There is a lot to catch up on since I last wrote and I know that everyone is keen to know how our new arrivals and last year’s birds are getting on.
Norway In early June I was lucky enough to get out to Norway, to help with chick collection and experienced just how hard won our birds are. We only collect from nests containing twins, leaving a chick behind. It is not always possible to see into nests from a distance to check if there are 1 or 2 chicks so we had some very long walks in and scrambles up the side of fjords only to return empty handed!
New arrivalsOn 20th June we imported 13 birds to Edinburgh Airport, where they were met by the media and Minister for the Environment, Michael Russell. A further 2 females arrived in July, bringing our total to 15 birds for 2008, 8 males and 7 females.
The birds were released on some rare dry days between the 10th and 18th August when all aged over 3 months old. Four of our birds were real media stars, being released live on national TV on the BBC Breakfast show. One narrowly missed my head before flying off beautifully for the camera. Not all releases go like this, other birds took an hour and a half to go, a couple tried to land on some very small branches and one female jumped onto the ground before taking off again!
The last to go were our group of 3 younger birds, 2 females and a male. One of the females has been quite a character, calling non-stop throughout the captive period at anything that flew past and getting in a frenzy over food, stamping on it all when we put it through the hatch! When it came to release, both of the larger females stood on the perch blocking the hatch while the smaller male bounced around behind them, quickly moving his head from side to side and trying to get out of the gap, he eventually managed to push passed and was the first to go. We use our radio-tracking equipment to check that all our birds have had a safe landing.
Every time I sit down to write this the birds are moving to new locations! For the first week or so there was a lot of rain and some strong winds recently which kept the birds near the release site and using the food dump.
However, 1 male ring number 94, released on the 13th August reached the Isle of May on Saturday (23rd August), much to the delight of the passengers of the May princess and SNH reserve warden Tabitha. I was able to confirm which bird it was by radio-tracking from the mainland. He was still there on Tuesday, being mobbed by gulls and having eaten his first fulmar chick. Most seabirds on the Isle of May have fledged, but there are large numbers of gulls and rabbits on the island and some late fledging fulmars so he won’t be short of food. We will just have to wait and see how long this bird stays.
Some people have asked me whether the sea eagle on the Isle of May, will have an impact on the seabirds, but it must be remembered that these species evolved together and the pressures currently being felt by seabirds are due to climate change affecting their food availability. Fulmars were not on the East coast of Scotland when sea eagles were last here, but are well adapted to protecting themselves by projecting oil at predators, which include large gulls. Another 1 of our males has, (ring 89) has joined up with one of last year’s females, (wing tag 7) now aged 16 months, at Loch Leven. Bird 7 has been quite a wanderer, making it over to Mull and spending time at Loch Tay. This is the first record of the two groups of birds joining up and is great news as sea eagles are very sociable birds and the younger male will definitely learn where to find the best feeding and roosting spots from the older female. Another wanderer, bird F or Fifer as he is known (despite spending very little time in Fife!) returned to near Perth on the 11th July after spending the last few months on Mull.
I’ve also had a report of a bird seen eating a common gull near Montrose Basin, we’ll confirm which one of the birds this is in the next couple of days. Sea eagles have great eyesight and learn to hunt through a mixture of determination (they’ve got all day at this age!) and trial and error, and its great to hear reports of them finding their own food so soon after release.
Its been really interesting to see this year’s birds exhibiting the same behaviours as last year’s. From their floppy winged, laborious first flights they are now beginning to soar and interact in small groups, using many of the same fields as last year’s birds to practice their flying and even perching in the same trees and on the same rocks!
Colour ringsDue to a temporary hiccup in the licensing process, we have not been permitted to fit wing tags to any birds this year. Instead, all this years’ sea eagles are fitted with a colour ring on the left leg. The colour combination shows that the bird was born in 2008, A9 is for Scottish birds and the 2-digit number below (e.g. 96) identifies the bird. Don’t worry if you can’t read the ring number, or even see the colour ring, they can be tricky. Although, we’ve had some good reports from digital photos.
All sightings are still extremely valuable and can be followed up with radio-tracking to identify the individual. Please also remember to still look out for last year’s birds. Eleven of last year’s birds are still alive, a survival rate of 75% and we haven’t lost any birds since November. They have completed their first wing and body moult and are now moulting their tail feathers.
Thanks to everyone who has been reporting sightings. Please continue to do so at: email@example.com