Tag Archives: rspb

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.


Ringed & Ready

Thursday June 29th – Ringed & Ready to explore the wider world!

How time flies! The two eaglets/chicks at our West Ardhu viewing hide are now 9 weeks old – they’re managing to feed themselves with prey in the nest, they’re standing up and exercising their enormous wing span (over 8ft) and they are almost fully grown!

Raptor Ringing

On 7th June the team of tree climbing bird ringers ascended the nest tree within the North West Community Woodland to ring the youngsters. At the time they were just coming up to the 6 week stage. We walked toward the nest tree and got great views of Hope (Yellow C) as she was perching on the edge of the nest, she waited till the last moment before taking to the air – you can see how easy it would have been to target White-tailed eagles and shoot adults eagles, no wonder we wiped them out!

Both Star (male) and Hope (female) took to the skies above the eyrie to keep an eye on us, they soared above us with a pair of local buzzards to keep them company or to irritate them… The adults remained in the air and called throughout but they’re very unlikely to ever cause harm to the ringers by attacking. Whilst they rode the thermals the ringing team got started climbing the large Sitka spruce conifer to reach the two chicks, whom at the this point were both playing dead.

From our view point looking into the nest we couldn’t make out if their were still two chicks; I was starting to panic something had gone wrong. But thankfully the slightly smaller youngster was almost completely hidden under the wing of it’s sibling – phew! The ringers reached the eaglets and got to work, firstly securing the chicks to make sure they wouldn’t fall or dive off the nest.


The chicks are measured and weighed which gives us a good indication of their body condition and they each get two rings (one on each leg). A larger coloured ring gives us the chance of receiving records back from live birds – the colour combination tells us the year the bird hatched and if you can get a good image of the ring we can trace the individuals back to location and family history too. The smaller silver ring is the British Trust for Ornithology ring, which is standard across ringing programmes, although the size varies.

The eagles had two fulmars on the nest as prey, ready to become a quick meal for the chicks. Fulmars are basically a mini albatross – a member of the tuberose seabird family and are superb aerial masters so we’re reminded how excellent a hunter the White-tailed eagle really is. We also left a roadkill rabbit behind for the family, just incase we interfered with their hunting time or energy levels. We then left them in peace and they were back to normal the following day.


The eaglets after the ringing process

Growing up fast

The two eaglets are now so big many of our visitors are mistaking them for the adults in the scopes, especially when the visibility isn’t great in the poor weather. White-tailed eagle chicks are usually fully grown when the reach 10 weeks old, so these two are almost there. They are now standing up in the nest and flapping a lot to build up their flight muscles, so we’re getting great views of them from our hide.

It won’t be long before they begin to ‘branch out’ and explore beyond the nest on the surrounding branches. This part is very nerve-wracking for us as the wind can easily catch them unawares, or they can misjudge a movement and leave the nest before they intended. We’ll keep our fingers and toes crossed that all goes well and they’ll hopefully fledge when they’re around 12-13 weeks old. They’re almost ready to explore the wider world and realise there’s more to life than their nest.

Once fledged, the youngsters will remain in the area for a few months to learn from their parents. The nest site will often be used as a familiar roosting location and so we should still get really good sightings of the family into August.

Saga of Sea Eagles – the man behind the re-introduction 

On 14th June, a cruise ship changed plans last minute thanks to the volatile Hebridean weather so we hosted a trip for 22 of their guests at West Ardhu. We were thrilled to realise John A Love was among their number – he was instrumental to the re-introduction of the White-tailed eagle on the Isle of Rum and is considered to be an expert on the species. His book ‘Saga of Sea Eagles’ is a great read and I’ve a very well thumbed copy! He was a pleasure to meet, and I’m sure we’re all very thankful for his work in bringing back the ‘flying barn door’.


John Love and myself at West Ardhu

Other sightings 

Of course, during our trips we watch out for all wildlife including birds, wild flowers and insects, so we’ve always got something to enjoy if the eagles are laying low. We spot our local buzzards on most trips, another great raptor species and success story following their large population increase. Recently we’ve been seeing the more secretive corvid species in the woodland; the jay. Siskins, grey wagtail and wren are regulars for us too.

We’ve also marvelled at an incredible parasitic wasp species, commonly known as the ‘sabre wasp’. The female of the species is the largest British wasp species, with her huge ovipositor. They look rather intimidating, but are harmless to humans. They search for the larvae of their host species deep within dead wood, and drill down to lay their eggs – this can take over 30 minutes!


Sabre Wasp – parasitic species


Thanks for reading, back again sooner this time! Meanwhile, head over to read Meryl’s RSPB blog about Iona and Fingal, who are raising one chick in Tiroran Community Forest.

If you’re visiting the island and would like to join a Mull Eagle Watch tour, you can call 01680 812556 or call into Craignure Visit Scotland to book.



Growing season…

Sunday 28th May 2017

Eagle parents working hard at West Ardhu (North West Mull Community Woodland)
I’m so impressed with our West Ardhu eagles and their parenting skills! Our two chicks/eaglets are now about 31 days old – just over four weeks into their lives already and the adults, Hope and Star have been doing wonderfully. Throughout the incubation the female, Hope (Yellow C) spent the majority of the 38 days on the nest, with respite offered only occasionally by the male, Star. With white-tailed eagles the female tends to do around 70% or more of the incubation which makes sense as she is the bigger and more defensive adult. We were then thrilled to announce the successful hatch and have been enthralled with their progress since. Their success featured online and in the Press & Journal with a phone scope image I managed to take of the tiny chicks in the nest (under SNH license).


Chicks being fed – only a few days old here!

