White G - RIP


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

White G - RIP

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For a brief update on recent developments please see the Comments under this blog. For now, for various reasons it's important that this story stays here as the main posting. A new blog will be coming in the next few days but meanwhile any news will be under Comments. 

After the unfolding events of this week, there could only really be one subject for the blog at the moment For details of the case of White G, please see links on the Monday 10 November blog in The Guardian and see BBC News Online.

Warning: for those seeking a happy ending, look away now.

He had an uncertain start in life. Whilst still in the egg, his parents were spooked by something and left the nest unattended for two hours. We wondered if the egg would hatch. Luck must have been shining down on the nest and him that day. The air was mild. It was dry. The early spring sunshine was warm. He carried on living inside his protective shell. He was a survivor.

The male returned and carried on incubating, soon to be relieved by the female. Everything returned to normal and on the appointed day, 38 days from laying, he fought and he struggled to break out of the egg. He was small enough to sit in the palm of your hand. Not that I tried it out. From day 1, his parents tenderly fed him on tiny strips of fish and meat. Day by day his wobbly, downy head and neck grew stronger. Soon we could hear him calling whenever he spotted one of the adults returning with food.

By four weeks old, his first feathers were coming through, he was sitting up on his own and just a week later he was beginning to try to feed himself.

Face to face with an eagle!

Another two weeks on and we came face to face for the first time. It was ringing and wing tagging time. He was lowered gently to the ground and I lifted him carefully out of the bag. I remember him as one of the feisty ones - so does our tree climber Justin who had the scars to prove it. He put up quite an impressive display for an eight week old bird!

Soon enough, the measurements, ringing and tagging were complete: white wing tags were the colour for 2007 and his letter was 'G'. White G was official! And so safely back into his nest, a gift of mackerel left for him and away we went through the wood to leave them in peace once more.

For the next month, he grew into a fine, strong young sea eagle. Rich dark chocolate feathers, bright yellow feet, dark beak and eyes. If a young sea eagle can be handsome - he certainly was. By three months old, he was ready to take his maiden flight. Before long he was joining his parents on trips to the nearby shoreline and delighting many visitors staying at the local campsite with his antics. I watched him one day 'grappling' for an hour or more with a piece of drift wood - half play, half serious training for catching his own prey in the months ahead.

Going solo

By October, he was on his own for most of the time. We had regular reports of him from Ulva, Killiechronan and one day I even saw him soaring over Salen Bay from my garden. He was well on his way. Over the winter, he spent alot of time around Loch Scridain in the south of Mull and was even photographed looking a bit wet and bedraggled in a spruce tree in Glen Seilisdeir - the glen of the irises.

At the end of March this year, he was filmed by John and Janis Allen from Mull. He was trying to pinch a fish from an otter in Loch Don. It's something sea eagles are well known for - let the otter do all the hard work and then swoop in and grab the prize. It doesn't always work and it didn't on this occasion but the fact that White G had already learned to do this proved that his prospects for survival were good. He had got through the first really tough test of his life - he'd survived his first winter away from his parents. His future should have been very bright.

Luck ran out

But that was the last time anyone saw him alive. What happened next we can never know for sure. Like all young sea eagles, he had the wander lust and began a long journey to the mainland and cross country eventually finding good, suitable habitat in the Angus Glens. It was there that his luck ran out.

One Sunday night in early May, the 'phone rang. White G had been found dead in woodland. A few days later a police and RSPB search of the area found over 30 poisoned baits littering the ground with others positioned on the tops of fence posts. A mountain hare had been cut open and it too laced with a deadly cocktail of illegal posions. Maybe this is what White G had fed on? The lethal ingredients in his contorted body in the brambles and bracken matched those on the baits.

He must have thought he'd struck gold. Hare and roe deer venison - what a discovery for a hungry, young sea eagle, far from home! On Mull he'd only ever been used to people in awe of his flight. The worst he'd ever known was a distant memory of being lowered from his nest for checking and wing tagging. Why shouldn't he trust this food bonanza? Who, on earth, could possibly wish to harm him?

Shocked and horrified

Anything or anyone could have touched those baits tossed at random about the land. Pet dogs, children - the end result could have been the same. And so the police investigation got underway and continues today. Many here on the island, across Scotland and the UK are shocked and horrified that we are still killing our birds of prey in 2008. Responsible landowners and gamekeepers of which there are many will feel as sickened as we all do.

