August, 2008

Wildlife

Wildlife
We're about more than just birds (though obviously we like them a lot).

Mull Eagle Watch

Follows the fortunes of Mull's white-tailed eagles and the Isle's other fascinating wildlife
  • A near miss

    The Mull sea eagle 'Class of '08' chicks are now beginning to seriously explore their parent's territory, which is how it should be. As we've seen with Mara doing short 'Day Returns' to the nearby coast, day by day, week by week, they are getting bolder and more confident - sometimes a little too confident.

    After a long search I had located the single chick from Territory 1 way up a remote glen rarely visited by anyone. He looked good and strong as he sat on the flood plain alongside the fast flowing river. He was basically minding his own business when a gang of 17 ravens decided to descend. This may have been several family groups all joined together into one seriously menacing mob. They all landed scattergun around the young eagle, flicking their wings in agitation and generally strutting their stuff in circles all around him. I could hear their deep 'cronking' calls, their almost musical contact calls and could see that the young eagle was getting more and more uneasy. A few of the boldest ravens even crept up behind him and repeatedly tugged at his tail, causing him to leap a few feet in the air which in turn caused the startled flock of corvids to do the same. All very amusing to watch but the mood suddenly turned. Out of the blue came one of the parent sea eagles - the female. She had been watching carefully from a nearby ridge and decided enough was enough. Just the distant sight of the adult eagle appearing in flight was enough to scare the ravens off and they all took flight and raced away across the glen. But all this excitement seemed to spook the young eagle which also took off from the ground and battled hard on young wings to stay aloft. What a huge effort it seemed to take. I could see it aiming at a distant farm ruin, the crumbling gable ends still standing tall with a rowan tree growing out of one end. He tried to land on the apex but misjudged his landing completely and tumbled, in a flurry of wings and feet, head first deep down into the ruin and out of sight. In the seconds that followed, I had visions of a ruin stuffed full of old barbed wire fence material, planks of wood from the collapsed roof and sharp, rusty nails. He seemed to be gone for ages. As I considered my prospects of surviving a wade across the flooding river to find him, I saw him leap out of the front door as if out of a catapult. He landed, his feathers severely ruffled and looked around him urgently, clearly hoping no one had witnessed this embarrassing event - especially not the ravens. After a few moments of gathering his composure, he flapped off again and sat on an old stone dyke where he sat and preened in the late afternoon sun. I imagined the adult female perched up on the ridge watching all this and shaking her head in disbelief. Her chick had learned one valuable lesson of survival but there would be many more adventures in the months ahead.

    Dave Sexton RSPB Mull Officer

  • Home birds

    Saturday 30/08/08 2136

    Just a brief update tonight...Chris reports both chicks visible earlier today back in their familiar old haunts on the south side of the loch. Frisa & Skye nearby. So all is well. But a surprise visitor to interest all you Loch Garten fans out there - and very late for this part of the world: an osprey! We do get occasional birds in spring and summer but they're usually long gone by now. I wonder where it's from and why it's so late in leaving considering how far the Garten chicks have already travelled? It would be nice to think it might be Logie (see the Highland Foundation for Wildlife web site) as she has so far vanished from the radar having started her migration south. It's such a perilous time for all young birds - and even some adults. For now Frisa and Skye can bask in the satisfaction of having reared two healthy young chicks who luckily don't have to face the dangers of migration. But soon they will wander further afield and the threats here at home can be very bit as dangerous - as recently experienced by one of this year's chicks from another nest which found itself in very unfamiliar surroundings . More of that saga tomorrow.

    Dave Sexton RSPB Scotland Mull Officer

    ps. for those who followed the rescue of Bonnie in an earlier post "It's a dog's life" will be pleased to know she's recovered well, hasn't stopped eating and is now much cleaner...until the next time.

  • One small step for Mara...

    The 'phone rang at lunchtime. It was Linda. She'd just seen a juvenile sea eagle fly low over her house on the NE coast of Mull near Ardnacross. It was so close she could see "some kind of aerial" on it. But her description initially suggested it was one of the east coast releases with a radio pack rather than one of our Mull twins. Surely it was too soon for one of the Fife birds to have drifted this far west? But a call to Claire Smith tracking her birds in Perthshire confirmed one bird was unaccounted for...

    A quick scramble to the landrover and on the road north towards Tobermory. The mist came and went; it drizzled, then the sun shone. A complete mix including a magical rainbow arching high over the Sound of Mull almost from the island to the Morvern mainland. I looked hard at the end of the rainbow hoping my pot of gold - a chick - might be sitting there. But no sign of anything. Well, ok, a heron. An eagle could have been miles away by now. As I was leaving, my eye glimpsed an odd shaped rock by the shore. It was an adult sea eagle. The 'scope zoomed in to show it had a BTO ring on its left leg. Skye has his ring on his left leg. What was he doing here? Moments later he took off and flew SW straight back in the direction of Loch Frisa. I was sure it was him. Had he followed one of his chicks over here to keep watch, a protective parental eye? Still, there was no sign of a chick as I left.

    There was only one way we would ever know for sure. Today, Roy Dennis from the Highland Foundation for Wildlife who helped us fit the tags, forwarded the latest satellite data and there was the proof! It wasn't an east coaster. It was our adventurous Mara on his first big (-ish) flight away from Loch Frisa and indeed his father had followed him to ensure all was well. Fantastic news! The satellite tags were working properly, they'd already proved something we'd never have known for sure and best of all, he has found his way home again. Today, they were all back together at Loch Frisa. One big adventure was enough for now. Where will Mara go next and when will his big sister follow him?

    Dave Sexton RSPB Mull Officer