As expected, 2014 got off to a good start at Tollie with the number of red kites coming in to feed reaching double figures, along with the usual mob of buzzards, crows and gulls.  As spring developed, we started to see bonding activities as the resident kites at Tollie started to reaffirm their pair bonds- this activity was going along nicely, with sticks being delivered to nest sites. 

'Chase me!'  Pair bonding at Tollie.  Alan Adam.

Both pairs at Tollie moved to new nest sites this year, with initially one pair prospecting a site which would have been visible from the visitor centre, though in the end they chose a less visible site.  It was right in the middle of this period of activity that the poisonings occurred.  Sixteen red kites, along with six common buzzards. We know that six established breeding kite pairs were affected, satellite tracking data indicated that there was possibly a seventh pair, as we were receiving data similar to that of other birds, from previous years who went on to breed that year.  Suddenly the satellite tracked bird, a female, left the area and went 20 or 30 miles away to any area with other immature birds.  Much as already been said on this matter, in previous blogs and in the media, and at the time of writing the investigation and political fall-out from this incident is still ongoing.

Inverness protest over the raptor killings.

More bad news I’m afraid, as nest checks indicated that both pairs around the visitor centre failed early on. ‘Tollie’ on his third nest site in as many years, nest collapsed and the eggs destroyed, and the untagged pair nesting close to Tollie also failed early from an unknown cause (Later activities around the feeding area indicated that this pair may have been feeding young, so perhaps they had another brood. However this was never confirmed.)

'Tollie' Clearly showing his tags.  Alan Adam.

Now for some good news. 

Despite the earlier poisonings, we carried out extensive surveys this year and discovered eight new kite breeding pairs and all the breeding birds in the area managed to fledge 108 young.  Also, expanding the range with a pair nesting in Nairnshire for the first time in over 150 years!

At the Tollie visitors centre we continue get sightings of all sorts of wildlife, from stoats diving into and emptying out the bug stack of it resident rodents, toads under the refugia (though we are after slowworm) and even the occasional sightings of moles poking out of the molehills under the bird feeders.  Each year I issue a challenge to everybody to spot and record 100 bird species at Tollie, though sadly yet again, we are looking at falling short this year, I’m sure they are there, we are just not looking hard enough.  Birdie highlights this year include; merlin, golden eagle, osprey, gannet and a woodpigeon, it was being chased by a peregrine at time!

Winter feeding at Tollie.  John Brierley.

Looking forward to 2015.

We hope to have less persecution and more wildlife.  We have received several grants to carry out further work on the wildlife garden, so it is hoped that it will continue to develop and I plan to get a couple of picnic tables, budget permitting.  I also hope that Tollie finally decides on where to nest and along with the other untagged pair are successful in raising chicks

I would just like to thank the great team of volunteers who operate Tollie and have yet again provided a great service throughout the year. I regularly get told, when out and about at other events, what a great place Tollie is, how welcome they were made to feel and how they have spent a great couple of hours at there.  This is all down to the team; let us hope next year this reputation continues to grow along with the number of people coming to see the kites and all the other great wildlife.

Finally a word from Ian one of our volunteers at Tollie.  

The volunteers at Tollie will tell you they have the best job in the world.  Not only is our workplace in a beautiful location but we share it with a wonderful variety of birds not just red kites but everything from wrens to eagles.  Over 60 species have been recorded so far in 2014 and we hope to see more with the arrival of winter visitors.

Even nicer when our human visitors voice their appreciation, be it a comment on departure or a thank you in the diary.  One resident of Inverness, retired Head Forrester, Fred Minchall was so impressed by the Tollie project that we wanted to do a bit more.

Fred and I are neighbours. I had told him all about Tollie, he met Andrea on the day he visited and Brad had recruited him to assist with tree identification for the Ness Island guided walks.  So, one day Fred appeared in my garden with a limited edition print of an osprey painted by Andrew Hutchison and asking if I would accept it as a gift for the RSPB.  This I readily did, and after some discussion it was decided to hang it in the Inverness Office.

Copy of the image presented by Fred.

I know it's not a kite, but a bird we regularly see at Tollie in the summer.  Thank you Fred for your kind gesture.