October, 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
  • The bold and the beautiful

    I'm relieved to report that the chick (whichever one it was) was seen back feeding on the red deer carcase after the clash with the golden eagle and the golden eagle flew off unharmed. So 1:0 to Mara/Breagha!  We still have no new satellite data so the ID remains unsolved at this time. It's not that unusual for there to be brief battles between eagles of the same or different species at something as prized as a carcase. Usually the golden eagle is the more nimble and aggressive of the two eagles and the sea eagles patiently wait their turn. It's an ancient relationship dating back tens of thousands of years when sea eagles and golden eagles shared this land, long before early man got too involved with upsetting the natural balance of things. For 70 years or so after sea eagles vanished from Scotland, the golden eagles had it pretty much their own way - if they managed to avoid the ceaseless persecution in certain areas aimed at them. When the sea eagles reappeared in the mid 1970s after the reintroduction to the Isle of Rum, some people had unfounded fears that the bigger sea eagles would somehow force out the resident goldies. Needless to say this hasn't happened. The two species have re-established their in-built, healthy respect for one another and tend to give each other a wide berth. If anything, the goldies still give the sea eagles a hard time if they're in that sort of mood and the sea eagles generally move out of the way - rapidly. That said, both are capable of inflicting injury on each other if they get too close and there have been a few serious encounters. Hence my worry last night. But, like most big predators, if given the choice they'll avoid each other as they simply can't risk an injury. We still have as many pairs of golden eagles here on Mull as we did before sea eagles reappeared in their ancestral homeland and in some cases they both nest successfully within 2km of each other. So there's another myth about sea eagles on the heap. On Ardnamurchan, I suspect the goldie had already fed very well off the carcase before our sea eagle chick arrived. It put up a brief, strong defense against the young upstart but eventually decided to call it a day and let the sea eagle feed. I'm glad it did. Mara and Breagha need all the help they can get at this time of year. But perhaps next time the young sea eagle will be even more patient before moving in on the King of Birds - the golden eagle. Time will tell.

    Dave Sexton RSPB Scotland Mull Officer

    Autumnwatch and the Mull Eagle Diary begins Monday 3 November BBC Two 8pm

  • A chick meets its match

    The office phone rang late today. An excited, breathless Ricky Clark, from the excellent Ardnamurchan Natural History Centre on the stunning mainland peninsula just to the north of Mull, was on the 'phone. He'd just reviewed the footage recorded earlier in the day from their remote cctv cameras placed near a golden eagle feeding area. They beam back amazing live pictures to the centre for visitors to watch without disturbing the birds. Everything appeared as normal - fantastic views of an adult golden eagle feeding on a red deer carcase. Suddenly in the corner of the screen there was the head of another eagle - a young sea eagle - waiting its turn at the feast. The following turn of events has left us all reeling tonight and details are still coming in. There was a rush of wings, a chase, talons outstretched and feathers flying. One eagle entered from the left, another raced out to the right, then back again. Golden eagle after sea eagle, sea eagle after golden eagle. As the action developed at lightening speed on the monitor, it became clear that the young sea eagle had a satellite tag attached. It was either Mara or Breagha. As of 1100 tonight we don't know who. A positive ID of exactly which chick was involved will have to wait until the next satellite data is received. Worryingly, just out of frame, feathers and down were flying. We will review the footage again tomorrow morning to work out the complete sequence of events and to hope peace is restored in this wild land of the eagles. Another dangerous day in the life of our young sea eagles and  another valuable lesson learned - we hope without injury to either party. More tomorrow. 

    Dave Sexton RSPB Scotland Mull Officer

    Follow the progress of the Mull sea eagle family on 'Autumnwatch' BBC Two 8pm starting Monday 3rd , continuing Tuesday 4th and concluding Wednesday 5 November.

    Also watch them on 'Landward' Friday 31 October 7pm BBC Two Scotland

  • Empty nesters

    I couldn't stay couped up in the somewhat compact RSPB Mull Office any longer! I'd done the reports and data entry I'd needed to, the weather had eased (was that the sun out there today?) and so I made a bid for freedom. By now it was late afternoon and I wanted to see if Mara or Breagha might come into roost at Loch Frisa after their trips away.

    Indeed the sun did briefly emerge, casting an autumnal golden glow over Salen Bay and the old marooned boats. A heron stalked the shallows and a couple of smart drake goosanders were near Aros Bridge. I wondered where the chicks had been exactly these last few weeks, what had they seen and eaten, had they made their first kill?  I pulled off the track and scanned the distant hillside. Almost immediately I found Frisa on her usual mound, sitting relaxed and preening, virtually ignoring a few rabbits out grazing just down below her. Then a hooded crow calling loudly just by the loch edge made me tilt the telescope down and there was Skye! He was much closer but I hadn't even noticed him. The early evening light was catching him too, his pale head and beak and white tail just gleaming as he turned this way and that. He was in a tree above the water and he was staring avidly into the still dark ripples of the loch. A couple of times he half opened his wings as if he was about to plunge down - he was clearly seeing brown trout glinting occasionally in the peaty depths but then he thought better of it and settled down again for a spot more fish watching. Both Frisa and Skye were, at last, able to do their own thing after a frantic summer raising two hungry chicks. Now they could preen, enjoy the weak sunrays on their feathers and just gaze about their kingdom without the constant  food begging calls from Mara and Breagha. They really did look like they were making the most of it. Finally, Frisa roused herself and flew lazily off back across the loch towards their usual larch wood. I knew it wouldn't be long before Skye followed from his fishing perch. Sure enough, as soon as she had vanished from his view, he shook himself once sending snowflakes of fluffy down off into the air and he was gone. The down drifted here and there for a moment in the mini-whirlwind he left behind and then bit by bit it settled in the twigs and branches of his tree - always a good tell-tale sign to look for when on the trail of an eagle. I followed his flight path in the landrover and sure enough there they were perched together at the front of the larch wood. They'd landed so close together that when Skye tried to turn round on the branch to face the same way as Frisa, he almost pushed her off. They settled again, still preening, this time getting fleks of down stuck onto their beaks and then looking at each other as if to say 'you should see what you've got on your face'. Now with the very last traces of light fading Skye unexpectedly took off again and headed up over the trees and deeper into the forest to find a safe roost for the night in private. Unable to be apart for long, Frisa looked anxious and alert and a few minutes later she followed him. For a while she obviously couldn't locate him because her great dark shadow reappeared again. It was bizarre to see her flying in such low levels of light, like some giant prehistoric bat just clearing the tree tops. Suddenly she veered off, clearly having spotted or heard her mate and vanished into the gathering dusk towards him. No chicks appeared tonight. Just Frisa and Skye - alone at last under the stars on a clear and frosty night. Rest well.

    Dave Sexton RSPB Scotland Mull Officer

    The last 'Autumnwatch' of Week 1 is on BBC Two Thursday night at 8pm. Next week, be sure to watch Week 2 with Frisa, Skye, Mara and Breagha starring in their own 'Mull Eagle Diary'.