September, 2009


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
  • Introducing the Class of 09 - Oran & Venus

    We've now changed the look of  this page to allow you to keep track of two new white-tailed eagle chicks from Mull. And now, as promised, we've added some new photos of them so you'll know what they look like - if you're ever lucky enough to see them! Thanks to Katie for sorting that. I love the shot of Oran on his nest greeting FCS climber Nick Purdy. Not a very friendly welcome! Oran and Venus are joining our first two chicks from Loch Frisa in 2008, Mara and Breagha. Don't forget to use the + and -and arrow buttons on the maps to zoom into see where they've been and when. They were all fitted with light weight, solar powered satellite tags to help us study the dispersal of immature sea eagles away from their nest areas. They were fitted by Roy Dennis from the Highland Foundation for Wildlife with help from our tree climber Justin Grant. Our thanks to the private landowners concerned and to Forestry Commission Scotland, their climbers and rangers for all their help on the day. The tags were funded by Scottish Natural Heritage and the data will be collected and mapped by John Sutherland and Sally Fisher from the RSPB's Data Management Unit. The all important analysis of the satellite data will be carried out by Natural Research Ltd on behalf of the Sea Eagle Project Team. Our thanks to them all and to the RSPB's web team for helping us get all this information out to you!

    Oran is a fine, dark male chick who fledged from his mighty tree top nest in July. He is named after St Oran who is believed to have travelled through Mull to the Holy Isle of Iona in the 12th Century. We hope that our young eagle will be watched over and kept safe by his Saintly name sake. Oran is doing well so far. He returned to his nest to be fed quite a few times after his maiden flight which is quite unusual. He may be a bit of big baby and uncertain of launching off on his own into the big wide world. Over the next few months we'll find out how he gets on.

    Across a few mountain ridges, from another Mull nest flew a beautiful young female sea eagle called Venus. She is named after the Goddess of love and beauty, flowers and Spring. Venus, the planet, is also the brightest light in the night sky and she appears at dawn and dusk as if to welcome the new day and to signal the approaching night. We couldn't think of a better name for our young female eagle. Like Oran, she too is now venturing further afield and is already well clear of her nest area. The parents of both chicks will happily tolerate their offspring around them for several months to come. They may not be bringing in much, if any, food for them at the moment but they will gladly share a deer, seal or sheep carcass with them. The chicks will know to follow along behind their parents in the expectation of a free handout. Soon though they will start to explore on their own and day by day, week by week, the distance between them and the adults will grow and the family bond will weaken. Unlike Mara and Breagha who spent alot of time together, Oran and Venus will soon be tackling life's challenges alone. This time last year, as Mara and Breagha began longer flights away, they seemed to find some comfort or at least reassurance  in each other's company on a regular basis. Life will be very different for young Oran and Venus. We will be watching them as closely as we can but they are wild birds and our role is simply to watch, study, learn and to protect. Our pioneers Mara and Breagha have proven they can survive out there and have now firmly dispersed from Mull. Mara may not be too far away on Loch Sunart but Breagha has ventured further into the north west Highlands. We wonder where the first big flights for Oran and Venus will be to? Will they ever meet up with Mara and Breagha? Stay tuned as we join them all on their extraordinary journeys.

    Dave Sexton RSPB Scotland Mull Officer 

    The Eagle Hide at Loch Frisa is still open! Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 10am and 1pm. Call 01680 812 556. Come and see us - and the eagles! Last week Debby and the groups of visitors saw the sea eagles AND the golden eagles - and the first red deer stag of the autumn was heard roaring around Loch Frisa so what are you waiting for? Plan your fall trip to Mull now and capture an autumn moment...visit the Holiday Mull & Iona website for details.


  • Don't Let the Sun go down on Me!

    Well, September is certainly proving to be a saviour in terms of weather.  We are enjoying lots of warm sunshine and blue skies - you could almost be fooled into thinking it was May or June.  Tee shirts have come out of winter storage and its lovely to feel the warmth of the sun on your face.  Our family at Loch Frisa have been enjoying the warm weather too.  Skye and Frisa are spending long periods, perched on the larch trees in front of the hide, looking so relaxed now the majority of this year's parental duties are done.  They will still be feeding Heather but the majority of their work is done.  They seem to be enjoying some "me" time before the whole process starts again.

    The golden eagles have been enjoying this weather too and our visitors have been getting great views as they fly across the hide, trying to steal the limelight from Skye and Frisa.  The buzzards are still a joy to watch - the youngsters now hunting on their own but occasionally taking 5 minutes out to play tag with a sibling!  We still have butterflies and dragonflies around and just occasionally, we glimpse the odd swallow - so we can still pretend its summer.

     Calgary Bay - Photo Debby Thorne

      Calgary Bay this week - white sand, blue sea and blue skies - Photo Debby Thorne







     After tomorrow, we start a new phase at the Hide.  Previously, we would now be planning to put the hide into mothballs until next Spring but from next week we are going to keep the hide open through autumn and winter, running our trips at 10.00 am and 1.00 pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  Bookings can be made through our friends at the Tourist Office in Craignure (Tel: 01680 812556).  We are fortunate that our eagles do not migrate and are here all year round so if you are planning a trip to Mull come and see us!  Details of our Eagle Watch project can be found here  The leaves on the trees are starting to turn, the heather is in bloom and the bracken starting to die off - autumn on Mull is stunning - the colours breathtaking and as for the wildlife, well ........ you will just have to come and see if  for yourself!

