Tag Archives: rspb

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 🙂

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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.

End of season

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

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

Thistle

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

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

Seasonal spectacles

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

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

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

Seeing stars

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

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

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

Looking back – highlights and drama of the season

Mull eagle hide

Into my final full week now, I can’t believe how fast the season has gone by. It seems like only yesterday Iona settled on her new nest site to lay and begin incubation. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the entire six months and have been privileged to watch white-tailed eagles and other species so closely. Wildlife is a passion and you can never tire of seeing even the most regular species, let alone one of the largest eagles found in the whole world.

I thought I’d recap some of the highlights and my favourite memories from the hide before I head off for winter. Of course we don’t just focus on white-tailed eagles and some of our other sightings this year have been breath-taking. Golden eagles have regularly graced us with their presence, often a very secretive bird, we’ve been thrilled to see them soaring above Glen Seilisdeir, usually in disputes with ravens, buzzards and white-tailed eagles.

Early days

It was actually a very blustery early spring day when Iona finally decided which nest to use and settled down, obviously having laid an egg. The weather during late March clearly demonstrated one reason the new nest site may have been chosen, it was very sheltered; perfect protection from harsh winds and rain. Egg laying and incubating is such a key time in the eagle cycle, if this stage goes wrong the birds don’t get a second chance till the following year. Disturbance is a big issue at this critical time too and even a very short spell away from the eggs can mean disaster.

Thankfully everything went well for Iona and Fingal at this stage. Five weeks later and we had a chick. Behaviour changes dramatically following the hatching; adults still need to incubate but food is regularly brought in for the newly born chick. We watched daily as a variety of prey was fed gently to the chick, we saw greylag goose, seabird, mountain hare, rabbit, deer carrion, fish species and more, all carried into the nest site. One thing I remember clearly is Fingal carrying in a harbour seal placenta, he dropped this rather gruesome looking bundle into the nest and perched nearby showing off his – usually yellow – very red feet!

Growing up

Things develop very quickly when you’re a raptor and chicks across the island were fully grown only 6-7 weeks after hatching. I was very lucky this year to attend two eagle nest sites to watch the ringing process. It was fascinating to be underneath an active eagle nest, obviously not a regular occurrence! The prey remains, feathers and pellets littering the ground gave a detailed insight into the lives of each pair. Maybe someday it’ll be me climbing the tree to ring eaglets!

Leaving home

Our chick progressed nicely and we began to see her exercising those huge wings, whilst branching out to explore the nest site. At times this was unnerving for us and we watched with bated breath – again this is a very critical time for the eagle youngster, as often they make a mistake of taking off from the nest by the wind too early.

Thankfully this didn’t happen and our chick managed to cling onto the nest site and familiarity for 13 weeks – slightly longer than the average fledging time of 12 weeks. Another memorable moment happened whilst she was down on the ground, not quiet understanding the idea of flight. Both Iona and Fingal were on hand to give support, encouragement and food of course. Fingal brought a lovely silver mackerel in and we watched as the family enjoyed a meal together.

Good luck

Things are drawing to a close for me now, although John will still be running walks at the hide until the end of September. Right now our juvenile is still with Iona and Fingal, busy learning all she needs to know to survive winter alone. She’ll embark on her real life soon, heading off into Scotland and the unknown. She could cover huge distances; maybe she’ll take a fancy to the East Scotland or Ireland? We’ll keep our fingers crossed for her, as we know eagles have a lot to contend with these days, not only does she have to survive by finding enough prey but she has to avoid dangerous wind turbines and avoid the ongoing illegal raptor persecution.

I’m still around for a week so, and I’ll get another post out before I leave. Thanks for reading as usual, Rachel 🙂

Fledged but not flown

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

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

Mackerel & gannet bonanza

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

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

Awesome autumn

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

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

Winter prey

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

Nature of Scotland Awards

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

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

Flying high

sea eagle Iona on MullSo eventually – almost a whole seven days after our chick turned 12 weeks old – she fledged. Last Monday, she was right on the edge of the nest, exercising those huge wings, looking like she’d be off any minute, but she clung on to familiarity till Tuesday.

She didn’t get far and spent all of Wednesday out of sight, low down in the brash below the nest site. We could hear her calling, and both Iona and Fingal were perched about giving moral support. Thursday we were very privileged to see her get to grips with flight, she soared above the trees, breaking the skyline to demonstrate her fantastic size and shape. She dropped her legs down to break as she came in to land, showing instinctual behaviour. Absolutely brilliant to see and it almost brought a tear to my eye after three months of watching her grow up!

Experienced eagles

Despite having fledged, we’ll still see the youngster and the adults around the area. Chicks tend to stay with the adults for another few months after fledging, often until October time. This period is critical for the survival of the juveniles, as they need to learn how to hunt and fend for themselves before winter, which is one of the toughest times during their life. Iona and Fingal are experienced eagles and will probably teach her how to hunt, how to find carrion carcasses and more. Then instinct will take over again and she’ll head off into the big wide world, nor forcing from the adults.

Juveniles have four to five years of roaming around before hitting adulthood themselves and so our youngster could head off in any direction, maybe to Ireland and back, or over to East Scotland. She’ll likely find a mate whilst far away from home here on Mull, meaning less chance they’ll be related. She’ll eventually settle down in a territory of her own, maybe not far from her home nest site on Mull.

