Tag Archives: West Scotland

Introducing…

Introducing our eaglet…

First of all, apologies for the lack of blog posts over the last month, we’ve just been so busy with so many things going on. Along with the regular viewing hide trips, I’ve been trying to visit all of the primary schools, last day of term today! Things are going well here with our eagle family, despite the poor weather we’ve had throughout the spring and summer so far. We have one very large and healthy chick in the nest. Over seven weeks old now, the youngster is looking great. The eaglet was ringed by trained bird ringers on Monday 15th June so we are privileged to see some images from the nest itself.  The images were taken when the youngster was just about to turn six weeks old. Even at six weeks the chick is huge, although the most important flight feathers are yet to develop. The feet and beak are already very substantial and can sometimes give an indication whether the bird is male or female (females being larger).

Eaglet June 2015

Eaglet June 2015 (Thanks to Rachel Moore for the images)

Why ring?

We ring as many chicks as possible on the island, although we can’t reach all of the nest sites. Some are very difficult to reach due to location’ white-tailed eagles will nest on coastal cliff ledges as well as trees in Scotland. The ringing process doesn’t take long and the adult eagles usually settle down to normality shortly afterward. Ringing gives us a means of monitoring some of the eagles, if you follow the blog you’ll know we managed to monitor Sona earlier this year as she spent time in Dumfries and Galloway – all thanks to her coloured leg ring. Here on the Scottish west coast we no longer use the large coloured wing tags and only use rings, but do look out for tagged birds around the country – Irish and Scottish East Coast eagles are still tagged making them easier to monitor. If you see any eagles with leg rings or tags please do get in touch.

Eaglet June 2015

Eaglet June 2015 (Thanks to Rachel Moore for the images)

Prey remains

Always interesting to hear about prey remains found in or around an eagle nest site. We’ve been enjoying the buzzard and white-tailed eagle disputes all season, often with the buzzards harassing the eagles non-stop. We discovered that the buzzards are nesting near to Iona and Fingal and may be regretting that decision now. The ringers noted a buzzard chick as a prey item on the nest! Sad though this may be, it is a natural process, some less experienced eagles pairs could allow the same to happen to their young chicks. Along the with buzzard they recorded fish species and lamb remains at our nest that day. The eagles have a vast diet which has been known to include octopus, hedgehog, feral cats, pine martens and more, they are opportunistic hunters and will also steal prey from otters and ospreys if the opportunity was to arise.

Visiting Mull

If you’re visiting the island soon and would like to come along to Mull Eagle Watch please call to book onto a trip. The contact number is 01680 812556 and you’ll get through to Craignure Visitor Information Centre, or you could just pop in. Trips run Mon-Fri and last around 2 hours, starting at 10am or 1.30pm.

Plenty of other event opportunities to join throughout July with the Mull and Iona Ranger Service, you can head over to their website and blog to find out more. There’s so many different events, so something for everyone to get involved with, from moth trapping to sea watching.

Thanks for reading and I’ll be back much sooner with a blog this time!

Rachel 🙂

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Welcomed back with open wings…

Sula and Cuin, our eagle pair that hit stardom in 2014 have been extremely busy over the last few weeks. We were very excited to be working alongside this couple for 2015 but working with wildlife means we have to be flexible. A neighbouring eagle pair to Sula and Cuin’s territory has been ruffling some feathers. They’re now encroaching onto territory belonging to Sula and Cuin and our pair have been disputing this disagreement with the other birds. Things have settled down now as many eagle pairs have already begun incubating eggs. Sula and Cuin are likely to be incubating their own, but not on the nest they’ve used for the last few years which left Mull Eagle Watch with some last minute decision making.

Success only 40 years on

Brilliantly we’re only 30 years on from the first wild fledged white-tailed eagle chick and we now have almost 100 pairs across Scotland. This is an amazing reintroduction success story, demonstrating how conservation can work well. Back in 1970, only 40 years ago, the first white-tailed eagle eaglets were brought across seas from Norway to become pioneers in the UK. We’ve come such a long way since then with eagles expanding across the Hebrides and the Scottish West Coast to be joined by individual birds from the East Coast Scotland reintroduction. In 1918 we lost our last white-tailed eagle from the United Kingdom, but in less then 100 years since then they are back. Not only are they back but they’re thriving and are a huge asset to wildlife tourism as well as the ecosystem they’re an intrinsic part of.

Welcomed back with open wings…

Sula and Cuin’s nest site from last year is now playing host to another brilliant bird, the raven! Corvids like crows and ravens happily move into larger disused nests. As our eagles are nesting at another eyrie within their territory, ravens jumped at this highly desirable housing opportunity and are now incubating their own eggs. Ravens aren’t often a favored bird, especially by the farming community as they do regularly cause issues within lambing season but they are a fantastic species. They’re one of our most intelligent birds and can have a repertoire of 70 different vocalisations.
So Mull Eagle Watch will leave the ravens to it. We’ve been welcomed back to Tiroran in Glen Seilisdeir with open wings by Iona and Fingal and we look forward to working with them again of course.

