Once again Tentsmuir Forest and NNR will play host this year to over 500 children keen to learn about the reintroduction of white-tailed eagles to East Scotland.
Following the success of last year's outdoor learning sessions based at the reserve, pupils from primary schools throughout Perth & Kinross and Fife will have the opportunity to participate in hands-on activities that bring the breeding cycle of the sea eagle to life; from giant nest building, to experiencing the pressure of hunting for prey.
'Year of the white-tailed eagle'. Photo Credit: S.Rasmussen
Thanks to funding from RSPB Scotland and Forest Enterprise Scotland free transport to the reserve will enable schools to participate in a choice of two learning experiences; 'The Year of the White tailed Eagle' and new for this year, the 'Habitat of the White Tailed Eagle'.
'Beaky' and her newly built nest. Photo Credit: S.Rasmussen
Pupils will have the opportunity to explore the wider landscape of woodland, dunes and coast. They won't only learn why it is an attractive hunting ground for the white-tailed eagle, but discover what other species inhabit this special place.
The outdoor classroom. Photo Credit: S.Rasmussen
Tentsmuir is one of the most dynamic coastlines in Scotland, from the sands of Abertay and the Great Slack at Tentsmuir Point in the North, to the shifting dune systems of Kinshaldy and the wader rich Eden Estuary in the south.
The quantity of water exiting the River Tay into the Forth is more than any other river system in the UK, with 2000 bathloads of freshwater flowing into the North Sea every second. This constant shifting sediment creates the perfect conditions for a rich and biodiverse habitat.
Tay Estuary, The Great Slack, Abertay Sands and Tentsmuir Forest. Photo Credit: Ken Whitcombe/SNH/Kenbarry Photography
The coastline is renowned for an incredible number of species such as grey and harbour (common) seals, common scoter, pink-footed geese, bar-tailed godwit, long-tailed duck, sanderling and red-breasted merganser.
Sanderling. Photo Credit: R.Tough
The diversity of this wildlife has contributed to the area receiving several national and internationally recognised designations, including 'Site of Special Scientific Interest' and 'Special Protection Area'.
Grey Seals. Photo Credit: R.ToughThe mixture of dune slacks, heathland and acid grasslands play host to butterflies such as common blue and grayling and day-flying burnet moths and a stunning variety of plants, including northern marsh orchids, the grass-of-Parnassus, bird's foot trefoil and an array of mosses and lichen.
Common Blue. Photo Credit: R.Tough
The tranquil pools of Morton Lochs are home to an incredible variety of dragonflies, damselflies, amphibians, water rail and the local flashy kingfisher.
Common Darter. Photo Credit: S.Rasmussen
Kingfisher, Morton Lochs. Photo Credit: R.Tough
Whilst the native broadleaf and Scots Pines are frequented by green woodpecker, crossbill, siskin, roe deer, bats and of course the much loved red squirrel.
Red Squirrel. Photo Credit: Ben Andrew RSPB Images.com
Ospreys are becoming a more common sighting in the area and of course the coastline of Tentsmuir, the dune heath and the inter-tidal zone of the Eden Estuary have been a successful hunting ground for the sea eagle pair known as 'Z' and '1' for several years. The reserve and extended coastline provides the perfect balance of prey, from flat fish and rabbit, to sea birds such as eider and any dead carrion that may get washed up.
White-tailed eagle pair 'Z' & '1'. Photo Credit: R.ToughIt will be interesting to see what species, sightings, tracks and trails our intrepid school pupils discover on their journeys. We will report back later in the year with their findings and tales of exploration.Tentsmuir Forest and National Nature Reserve are managed by Scottish Natural Heritage and the Forestry Commission Scotland. You can find out more about the reserve and their work here;http://scotland.forestry.gov.uk/visit/tentsmuir
In November we caught up with 3 satellite-tagged young sea eagles from previous years nests in East Scotland. In this blog we will look at the progress made by the 4 latest additions to the East Scotland sea eagle population that hatched in 2017. These young birds came from 3 successful sea eagle nests, one in Fife, one in Angus and one in Speyside.
A fascinating story developed at the Fife and Angus nests which we detailed in a previous blog post. This means that two of the chicks, 17BlueV (year – wing tag colour – wing tag letter) in Angus and 17BlueX in Fife, are probably half siblings. We judge the sex of these birds by taking weight and measurements known as biometrics during ringing and both are almost certainly female. In sea eagles the females are usually larger and Blue X is a perfect example as she's already much bigger than her father Turquoise Z.
The latest Fife chick Blue X in flight. Image credit Dennis Gentles
Sea eagles usually disperse in September or October, typically venturing far from their natal nest, however in this case neither of the two sisters has ventured far. Blue V has been on a brief excursion west into Perthshire and north into Deeside, reaching a distance of 57km from the nest before heading back. Blue X on the other hand has determinedly stayed put, venturing out only to follow her mother, Turquoise 1, to a favoured fishing spot on the Eden Estuary.
The Fife sea eagle family. Turquoise Z (left), Turquoise 1 (right) and their latest offspring Blue X (centre). Image credit Richard Tough
Meanwhile in Speyside twin males 17BlueT and 17BlueO dispersed from their nest in early September, following the typical pattern of behaviour for young sea eagles. They first head north, with Blue T reaching Lossiemouth on the north coast of Moray before heading back to the nest. After a brief rest they then made a more determined move, heading south, this time into Deeside and the Angus Glens where they have been ever since.
