Tag Archives: raptors

Perched on the Precipice

 

Perched on the Precipice – Wednesday 12th July

Branching Out

Our two eaglets at West Ardhu (North West Mull Community Woodland) are around 11 weeks old tomorrow, and are already beginning to explore the outskirts of their nest. White-tailed eagles usually fledge around 12 weeks of age, but they can take the jump earlier, or later! We can now see a size difference in two youngsters, they’re both fully grown and it looks like we’ve a male and a female (the females can be larger by 25%).

What looks to be the female eaglet has started branching out. On Sunday 9th she teetered right onto the furthest point of the large branch supporting the nest. We watched with baited breath wondering if this would be the moment, as she was flapping a lot, and looked fairly precarious! But, thankfully, the adult male eagle returned back with a small snack in his beak – the youngster scrambled back to the nest quite quickly after that…

West Ardhu 2017 Brancing Out

Look closely among the foliage to the right to spot the other eaglet

 

Imminent Fledging

So, we’re expecting our two chicks to leave the nest at West Ardhu fairly soon. We’ll be keeping you all updated via social media and this blog. Meanwhile, trips are continuing as usual and we’re getting brilliant views through the scopes of the chicks exercising and gaining confidence. We’re still seeing Hope and Star too, often they’re perched close by and on Monday 10th the male, Star didn’t move an inch all day! Toward the fledging period it’s thought by some that the adults will bring less prey into the nest to encourage the eaglets to take the leap, so maybe they’ve been lazy for a good reason.

Even after fledging the eagle family will still be visible to us, and so we’ll still be running trips. So come along to learn about the species and watch out for one of the largest eagles in in the world.

 

Incredible Growth Rate

It doesn’t seem like long ago I was posting out first image of the chicks in the nest, days after hatching. At that stage, they would have fit in the palm of my hand. Ringing came around quickly, when the chicks were about 6 weeks old. We recently received some images taken by the ringers Rachel and Lewis Pate from in the nest itself. You can see how fast they’ve grown in just 6 weeks, and are starting to resemble real eagles here.

They are now full size, with that impressive 2.5m wingspan and they’ll stand almost 1m tall too! I think they look even larger than the adults because of their dark brown plumage.

 

Other sightings

We had one stunning afternoon recently where we didn’t know where to look. Starting off with the introduction to Mull Eagle Watch at our base we spotted Buzzards and then a Golden Eagle on the ridge top being mobbed by a male Hen Harrier. Soon after, our female White-tailed eagle gave us brilliant view whilst she soared in the blue sky above. When we arrived at the viewing hide the whole eagle family were visible through out scopes – what more could we ask for?!

Most days we’re spotting Buzzards and a local Sparrowhawk is often seen carrying prey over the forest. When the sun shines we’ve enjoyed Red Admiral and Meadow Brown butterflies, Golden-ringed dragonflies and more.

 

Back soon

Hopefully I’ll be back soon with some exciting news, In the meantime, why don’t you catch up with Iona and Fingal’s season in Tiroran Community Forest. They have one healthy chick, which is a few weeks younger than the West Ardhu pair, so not quite ready to fledge yet. Pop over to read Meryl’s blog.

Want to visit us? Book with Craignure Visitor Information Centre by popping in or calling on 01680 812556.

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Terrific Twosome!

Sunday 30th April 2017

Our West Ardhu eagle pair, Hope and Star are proud parents to two chicks this season at Mull Eagle Watch. 

We had a good idea that the pair were due to hatch around this time after settling down to incubate mid March. White-tailed eagles have a 38 day incubation period. Throughout the incubation period we were unsure how many eggs had been laid, generally one or two eggs (occasionally three) are laid in Scotland and most pairs raise one or two chicks. We’re always hopeful that pairs hatch two eaglets – the eggs hatch a few days apart, meaning one youngster is bigger and stronger; more likely to survive the hardships of weather or lack of prey.

Our first indication of something exciting occurring in North West Mull Community Woodland was last Tuesday. From our viewing hide we watched as the adult female (Hope or Yellow C) began to move around much more in the nest – throughout the incubation period she had spent the majority of the time sitting steadily, with little activity. But, she began to spend more time stood up, looking down into the nest cup and we could only imagine what was happening at her reptilian feet. Was the first chick hatching? Could she hear the chick from inside the egg? Eagles chicks are audible from inside the egg up to 15 hours before the hatching process begins. The hatching process itself is arduous and can take over 30 hours in some cases.