Mull Eagle Watch

Fingal

Iona and Fingal

We’ve worked alongside this brilliant eagle pair for three years and watched as they’ve done a brilliant job of raising chicks. Fingal, the male bird was hatched in Norway back in 1997. Released into Wester Ross during the second reintroduction phase, Fingal helped forge the way for the white-tailed eagle’s expansion across Scotland. Iona, the female bird was a naturally raised chick from the Isle of Skye, hatching in 1998. Last year they successfully fledged one chick which you may remember Ulva Primary School naming Thistle. Thistle was ringed, but we’ve not yet had any definite sightings of her. She could still be around on the island or could be off traveling like Sona, our webcam chick from 2014. Sona has most recently been spotted in County Durham!

Mull eagle chick

Thistle – during ringing

Booking for 2015

We’re now going to take bookings for Mull Eagle Watch this year and will be open from Monday 13th April. If you’d like to book in please contact the Craignure Information Centre on 01680 812556.
Trip times are slightly different to last year;
10am-12.30pm
1.30pm-3.30pm
Trips will last around two and a half hours, but visitors should feel free to leave at any time, often we’ll have seen lots of action within the first two hours!

Thanks for reading, and I hope you’re all looking forward to visiting again; it’ll be great to see Iona and Fingal in a familiar location. Rachel 🙂

New beginnings

Blimey, it’s March already and I’d promised you another blog in January, where did that time go? Well, I’m now in the office full time in preparation for Mull Eagle Watch 2015 – very exciting. Many of you will follow us through regular social media like Twitter and Facebook; if you did you’ll already know about our brand new location for the coming season. If not, we have some news!

Tiroran Forest & Glen Seilisdeir

Glen Seilisdeir has been home to Mull Eagle Watch for three years now and we had a great time there with our eagles, Iona and Fingal. All of the rangers during that time had some amazing experiences and the pair did very well in producing chicks. One youngster successfully fledged in 2014, which Ulva Primary School named Thistle. I’m sure for 2015 these birds will continue to breed in the same area and fingers crossed they manage to produce many more chicks in the future.

Last year the future of Tiroran forest was uncertain, as it was put up for sale. But thankfully the local island community the South West Mull and Iona Development (SWMID) group launched a plan to raise funds and purchase the site. Recently, we heard in the news that the Scottish Land Fund has awarded SWMID £750,000. Hopefully, Tiroran forest will transfer into community ownership and open opportunities for sustainable income, training and development of wildlife habitats. We have our fingers crossed things go to plan, and wish the development group lots of luck in their venture. I’m sure they’ll enjoy having Iona and Fingal for company!

New beginnings… almost!

So, new beginnings for Mull Eagle Watch this year for the location and our eagle stars. But, some of you might already know that John Clare and I are both returning for another season of wildlife and ranger duties, we’re both looking forward to it. So where is the viewing hide going to be?

Sula & Cuin

Loch Torr and Quinish forest in the north of the island will be playing host to our eagle viewing hide this season. If you caught any of BBC Springwatch last year, or watched the webcam we had live on a nest, you’ll remember the eagle pair; Sula and Cuin. You might even remember all the drama when the chick, now named Sona, was unceremoniously shoved from the nest by another eagle, later to be installed back to safety by Forestry Commission Scotland tree climbers. Well, you’ll get to know this pair of eagles much better this season as they’ll be our Mull Eagle Watch family.

Sona on leg ringing day, a few weeks before being pushed out!

Sona on leg ringing day, a few weeks before being pushed out!

East coast of Scotland eagle

This is a really interesting pair of eagles. Cuin was born and bred on the island and is now almost 8 years old. Sula is a bigger bird because she’s the female, and we’ll know it’s her because she is wing tagged. They’re white with the black number 5 showing. This is the interesting part; she travelled over to Mull from the Scottish east coast where she was re-introduced as a chick. So in reality, she is actually a Norwegian bird. This just demonstrates how successful the whole re-introduction of white-tailed eagles has been, with the final east coast phase ending in 2012. You can find out more on the East Coast RSPB eagle blog .

Sona – 6 months on

The webcam chick that successfully fledged even after the traumatic fall was named Sona. Thanks to the leg rings fitted to her in the nest we’ve been able to follow her progress and are happy to say she is doing well! She’s made her way down to Dumfries and Galloway, where she is enjoying the plentiful wintering geese. Lots of wildlife watchers have caught her in photographs and regularly report her movements.

Sona, captured in Dumfries and Galloway (thanks to Ruth Eastwood)

Sona, captured in Dumfries and Galloway (thanks to Ruth Eastwood)

Thanks for reading, check back soon for more and I’ll get some photographs of the new location too! In the next few weeks our webcam should go live again, but in the meantime here’s another camera to keep you entertained.
Rachel 🙂

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 🙂

Eagle heights

Silhouette of white tailed sea eagle

I returned to the eagle hide last Monday after a week off the island and what a treat I got for my first trip back. We were a select bunch that morning and after an introduction we set off for a walk along the forest track in search of our eagle family.

