Tag Archives: sparrowhawk

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 🙂

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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 🙂

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!

Further adventures on Mull

Well the weather here recently has been classic Isle of Mull – very changeable with heavy showers and sunny spells. July often seems to be monsoon month here but often the wildlife appreciates the downpours as they create short spurts of activity. Insects launch themselves into the skies when the rain clears and the swallows, house martins, pied wagtails and more all follow to cache in on the bounty. It also designs some impressive landscapes with rushes of water tumbling down the hills and over our many cliffs, quickly reaching the lochs. We all crave those perfect days with clear blue skies and sunshine, but I find that our dramatic weather can remind you where you actually are, matching our mountains and rugged coastline. We should learn to appreciate it that little bit more.

Caliach Point

Last Thursday I ran a guided walk and sea-watching session from Calgary Bay round to Caliach Point. It was a great trip despite it being extremely windy; the sea was pretty choppy making it hard to spot any marine mammals. We had a lovely walk though, focussing a lot on our wildflowers. We were joined by a pair of kestrels whilst they used the wind to look for prey linking back to their very apt name; the Windhover. Great to see this little raptor, we don’t have huge numbers here on Mull and they are declining fairly rapidly across the UK. Lots of ravens and hooded crows about and we had some good sightings of gannets, Manx shearwaters and kittiwakes over the sea. This area is usually a nesting site for fulmars, but not one was seen. I did hear of two American mink spotted there the same week though.

Perseverance paid off…

Friday morning was a wash out but thankfully we weren’t running a trip, any sensible eagle would have been sat patiently waiting out the weather. But we persevered for the afternoon session, and four hardy visitors joined me with their fingers crossed it would clear as forecast. And it did! We had a great afternoon with both adults about the area giving us some fantastic sights through the scope. We even had Iona and Fingal perched side by side companionably, we don’t see that very often. Another visitor we’re seeing a good deal at the minute is the wee sparrowhawk, a brilliant raptor. We had a close encounter as the male shot by the shelter, making a dizzying turn when he realised we were all engrossed, he then flew up above the hide to alight on a tree branch for a second, maybe recouping his nerves before powering off again. It’s always a privilege to have a visit from these birds of prey.

Growing up fast

Our chick will be nine weeks old later in the week and coming up to an important time. Fledging probably won’t take place until week twelve but, prior to that nerve wracking moment, the chick will begin to exercise, pumping those wings to develop the all important flight muscles. We’ll see the chick ‘branch-out’ too, exploring of the nest area and close braches will give the chick some experience in moving about and managing that huge 8ft wingspan. This is all rather edge of your seat, it’s very easy for this to go wrong when you’re pretty high up in a tree and still learning so we’ll be keeping a close eye on our youngster over the next few weeks. Later in the season we’ll have a local primary school group come up with a name for the eagle hide chick to go with Orion, our chick from last year. This is another brilliant way to get local youngsters enthused about the eagles and our wildlife. Don’t forget though we’ll be giving you the chance to name Sula and Cuin’s chick – the webcam star.

Coming up…

This week we’ll be at the hide enjoying our eagles, and there are plenty of spaces left for our trips. They run daily, Mon-Fri at 10am or 1pm. Easy access to our hide with binoculars and telescopes is provided. We’ll tell you all you need to know about white-tailed eagles and any other wildlife we might encounter. Lots to see and do and we’re great for children too! Call 01680 812556 to enquire or book in.

Also, Thursday this week join me to hunt for some otters on the shores of Loch Na Keal. It’s another event that’s great for all, everyone welcome. We’ll spend some time looking for otters, learning about them and we’ll also seek out some tracks and signs along the coast. For some more info call 07540 792650.

Adventure of the Week goes to…Loch Sunart & Garbh Eilean Wildlife Hide

Garbh Eilean Wildlife Hide

Not too far from our lovely isle, you can visit Loch Sunart – an absolutely breathtaking sea loch and the Forestry Commission Scotland’s wildlife hide. Loch Sunart stretches for around 20 miles, bordered by stunning scenery of Morvern and Ardnamurchan, it is a brilliant place for wildlife and has recently been proposed for a Marine Protected Area for its important marine environment and the impact it has on the wider seas nearby.

Garbh Eiliean Wildlife Hide

The FCS wildlife viewing hide is superb and having spent some time there in February this year I can highly recommend it. The hide fits in perfectly with the surrounding environment, made from all natural materials. With the comfort and protection from the often harsh weather the hide offers you can happily enjoy species like otter, white-tailed eagle, common seals, red-breasted merganser, divers, the local heronry and more. Well worth a visit and great for all; binoculars provided and you’ll also have the added benefit of a ranger’s knowledge if you pop by on a Monday!

Thanks for reading as usual – 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