Persecution problems

Thankfully the Isle of Mull is a relatively safe place for all our raptors to breed, without the issue of illegal persecution. Unfortunately not all of the UK matches up to our standards and our eagles have a lot to face when they move away from the safety of the island. Illegal persecution of our birds of prey is worse now than it has been in years, with many birds being shot, poisoned and trapped – despite the fact it has been illegal to do so since 1954. Hopefully our fledgling won’t cross over any particularly bad areas but it’s very likely she will, we wish her all the luck.

It isn’t just our eagles that are killed though, the hen harrier is on the brink of extinction in the UK and others like the buzzard, red kites, peregrine and goshawk are regularly killed too. Often this is linked in with driven grouse shooting, although not all estates are responsible. This Sunday gone it was Hen Harrier Day 2014, to raise awareness of the ongoing raptor persecution in the UK. If you didn’t get along to a gathering, please take a minute to show your support by signing Mark Avery’s petition, taking a hen harrier selfie with a poster or changing your Facebook profile picture!

red admiral butterfly

Visiting hide

We’re still running daily trips at the viewing hide; we have a good chance of seeing our eagles and lots of other wildlife too. Often we will go for a wander through the forest to look for our eagles hunting, butterflies, golden eagles, red deer and more. Knapweed is flowering at the moment and when the sun is out our butterflies make a feast of it. We’ve had lovely dark-green fritillaries, peacock, red admiral, scotch argus, meadow brown and common blue enjoying it recently. We’re also thrilled to have the company of a sparrowhawk regularly, often coming into the bird feeders to hunt – fantastic birds!

Call 01680 812556 to book – we run a 10am trip and a 1pm trip, Mon-Fri.

Thanks for reading, I’ll keep you all posted on our chicks progress. Also, please send your eagle name ideas for our webcam chick. We need lots so we can come up with a great shortlist!

Nerve-racking nature

close up

We’re nearing that time of year once again when our eaglets begin to edge closer to the precarious outskirts of their nest. That innate instinct to take the jump from the relative safety of the only home it has known for twelve weeks takes over. We’ve seen evidence of this from both our stars this year; our youngster at the hide has begun exercising those huge wings and the chick on the webcam had been branching out.

My heart was in my stomach as I checked up on her earlier in the week to see her gripping tightly to a nearby branch whilst her wings were attempting to take the lift of the heavy gale.  Both of these sites are behind in the process compared to others, one well known pair have managed to fledge their chicks and they’ve been seen in flight alongside the proud parents.

Tough winters

Iona and Fingal’s chick should still have a couple of weeks to go before taking the leap but lots of important practice is taking place. Building up those pectoral muscles is key; they must be strong enough to support the youngster after fledging. A chick that isn’t fit enough will really struggle to survive after leaving its parents.

The first winter after fledging is difficult as with most wild animals. Winters can be tough and when you have little experience in life, and things can go easily wrong – from the Isle of Rum reintroduction a survival rate was estimated between 50 and 80 per cent. This was for reintroduced birds without parents there to guide, and so for wild fledged birds the figures could be very different. But it does show that in some cases half of our juveniles may not make it through to spring.

Amazing adaptations

Thankfully white-tailed eagles do have some adaptations to make things easier. When feeding on a carrion carcass or a large prey item lots of food can be taken into their crop. This is a little like a storage compartment, before the stomach and can hold enough prey to last for 3 or 4 days, a great way to withstand bad winter storms. Across Scotland carrion is often readily available in the hills.

Our over-population of deer means many don’t find enough food and die. Additionally, deer stalking provides unwanted remains for carrion eaters to feast on. Some scientists think that an eagle’s eyesight can be up to 8 times better than ours, with much more detail at longer distances. This is the main tool in seeking out prey or carrion. Surprisingly, smell isn’t as important, even when seeking out a dead animal! Only one family of raptors has been confirmed to use scent to find food – the new world vultures, for example the turkey vulture!

Here in Scotland our eagles are lucky compared to some of the other countries they inhabit. Unlike ospreys here they don’t migrate and stay in their territories all year round, the climate is tough but not too extreme and prey is there if they can find it or catch it! In other parts or Europe and also Japan white-tailed eagles have learnt to migrate south to find food and seek out more acceptable weather.

Adventure of the week…

This time we’re focussing on a couple of lovely RPSB reserves over on the Isle of Islay, one of our nearby Hebridean islands. Loch Gruinart and the Oa are brilliant sites to visit for wildlife and landscapes.

Loch Gruinart is known for its autumn and winter goose spectacle, with thousands of barnacle and white-fronted geese arriving from their northern breeding areas. Throughout summer though the reserve is just as interesting with woodland and moorland guided walks. Listen out for corncrakes and look out for rare butterflies like marsh-fritillary.

The Oa is known for spectacular views and coastal cliffs, perfect for golden eagles and chough. Islay is a laid back and welcoming island, well worth the trip.

Coming up…

I’ve another event coming up next week for those of you on the island; a guided walk on the Isle of Ulva. This is a great one for wildlife including eagles and hen harriers, wildflowers, seabirds and marine mammals. Also an added bonus of some interesting geology like basalt rock columns and even history, the isle has some fantastic links and a monument linked to the ownership and highland clearances.
Tuesday 22nd July – 10am-3pm, £7.50/£5 (plus Ulva ferry fare)
Give me a call to book on 07540792650 or 01680 300640

Thanks for reading! Rachel