Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Mull Eagle Watch a Five Star wildlife attraction

Our new site at Glen Seilisdeir has proved to be a wonderful venue with great views of our Sea Eagle nest, a very popular open-air viewing hide and plenty of happy visitors.

We were delighted to receive our Silver accreditation from the Green Tourism Business Scheme, and now the icing on the cake is that we have been awarded five stars from Visit Scotland, making us one of only two wildlife attractions in Scotland with five stars.

Today is my last day for this season, although as I live on Mull I'll be keeping an eye on our eagles during the winter months - it's impossible to stay away! Fingal, Iona, Buidhe and Gorm are doing well (as are Skye, Frisa and Sunda) and all the other Sea Eagles on Mull - it's been a record year. Other raptors on the island have done well too, thanks largely to the lovely summer we have enjoyed - for once Scotland's west coast has enjoyed better weather than the rest of the UK.

Once again, thanks to our visitors, community groups on Mull and Iona will benefit from grants given out from the Eagle Fund. Around 50% of the hide income is divided between good causes on the island, with the remainder helping to protect all the Sea Eagle nests on Mull, and keeping the hide running.

So I hope you enjoy the pictures, with a wonderful sequence of a Sea Eagle fishing courtesy of one of our visitors - Chris Stone - who kindly gave us permission to use his fantastic shots. Goodbye for now, and all being well I'll be back next spring. Do visit us and enjoy one of the most spectacular wildlife experiences in the UK.

With best wishes, Sue Dewar, White-tailed Sea Eagle Ranger, Mull Eagle Watch

Mull School children with their life-sized eagle nest and, after all their hard work, relaxing on the eagle bench

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

A great year for our white tailed eagles at Mull Eagle Watch

White tailed eagle
After a fantastic season the Eagle viewing hide at Glen Seilisdeir is now closed. Iona and Fingal successfully fledged two chicks, and the family can still be seen in the area.
However, there are still plenty of opportunities to view White Tailed Eagles around the island. The eagles don’t migrate and can be seen hunting for fish and seabirds over the lochs and sea, as well as looking for rabbits or hares inland. During the autumn the young birds tend to congregate together, sitting in trees or on the ground near to the coastline, whilst the adult birds will stay in and around their home territory.

Mull is not known as “Eagle Island” for nothing, and hosts one of the highest density populations of Golden Eagles in Europe, although these shy birds are more difficult to see as they keep well away from people.

If you are struggling to tell the difference between the two species, the adult White Tailed Eagle (the fourth largest eagle in the world) has a wingspan of 2.4 metres, stands about a metre high and weighs in at 7 kilos. It is a light brown colour with a paler head. When flying its broad wings are held in a flat profile and the adult’s white tail is short and wedge-shaped, leading to it being referred to as a “flying barn door”. The juvenile eagles are a dark, chocolate brown colour all over and don’t have the white tail initially, with those feathers moulting in over the next four or five years until it is ready to breed.

By comparison the Golden Eagle has a wingspan of around 2 metres and is a golden brown all over. It holds its wings in a shallow V-shape when flying, and is often seen flying high over the hills “hugging” the ridges whilst it searches for prey. Its tail is rectangular in shape and longer than the Sea Eagles. Juvenile Golden Eagles have white patches under its wings and a white rump at the top of its tail. They feed mostly on mammals and birds but are much more difficult to see than the White Tailed Eagles which are often seen perched in trees or on rocks.

If you see a large brown and cream raptor hanging in the sky (as if hovering) it will not be an eagle. Buzzards and Hen Harriers do this, but the eagles’ body weight is too high for their wings to support hovering.

The eagle hide will remain closed during the winter months whilst this year’s youngsters gradually moving away from their parents and, come December, the adult birds will start looking for nest sites or maybe adding to existing ones. Come February their courtship rituals will begin and by March they will be ready to start nesting. The birds are heavily protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, and at this time they are very sensitive to disturbance.

Watch this space for information on where and when the 2013 hide will be opening or visit our web pages.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

An empty nest, and all's well at Glen Seilisdeir

Adult Sea Eagle being mobbed by a Hooded Crow
(Photo: Sue Dewar)
 Firstly, my apologies for the gap between postings. The last couple of weeks has been hectic to say the least and I’ve barely been in the office.

The good news is that our second chick finally left the nest just over three weeks after his sister. To begin with the female chick kept returning to the nest as the adult birds were still feeding her brother there, and if the adults weren’t around she continued to bully him and snatch his food.

Thankfully, Iona was usually on hand to see
fair play, and eventually her daughter discovered that she could fly just as well as her parents and began to concentrate on following them and learning to hunt for herself. She has given us some great displays but the highlight was one day when both adults and the female flew together over the forest and up towards Ben More, getting higher and higher until the three of them were just dots in the sky. A cheeky Buzzard mobbed the young female relentlessly but she was having none of it and managed to shake him off.