The fact that a sea eagle from Mull was one of the victims has helped to make it 'a story' but a common buzzard too was found dead nearby, also poisoned. It didn't make it very far from the bait on which it had fed. White G struggled down the hill, seeking sanctuary in the cover of woodland as the toxins took hold of his nervous system. I pray his end was swift but experience tells us that this is not always the case with the pesticides involved here. We're grateful to the landowner who found and reported him - as shocked as anyone at the turn of events.

'A national disgrace'

Over ten years ago as Devolution was getting underway, Donald Dewar called the poisoning of raptors in Scotland "a National disgrace". It still is. So what can we do about it? Sometimes we feel helpless in these circumstances but there are practical, useful and meaningful actions you can take. You can help the RSPB fight this menace in the countryside.

What you can do

A. sign the 'Help Birds of Prey' pledge on this website;

B. join the RSPB to support our work;

C. let your views be known to your MSP, MP and relevant Ministers at Holyrood and Westminster.

White G was a healthy, strong one year old sea eagle with his whole life ahead of him - maybe 30 years if he was lucky.

He may have drifted back to the west coast or somewhere else and in a few years time paired up and started to breed. He may have built a nest that was easily viewable and brought pleasure to thousands of visitors every year, just like his parents did on Mull this year at Loch na Keal. He and a mate could have helped boost a local economy, he could have inspired many - young and old, he could have just been an eagle living and surviving in his native land. Not too much to ask really in 21st Century Scotland?

Dave Sexton, RSPB Scotland Mull Officer

  • I am a bit late reading this update, as have been caught up with other things.  I only became aware of this blog after following Deshar and Nethy this season.  it is disgraceful that this indiscriminate poisoning still goes on,  and I am so sorry to hear that it has taken one of the sea eagles.  I signed the pledge back in the summer and also joined the RSPB this summer.  I just hope that somehow we can make a difference.  RIP White G.

  • Sorry to hear the news of White G, have already signed the pledge but I am now about to get intouch withmr hussain my MP about the poisoning of wildlife & other animals, hopefully every small ripple in the pond will eventually mean that White G's death was not in vain. Happy belated birthday, Glynis

  • Thanks for answering my questions Dave and a   v e r y  belated 'Happy Birthday'.  Weather report today looks as though you might get some sunshine so hoping Breagha sits somewhere in the sun to put all our minds at rest.  I'm so please that you have received such an enormous amount of support after the terrible fate of White G - a little ray of sunshine in such an ugly and evil world.  We must all keep persevering in our efforts for all our beautiful birds.

  • I decided to try to do what little I could to help. I have written to the EFRA Committee at Westminster, as well as to my MP and to two MEPs on relevant Committess in the EU. I copied it all to the Holyrood Committee on Tourism as well as to that on Rural Affairs and Environment.  We each have to do whatever we can to protect birds of prey from the vicissitudes of human nature (in this case the malice of unprincipled landowners). This is a good time to make this stand, as the recent BBC Autumnwatch series has brought your sea eagle project to the forefront of public attention in the UK. So - let us trust that some good may come from White G's too-short life. Perhaps that may, just possibly, may make it feel a little better? It is important to protect the wonderful environment of Scotland from such barbarism, not to mention the fact that we have to stand up against this 'persecution mentality' in any walk of human life.

  • Dave thanks for all the news and so nice Gordon and Simon contacted you. It is good to know that these stories now do touch the heart of people worldwide, it can only help. Sorry not to hear any news on Breagha but keeping my fingers crossed for you.
  • Hope the RSPB keeps up the pressure on campaigns for birds of prey as we are sure it needs a organised campaign for the goverment to take any notice.Then hopefully as now individuals will back you with support.We went to Arne RSPB reserve on wednesday loads of waders amongst which 12 spoonbills and on the Heath probably a dozen Dartford Warblers.They do seem to be doing really well and spreading into other counties.Carry on the good work you have done really well highlighting White Gs plight and sad as it all is just a part of a worldwide problem in society in general.The government just totally ignores any individual complaint.Hope weather picks up so you have a better weekend and get areading on Mara and Breagha.Best wishes

  • We are due some decent weather tomorrow so fingers crossed you get a reading from Breagha to put all our minds at rest.  Due a visit to Loch Frisa to see what's happening up there.  Must have been a great boost to hear from Simon and Gordon - just shows how small our world can be in times of trouble.  Our little primary school managed to raise £190 today for Children in Need which we hope will go a little way to help someone less fortunate than ourselves.  Its quite humbling.

