Tag Archives: wildlife watching

Terrific Twosome!

Sunday 30th April 2017

Our West Ardhu eagle pair, Hope and Star are proud parents to two chicks this season at Mull Eagle Watch. 

We had a good idea that the pair were due to hatch around this time after settling down to incubate mid March. White-tailed eagles have a 38 day incubation period. Throughout the incubation period we were unsure how many eggs had been laid, generally one or two eggs (occasionally three) are laid in Scotland and most pairs raise one or two chicks. We’re always hopeful that pairs hatch two eaglets – the eggs hatch a few days apart, meaning one youngster is bigger and stronger; more likely to survive the hardships of weather or lack of prey.

Our first indication of something exciting occurring in North West Mull Community Woodland was last Tuesday. From our viewing hide we watched as the adult female (Hope or Yellow C) began to move around much more in the nest – throughout the incubation period she had spent the majority of the time sitting steadily, with little activity. But, she began to spend more time stood up, looking down into the nest cup and we could only imagine what was happening at her reptilian feet. Was the first chick hatching? Could she hear the chick from inside the egg? Eagles chicks are audible from inside the egg up to 15 hours before the hatching process begins. The hatching process itself is arduous and can take over 30 hours in some cases.

This increased behaviour on the nest has continued since. Th eagle pair have been busy on the eyrie and the male has been spending more time visible, often perching nearby or on the nest tree itself.

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Star perched near the nest (Image: Meryl Varty)

 

We had confirmation from Dave Sexton, our RSPB Officer for the island on Friday 28th April that the nest held two very young chicks or eaglets – at only a couple of days old! We’re now keeping our fingers and toes crossed that this pair of youngsters will both make it. The weather has been fairly unkind so far, with strong, cold Northerly winds. It seems we’re coming into warmer weather in the next few days which will help. Star and Hope fledged two eaglets in 2015, and one last year so we know they’re good parents – lets wish them all the support for 2017!

More than eagles…

As well as our adult pair of eagles, we’re spotting juvenile white-tailed eagles often. Plus, we’ve recently had brilliant views of a female hen harrier working the rough area in front of the eagle nest tree! We’ve also enjoyed buzzards, sparrowhawk, drinker moth caterpillars, violet oil beetles, willow warblers and our first grasshopper warbler of the season today!

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Phone photo of a juvenile white-tailed eagle!

Join us on a tour: 

You can join us on tours to see Star and Hope at West Ardhu or head to see Iona and Fingal in Tiroran Community Forest. Iona and Fingal are still incubating and are due to hatch soon! You can keep up with Meryl, our RSPB Ranger based at Tiroran, along with the pair, Iona and Fingal by reading the RSPB Blog.

Booking is through the Craignure Visitor Information Centre – you can call them on 01680 812556.

Tours run everyday and last around two hours each.

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Springtime Raptors & Reptiles

Springtime Raptors & Reptiles – 4th April 2017

Mull Eagle Watch reopens for trips on 11th April 2017 (bookings now being taken on 01680 812556)
Fresh faces
After a year and a half working locally at Ulva Primary School, I’ve returned to the Seasonal Eagle Ranger Post, which I filled during 2014 and 2015. I’ll be working for the Mull and Iona Ranger Service and the Mull and Iona Community Trust. Meryl Varty has taken on the RSPB Community and Information Officer post. Between the two of us we’ll be providing daily guided trips to view White-tailed eagles at two different community owned sites. You can join us at West Ardhu (North West Community Woodland) or Glen Seilisdeir (Tiroran Community Forest) to learn more about the local community forest practices, the eagles and other local wildlife species whilst hopefully viewing the eagles in the area.
Eagle Viewing Hides – ‘incubation initiated’
I’ll mostly be based at the West Ardhu viewing hide near Dervaig in the North West of the island. This area is now my home patch, having moved away from the ‘big city lights’ of Tobermory last year. This area of the island is home to brilliant wildlife, beautiful beaches and the community managed woodland in which Star and Hope have been nesting since 2014.
Hope, the female White-tailed eagle is now incubating on her nest in the West Ardhu. Along with her mate, Star they’ll share the incubation duties (although the female often does more) and we’ll expect the hatching to take place toward the end of April.
Meryl will be based at Tiroran Community Forest, where eagles Iona and Fingal are also currently incubating and hatching should take place at the beginning of May. Mull Eagle Watch has viewed this pair since 2011 and they’ve been really successful since then, raising a chick each year.

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West Ardhu Viewing Hide (North West Mull Community Woodland)

Spring Sights
Spring is a great time to explore the island, whether you’re a visitor or a local. The wildlife bursts back into being busy, making the most of the longer days and abundant food. Both White-tailed eagles and Golden eagles will be active, and often you’ll spot adult territorial eagles defending their patch from younger individuals.

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2-3 year old White-tailed eagle (Image: Ewan Miles)

Other raptor species including Hen Harrier and Buzzard will be preparing for the breeding season ahead – watch out for the famous sky-dancing male harrier. Ravens, the honorary raptor species should be breeding in full swing – they can be very early to nest.

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Raven on a Mull territory

Reptiles are a wonderful group to focus on in April, with male Adders emerging earlier than the females. We spotted two male individuals basking in the warmth of the sun at the end of March, along with a few speedy Common Lizards. Adders are highly unlikely to cause you any harm, unless trodden on and it’s a thrill to see one. Slow-worms are our third and final reptile species here on Mull and they’re harmless too – a legless lizard rather than a snake or worm!

Loch Torr roadside - same place as previous years. March 26thMale?

Male Adder

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Common Lizard

Thanks for reading! We’ll be back soon with more on our eagles – trips start from 11th April (book now on 01680 812556). See below for upcoming Ranger Service event details.

Egg-ceptional Events
The Mull and Iona Ranger Service are running a couple of events for the Easter school holiday. Our Easter Egg Hunt is in conjunction with the Glengorm Wildlife Project – come along and have some fun!
Bunessan Birdsong – Wednesday 12 April
A gentle walk around the village, listening and learning to identify the distinctive spring songs of our local birds. You don’t have to be up at dawn to appreciate beautiful birdsong!
9.30-11am
Meeting in main car park, Bunessan
£5 adults £3 children

Glengorm Easter Egg Hunt – Wednesday 12th April
Starting at the Glengorm Wildlife Lab, next to the Coffee Shop. Come in your home-made Easter bonnet to win prizes!

Activities include:
Egg-citing Scavenger Trail
Make you own basket
Egg-cellent Easter Crafts

11am-3pm
£3

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 🙂