Once the young male was allowed to eat his food in peace he really started to fill out, his tail and flight feathers grew down properly and he began wing-flapping exercises to strengthen his muscles ready for his first flight. Sadly we weren’t around when he finally took off, but the following morning we could hear him calling from somewhere in the forest and after a few days he proved that he too could fly when he appeared back on the nest. The adult birds occasionally bring food in and leave it there (and it doesn't take long for the chicks to find it), but most of the time they are trying to encourage both fledglings to follow them and learn how to hunt for themselves.

After the wonderful weather we have had on Mull this summer, yesterday we had torrential rain and strong winds and when I went to the hide I was relieved that the chicks had fledged as they would have been wet and miserable sitting up there exposed to the elements.

With the Scottish children back to school now I can now tell you that Bunessan Primary School (whose turn it was to name our chicks) decided to call the young birds after their school colours. So our young male is Gorm (pronounced Gorum) which is Gaelic for Blue, and the female is Buidhe (pronounced Bweeya), Gaelic for Yellow. Both chicks will stay in the area with Iona and Fingal for several weeks yet, perfecting their hunting and flying skills before eventually exploring the rest of the island and beyond. For a while they may enjoy the company of other young Sea Eagles fledged on Mull this year; in the autumn we often see groups of them perched together like a Sea Eagle youth club! Then they will begin their four-year journey of discovery, each year their tail feathers becoming whiter, their beaks turning yellow and their body and head feathers becoming paler, until at five years old they will look just like their parents. At that stage they will be searching for a mate and a territory of their own - who knows where they will end up?

This is our last week at Glen Seilisdeir - the hide closes on Friday 31st August as essential logging operations begin in the forest on Monday. It has all gone far too quickly, but it has been a real privilege to watch Iona and Fingal incubate their precious eggs through to hatching, and to watch Buidhe and Gorm grow from wobbly four-inch high, fluffy white chicks to full-grown magnificent Sea Eagles. Over the next few days I will gather together all the images that I (and others) have taken at the hide and post them on my final blog for this year.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Eagle Bonanza

What a day!  In all the years I've been watching eagles on Mull I've never known anything quite like it.  Yesterday we were treated to the most amazing views of our Sea Eagles - so spectacular one of our visitors was in tears.  If that wasn't enough, the local Golden Eagles put in an appearance too, and not to be outdone our resident Buzzard joined in with the display.

When I arrived meeting point the visitors waiting for the trip to begin had been watching not one, not two but three Golden Eagles - two adults and a juvenile - flying towards Glen Seilisdeir from Ben More, getting closer than I've seen them before and seemingly unperturbed by a group of very excited visitors watching them.

We started the trip and watched both Sea Eagle trips on the nest - our female still keeps returning and stealing food from her smaller sibling.  Half of the group had gone further along the track with the other ranger, and suddenly the walkie-talkie beeped and the message came through that both adult Sea Eagles were sitting in a tree.  My group hurried along to join the others and sure enough, there were Iona and Fingal sitting together on the same branch of a spruce tree.  Could it get any better?

A few minutes later, an adult Buzzard flew over doing just that - buzzing the eagles and getting frighteningly close.  At first the eagles seemed oblivious to the cheeky bird, but then Iona, probably remembering how the Buzzard had tried to steal food from her nest, took off from the tree in the direction of the nest.  And then ..... our female chick appeared from nowhere, powering through the sky straight towards the Buzzard.  This was just too much for Fingal who took off as well, and the three eagles began to circle together getting higher and higher (but not before flying about ten metres right over our heads).  Next to the adult birds the chick looks huge - even dwarfing her mother.  She has certainly been getting more than her share of the food!  We watched all the birds getting higher and higher until almost out of sight - our fledgling flying the highest of all, still chasing the Buzzard who eventually decided that discretion was the better part of valour and changed tack flying back to his or her territory.

We walked back to the hide to make a quick check on our remaining chick at the nest - still not ready to fledge although he has been making little sorties onto the branch at the edge of the nest.  After watching those gargantuan birds flying above us he looked so small in comparison, but I'm sure he'll soon catch up.

And the only disappointment of a wonderful day - while all the excitement was going on where was my camera - back in the van of course!

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Good news at Loch Frisa

Frisa perched near the loch
Photo - Iain Erskine

Before I update you with news from the Glen Seilisdeir hide, some good news from Loch Frisa.  Those of you who have been following our Sea Eagles over the years will know that this year we moved from Loch Frisa to Glen Seilisdeir, leaving Skye and Frisa in peace after a busy time of forestry operations along the loch.   I'm delighted to tell you that Skye and Frisa have fledged a healthy chick this year.