  • Wish we knew that Breagha is safe...Wish I was in Africa with Simon.....Wish there weren't so many Children in Need.....

    Wish it would stop raining.....Wish Prince Charles a Happy 60th and still wish Anny will come and stay as I very much expect that I shall be here forever thanks to Le Credit Crunch....


  • Thank you Dave for a update although no news of Breagha . How lovely of Gordon and Simon to contact you and give you their support . Simon does so love his cheetahs , I wonder when that will be on TV cant wait . Last night I watched 2 young cheetahs that have been taken over to New Zealand and are at Whangerie The Lion Mans Wildlife Park , they are amazing creatures and you were so lucky to go to Africa to see them . Take care Dave and yes there is a lot to be thankful for xxxx
  • Thank you for that Dave! It is amazing how small a world we live in these days! Concern for Deshar was also worlwide! This year the plight of Deshar and also White G has touched so many people worldwide that it can only help the cause. Keep up the good work. It is so valuable!
  • Friday evening

    Yes, despite the continuing dreich weather there's alot we have to be thankful for. And one of those is good friends who remember to get in touch when you need a bit of a lift. Yesterday I got a messgae from Gordon Buchanan letting me know how shocked he is by what has happend to one of the Mull sea eagle chicks that he knows so well. And then today at lunchtime, the mobile rang. "Hello?" "Dave, it's Simon King". After giving him the background to the sorry tale of White G, I thought there was a bit of a delay on the mobile. "Simon, where are you?" "I'm in the Masai Mara watching a cheetah and waiting for her to go hunting!" So there we were, a world apart. Simon on the hot dusty plains of the Mara and me looking out of a rain splattered office window into the drizzle over Salen bay. I don't mind admitting that for a moment I was transported back to that wonderful African paradise myself. Simon too was appalled at the news from Tayside but chatting it through with him and recalling all the messages from so many on the blog, it does make you realise that, as horrible as it's been, there are a lot of good things going on out there and alot of good people doing them. Just take a look at some of the amazing and inspiring RSPB projects at home and abroad on this web site - from the urban centres of some UK cities to the rainforests of Sumatra - visited recently by the Prince of Wales (Happy 60th birthday)! It does put your faith back somewhat into what's happening on this fragile planet. Suddenly Simon said "Sorry mate, she's moving - got to go..." The cheetah was on the move and he was filming but he promised to send a message of support. But what was also brought home to me was that this news is international - people the world over are watching Scotland to see how we will tackle these crimes against our protected wildlife - we must act now.

    The low cloud still means no new satellite data I'm afraid but I'm sure all will be well. And finally, if you want any other reminder that there are a lot of good things going on, take a look at the BBC's 'Children in Need' tonight and see the many stories of courage and fortitude from young people in the UK and what we can all do to help those less fortunate than ourselves. Have a good weekend everybody. Dave

  • PS. To leave you on a more optimistic note, Dave and others will know of the Norwegian situation already, but the rest of us may be cheered to hear of text messages from our daughter who is in Norway for a few months. She is currently on the Lofoten islands in the Arctic Circle and tells us that she has become almost blasé about sea eagles, as there are LOADS of them there.... Hope for the future of the project in Scotland!

  • Thanks for all these updates, Dave. As it is clearly in the project's interests to make the saga of White G saga known to as many as possible, you will all find that I made a couple of last-minute postings on the two BBC Autumnwatch Messageboard threads mentioned above by Wild Freckle. This ensured that the two threads then registered on the front page of the Messageboard before it closed and should keep the topic at the forefront of consciousness for anyone visiting the website in the future. Don't know what else we can do to help, if not to improve public consciousness of such monstrosities, and trust that good thinking WILL prevail over what can only be called 'evil.'
  • Thanks Dave for you very informative post.  It is good to know that so many people do care about these beautiful birds and what dangers they face in their young lives.  It is heartbreaking for me and of course for you.  Lets hope they can find the people who did it are found before anymore dogs die or fall ill and of course any more birds.  I cannot believe people can be so cruel.  I hope Breagha shows herself soon for you am keeping my fingers crossed.

  • Thanks Dave for the explanation and reassurance about the importance of signing the pledge. Oh I do hope Breagha turns up soon and that she is not off 'eagle bothering' like her brother! Sorry to hear BarbaraAnne is leaving the country - now we will never get to stay at "Caberfeidh"!