Primary School was chosen this year to come up with ideas for the name. I visited them a few weeks ago to work with them and we thought about everything Scottish or anything that made them think of Mull. It’s really nice to follow on from the Glasgow Commonwealth games and the Year of Homecoming too.

We had great suggestions all round but the partnership narrowed it down and chose one they though most suitable for our female chick. Thistle it is! So we now have Iona, Fingal and Thistle for 2014, with our chick from last year called Orion. Thank you to Arwen, Kate and Issy at the primary school, all three of the girls thought of Thistle and what a great name.

Seasonal spectacles

The birds are having some great September weather, compared to our usual gales and rain so hopefully this will give all of our eagle youngsters around the island a head start for the harder seasons. September is a great time of the year for wildlife, so step outside and enjoy it.

Birds are on the move; soon we’ll hear geese overhead in big numbers, with barnacle geese heading over Mull toward places like the Isle of Islay and further south again to Caerlaverock WWT. Whooper swans will also be heading down the country from summer breeding areas in colder climes north. Fieldfare and redwing will also be arriving to appreciate our warmer, less extreme winter weather. Will it be a year for the waxwing or short-eared owl? Sometimes we get a bumper year of migrants, making for amazing wildlife watching.

Along with the bird movement we’re of course treated to the colour changes in our woodlands and the outburst of unfamiliar mushrooms and fungus below the canopy. Blackberries are exploding into the deep purple colour, ripe and ready to pick – make sure you always leave some behind for wildlife though! It’s not just the birds in the UK that make a meal of berries, but mammals like wood mice, pine marten, fox and badger, as well as deer of course often rely on fruit to boost their diet.

Seeing stars

Take a look at my Mull ranger blog for an update on the star gazing event I ran last week. Another thing to make the most of throughout autumn and winter is the dark sky. We’re very lucky across the Hebridean islands to have some great dark skies with little light pollution.

The Isle of Coll has been named as a dark sky community which is brilliant. September is great for stars and as a bonus our nights are still fairly warm, so stargazing is bearable for longer with the help of a hot drink and a woolly hat. There are so many ways to learn about the night sky now too, download one of the many free smart phone or tablet apps to help. Get the whole family outside and see something amazing!

Thanks for reading as always, I’ll post a few blogs over the autumn/winter season so watch out for them as they won’t be regular and we’ll be back with you in March 2015. 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 🙂

Fledged but not flown

The busy, busy period of country shows and beach games is just about over now, with Lifeboat Day tying it all up and the Scottish children are now back to school. This last month has flown by even faster than all the rest.

Adult white-tailed eagle (John Clare)
Our female juvenile is doing well after fledging although she still hasn’t gone all that far from the main area of the territory, near the nest. All of this wet and windy weather won’t have been much encouragement to get going so she’s spent a lot of time sat on the grass below the tree line looking wet and miserable. She has managed some good flights above the forest but she’s always managed to come back down in her well known area.

Mackerel & gannet bonanza

It seems that Iona and Fingal are fairly frustrated with her and spend a good amount of time nearby giving her a glare of parental annoyance; they still want her to make her way to their prime hunting territory over the loch. Despite this, they’ve still been bringing in prey and often spend time down on the grass alongside feasting together. We’ve had great sightings of feeding behaviour with prey items like mackerel featuring a lot – this matches anecdotes of people catching 100 plus in no time at all around the Mull coastline.

We also had some visitors this week that have been enjoying a spectacle – white-tailed eagles hunting gannets! I always say they can and do, but I’ve never been lucky enough to witness that yet. Gannets have a wingspan of 2m, they’re a huge bird in their own right and they’ll be busy feasting on the glut of mackerel.

Awesome autumn

Despite it only being August the air has a distinct autumnal feel. Rowan berries have burst into colour and hooded crows among others have been making off with large beakfuls. Leaves are turning and falling, on a woodland walk yesterday I was trooping through falling leaves of sweet chestnut and oak. We’ve had a rush of poor weather too, with some strong winds and torrential rain, feeling much more like September than August! Not that I’m complaining, autumn is a great season and one of change. Everything is busy, on the move or collecting up fat stores and caching food.

I was treated to a family group of Jay yesterday with their harsh call, they’ll be preparing for winter now and beginning to cache food, they have an extensive territory map and a brilliant memory. I’m looking forward to hearing the first fieldfare crossing overhead and seeing the familiar v-shape silhouettes of wintering geese.

Winter prey

Eagles and other top predators will begin to change their main prey items as the seasons change too. Fish like mackerel will move off, for example, but other prey becomes more important. Beginning late September and into October our largest deer species begins its annual rut for dominance. The stags don’t fed throughout this period, so many lose fat and stores and many will also be injured. Heading into winter, our eagles and other carrion feeders can cache in on the glut of deer carcasses. Rabbits and hares will also play more of a part as many seabirds leave the coastal breeding area and head out to open waters for winter feeding.

Nature of Scotland Awards

Great news for Mull Eagle Watch, we’ve been shortlisted for the Nature of Scotland Awards under the Innovation category. We’ll be attending the award ceremony in November with naturalist, author and TV presenter, Chris Packham hosting – very exciting!

Thanks for reading as usual. Still looking for webcam chick names, tweet me some ideas or message on our Facebook page! 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!