Meanwhile, back at Glen Seilisdeir our fledged chick is still backwards and forwards to the nest, her sibling is not quite ready to go yet, and we have been having great views of the whole family. The adults seem to be bringing in mostly sea birds, fish and the occasional rabbit to feed the youngsters at the moment.  Our fledgling is still bullying her brother(?) but Iona is making sure that he gets plenty of food. 

I'll write another blog in the next day or two with any developments, but in the meantime here are three wonderful photos given to us by visiting photographer Chris Stone, showing the fishing technique of these magnificent birds.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Now you see her, now you don't!

Well, last week saw some interesting goings on at the Sea Eagle Nest. Previously I reported that our largest chick (thought to be a female) fledged from the nest leaving her smaller sibling to spend time putting on weight and growing down his(?) last flight feathers before fledging himself. All seemed to be normal with food being brought into the remaining chick by the parent birds, and it appeared to be putting on weight and growing apace.

And then, on Wednesday the older chick suddenly appeared back on the nest, much to the surprise of its sibling. Not only that but it stayed throughout Wednesday and Thursday. This is unusual behaviour, as once the birds fledge it is unusual for them to return to the nest. Our theory is that the older chick worked out that the adults were feeding its sibling, therefore there must be food at the nest. Sure enough, the first time the adult male came in with food for the smaller chick (a large, wriggling eel), the fledgling shoulder-barged it out of the way and grabbed the food for itself. As before, the small chick immediately retreated to the other side of the nest, once again intimidated by its sister. However, this time the fledgling failed, as in her haste to grab the prey it escaped and fell onto the side of the nest where it was grabbed again by the adult male who quickly swallowed it whole.

Soon after the female came in with what looked like a Fulmar and delivered it straight to the smaller chick whilst blocking the fledgling so that her brother could eat in peace. Both adults then remained at the nest for the rest of the day, mediating between their chicks. After I'd left the hide one of the adults must have brought in a rabbit, as the following morning the smaller chick was pulling at the remains of a rabbit leg; who knows which chick got the lion's share of that meal!
Fingal with food for a hungry young eagle
Photo by kind permission of Chris Stone
 The following day the whole scenario was repeated, with at least one adult around to see fair play, though later in the day they both took off, presumably to hunt for themselves, and although I stayed at the hide until gone 9pm neither of them returned to the nest. Both chicks were at the nest all day, but my colleague - FCS Wildlife Ranger Steve Irvine - reported that on Friday only the younger chick was there with an adult visiting the nest and then sitting higher in the tree keeping watch. Maybe the older chick got the message that trying to steal food from her sibling was not to be encouraged by her parents.

The chicks are now a little over twelve weeks old and it won't be too long before the second young eagle fledges. I can't wait to watch them learning to fly strongly and hunt for themselves - with a little help from their parents, of course.


Friday, 20 July 2012

We have lift off!

Three week old chicks - helpless and looking more like
ET than a Sea Eagle! (Photo: Justin Grant)
Yesterday our first chick finally took to the skies - briefly. It had been getting more and more adventurous over the last few days, jumping in and out of the nest, walking along the branches towards the next tree, and flapping its wings like mad. Rather than gripping on with its talons, it has been using the nest as a trampoline, getting higher and higher each time. And then, with one huge jump it spread its great wings and took off, doing a circuit of the tree, gliding down below the nest before circling round and landing again next to its sibling. Whilst we watched it did the same again twice more, each time flying a little further.

During the day there was no sign of our adult birds. They had probably brought food in for their chicks before we arrived, and then flown off to hunt for themselves. I wonder if they had been perched up in the trees opposite the nest watching their youngster's antics from afar.

The younger bird is growing faster now and getting more adventurous, also flapping its wings and venturing to the edge of the nest. It seemed totally flumoxed by the antics of its sibling, looking around the nest when it took off and then showing surprise when it landed back.

The film crew who have been positioned in a hide nearby have been able to zoom in on the birds and tell me that it will be a while yet before the second chick fledges. When the adult feathers grow down they are protected by a waxy sheath which gradually peels off before the feather unfurls. The younger bird still has a lot of flight feathers still "in the blood" as it is known, and will not be able to fly properly until they have grown through. Once the larger chick has fledged completely, the other chick will be getting first pickings of the food its parents bring in, so it will soon catch up, and then we'll be able to watch it take to the skies too. It's hard to leave the hide each evening with so much going on.
Our six week old chicks with mum Iona.
(Photo: Sue Dewar)

We have also had two sub-adult Sea Eagles in the area - one about two or three years old, and the other a bit older. The younger one has been in to look at the nest whilst Iona and Fingal have been away hunting and I wonder whether it is a bird which fledged from this pair in the past. It has kept its distance when the adults are about - very wise as they would not be happy if they found it close to the nest.

