September, 2010

Our work

Our work
You might be surprised to read that our work is far broader than nature reserves and Big Garden Birdwatch. Read more about what else we do.

East Scotland Sea Eagles

Find out how we're bringing back white-tailed eagles to east Scotland
  • Is it really only Wednesday?!

    Well, what a week and its only Wednesday!

    Erik (yellowL) remains on the Isle of May, sticking to the East of the Island and being somewhat shyer that Ralf 2 years ago and YellowV remains on the Farnes, getting a fair bit of local media coverage and both birds are boosting visitor numbers to the islands in what is usually a quiet month, YellowV may even have taken a short trip to the Holy Isle last week. The seabirds have moved back out to sea now, but if both birds are patient the grey seal pupping will start in a couple of weeks with its associated carrion and waste to sustain them into the winter.

    Sadly, the week began with the loss of a second 2010 eagle, this time to electrocution, after stocking up the food dump on Sunday I went radio-tracking in Fife and my heart sunk when I picked up the fast beep of a mortality signal, meaning we had a dead bird, after a couple of hours I found one of our young females electrocuted. I have written about electrocution on this blog before, losing birds is very sadly part of the re-introduction process and although we have done some work with Scottish Power to reduce electrocution risk, sadly we are not in a position to eliminate it all together and young sea eagles also die from electrocution in Norway and other European countries. We are monitoring the situation and doing what we can to address it and it is not affecting the success of our re-introduction so far.

    I had a catch up with Allan Mee, Manager of the Irish sea eagle project on Monday and we were discussing how we were due another Irish eagle in Scotland as 3 had visited in the last year. I then opened my emails on Tuesday to a sighting of a 2009 Irish sea eagle near Invermoriston!

    RSPB reserves are definitely the place to be if you are a sea eagle this week. YellowZ continues to move around the Forth, Kincardine bridge and our Skinflats reserve so the chickens of Fife can now breathe a sigh of relief! Thanks to everyone who has been sending in sightings and photos of him.

    After writing that our females had been pretty sedentary, one of our largest females, YellowE has turned up at Loch of Strathbeg and was seen in the surrounding area in Aberdeenshire, this is the sibling of YellowO who remains in Fife.

    This is a regular birding and bird ringing spot of Jenny and Ewan who helped tag the eagles this year and although they normally spend their time working on red kites and golden eagles they can't escape the wandering sea eagles! Thi is is the earliest that a newly released bird has reached Aberdeenshire, with birds normally turning up in October.

    It was pretty windy as I walked up to the food dump this morning and it was great to see how much the birds’ flight has improved, they flushed a lot earlier as I walked up and managed to hold their positions in the wind with small adjustments of their wings when only a couple of weeks ago, the gusts would have sent them careering off over the horizon!

    After a day stuck in the office getting computer training today, I received an excited phone-call from Chris Rodger, warden at Vane Farm, who was chasing two familiar looking sea eagles around Loch Leven, it was hard to tell with the bright sun, but Chris was sure the birds had turquoise tags, but the wind meant they were constantly on the move so he couldn’t read them.I headed down with the tracking gear and confirmed that it was the same two birds that had spent the winter on the reserve! The large female, turquoiseH, looking a bit older and more scraggy mid moult attempting to catch teal and small male, turquoiseX. After leaving Vane in early March these birds were at Tentsmuir point, at a communal roost near Coupar Angus and most recently roosting with 3 other 2009 birds in Strathardle in Angus during August and September.

    The numbers of geese are building on the reserve so we hope they will stick around...... Oh and look out for us on the One Show on the 28th September!

  • A busy couple of weeks!

    People often assume that the work calms down for the project team once we are no longer tied to feeding the captive eagles each day, this couldn't be further from the truth with a total of 52 eagles to track and the sightings flooding in!

    Every year is slightly different, some of our large females who had been bouncing around the cages looking ready to go for a couple of weeks before release, have been extremely cautious venturing only a couple of km from the release site and returning to the food dump (venison and rabbits placed on the roof of the release cages) every day, or spending their time flying together or simply standing around. One bird was observed perched on the same straw bale for five hours watching a farmer hard at work harvesting!

    Of our two visitors from 2009, bird 1 (male) has now whizzed back up to Loch of Lintrathen in Angus after a couple of nights in North-Fife and is back with female, turquoise tag 'K', without radio-tracking we may never have known that he popped down for a visit and it is still a mystery how he knew the new eagles were out!

    However, this journey is nothing compared to our smallest 2010 male, tag V who took only 10 days to reach the Farne Islands in Northumberland! Released on the 19th August he reached the Farnes on the 28th! Weighing only 4.1kg he is two-thirds the size of our largest female, but this didn't stop him making a big journey, since his arrival he has done well at catching his own food, first a shag, then fulmars and young gulls and is delighting visitors to the island. This is the furthest one of our eagles has flown immediately after release. You can view photos of him on the Farne Blog:

    Continuing on the island theme, another male, tag L reached the Isle of May on Monday 30th August after being spotted off Fifeness on Sunday and undoubtedly geting caught up in the northerly winds! This is our third sea eagle to visit the island. I hear that he has been nicknamed 'Erik' by staff on the island and the May princess! And I'm told he isn't quite as bold as 'Ralf' keeping a lower profile around the island, but still being seen daily.

    Photo below from Fifeness courtesy of John Nadin.

     Unfortunately not all of our young birds have been eating wild food with another male, after a visit to Loch Leven, tag Z managing to squeeze into a chicken coop and accidentally get locked in for the night in Fife! This was obviously a shock for those involved, but is an exceptional event and only something that would happen extremely rarely with young, naive birds and as the other eagles are demonstrating does not mean there is a shortage of natural food in the area or that the birds are unable to catch it, but we always see differences in temperament and behaviour between the young birds.

    Sadly, one of our young birds (yellow X) was picked up injured on Friday and cared for by the SSPCA over the weekend, sadly it did not recover and had to be put down on Monday. We do all we can to keep track of our young birds, and to give them a helping hand by putting food out for them, but sadly, we do lose some along the way, just as not all wild-fledged chicks will make it. This does not make the death of any released bird any easier, having collected it from the nest in Norway and reared it for two months. We are extremely grateful to Susan Morris, Romain and Colin all at SSPCA who did everything they could for this bird and we're working hard to keep a close eye on the rest of the group.

    The sightings have been flooding in and we're extremely grateful for everyones' support and enthusiasm and are working hard to respond to everybody, the geese are just starting to arrive back on their migration and this often means sea eagles turning up at winter roost spots such as the Montrose basin so we're looking forward to our eagles continuing to disperse.