RSPB'S Jamie Wyver visited Mull recently to find out more about the island's white-tailed eagles. Have a listen as he talks to Dave Sexton. RSPB Scotland's Mull Officer, about the eagles' 30 year history there.
Mull's white-tailed eagles
This year we’re celebrating the 30th anniversary of white-tailed eagles on the Scottish island of Mull. Twenty pairs of white tailed eagles now nest here, including the first ever couple, Norwegian birds now in their early 30s.
I was lucky enough to visit the island earlier this year and watch these impressive birds myself, as part of a press trip.
Dave Sexton, our Mull Officer, was our host and one of the places he took us was the Mull Eagle hide — a friendly little project set up by RSPB Scotland, Forestry Commission Scotland, the Mull and Iona Community Trust and Police Scotland. Here you can look out at the nest of TV stars, eagles Fingal and Iona. As we watched the eagles I asked Dave to tell me a little about their history on the island - you can listen here.
From tiny finches to diving ducks – September serves up a wealth of wildlife to keep us fascinated. Here are some of our favourites.
What to see in Scotland this month IX
Weighing in at as little as ten grams the lesser redpoll is one of the tiniest finches. That’s about the same weight as just three regular teabags; not very heavy at all!
Because of their small size, these birds can be difficult to spot when they’re tucked neatly between branches of trees – seeming to melt away between the leaves. However as we head into autumn, it becomes easier to spy them as the leaves begin to fall, lessening their camouflage.
You can identify a lesser redpoll from its streaky brown body, the red blob of colour on its forehead and a little black bib. Males also get a red flush on their breasts during the breeding season, but it is really tricky to separate the sexes of this species.
Lesser redpolls are pretty well distributed throughout Scotland and are fairly active too – look out for them dangling upside down from twigs and branches to feed.
Maybe not quite so acrobatic, but every bit as interesting is the pochard - another species which you’ll likely see more of during autumn. The pochard is a distinctive diving duck with a reddish-brown head and neck, though the female is more of a yellowish-brown.
There is a small number of breeding pochards in Scotland but the vast majority are wintering birds which begin arriving in September and October, then appear to spend most of their time, well...asleep. But that’s because they usually feed at night, jumping and diving to collect plants, snails, tadpoles and small fish.
We don’t know very much about the Scottish breeding population but the migrating birds come mostly from northern Europe and Iceland; see them on lakes and sometimes on estuaries too.
Another species which flocks to our shores this month is the grey plover. The first migrant adults arrive in the UK as early as July with the young following suit in August and September. They stick to the coast in places like the Montrose Basin, the Solway and the Firth of Forth.
Grey plovers carry out an impressive migration with the birds leaving their Siberian breeding grounds bound for West Africa. Thousands of them pass through Scotland in September en route and many stay here for the whole winter – its thought we have up to 2,800 grey plovers at that time of year.
So, there’s still a lot of movement going on this month with migrant birds coming and going in the lead up to winter. But remember there are plenty of species that stick with us all year round like robins, starlings, crested tits and goldfinches. Why not consider giving them a home where you live – we’ve got plenty of tips and tricks on our website to get you started: rspb.org.uk/homes
Happy wildlife watching everyone and we’ll be back with a new blog on what to see in Scotland next month!
Five facts you should know about robins
Robins are well known and indeed well loved birds in Scotland and across the rest of the UK too. In fact they were recently named the UK’s national bird following an opinion poll organised by David Lindo, aka the Urban Birder.
So, we obviously know what they look like and probably what they like to eat too since they can be such frequent garden visitors. But there’s always more to learn. Here are a few a facts you may not know about this fascinating little species.
Not all robins have a red breast
It may be the nickname we’re all familiar with but not all robins have a red breast. Juveniles of the species have a duller brown breast. They actually grow the red feathers after their first moult.
Robins can be pretty vicious
Robins are hugely territorial all year round. In spring and summer they hold territory for breeding and at other times it’s for feeding. Now, should another bird stray into their area they’re certainly not shy about letting the intruder know it’s not welcome. Robins will defend their territories to the death and fights can get pretty vicious with both birds attempting to peck, flap and kick their way to victory.
Robins will set up camp almost anywhere
Despite their feisty nature and the lengths they’ll go to to defend their territory, robins don’t seem to be particularly picky about where their nest actually is. They’ve been known to turn up in all manner of quirky locations including abandoned kettles, potato sacks, the pocket of a gardeners’ jacket, an unmade bed, and in this golf bag.
They don’t seem to like nest boxes with round entrance holes though, so you’ll need an open fronted one if you’re hoping for a couple of residents.
The life of a robin is short but sweet
Robins are relatively short lived birds. Nearly three quarters will reach the end of their lives in Britain before they are one year old, and the average is the ripe old age of two years. However the record for longevity is held by a bird that survived until it was eight years, two months and 30 days old! (Set in 1977).
What’s the best way to attract robins? Dig a hole of course...
The best way to see a robin in your garden is to dig. No, they’re not being nosy - they’re hoping for buried treasure of the wiggling variety. While you’re busy digging robins will perch on branches or fence posts nearby to inspect the newly-turned earth for worms.
The reason they arrive when you dig is because of how they evolved as a woodland species that benefitted from a relationship with wild boar. This is how they used to get their calories – by following boar around and taking advantage of the fact those animals uproot and turn over the soil with their snouts whilst they foraged. Robins would pick up the little soil invertebrates that were too small for the boar to be interested in.
Since wild boars were removed from our suite of native mega fauna by humans, robins had to look elsewhere for the partner that turned over the soil and exposed their favoured food. And that’s where we came in!