Hopefully I will be able to get some pictures of the chick flying as it becomes more proficient; something tells me I will not be able to stay away this weekend!!


Friday, 13 July 2012

Quiet day at the hide

An unusually quiet day at the hide today.  We arrived to be told by a visiting film crew that the adult bird had brought in a rabbit early in the morning - the crew were just leaving as they had captured all the action they wanted!  Sprawled on the nest were two very full young eagles and no sign of the rabbit, so they must have demolished the lot very quickly before settling down for what turned out to be a very long sleep!

Our morning trip went into the hide and watched the chicks sleeping, occasionally stretching, and once or twice our larger bird even stood up, stomped around and then went back to sleep.  In desperation I walked a bit further along the track and came across the adult female engaged in a battle with the local Buzzard - she must have got too close to its nest and was being well and truly mobbed.  It eventually chased her out of the area, but unfortunately by the time I'd got back to the hide she had disappeared and no-one had seen her. 

The same happened in the afternoon, although the chicks were a little more active and gave our visitors some good views of their enormous wingspans.  The larger chick even had a jump around and flapped its wings, but there was still no sign of the adults.  As the chicks are getting so close to fledging its likely that the adult birds are bringing in less food now so the young birds are beginning to get the message that it's time to fledge.  Of course parent birds won't let them starve, and when the first chick does leave the adults will continue to feed the second one at the nest whilst also feeding the newly fledged youngster on the ground and in the lower branches of the trees.  We will probably see more of the adults at that time as they will feel the need to protect the vulnerable "chick" on the ground.  Humans are their only real predator, but having put so much effort into rearing their offspring the adult birds will want to make sure they fledge successfully. 

It's about this time of year that we get the occasional 'phone call from concerned visitors who see the chicks on the ground and are worried that they have injured a leg.  Of course we always check out any reports, but young eagles appear very ungainly when they walk - developing a "John Wayne"-like gait, and they are usually fine.

It seems that the road along the west coast of the island, which was closed due to a massive storm which took out bridges and caused landslides, may well be open sooner than we expected.  If you are coming to the hide please call our booking office on 01680 812556 to check if that route is open.

Finally, to anyone who has called or emailed me concerned about the Golden Eagle family in the area of the landslide, I am told that they are all fine and the chick(s) are now fledged.  Great to be able to pass on some good news!

I wonder if our chicks will still be on the nest on Monday.  Time will tell!

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Ready, Steady, .......

Just a brief post on the latest at our Sea Eagle nest.  The larger of our two chicks is becoming more and more adventurous - much to the disgust of the other chick. 

On Tuesday  it spent most of the day flapping around the nest, strengthening the pectoral muscles to prepare it for flight.  At ten weeks old our chicks could fledge at any time, although we normally expect it to be nearer twelve weeks.  However, as we were finishing for the day the larger bird sidled to the edge of the nest and started to walk out to the end of the branch.  If have a feeling that it is only a matter of days before the larger bird decides to take off and explore.

But don't worry if you're coming to Mull.  The eagles will stay in the area around the nest for some weeks after fledging, and we'll ensure you have excellent views of the birds and their surroundings.

Please do come and see us soon. 

Monday, 9 July 2012

Road washed away on Mull - but all's well at the nest

Well, after being away on annual leave, I returned to the eagle hide to find two enormous chicks sitting on the nest.  The largest of the two is much more active and has the visitors on tenterhooks as it leaps around flapping its enormous wings.  It obviously hasn't read the rule books as it keeps forgetting to hold onto the nest whilst it flaps, and at one point it actually took off and landed on the branch above the nest.  We watched, horrified, to see what would happen as it teetered on its perch trying to work out how to get back down.  Eventually it did a belly flop and landed on its sibling who was not amused.  A brief squabble ensued but in the end the smaller bird took itself off to the far side of the nest to avoid being trampled again! 

At between nine and ten weeks old the chicks have two or three weeks before they are due to fledge, but it looks as if our larger bird will go first.  We're still waiting to hear what sex the chicks are as they had DNA swabs taken when they were ringed, but more and more it seems that we have a male and a female.  When Fingal (our adult male) flies in this large chick appears taller so is more likely to be female.

Mull suffered a very dramatic freak storm at the end of last week - a huge thunderstorm with torrential rain which lasted less than an hour.  The centre of the storm was around the Ben More area, and when the rain stopped the devastation became apparent.  A large mudslide and a huge landslip where the rocks followed two paths either side of a house, as well as two bridges and a section of road completely swept away.

If you have already booked on one of our trips, or are planning to do so, please check with our booking office before travelling as you will probably need to take the A849 through Glen More and turn right onto the B8035 at the Kinloch turn.  It is likely to be a few weeks before the road is rebuilt. 