Growth spurt
The youngsters are growing incredibly fast and we’re now getting great views of them through our brilliant Viking Optics telescopes. One chick is definitely larger and more developed; it will have hatched ahead of the smaller one, giving it an advantage if things become tough, but at the moment both are looking strong and healthy.

Hopefully in another few weeks the eaglets will be ringed in the nest by the ringing team. We use large coloured rings along with the standard British Trust for Ornithology ring- these will remain on the eagles for life – the hope with the coloured rings is that we’ll get some records of movements around the country but monitoring each individual eagle isn’t as critical now the West Coast with a more established population. Eagles from the Irish and the Scottish East Coast are usually still being wing tagged – the re-introductions are more recent and are still gaining a foothold in these areas and illegal raptor persecution is still a substantial threat.


Chicks beginning to grow – 14th May 2017


Hope (adult female) & her two chicks 28th May 2017


Youngest chick having a stretch! 28th May 2017

Food, glorious food!

Prey is being brought into the nest/eyrie regularly by both the male and female, although you need keen eyes to spot them as they drop into the nest with incredible speed – probably hoping the local hooded crows, buzzards and ravens don’t catch onto the potential of a free meal. From our vantage point it’s quite difficult to identify which prey items they’re bringing in but we’re sure rabbits have featured. The pair’s territory covers Loch Cuin and the coastal stretch toward Langamull and Croig so it would be safe to assume that seabirds and fish will be on the menu too. White-tailed eagles are opportunistic and have an extensive list of possible prey items – all of which is caught in their large feet and talons.

Darting Dragonflies

We’re enjoying increased activity at our viewing hide with the adults working hard to feed their eaglets, but at the same time we often enjoy a variety of other species nature offers. We see buzzards on numerous occasions throughout each day – often in flight alongside the eagles which gives us a great size comparison. We’ve been hailed by the call of the cuckoo recently too and have marveled at their incredible complexity and evolution in action. Other bird species have included grey wagtail, wren, tree pipit, willow warbler, sparrowhawk and the occasional juvenile golden eagle passing through.

In the last few days our local insect life has taken to the wing and dragonflies are hawking about in the sunny woodland. The two species I’ve spotted so far are four-spotted chaser and golden-ringed. The female golden-ringed dragonfly is longest British insect! Large red damselflies are also gracing our skies, and are a beautifully delicate. We’ve also recorded orange tip and green-veined white butterflies, particularly enjoying the cuckoo flowers along the forest track. We’re on the look out for the stunning common blue butterflies which will be on the wing now.


Four-spotted chaser

Thanks for reading, I’ll be back soon but in the meantime watch out for news from Tiroran Community Forest, our eagles Iona and Fingal and our RSPB Ranger Meryl on her blog.

Rachel : )


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.

Screen Shot 2017-04-30 at 18.41.43

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!


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.

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.


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.


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.


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


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!
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


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.


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.


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.


Fast approaching fledging

Edging closer to fledging

Things are progressing on Mull and our eaglet is now almost 11 weeks old. We’re getting rapidly closer to the time of fledging for our chick which will be in the next 1-2 weeks. Many other eaglets from other nest sites around the island hatch earlier than Iona and Fingal’s, so will be nearer the all-important first flight than ours. This is a really critical time in the life of a young bird, even more so when you have an 8ft wingspan – mastering these wings on your maiden voyage isn’t easy and it can all go very wrong, so we’ll be watching with both nerves and excitement as the time draws closer. Our chick has already started exploring some of the branches edging the nest and is often really visible whilst standing up tall and prominent. Our adult eagles are still bringing prey into the nest site and we’re often getting great views of them in flight. They don’t usually spend much time on the nest itself now though and our chick will be feeding itself.

Raptor sightings

We’ve been veering from one extreme to another with weather again. It seems we get one glorious day with clear blue skies, and then two wet days making the midges explode in the forest. The eagles have been active though and on most trips we’ve had great views throughout the trip time, we’ve even been struggling to fit all of our usual talks and information in – but we don’t mind being interrupted by eagles! Golden eagles and buzzards have been showing well, yesterday we were treated to a fantastic close view of a golden eagle, with a buzzard following closely to mob the larger bird. Very privileged to see golden eagles close up, they’re normally very secretive! Have a look at the golden eagle ringing process in photos to get an insight into their eyrie. Some days we also get a visit from the local sparrowhawk. These small raptors get a lot of hatred, even in the bird watching world unfortunately as they are wrongly accused of eating ALL of our garden birds.  The raptors are an indicator of the health of the other wildlife and so if you have a visiting sparrowhawk it means you have plenty of prey to support the next level of the food chain – we should cherish our raptors, especially in our garden.


Juv white-tailed eagle with mountain backdrop (Ewan Miles)

Butterflies and wildflowers

Along with the larger species associated with Mull it’s a great time to enjoy the smaller species like our wildflowers and insects. We’re lucky here that most of our road verges aren’t strimmed regularly, meaning they look amazing and are teeming with wildlife. Unfortunately elsewhere in the UK this isn’t the case as we lose a huge area of habitat due to council regulations each summer. Next time you’re out, take a moment to appreciate how good the road edges look! We had a great ranger event at Treshnish Farm, an area farmed in a wildlife friendly manner. The Coronation Meadow there is fantastic, full of incredible flowers and all the associated bird and insect life. Walking through a meadow like this is a great way to connect with nature and we’ve lost the majority of our UK wild flower meadows due to changes in management practice. Dark-green fritillary are on the wing right now, they’re a large butterfly with powerful flight, along with common blue and day flying moths like the chimney sweeper.


Dark-green fritillary (Ewan Miles

Chimney Sweeper Moth

Chimney sweeper moth

Thanks for reading and look back soon to see how our eaglet fares in the next few weeks. Rachel 🙂