Tag Archives: white-tailed eagles

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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 🙂

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 🙂

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 🙂

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 🙂

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

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