This increased behaviour on the nest has continued since. Th eagle pair have been busy on the eyrie and the male has been spending more time visible, often perching nearby or on the nest tree itself.

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Star perched near the nest (Image: Meryl Varty)

 

We had confirmation from Dave Sexton, our RSPB Officer for the island on Friday 28th April that the nest held two very young chicks or eaglets – at only a couple of days old! We’re now keeping our fingers and toes crossed that this pair of youngsters will both make it. The weather has been fairly unkind so far, with strong, cold Northerly winds. It seems we’re coming into warmer weather in the next few days which will help. Star and Hope fledged two eaglets in 2015, and one last year so we know they’re good parents – lets wish them all the support for 2017!

More than eagles…

As well as our adult pair of eagles, we’re spotting juvenile white-tailed eagles often. Plus, we’ve recently had brilliant views of a female hen harrier working the rough area in front of the eagle nest tree! We’ve also enjoyed buzzards, sparrowhawk, drinker moth caterpillars, violet oil beetles, willow warblers and our first grasshopper warbler of the season today!

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Phone photo of a juvenile white-tailed eagle!

Join us on a tour: 

You can join us on tours to see Star and Hope at West Ardhu or head to see Iona and Fingal in Tiroran Community Forest. Iona and Fingal are still incubating and are due to hatch soon! You can keep up with Meryl, our RSPB Ranger based at Tiroran, along with the pair, Iona and Fingal by reading the RSPB Blog.

Booking is through the Craignure Visitor Information Centre – you can call them on 01680 812556.

Tours run everyday and last around two hours each.

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 🙂

Eagle Antics

We’re still speeding through the season, into July already and we’ve even had some glorious sunny days to show for it. Our eagle chick is eight weeks old on Wednesday this week and seems to be doing very well. Just yesterday I had some great views of it stretching and exercising those huge wings in the nest. On very hot days it often hunkers down into the nest to keep cool, raptors can only pant to lose heat, they aren’t able to sweat like we can. Despite the nest being quite sheltered from most conditions it is difficult to shelter from the sun at the very top of a tree! Still a few weeks left in the nest, most chicks fledge at around 12 weeks old and even after that we’ll still get brilliant sightings in the area. Other wildlife sightings at the minute include some brilliant dragonflies with lots of golden ringed – the longest British species. We’ve also had a small pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly. Plenty of buzzards and golden eagles, but also some great views of both male and female sparrowhawks with a few sightings of prey being carried.

Seasonal Seals

Every year white-tailed eagles make the most of seasonal food and at the minute we’re seeing Iona and Fingal bring in common seal afterbirths (the placenta and other gory treats!). Lots of people find this a bit disgusting, but if you take it from an eagles point of view it’s an excellent food source; it won’t run away, not too heavy to carry in flight to a nest and it’ll be extremely nutritional for our chick. Iona dropped into the nest on Friday after approaching the area like an arrow; she was going so fast we couldn’t tell what she had been carrying. She was closely followed by Fingal carrying a rather unpleasant looking food parcel which he ungraciously dumped with the youngster. We had great views of his very red feet whilst he perched nearby. We often see “red-tailed eagles” about at this time of year instead of that lovely crisp white tail. This demonstrates how adaptable the generalist predators are, taking what they can when it’s available.

Mugshot of the intruder

Mugshot of the intruder

Head for heights?

Our webcam proved extremely useful over the weekend, giving us a valuable insight into what can go wrong at eagle nest sites. First of all we had someone share a screen grab of the nest site with an intruding bird sat on the nest. We’ve seen this couple of times at the hide but the adults were always on hand to defend the nest and chase off the intruder. We’re not 100 per cent sure if the intruder is related, but it was action stations yesterday to rescue the chick. Unfortunately it had fallen about 30ft from the nest to the forest floor below. It could be that the intruding bird spooked the youngster or actually pushed it out; we’re hoping we can recover some footage and check what happened. Thankfully because of the webcam we could rush in with a rescue bid on Monday. The chick appeared healthy and was returned to the nest by FCS climbers. It was left happily feeding on some rabbit and salmon. Great outcome as every chick is important in a population of eagles – they take such a long time to build up their numbers. Thanks to everyone that was involved!

