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.