They are now spending much less time around the nest site and are to be found nearer the hunting area of Loch Scridain. We stopped to view the 2013 nest site and were thrilled to see our juvenile female roosting there. We had a good sighting before she readied herself for takeoff and took to the air. Carrying on further through the forest the track opens out over the stunning vista of the loch.

It was a very blustery day and our eagles were taking full advantage, our youngster appeared overhead, very low and demonstrated she knew exactly what to do with those huge 2.5m wings. She floated above us for minutes; what an amazing encounter with a bird we’ve watched grow up! It only got better when both Iona and Fingal came in on the wind to do the same thing, almost like they were having a wee look at us for a change and not the other way round. Wildlife is incredible but even better when you feel a connection like this one.

Going for gold

Some of you may know we are a green tourism business and for the last two years we have been awarded silver for our efforts to be sustainable, ethical and environmentally friendly. We focussed even harder this year and developed a detailed “green file” and came up with ideas for the future too. So, we are thrilled to let you know we have been awarded the GTBS Gold Award for 2014 following our visit a few weeks ago. This shows our dedication to the wilderness we work in and our aim to keep it that way, whilst having a minimum impact on the environment and the smallest carbon footprint possible. Hopefully we can continue to develop this and encourage other businesses on Mull to join in too.

We also had our mystery visitor from Visit Scotland recently too. They thoroughly enjoyed the trip and we held onto our five stars as an excellent wildlife experience.

Shelley, Orion and…

At the end of last week I made another trip to Ulva Primary School, a group I have seen a couple of times this season and thoroughly enjoy working with. They were chosen as the local school to name Iona and Fingal’s chick this year so I went along to spend an hour with them and gather their ideas.

We recapped things I had taught them about eagles earlier and they remembered everything really well! We then thought about some of the eagles that already have names on the island and matched up pairs and found the odd names out. I asked them to draw something that conjured up Scotland and home for them, with thistles, haggis, kilts, heather and Ben More amongst the ideas. I wanted our name to link in with themes of Scotland, the Commonwealth Games and the Year of Homecoming – and it’s safe to say we had some fantastic suggestions from the group.

John and I will narrow this down and hopefully we’ll have a name for our youngster by the end of the week. The previous names for the Glen Seilisdeir chicks are Shelley and Orion, both great names!

Some don’t like the idea of naming a wild, majestic bird like the white-tailed eagle and I wouldn’t appreciate it if every bird on the island had cute and fluffy names, but the benefits of getting children involved are brilliant. It’s worthwhile for our few “high-profile” birds I think.

Thanks for reading again. Only a few weeks till the end of my season now but time for a few more blog posts.

Rachel 🙂

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

Small but mighty

Enjoying a break from rock poolingI thought I’d treat you all with two blog posts in one week for a change, but less of our larger wildlife and more of the smaller critters. I’ve just got in from a glorious few hours looking for signs of otters and other shoreline wildlife with a lovely couple of families. The children were thoroughly engrossed in learning, exploring and being at home with nature. Working with our younger generations is one of my favourite parts of the job, it’s brilliant to look at wildlife and simply enjoy it as it is – getting back to rock pooling, paddling, catching tadpoles and exploring the smaller things are some of the best ways to do that.

Shoreline search

We got out our nets, tubs and containers, clip boards and binoculars before trooping off to search. We looked carefully about the sandy shore line for tracks and prints, finding lots of bird tracks, although no otter tracks. We fished in rock pools to find crabs, beadlet anemones, limpets, barnacles, prawns, shrimps, cockles, fish, hermit crabs and more. We also hunted out some otter prey remains, finding lots of crab claws. We found lots of goose poo, which is basically just grass; lots of “erghhhs” and “yuks” as I pulled one apart to show them – a goose can eat more grass than a sheep! It’s safe to say we all left with wet feet, dirty hands and shell filled pockets and we loved it.

Homes for nature

The weather has been fantastic over the last few days and we’ve had plenty going on at the hide. We had a coach party yesterday join us along with lots of dragonflies and butterflies enjoying the sunshine including dark green fritillaries, golden-ringed dragonflies and common hawkers.

bug homes
I’ve been working on improving our area for wildlife and providing some homes for our smaller wee beasties. We now have some shelter for slow worms, lizards or adders – they love to hide under things for shelter and the heat. We’ve also just added two new bug homes which will hopefully become home to some bees, beetles, spiders, lacewings or ladybirds. Our larger insects like the predatory dragonflies rely on the small insects for food, so hopefully we can help them out. We already had some bird boxes up along with our barn owl/tawny owl nesting boxes.

It’s easy to make a difference by doing something simple, you don’t even need to spend any money, and you can make bug homes like ours with natural materials you can find in your garden or park. If everyone in the UK had a little space for wildlife in their back garden we’d have a huge nature reserve that we’re all a part of! How about a home for hedgehogs or a frog hotel?

Thank you

A lovely thank you

I was over the moon to receive a thank you card from Tobermory Primary school for my visit; they made a homemade eagle card with lots of lovely drawings. All the drawings have a huge yellow beak and they also have yellow feet – well remembered and they are great white-tailed eagles! Here are a few photos showcasing the art.

Thanks for reading! Rachel