    This Sunday also sees our "Fledge" party at Loch Frisa - a chance to raise a glass to all our chicks and to say thank you to everyone involved with these magnificent birds.  We are meeting at the hide at 1.00pm and the gates at both ends of the Loch will be open - if you are around, do come and join us.

    Debby Thorne, White Tailed Eagle Information Officer,

    Isle of Mull



  • One swallow...

    The contrast couldn't have been greater. Strength and gentleness personified. Tapping quietly on the office door last week was a big bloke in his overalls. His hands and face were smeared in oil and grease. He had flecks of car paint in his hair and he sounded almost apologetic as he explained what was in the cardboard box he was holding so carefully in his hands. I wasn't exactly sure what I was going to find as I looked inside the grubby carton. He had said that some of the baby swallows in the garage round the corner had fallen or flown out of their nest and this one had landed with a sickening plop in a pool of sticky, black car oil. He 'just wanted to do something to help' and felt really sorry. He liked the swallows, even though they often pooped on his cars and sometimes even on him. He'd gone to the trouble of placing a small cardboard shelf under each nest to catch any unwanted debris.  The swallows were a sign of spring, of the end of winter, of warmer weather, of better times ahead. In April each year as the huge doors of the garage were pushed wide open, the first of the swallows would appear one sunny morning. They would race around the metal rafters, calling in fake alarm whenever he moved from one end of a car he was working on to the other. But eventually, they settled, they accepted his comings and goings and they knew after many generations that they had a safe haven to raise their broods.  

    The mechanic disappeared round the corner and was gone. In any other location I would have quickly taken this sad, oil covered little bundle to the nearest bird hospital or SSPCA centre but no such luxury here at the moment. On many islands and reserves we quickly pass any sick or injured birds to those that are trained and really know what to do. Generally, we don't. But we still care deeply and will do all we can to help. So as the barely recognisable fledgling swallow lay on the dirty rag I hit the 'phones and internet. Do you use any old washing up liquid to clean off the oil? No, it's got to be Fairy I'm told. Is it worth it? Isn't it too stressful for the bird and will it survive anyway? Best to humanely destroy it I'm told. Did I know how to do that? As I looked at my pathetic oily clump of a patient I began to think this was probably the only and right course of action.

    Then, though it could barely move, it emitted that lovely baby swallow call you hear when you walk into a barn or listen to them gathered on telephone lines, waiting to be fed by hard working parents before they migrate. I knew then that I had to at least try just once to give him a chance. A bowl of warm water, washing up liquid, a towel. I picked him up, my fingers quickly feeling slimey and sticky from oil. In a desperate show of defiance he bit me and I've never been so pleased to be bitten. An hour later after washing each wing feather in turn and soaking and rinsing his clogged breast feathers, he looked like he was beginning to fade. He was wet and shivering and looked so fragile I began to seriously question my own actions. But I could actually see his little heart pounding away through his soggy feathers and bare lizard-like skin. He no longer resembled a bird, let alone a sleek, fast flying swallow. Now I had to dry him and fast. Grabbing Caroline's hairdryer, setting it on low and warm, I switched it on. Working the warmth through his short stubby plumes, his head fell limp and I could feel him giving up the fight. Don't you give up on me now! Once he was completely dry I settled him gently into a clean box and left him in the dark to either recover - or die. Frankly I expected the latter.

    The girls came home from school and wanted to know what daddy had in the box this time. I knew we had to leave him in peace at least for a little longer but there was still no movement from within. After another hour, we dared to peep inside. He very nearly escaped in a flurry of unexpected energy as he saw the light and a chance for freedom!  He wasn't completely out of the woods but I knew now his only real chance of survival was to get him back to the vicinity of his nest. Livy and I rushed him back round to the garage, made sure he was well away from any oily hazards and looked around to look for his old nest. Three other young swallows - perhaps his brothers and sisters - were sitting on the rafters and were calling. Another one was still in the nest. Suddenly that one called, then another and our little guy called back. We looked at each other. The mechanic emerged from under a car and we knew what we had to do. I was half expecting to have to climb the ladder myself and find a safe spot. But no. He wanted to do it. There was no point in going too near the nest as the remaining fledgling would probably just jump, perhaps before it was ready and we'd have another casualty on our hands. So our little guy was placed high in the rafters on a wide ledge and there we left him. We retreated out of the garage as he began to call loudly for food and an adult swallow swooped in with panic alarm calls cursing our presence and with absolutely no gratitude for all our efforts! 

    I'd like to give you all a cast-iron happy ending but in truth I can't - but I can give you a hopeful ending. I think we gave him his best chance. Was it right to put him through all that cleaning stress? I honestly don't know; it was a personal judgement in a split second. I kind of think we had to at least try and make it up to him after causing his beautiful slate blue plumage to become so soiled. I mean, swallows have a hard enough time of it anyway don't they? They migrate thousands of miles through drought and deserts to bring joy to our British summers. And when they do make it all the way to Mull they get greeted with one of the wettest summers on record and then one baby swallow gets covered in horrible, thick black oil. I think we owed him.  Will he make it all the way back to Africa this autumn and then back here again next spring? By the Law of Averages, probably not. But maybe, perhaps, possibly, he will.

    As we left the garage, our swallow was shouting loudly for food and will have been fed. We said our goodbyes and Liv's eyes filled with tears for one tough baby swallow she'd only met half an hour before The caring bloke in the oily overalls was back under his car but I noticed he'd cleaned up the pool of oil. One swallow of summer somewhere up high in the rafters had been given a second chance. I think he deserved it.

    Dave Sexton RSPB Scotland Mull officer