June, 2009

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
  • Two's company

    From across the glen, the heat haze was too strong but I could just make out some flapping on the nest. One chick was still there. During the morning both Frisa & Skye came in but went straight to the nest. As the heat of the day intensified, I moved in to watch from near the hide. The haze was less but still only one chick was visible. Then I ventured into the cool of the dark forest where a gentle summer breeze kept the midges at bay and the clegs seemed less interested too. I'd seen Frisa and Skye depart together on a hunting trip so I seized the moment. It took me over an hour to gently creep through the trees managing to avoid any loud breaking twigs underfoot. I wasn't expecting to see anything but I thought I'd find a suitable place to sit and listen. Young sea eagles are very vocal at this stage. They can keep up a regular call as they food beg to an adult they may be seeing miles away. The call intensifies as the adult approaches. Even though both adults were away I knew I would hear the occasional call and maybe, just maybe I could piece together what had happened. At a distance I could indeed hear a call. Just the one. The wind in the trees, the running water in the burn and passing planes high above made it frustrating. Just as the calls started, so did the swaying tree tops. Then a military jet roared through. It seemed like everything was conspiring against me. I needed to edge a litttle closer - after all, that's what my special SNH licence entitles me to do. But I could not risk startling chicks or adults. I employed every Ray Mears and Bear Grylls technique I could muster to creep along the forest floor and not be seen. Eventually I was in position after a walk that could have taken 10 minutes but which had taken 60+. The wind eased, the planes had flown on and the burn was now just a distant trickle. I could hear a chick. Still only one. The situation didn't look, or rather sound, good. Then I thought I caught the quietest hint of another call. One was loud and quite near. I cupped my hands behind my ears to strain every sinew of my eardrums to focus on the other noise. Maybe I was imagining the whole thing. Suddenly the sunlight through the trees flickered, a vast shadow passed overhead. Frisa was back. Damn it. I'd been rumbled. But no. She circled and then landed in a tree not 50m away. I could scarcely breathe and I dare not move a muscle. Amazingly, I was so well concealed and quiet even an eagle hadn't seen me. I couldn't even move my head to look up so I just gently raised my eyes to see her, preening contentedly in the sun. My hands were still half cupped behind my ears and it took several minutes and a millimetre at a time to lower them. Immediately the midges appeared and bit and itched their way all over my face but I could do nothing to swat them. I'd come this far and there was no way I was going to blow my cover now, it wasn't fair on the eagles. As Frisa landed, the calls from the nest intensified. As I listened, my brain was trying to identify the calls and where they were coming from. Then, as one stopped, another started. It stopped and the other started again. Then they overlapped. There were TWO!  One was still on the nest but the other calls were coming from lower down, perhaps on the ground. By now one of my legs was completely numb and I had to ease it carefully out full stretch to get the blood flowing again. Pins and needles spiked through my feet as circulation was slowly resumed. Still Frisa sat there, oblivious to her contorted observer down below amongst the pine needles and wood sorrel. Half an hour later, she finally launched off and away. I could hear her wing beats overhead and the thick branch she'd been on swayed violently as her weight lifted off, leaving some giant bits of eagle down falling gently earthwards. There was no alarm call from her, she hadn't seen me. She was just off on another mission. I could breathe again and slowly stand. The calls from both chicks faded away as they saw Frisa depart but we could all rest easy again that both chicks were accounted for. Drained after the worry of the last 48 hours I fell into the landrover back on the track and removed an entire colony of ticks from my jeans, hoping none had ventured any further. On with the radio as I headed for home to the tune of 'Don't worry - be happy'. Ok, I thought. Good advice.

    Dave Sexton RSPB Scotland Mull Officer 

  • Sleepless nights

    I'd like to bring you some definitive and positive news on the 'missing' chick at Loch Frisa but I'm sorry I can't. However, you always tell us you want to know the facts as they happen so I'm afraid there is no easy way to say this: I am worried tonight. As ever there is good news and bad news. Let's get the 'bad' news out of the way and keep positive. Compared to previous years, it is undoubtedly early for him to have fledged. When Frisa or Skye have come in with food, they've gone straight to the nest and not searched for any fledged chick as I would expect them to do. I've scanned and searched for hours on the open ground and have not seen a hint of a chick anywhere. And now the better news...we still have a very active bouncy chick on the nest and it's feeding well. If the other one has gone early, it was fit and well last Thursday and is probably absolutely fine. Although things can go wrong at the last minute, it is unusual for something to happen at this late stage. The grass and bracken are tall and there is plenty of ground out of sight where it could easily be hiding. Chicks spend alot of time on the ground after they leave the nest...and they lie down too making it even harder to see them. 

    So we will continue to watch and wait. I can't go any closer as there would be a risk of spooking both the one on the nest before it's ready and potentially the fledged chick sitting about on the ground. Not to mention the parents. It's a nerve wracking time for everyone and we need some world-wide positive thoughts please sent in the direction of Mull. We will let you know, one way or the other, as soon as we know anything. Can't write anymore...need sleep. Some hope! 

    Dave Sexton RSPB Scotland Mull Officer

    Just a note to say, I know a lot of you were looking forward to Blue Peter this afternoon - the BBC have rescheduled and our item will be featured in September - rest assured we will keep you posted when we know the date.  Thank you for all your positive thoughts - as soon as we have some news, we will of course, let you know. Debby

  • Now you see me, now you don't!

    Well a very strange day indeed.  After hearing the news that our two chicks may have fledged I felt quite emotional.  Having spent all this time with them, from the day they hatched and watching them grow day by day, it was as if my own child was about to leave home. 

     

    As I drove to Loch Frisa this morning, not knowing what I might find, my stomach was doing somersaults.  Usually, when I arrive at the Hide, I spend the first 10 minutes getting everything ready for our visitors but today I went straight down to our forward hide.  I scanned around with the binoculars - everything was eerily quiet.  Nothing to be seen, not even an adult.  I then thought I would just check the nest just in case - and surprise - sitting there preening was one of our chicks.  Oh the sense of relief.   A bit later, I scanned the skyline again and surprise, there was Frisa sitting in one of her favourite roosts, looking very relaxed and chilled - she had appeared from nowhere - a very clever sea eagle trick!  The next time I checked the nest, it was empty - someone is playing games with me I thought or my glasses need changing!  Frisa then decided to come and fly over the Loch and upset the gulls - a graceful flypast for our visitors, then returned to sit in tree.  Checked the nest, the chick was back again!  Oh what a funny game this is I thought!

     

    Having spent most of the day with us, Frisa finally flew off on a very determined mission, probably to find some food, and the chick remained on the nest.  There was no sighting of Skye or the other chick today but judging  Frisa's behaviour which was very relaxed and calm, we believe they are just over the other side of the trees, frustratingly out of our sight.

     

    Frisa - photo Debby Thorne

    Interestingly, the chicks on the Estonian Webcam decided to leave home last night!  A coincidence or a conspiracy!! 

     

    We will certainly keep you updated as to the goings on at Frisa - but I am sure they are fine - they are big, strong healthy chicks who had done lots of wing exercises so obviously felt they were ready to go!  It may just take us a while to fathom out where they are hiding!!

     

    Live sea eagle webcam 

     

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    Debby Thorne, White Tailed Eagle Information Officer, Isle of Mull