Mystery Shopper

Great news for all of us involved with Mull Eagle Watch as we flew through our mystery shopper visit and report again. It’s a brilliant feeling to know all that hard work pays off. The hide and trips are highly rated and we hope this shines through to all of our visitors. We’re into Scottish school holidays now, shortly followed by the English kids, so July and August will be busy which is great, just need some nice weather to go alongside.

Coming up…

Tomorrow I’m running a Ranger Service event starting from Calgary Bay. We’ll head off for a wander towards Caliach Point and stop plenty of times to “Sea Watch”. We’ll look for marine life including minke whales, basking sharks, dolphins, porpoise, seals and seabirds. Often scanning the area from the shore is just as productive as watching from a boat with the added bonus of wildflowers, butterflies, dragonflies and more. If you’re reading this and would like to come along give me a call on 07540 792 650 for some more information.

Next week on Thursday 10th I’m running “Out and About for Otters”. This one is great for both adults and children – a definite hit with families. We’ll spend some time on the shore of Loch Na Keal learning about otters, looking for signs and playing some games.

“Adventure of the Week” is going to be a new little feature for MEW. Every week we’ll recommend a reserve, forest, woodland or beach to visit. Some may be local to Mull; others might be further afield in West Scotland. This is a great way to support similar sites across the area that provide amazing places to view wildlife, get outdoors and enjoy the summer. Look out for our info board at the hide and our posts on Facebook/Twitter for these ideas.

Adventure of the Week this week goes to…Scottish Beaver Trial – Knapdale

european beaverA great family adventure for the beginning of the school holidays. Get outdoors to enjoy the beaver trail, explore the area and become beaver detectives to spot busy beaver signs. The Beaver Trial has been a great success, similar to our white-tailed eagle reintroduction – amazing to get some of our lost species back into the UK. Visit for the insight into a stunning mammal and the chance to see them in action – if you’re very lucky and patient!

See the Scottish Beaver Trial website.

The Beaver Trial is run in partnership with Forestry Commission Scotland (just like MEW), Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Royal ZSL.

Thanks for reading as usual, hope you enjoyed it – Rachel

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.

Ringing Week

Thanks to Mull Charters for the photograph

Thanks to Mull Charters for the photograph

One chick?

We’re into June already, and things are going by so quickly especially after our busiest week yet at Mull Eagle Watch. We were jam-packed for May bank holiday week and thankfully the weather was pretty good in the most part too. If I was to put money on how many chicks we have I’d go with one. We started out thinking Iona and Fingal may have two beaks to feed but I’m fairly confident going off the amount of prey going in and the movement on the nest that we now only have one chick. We’ve had some good views of the chick’s head amongst the nest material and the adults are regularly in and out of the territory. Not to worry though, one chick is still a great achievement if they manage to raise it to fledging. After a poor year across the island in 2013, with many nests failing and a lot only producing one youngster we’re confident that this year may be better overall. More details to come as we confirm nests in the next few weeks.

I’m very excited this week, as it’s eagle ringing week on Mull. Unfortunately we think our chick may be too young and too small to ring – as Iona and Fingal are a late nesting pair, our youngster will only be 4 weeks old on Wednesday. Chicks should usually be around 6 weeks old at ringing; almost fully grown in size but still a lot of feather growth and another 5/6 weeks on the nest. I’m lucky that I have the chance to attend another nest site ringing to view the process though and get a new series of photographs for the hide. I’ve not yet been to see an eagle ringing and this is something I’d ideally like to train to do so it’ll give me a great insight into the challenge of tree climbing and raptor ringing. Check back soon as I’ll post some photos at the end of the week.

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Captivating questions

We’ve had some great visitors over the last week. And with the children being off school, it‘s so important to encourage our young generation of conservationists, bird watchers and wildlife lovers – we’d be nowhere in the future without their minds and influence. So many brilliant questions about wildlife and eagles, some kids had such an in-depth knowledge already. One in particular sticks in my mind; a young boy who had a fascination for all predators, prey and hunting methods – both eagle species and the red fox were some of his favourites. Adults often get our predator versus prey relationship the wrong way around, and we have a tendency to blame our predators for everything. Usually though our predators can only survive if there’s lots of food for them – a classic example being the sparrowhawk; think yourself lucky if one visits your garden, don’t worry about the small birds!

