As I walked up to do the morning feed yesterday I could hear a commotion, lots of high pitched raptor alarm calls, concerned that the chicks may be fighting or something was wrong I ran up and checked on our two biggest birds in cage 1. These are two large females, now over 10 weeks old and weighing over 5kg, they were stood on their perch, hackles up and heads bobbing as they screamed at a buzzard that had landed outside their cage, obviously interested in its new neighbours, despite being twice the size, the young eagles were obviously quite scared of the wild visitor! There are rough-legged rather than common buzzards in Norway, so this may well have been the chicks' first encounter with this species.
Its two and a half weeks since the chicks have arrived and after a couple of birds getting chest infections in the first week which we swiftly treated with antibiotics they have now all settled down to eating and growing! The three smallest chicks which had to have their food chopped up into bite-sized chunks in the first week have now lost all traces of fluff on their heads (see photo in last blog post of the 'three amigos') and are standing up much more regally and now deftly using their talons to manipulate their food which now goes in whole. Every year we see a range of behaviour from the young birds and this year we have one male who likes to jump on his food with both feet as soon as its put in and another who likes to turn his head upside down to check out each new bit of prey from a fresh angle! A couple of the larger birds have started stretching and flapping their wings, expressing a natural urge to exercise which we also observe in chicks in nests in the wild.
Birds X and H, a male and female sho spent three months at Loch Leven, have met up again near Crieff, spending last night roosting in a wood that is a regular kite roost and Z is back around Loch Davan. Whilst other 2008 and 2009 birds are currently moving around the Angus glens.
Friday 25th June saw us successfully import 19 sea eagle chicks from Norway for the fourth year of the East Scotland Sea Eagle project.
You can view the BBC coverage at:
Or Scottish Government video on YouTube:
I was lucky enough to help members of the NOF our Birdlife partner in Norway as they collected chicks during the week before import. We are licensed to bring in up to 20 chicks each year - but as we only collect from nests containing twins and triplets (leaving 1 chick behind) to ensure we interfere with the birds' breeding as little as possible - we have only managed to collect 15 a year since 2007. However, in January and February this year there were good runs of herring in Norway meaning that the adult sea eagles were in peak condition for breeding despite the long, harsh winter.
On arrving in Norway on the 17th June, Alv Ottar already had 6 chicks, so we set out checking nests to the north and south of Alesund, some days we checked 6 nests only to return empty handed as after a long trke up a hillside we found they only contained one chick. We also suffered a blow after a storm led to the death of some nests of twins, but Alv Ottar and his assistant Ingar kept working hard and the numbers of chicks gradually increased. On Sunday 20h the numbers were also boosted by the arrival on the overnight ferry from Bergen of 3 more chicks collected by Tore in the south. We walked out of the last nest at 10pm on Tuesday 22nd with our 17th chick, this was a really interesting site, a public wood with bikers and dog walkers and the nest in a scotspine looking very similar to our woods in Perthshire. No more chicks were found on the 23rd and I fully expected 17 to be the final number on Thursday 24th when I had not heard anymore from Norway, however, a text came in at 10:30pm saying that the last nest they had visited contained triplets and we no had 19 chicks arrving in Scotland the next day! This is fantastic news for the project as with any re-introduction project we can sadly expect to lose some birds on the way to establishing a breeding population. This is the most chicks we've ever imported to Scotland in 1 year and I had to clear out an extra aviary that hadn't previously been used and where I was storing my buckets and ladders!
After meeting the Environment minister and media at Edinburgh airport, the chicks were driven north to our release site in Fife and checked over by our vets Alistair and Jo, we are awaiting results from DNA sexing but have deliberately aimed to collect more females this year as we have 5 more males than females alive int eh exisitng East Scotland population so wanted to redress this balance, females are larger and definitely have a bit more attitude which made the vet checks interesting! The chicks were aged 5- 8 weeks and weighed between 2.5 and 5kg.
By 8:30 we finally had all the chicks settled in the 9 aviaries in twos and threes and fed each of them some fish before leaving them in peace for their first night in Scotland. By Sunday all the birds had settled down to eating normally and so far have got thourgh nearly 100kg of haddock, pike and roe deer and I am eagerly awaiting the delivery of 100 grey squirrels from the cull in Aberdeen. We are extremely luck to source all of our food for free for the eagles and to use waste or animals killed in culls that are being killed anyway rather than to order for the birds. The chicks will now not have any people contact, being fed through a small hatch with fabric sleeve so that they don't see people and becoem tame or associate them with food. I'm extremely grateful to eveyone who help with this year's chick collection and import, both on the day adn the preparations leading up to it.
Three of our 2009 birds have recently been in the Loch of the Lowes area, a 2008 bird down at Flanders Moss othe 2008 and 2009 birds are still moving around Angus.