GPS track of Blue T (purple) and Blue O (pink) between September and November 2017
The image above shows their dispersal into Deeside but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Although they’ve roosted, scavenged and hunted in many of the same places they are very rarely in the same place at the same time, for the most part staying decidedly separate. Both however have spent time with other sea eagles, particularly 16WhiteL and 16White Diamond – their older sister!
Earlier in the year pupils from Tayport primary attended a ‘Celebrating Nature with Schools’ session to learn about the reintroduction of white-tailed eagles to East Scotland. Following their day of outdoor learning they were invited to deepen their knowledge about their local environment further by participating in Scottish Natural Heritage’s schools camera trapping project.
The project was designed to encourage pupils to learn about the biodiversity on their doorsteps by using camera traps to capture footage of local wildlife. Pupils were then challenged to create a short film to be entered into a national competition.
Elizabeth Downes is a committed RSPB Scotland volunteer with a particular passion for teaching children about wildlife in Fife and the surrounding Tay estuary, including the reintroduced white-tailed eagles.
When approached by Community Outreach Officer Sara (Raz) Rasmussen about working with a group on the project, Elizabeth was quick to step up to the challenge. Her experiences of the project follow below.
“When I first saw the email from Raz asking about whether I’d be keen to get involved in the SNH schools camera trapping project, I thought “that looks interesting” and “it shouldn’t take up too much time”. Well, I was definitely right on one count, it was extremely interesting!
Of course I said “Yes”.
A local class from Tayport primary school came out to Tentsmuir NNR to learn about white-tailed sea eagles and following the session I approached headteacher Mrs Holmes about whether the school would be interested in participating in the camera trapping project. She enthusiastically agreed.
Some weeks later, we were ready to start. SNH provided the school with a camera trap, a small mammal box and memory card. I had spent time mastering using the camera trap and mammal box in my garden and had some footage to show the children on our first meeting.
Tayport is situated on the Tay estuary and adjacent to Tentsmuir forest so is surrounded by interesting habitats, however we really wanted to explore the wildlife in the village and start with what the children could see for themselves.
We were going to begin by setting up the camera in the school grounds, but Tayport Primary is unusual in that it has very little green space, just a tarmacked playground and a public thoroughfare through the grounds.
Consequently, Mrs Brankin (the class teacher) and the pupils decided to site the camera in and around the small town of Tayport, concentrating on the community garden that has recently been established just a short walk from the school. The children also took turns to take the equipment home and set it up in their gardens.
The first footage was from a garden next door to the school and created a great deal of excitement in the class, with a wood mouse and various small birds being captured on film.
We then sent the camera home with different children from the class and managed to film a variety of ground feeding birds, chickens, hedgehogs and two cats (both of whom tried to eat the seed we had baited the box with)!
Several committed members of the class also gave up their time in the Easter break to set up the camera trap in the community garden, focusing on filming the bird feeders that had been installed by participants at the project.
The boys tested out how the traps worked by crawling slowly commando style to the mammal box to see when and how they would be triggered. They then used their learning in order to site the traps in the best position to capture wildlife.
We had some interesting footage so the next challenge was to make it into a film!
We had to work on the school laptop and the first barrier to overcome downloading the film-making software. Thanks to Fife Council’s help we were able to get the programme up and running.
During this time I visited the school on a number of Friday afternoons where we recorded the audio clips to go with the video clips, working to a story-board devised by the pupils. Every child in the class was involved in identifying all of the birds and mammals and each recorded an audio clip, which I then linked together with the film clips.
One of the volunteers from the community garden helped with the music and finally we had our film. Organising the titles and adding in photos of art work the children had done took us right up to the competition deadline, but it was worth it!
The film was submitted into a competition with other schools involved in the project. The film was supposed to be 3 minutes or under, but ours was longer to make sure that everyone in the class could be involved.
Unfortunately due to the length of the film we knew we couldn’t win, but that was really irrelevant, the important thing was the ripple effect that the film had, something I hadn’t really considered when I started the project. You can watch the children's film here;
Firstly the film was shown to P6 and Mrs Brankin the class teacher. Watching the children bursting with pride was a moment I will never forget. The head teacher then showed the film to the whole school in assembly and then the film was downloaded onto the whiteboards in each classroom and shown again to each class individually.
Following this, the class teacher organised a showing for parents who could attend during the school day in during the day. By the time the film had done its rounds our short film about local wildlife was shown to most children at least twice in the school.
The icing on the cake was when two children from the class came and talked about their experience to a wider audience during RSPB Scotland’s 10th anniversary Sea Eagle Festival in Tayport, attended by many members of the public and local MSPs Wille Rennie and Mark Ruskell.
I can’t think of a better way of helping such a large number of children and some of their parents to learn about
the wildlife around them.
Would I do it again? Definitely! I am looking forward to using some of my new found skills again before they get
What a brilliant learning experience for the pupils of P6 Tayport Primary and a monumental effort from Elizabeth
to guide the class through the process. Never mind Autumnwatch and Chris Packham, I think
we have some new naturalists in town! Finally, many thanks to SNH for allowing us to participate in the project and huge thanks also to Elizabeth for her
endless patience, enthusiasm, willingness to throw herself into unchartered ‘tech’ territories and of course her time.Further information about SNH's school camera trap project and competition winners can be viewed here;https://www.snhpresscentre.com/news/cabinet-secretary-awards-primary-schools-for-wildlife-projects