Fortunately the storm had no effect on our eagles' nest and when I arrived to check them the following day they didn't even show any signs of being wet, and thank goodness the nest was 100% intact.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Drama at the nest

The Sea Eagle chicks are now seven weeks old and still growing rapidly. They are much more active on the nest now, pulling apart their own food when the adults are away although Iona still tries to feed them, tearing off tiny pieces of food as if they were still very small. Their diet has been very varied this week with fish, seabirds, pieces of a dead seal etc. and yesterday Fingal excelled himself by bringing in a mink. The chicks made short work of it but had to share it with their mother who is obviously very partial to mink.

We have yet to find out the sexes of the two chicks but, if I had to make a guess I would say that we have a male and a female as one chick is much bigger than the other and with only two days between hatching there would not usually be such a large size difference. The larger bird has already started standing on the edge of the nest and exercising its wings although it will be three to five weeks or more before it is ready to fledge. It's always a frightening time for those of us watching the nest when the chicks are wing-flapping as they stand right at the edge of the nest and it's a long way down if they slip.

Visitors at the viewing hide
Visitors at the viewing hide.  Photo Sue Dewar
Yesterday afternoon there was plenty of drama with the local Buzzard coming rather too close to the nest for comfort again. We can just hear the Buzzard chicks calling for food in the background, so the temptation for the adult to steal a piece of food from the eagle nest must have brought the adult Buzzard in.

It was not a good plan, though, as both adult eagles were at the nest and Fingal flew up, flipped over backwards with his talons in the air, and tried to grab the Buzzard. Although he didn't manage to catch it, the Buzzard got the message and took off with Fingal in hot pursuit. Our chicks are now much the same size as the Buzzard so we weren't worried that they were at risk, but the parent birds were outraged at the audacity of the smaller raptor trying to take the food that they had caught for their own chicks. It was an exciting time for our visitors and ourselves, but after half an hour everything had settled down and the nest returned to being a peaceful family roost.

Next week I am on annual leave so I can only imagine how much the chicks will have grown by the time I come back.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

What - no food mum?

Another busy day at the eagle hide with the parent birds, Iona and Fingal, putting in more appearances at the nest than of late.  Yesterday we didn't see very much of our adults but they must have been busy hunting, as all sorts of food could be seen on the nest, including the intestines of a fairly large mammal which the chicks proceeded to play tug-of-war with whilst we were trying to eat our packed lunches!

Today the adults have been backwards and forwards to check on their youngsters, and probably to see how much food was left uneaten.  It would appear that there wasn't very much as Iona and Fingal have spent a lot of time out catching food.  This afternoon the female brought in a fairly large white bird - probably a gull - which she insisted on plucking before letting the chicks start to eat.  The local Buzzard was showing a lot of interest in the nest too, prompting the adults to return frequently to persuade it not to come too close.

The six-week old chicks on the nest with Iona nearby
Photo: Sue Dewar
 When Iona flew in late this afternoon she had a quick check on the nest to satisfy herself that all was well, before flying to a nearby branch.  It was easy to see the chicks' disgust as they tottered around on the nest searching for food. Eventually, they decided there was nothing much to eat and settled back down for yet another snooze. 

And a final note - we heard today that our White-tailed Sea Eagle family at Glen Seilisdeir will feature on tonight's final episode of Springwatch, starting on BBC2 at 8pm.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Monday, 11 June 2012

Mull Sea Eagles go green (and silver!)

Following our recent assessment for the Green Tourism Business Scheme (run by Visit Scotland), I'm delighted to say that we have been awarded a Silver award for the Eagle Hide. I'm told that it is not often for a Silver to be awarded at the first attempt so we are very proud.

Although we don't need to generate much electricity, our TV monitor and CCTV camera with all the attendant wiring are run from our bank of solar panels, and we have the option of a small wind turbine if we need any further power.

Over the last two weeks we have been visited by primary school children from all over the island and they have had a great time watching our rapidly growing chicks on the nest, learning the story of the White-tailed Sea Eagles and impressing us with their own knowledge of the eagles and other birds of prey on the island. Before going to the viewing hide the children built a life-size eagle nest out of branches, twigs and sprays of foliage collected from the forest.

Lochdon School sitting on the nest frame
Lochdon School sitting on
the nest frame before building

The children had great fun building the nest and all were surprised at the size of nest needed for the adult Sea Eagles and their rapidly growing offspring. Iona and Fingal's nest is about 2m across by 0.75m deep, and is extended every year the birds use it. By the time the children got to see the eagles through our telescopes they had realised just how much work the adult birds had to do before they could lay their precious eggs.
The hide continues to be as busy as ever, and our two chicks are now five weeks old. Both are doing well, and I hope to have more news of them when they have been ringed.

