Tag Archives: persecution

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.

 

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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!

Eagle ringing

Climbers ringing Mull eaglesThis week I was privileged enough to head out with the FCS and RSPB eagle ringing groups to two different eagle territories. I was so grateful for the opportunity, as I’d not yet had the chance to view a ringing before, and it was a brilliant learning experience. Unfortunately the Mull Eagle Watch chick was too young to be ringed this week but it’s on the list for the next ringing trip to the isle.

Ringing birds and actually getting up to the nests themselves isn’t for the fainthearted and it takes a lot of training. You have to be a trained tree climber with the knowledge to safely use the climbing equipment to make it up to the eagle nest sites which can often be extremely high up in awkward trees like Sitka spruce and larch. Safety obviously comes first for both the birds and the climbers, some nests aren’t ringed due to being too dangerous and inaccessible. You also have to be trained in ringing with experience of handling birds, especially large raptors. Training to ring birds is a long process requiring perseverance and an experienced ringer who is willing to teach you for at least a year. You need to be equipped with the correct climbing equipment and ringing equipment.

Starting climb to second nest (Medium)

Arduous climb

We first headed out to a well know pair who nested on a very exposed sea stack last year after their original tree nest collapsed. Over winter they repaired the tree nest and are now happily back in their regular home with one large chick. We approached the nest, getting our first view of the huge structure and a dark brown head looking out. It felt very odd going so close, usually in any other circumstances this would be highly illegal – the ringers and climbers have licences allowing us to be there. As the climbers got their gear out and began to harness up we scouted around the base of the tree for feathers, pellets and prey remains. There wasn’t much to be found other than a few small eagle feathers and some fulmar feathers. How on earth do you tell if it’s a fulmar? They smell very strange, very recognisable after it’s been pointed out!

This particular tree was quite difficult and slow going for the climbers due to lots of brash and branches running up the trunk from the base. As we stood watching the first member of the team head up the adult female returned calling in annoyance, she flew about above us and was soon joined by the male, both uttering calls with a slight difference in pitch. I asked plenty of questions, learning about the whole process and what interesting prey remains had been found in nests before. There was currently a fresh mackerel and what looked like deer liver in with the chick! Once up there, the climber called for the ringing bag to be sent up and he began the process of weighing, measuring and ringing the bird. We no long use wing tags here in West Scotland. We finished and left the adults and the chick to settle back down and trooped back to the vehicles.

Prey remains from Mull eagle nest

Delicious delights

Our next visit was to the pair that have recently been featured on Springwatch. The female is noticeable with wing tags because she’s an east coast released bird called Sula. This nest site was much more interesting in regard to prey remains, we found a lot including shag, fulmar, greylag goose, puffin, guillemot and some lamb. The ringers are so experienced that they can identify a prey species from one bone in some cases – fascinating!  Prey with white-tailed eagles is very varied as they’re opportunistic – they take what they can, when they can. Fish are important and can vary from mackerel and sea trout to freshwater pike. Seabirds include puffins, razorbills, guillemots, greylag geese, herons, fulmar, herring gulls and even great black-backed gulls. Mammals also play a large part including rabbits, mountain hare, hedgehogs, feral cats, American mink and red deer calves. On the mainland, good size fox cubs and roe deer youngsters are often recorded and even a badger cub once. Another healthy chick was measured and ringed in this nest whilst we battled against midges and ticks.

Ringing equipment

Rings and tags

A lot of the birds across West Scotland now have no wing tags making it difficult to tell who’s who but we now use chunky colour rings as well as the small silver BTO ring. If you have binoculars, camera or a scope you can still see the detail and let us know. Similarly some birds around still do have big, bright wing tags. The Irish reintroduction and east coast reintroductions are much more recent and still rely on sightings to understand how the birds are doing. If you see any birds with tags let us know colours and letters, we’ll be able to pass the info on and tell you the age and where the bird came from too. Tags and rings play an important part in dealing with the ongoing raptor persecution across the UK too, allowing us to monitor birds easily.

Thanks for reading again, hope you enjoyed the insight into the ringing process. Hopefully soon I will have some photos of the chicks in the nest itself I couldn’t get any as all of the ringing takes place up in the tree. Keep an eye for those coming soon – Rachel.