Tag Archives: hebrides

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 🙂

 

 

 

 

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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 🙂

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 🙂

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 🙂

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
www.ewanmiles.com

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.

Booking

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

Fingal

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;
10am-12.30pm
1.30pm-3.30pm
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 🙂

Eagle Watch Update

Working with wildlife

Whoever said working with children and animals was a bad idea almost hit the nail on the head. They should have emphasised working with wildlife can also be very trying. We’re waiting patiently to see whether Cuin and Sula decide to settle on their previous nest site, they’ve been very busy having territorial disputes with a neighboring eagle pair and so have been slightly distracted. We won’t know anything further until Sula actually sits down and lays an egg, so Mull Eagle Watch is waiting with baited breath. We’re hopeful and we should know fairly soon, some birds have laid already and are now incubating eggs but each pair are quite faithful to their timings each season.

Gribun

Loch na Keal and Gribun Cliffs

Booking for 2015

We’re aware that many of you are looking forward to your visit this season and many of you have already tried to book in. Unfortunately we can’t take any definite bookings yet, until we’re 100% sure of an opening date. So, if you’ve already called the Visitor Information Centre in Craignure the best option is to wait a few more weeks before calling back – and keep an eye on our social media too.
Don’t panic; if you’re trying to book well in advance you won’t miss out if you don’t book now. But we’re sorry for those of you that are visiting in the next few weeks as we might not be up and running quite yet.

Meanwhile…

I thoroughly enjoy working with our local schools and children, and I’ll visit as many as possible throughout the season to run sessions on both of our eagle species. This allows me to help dispel myths about our birds. These include “the birds are big enough to carry off children and dogs”, “eagles eat all the lambs on the island”, and “white-tailed eagles are bad news for golden eagles”.

In the last few weeks I’ve had the chance to do some bird box and bug hotel building with Lochdon and Ulva primary schools. This is great fun and gets the children outside and excited about our smaller wildlife. Getting muddy to create a bug hotel is especially fun. This is a brilliant way to collect up unwanted garden materials or items – just add them to your bug house. The kids will be able to enjoy this year round and continue to develop it.

I also joined up with Emily, the NTS Ranger for the south of the island to run a mountain session in Bunessan Primary school. We worked together to learn about mountain climbing and human needs, and how we must take the correct equipment otherwise things could go drastically wrong. This led nicely onto our mountain wildlife and the adaptations they need to allow survival in a difficult habitat.

 

Go geocaching

“Geocaching?” I hear you say.
Geocaching is a worldwide game revolving around GPS and hidden boxes. It can be accomplished with a simple and free app on a mobile phone or tablet device and a bit of fresh air. It’s a great way to encourage families to spend more time outdoors, bringing a tiny bit of technology into a regular walk. The excitement of hunting out a hidden box without being caught by “muggles” is brilliant for children and whilst they’re out there nature might catch their imaginations too. I’ve been out and about to hide some more geocache boxes which are hidden and maintained by the Mull and Iona Ranger Service. It’s a good excuse to get out of the office and I’m now hooked on geocaching.
If you’d like to know more head to the geocaching website.

River Seilisdeir

River Seilisdeir

Springtime wildlife

If you’re heading to Mull soon, or are lucky enough to live here this is a great time for our wildlife. Eagles are busy all around the island. You might catch either species displaying, or defending their territory. I was privileged enough to witness a male golden eagle displaying recently whilst the larger female soared above. Buzzards and hen harriers are also more visible right now. Meadow pipits, pied wagtails and wheatears are arriving on our shores, just in time to provide a tasty snack to our raptors. Alongside voles and mice these small birds are highly important for hen harriers and buzzards. Adders and slow worms will be warming up and considering emerging from hibernation. Other amphibians are already busy; frogs and toads have laid their spawn in most cases.

Bat Bonanza

Lastly, if you’re on the island around Easter time look out for our Ranger Service events, the first one is an evening bat walk in Aros Park.

Wednesday 1st April at 6.30pm – join us for a walk around the part with bat detectors! All welcome. £5 adults £3 children. Please call 07540792650 for more information.

You can find more event information on the ranger service blog.