Ulva Ferry School with their finished nes
Ulva Ferry School with
their finished nes
 In the meantime, if you are planning a visit to the hide please book as far ahead as possible as most of our trips are filling up very quickly, and we don't want anyone to be disappointed.

Stop Press: We have been told that the footage taken by Iolo Williams at our hide will appear on the BBC Springwatch programme on Monday 11th June (or possibly later that week).

Monday, 21 May 2012

Four stars for our eagle family

We have just heard that Visit Scotland have awarded us four stars at the new Glen Seilisdeir hide - the same as we were granted at Loch Frisa!

iona and fingal
Iona feeding one of the chicks  Photo: Sue Dewar
Our chicks are growing rapidly - instead of fluffy white heads and bodies they now appear grey where the adult feathers are just beginning to show through under the down.

On one day last week the rain poured down incessantly and the adult birds took turns in brooding the youngsters, only standing up to feed them whilst spreading their wings like umbrellas to shelter them from the wet. I am beginning to think that Sea Eagles have an inbuilt weather forecast as the previous day they brought in loads of food including what looked like a large rabbit, so there was plenty for the whole family to eat, even if the weather was too bad to allow the adults to hunt.

iona and fingal
Iona and Fingal above the nest
Photo: Sue Dewar
 On Friday the adults spent the day warding off two cheeky hooded crows who were either trying to steal food (or maybe the chicks) from the nest, or constantly dive bombing the adults. Each time they appeared Iona called loudly and Fingal was heard calling back from a short distance away. He then flew in to the nest with the crows in hot pursuit, even making contact from time to time.

Eventually the crows gave up after several skirmishes, and the adults decided that the chicks could have the nest to themselves for a while, but neither of them were prepared to leave altogether, and spent the rest of the afternoon sitting on branches above the nest keeping watch. The chicks no longer need brooding all the time; they will be three weeks old this week and have been able to regulate their own body temperature for almost a week now. By the time they are four weeks old they will be beginning to look like Sea Eagles and will start playing tug-of-war with their food.

This week we have our first school visit of the season from Lochdon Primary School, and the forecast looks promising so we should have good views of the eagles and plenty of fun outside.


Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Peace reigns at Glen Seilisdeir

All is well at our Sea Eagle nest, and Iona and Fingal are the proud parents of two healthy chicks. They are almost two weeks old and are growing rapidly. At three days old we were already seeing wobbly, fluffy white heads bobbing about in the nest - now there are the first signs of grey showing through the white. The heads have stopped wobbling and are now expertly aiming for mum's beak - provided it is full of food!

To begin with Iona did all the brooding of her new family, with Fingal in charge of catching their food, but now both adults take turns. So far the chicks have been fed mainly on fish and seabirds such as Fulmars. To begin with the parent birds tore off tiny pieces of food to offer to their chicks, their enormous beaks bigger by far than the chicks' heads. With each day the morsels of food are getting larger and the chicks are getting greedier - it really isn't surprising that by eight to nine weeks they will be fully grown, and in ten weeks' time they will be ready to leave the nest.

As you can see by the photograph (taken for us by islander Alan Jack) the nest is very exposed, of necessity because with a wingspan of 2.4 metres the adults have to be able to spread their wings before launching themselves from the tree. You can just see Iona's pale head as she broods her charges on the nest.

To give you an idea of size the nest is about two metres across and just over half a metre deep, with a nest cup where the chicks lie and a built up surround so they are safe from falling. Over the last weekend the weather on Mull was atrocious and we were very concerned for the chicks' safety. Strong cold wind and heavy rain can be lethal for young birds and it was with some concern that we arrived on Monday to see if the nest was still intact with its precious contents. Thank goodness it was and as the weather warmed and the sun came out we were very relieved to see that all was well.

Last Friday we were visited by an assessor from the Green Tourism Business Scheme, and we are now awaiting our grading. All our power is provided from solar panels, and we strive to be eco-friendly in all that we do, so we hope that the assessor was impressed with what he saw.

The hide has been really busy, and everyone loves the new format. As the chicks grow we will see more and more activity at the nest, so if you are heading to Mull this summer do come to see us.

Friday, 4 May 2012

First white-tailed eagle chick hatches at Mull hide

White tailed eagle
Mull's White Tailed Eagles
The first white-tailed eagle chick of the year at the Mull Eagle Watch hide has been spotted by rangers.

It’s hopeful that a second egg is in the nest and that the proud parents, Iona & Fingal, will have another chick to look after in couple of days.

For the past 38 days, the adult birds have taken turns in incubating the eggs, sitting very low on the nest.

First indications that something had changed was on Tuesday this week when the female was sitting higher up on the nest. She was also fidgeting and fussing with the eggs so it was clear that a new arrival was coming.