My bat walk last week went well with a good turn out of adults and children. We had a lovely time in Aros Park learning about our bats, habitats, prey, woodland management and how to use a bat detector. It was a great evening, despite the midges. Looking forward to next week’s “Skydancer Spotting” afternoon, you can come along and join me at north Loch Frisa for a gentle walk – we’ll look for hen harriers, short-eared owls, eagles and more, maybe even some newts along the track…

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I have some school visits coming up for the hide, with Tobermory primary school coming out to see us on Thursday this week, looking forward to that, got some new activities planned for them too.

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) (1) (Medium)

There is plenty of wildlife to look out for at the minute; the flag irises are in full display and the foxgloves are beginning to show too and don’t forget to keep an eye for orchids around the island too. Lots of young birdlife around, greylag geese all have goslings in tow – great food for eagles. I’ve been watching a newly fledged family of starlings from my window learning what is edible and what isn’t and species like willow warbler and chiff chaff are still singing their hearts out.

Thanks again for reading– Rachel

Super spring and (hopefully) super summer

Bluebells on Mull

Another lovely week here on Mull, we’ve been blessed with some great weather; glorious sunny afternoons, making for brilliant wildlife watching. Everything is still going to plan with Iona and Fingal who are sharing incubation duties throughout the day. Not too long now before we hope to have hatching chicks!

Sensational season?

Over the whole island it looks like it may be a productive year. We’ve already heard of the first minke whale sightings in our waters, along with news of basking sharks heading north, passing the Irish coast as I type! Last season the sharks were slow in arriving, probably linked to low temperatures and therefore low amounts of plankton that these giant fish feed on. You can follow some sharks that were tagged in our Hebridean waters last season online.
Puffins are back in the waters here now after a winter out at sea and they should be heading onto islands like Lunga soon to start breeding.puffins

The trees seem to have burst into various shades of green recently, obviously making the most of the energy from sun. The blackthorns are in flower and the flag irises should be about to open too, followed by our lovely bluebells soon enough. We’ve seen a lot of butterflies about too, mostly Peacocks. We even came across a rare oil beetle on the track up to the hide one day. These beetles have a fascinating lifecycle; they rely on solitary bees, without them the larvae would never reach maturity. The beetle larvae hide in a flower to hitch a ride back to the bee’s nest, once inside the larvae feed on the bee’s eggs and its store of pollen and nectar to eventually emerge as an adult. These beetles are declining, as are bees. We’re very lucky to have them in the forest at Glen Seilisdeir.

An oil beetle

A rare Oil Beetle

So many eagles!

Thursday morning started out being a dull, chilly day. It was a morning for woolly hats and gloves. We were a select few for the first trip that day and enjoyed interesting debates and discussions about various wildlife issues, from the badger cull and pine martens on Mull, to the on-going raptor persecution across the mainland. We had a volunteer from an osprey watch too and it was great to compare the white-tailed eagles to the amazing migratory fish specialist. We waited patiently for a changeover and were rewarded when Fingal came into the nest, he sat around for a while before taking over duties too so we got a good view of him.

Eagle on Mull

Over lunch the sun came out and really warmed the area, giving way to stunning, clear blue skies. Perfect for eagles! A larger group for the afternoon session, and what an afternoon it was! We lost count of eagles; they were obviously making use of the warm air thermals, enjoying the height without wasting energy. We saw both white-tailed eagles and golden eagles distantly over the hillsides and by the peak of Ben More. We also had a changeover, with both Iona and Fingal taking turns to pose for us on a nearby treetop. As we enjoyed this spectacle, I looked directly up to see five eagles right above us – four sub-adult white-tailed eagles and a young golden eagle! What a sight! Safe to say we were all very excited. The sightings continued in the area until we all had to tear ourselves away with some guests heading off for a quick BBQ before rushing for the ferry.

Progress

As you may know, with Iona choosing a new nest site this year we had to make some quick adjustments to the viewing area with some tree felling and a new shelter. One thing we are still in the process of changing is the camera we had on the nest last year. We’ve had problems with our cable and then our TV screen… We’re almost sorted with it now though and should have a live feed of the nest site inside our hide and hopefully an online webcam too.

Lastly, I’ve been busy working on some new activities for our younger visitors so watch this space for some interesting videos and photos of us enjoying the new tasks. I’ll also have some school visits too, making sure our younger generations get a balanced education on our island wildlife, eagles and how everything interacts.

Thanks for reading!