Sue Dewar, White-Tailed Eagle Ranger with Mull & Iona Ranger Service said:

“We are thrilled to bits at the news and we are keeping our fingers crossed that all goes well with the remaining egg.

“It was on Wednesday afternoon that we first witnessed Iona, the female adult, bending her head down and gently feeding the chick.

“Tiny morsels of food were torn off by her huge beak and were delicately fed to her new chick. Iona was also very careful to keep her talons well out of the way so as not to put the chick in any danger.

”The new arrival is great news for the birds but also for Mull as so many people come to witness these massive and magnificent birds.”

Fingal, the male, was not seen during the afternoon the new chick arrived and was most likely to be off hunting to feed his new family.

If the female takes a break from her new duties the male adult will take over until she returns. If there is a second egg it could hatch in the next couple of days, as eagles lay eggs two or three days apart, but sit from the time the first egg is laid.

Dave Sexton, RSPB Scotland’s Mull Officer added:

“Whilst breaking out of the egg is one of the toughest parts of an eagle’s life, the next 10 days is also critical as they must be brooded by an adult at all times to avoid hypothermia. So Mull Eagle Watch and the CCTV will still be running 24/7 to ensure Fingal & Iona and their new family are not disturbed in any way”

Mull Eagle Watch is run by a partnership consisting of Forestry Commission Scotland, Mull & Iona Community Trust, RSPB Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and Strathclyde Police.

Part of the income from trips to the hide is put into a fund which is available to the islanders for local community projects. A recent survey reported that the white-tailed eagles alone bring in £5m annually to Mull’s economy, which is hugely important to the island.

All over the island, Mull Eagle Watch’s dedicated team of volunteers have been watching the eagles’ nests to ensure that no-one gets too close as the birds will leave the nest if they are disturbed by anyone – deliberately or inadvertently.

Because the Mull Eagle Watch are constantly on the lookout for egg thieves, nests are watched for 24 hours a day and this year CCTV is also being used with other high-tech equipment to back up our volunteers.

Once the chicks are hatched there are still problems from the very occasional photographer who wants to get closer than is comfortable for the birds, and two such people were prosecuted last year for ignoring instructions not to go too close. Fortunately on that occasion the chick survived, but only because volunteers and police reacted quickly.

The hide at Glen Seilisdeir is open Monday to Friday from April to the end of September, running two trips a day. White-tailed eagle rangers will tell the story of the eagles’ extinction and subsequent reintroduction, and then escort visitors to an outdoor viewing hide just 300m from the nest. Booking is essential on 01680 812556.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Have they, or haven't they?

white tailed sea eagle
Sea Eagle in flight - photo courtesy of Alan Jack
 This week we are playing the waiting game. Our egg(s) are due to hatch any time now and everytime the on-duty adult stands up on the nest, we wait with baited breath to see a tiny, wobbly white head, or the other adult bringing in food.

Yesterday afternoon the weather was superb (as it has been for over two weeks now), and the conditions were perfect for a precious Sea Eagle chick to come into the world. But the adults seemed to be just turning the eggs and then settling down to incubate again.

Maybe they could hear the first chick cheeping inside the egg as it started to break its way out using the tiny egg tooth on the top of its beak. Or maybe not! Eggs can easily take 36 hours to hatch, so, like Iona and Fingal, we must be patient and wait for that first feed!

We can't help thinking back to last year, when the beginning of May saw horrendous winds sweep the west coast of Scotland, and the eagle nests were all checked the next morning. We were convinced that at least one nest tree would have come down, but no, everything was intact and Mull's Sea Eagles successfully fledged 11 chicks in 2011.

We suffered even stronger winds over the winter months with one gust on Mull recorded at 165 mph. Surely some of the eagles would have to build new nests this year to replace those damaged? Sea Eagles are obviously better nest builders than we give them credit for as most nests survived. One nest did collapse and the following day the eagles there carried out a hurried repair job - only for the winds to return and the new nest be blown out of the tree too. But Sea Eagles are resilient birds and it's always surprising to see how quickly they put their nests together.

The new "wild hide" - photo courtesy of Alan Jack
Our new viewing hide, set into the woodland, is proving a huge success. Everyone says they feel closer to nature, and the smell from the pine trees is all-pervading. The shading at the front of the hide means that the eagles can't see us although they know we are there.

Occasionally they will hear something and if we happen to be looking through a telescope at the time we see a beady pale lemon eye staring back at us.

With luck we will soon be watching food being brought in for the chick(s) by the parents, and then tiny slivers will be torn off and fed tenderly to their offspring. I wonder if we'll have a hatching today?

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Glad to be back!

mull sea eaglesAfter what seems like a very long (and extremely wet) winter, I'm finally back watching eagles and sharing the experience with our visitors at our wonderful new location.

Our resident pair of Sea Eagles have been named Iona and Fingal, and are proving just as devoted parents as Skye and Frisa did at Loch Frisa. Iona (the female), previously known as Green T because of her wing tag which she lost this winter, was reared on the Isle of Skye by her parents who were from the first release of Norwegian Sea Eagles on the Isle of Rum. After fledging in 1998, Iona was first seen on Mull in 2001. Fingal (the male) was part of a second release scheme and was brought over from Norway in 1997 with 9 other chicks. All 10 were released on Wester Ross. Fingal was originally known as Blue 6, but lost his tags in 2006. Following his early visits to Mull. he paired up with Iona in 2002. After a couple of false starts the pair finally fledged one chick in 2005, and have successfully fledged five chicks in total.

Our new set-up at Glen Seilisdeir is very different from Loch Frisa - we still have a wooden hide where visitors can listen to our introductory talk inside (if it's raining), and pick up leaflets, booklets and make any purchases. We then drive half a mile along the track to our viewpoint car park where we all carefully close car doors and make sure no car alarms have been set, before silently walking 100m to our viewpoint - an outdoor hide just 300m from the nest! As I write the eggs are just over three weeks through incubation, so in around two weeks we should spot the first food being brought in and tiny morsels gently fed to a tiny fluffy white chick. With luck a second chick will hatch a couple of days later.

Our "rustic" hide is a clearing in the forest, expertly prepared with a thick layer of wood-chip on the ground, shielded from the eagles' view with a screen of spruce prunings and set up with spotting scopes and binoculars so that all our visitors get the best possible view of the eagles. And what views they have been getting! We watch the adult birds taking turns at incubating the eggs, carefully rearranging sticks on the nest, and preening their loose white body feathers prior to going through their full moult. Iona usually does the night shift, with Fingal coming in to relieve her in the morning and then they take turns to incubate the precious egg(s) during the day.

Recently whilst Fingal was incubating he must have become a bit "peckish" because he suddenly took off and flew towards Loch Beg. Our hearts were in our mouths as there was no sign of Iona and the eggs would chill if they were left for long. We timed his absence and after just three minutes Fingal returned with a large fish, settled himself back on the nest and proceeded to eat his catch. He must have been able to see the fish from his position on the nest, and temptation must have got the better of him!

All our visitors are thorougly enjoying the experience, especially the "wild" hide where they can really feel at one with nature.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

New hide at Glen Seilisdeir is a hit!

We are certainly back! This is our second week at our new hide location at Glen Seilisdeir, the home to Blue 9 (male) and Green T (female), since 2002. Trips are proving very popular and the birds are being very well behaved. The eggs (not quite sure how many) have been laid and both birds and taking it in turns to tend to them lovingly.

The weather too has been quite kind over this Easter week, which makes life much more pleasant for the bird sitting on the nest. From their viewpoint high in the conifers they have a 360 degree view of Glen Sheilisdair (Glen of the Iris) and could not want from more scenic views from the nest site. With a backdrop over the tree tops to Ben More and views out to Loch Scridian and the Ross of Mull it is a fantastic location. Their location provides an ideal food source both for themselves and their future chicks, with the sea only a short distance to north and south and surrounded by moorland.

The whole trip experience is proving very popular with a short talk at the hide followed by a foray into the 'wild woods'. The location from where you see the nest is very much a woodland experience, it is almost like entering into a woodland den, the children just love it and it has real at one with nature feel.

To share in this wonderful experience, booking is essential. The bookings can be made at the Craignure Tourist Information Centre or on 01680812556. Ranger led trips run Monday to Friday 10 am and 1pm.

For those that have followed the blog in previous years Frisa and Skye are well and living quietly up Loch Frisa, but due to ongoing forest management they are both having 'time out' or as actors would say 'resting' but very much so getting on with family life, and we hope to be able to give you updates on how they are both doing as the season progresses.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Mull sea eagles new location for 2012!

Viewing the Mull sea eagles from the hide
We are excited to be welcoming visitors to our brand new location at Glen Seilisdeir (pronounced Shellister – meaning ‘Glen of the Irises’) for the 2012 season. The new hide is now our main viewing point after a successful low key trial last year.

Due to ongoing timber haulage at Loch Frisa, the decision was taken that it was no longer suitable for sea eagle viewing so here we are, ready to welcome people to our new patch.

The new meeting point is off the 'scenic route', the B8035 Salen Road and is well signposted. Trips begin on Monday 2nd April, taking place daily at 10am and 1pm.

We look forward to welcoming sea eagle fans both old and new to Glen Seilisdeir, and look forward to another busy visitor season.

For more information on our new location, visit our web pages. You can also follow all the latest developements throughout the season on Twitter @skyeandfrisa