October, 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
  • Form an orderly "V" please!

    I don't believe it!  I'm sat inside typing when outside the sky is blue with a few whispy clouds - hubby is out in the garden pruning a hedge in a tee shirt - is it nearly the end of October?  Walking the dog this morning, I had a lovely view of a flock of barnacle geese and a small flock of pink footed geese stopping off to feed before they move on, maybe to the RSPB reserve at Mersehead. 

    There is something quite magical about seeing that wonderful "V" formation in the sky.  Have you ever wondered why they fly in a "V" shape?  Flying in a flock can help reduce the energy that is needed for a long flight.  It is estimated by flying in a "V" formation can help save an individual bird between 12-20% of the energy they would need if they flew  alone.  According to scientists, flying in a "V" formation helps birds conserve their energy.  Each bird flies slightly above the one in front of him or her.  This results in a reduction of wind resistance.  The birds also take turns being at the front of the "V" and will fall back when they get tired.  The young, inexperienced juveniles tend to fly towards the back so they dont have to take up the lead position.  Again, it is estimated that a flock of geese can fly 70% farther in the "V" formation than flying alone!  The other advantage of flying in a "V" is that each bird will have a clear field of vision, allowing them to see each other and communicate in flight.  Apparently fighter pilots will use this formation for the same reason.  How clever is that?

    With Autumn in full swing and as we creep towards winter, I find it a reassuring time - Mother Nature continues her work year round with the changing seasons, the change in behaviour of wildlife too.  My thoughts turn to Skye and Frisa - it won't be long now before they start thinking of building a new nest.  Heather is still very much part of the family, but in time, she will gradually move away and leave Skye and Frisa to start the whole process again.  With the Scottish schools on holiday, we had a great number of visitors to the Hide and they were rewarded with some beautiful views of our family, either sat on the lochside or just flying against a beautiful blue sky.  Don't forget you can still visit the Hide at Loch Frisa - we are staying open and you can hopefully see some wonderful views of nature - from our white tailed sea eagle family, migrating geese flying over, divers on the loch, down to the beautiful colours of the bracken and trees at this time of year.  Full details here http://www.rspb.org.uk/datewithnature/sites/mull/index.asp 


    Loch Frisa - Autmn




    A reminder of Loch Frisa in the Autumn

    Photo - Debby Thorne






    Dont forget to encourage family and friends to help protect our Birds of Prey by signing the pledge here http://www.rspb.org.uk/supporting/campaigns/birdsofprey/index.asp

    Debby Thorne, White Tailed Eagle Information Officer

    Isle of Mull

  • Otter and Otter!

    Well we are being spoilt on Mull at the moment!  A lovely spell of warm, sunny weather - clear blue skies and glass like seas and lochs - just beautiful (although it is definately chilly at night although that gives us some great stargazing opportunities).

    Loch Frisa has been stunning as usual and giving us some extra surprises!  We knew we had one otter in the loch but on Wednesday as we were admiring Skye and Frisa sat together on one of their favourite roosts, one of our visitors shouted, "otter".  It was so easy to pick it out as the loch was just flat calm, mirror like - you could see the slightest ripple.  We all turned our binoculars and scopes onto the Loch - not one otter but two playing about in the water - they are such lovely creatures and love to play in the water - a lovely sight. 

    Skye and Frisa are still delighting our visitors and quite often joined by Heather with all 3 sat on the lochside -  - I sometimes think of the male, Bracken, that died, especially now the heather and bracken on the hillsides has turned a beautiful russett brown colour.  As Dave has mentioned previously, its been a good year for fledgings with 10 chicks on Mull and 36 across Scotland - just a shame our little guy didnt make it - but that's nature!

    The Island is now home to some large flocks of barnacle geese and the odd pink footed (though the pinkies dont tend to stay) - also redwings and fieldfares.


    Dont forget if you are visiting Mull, the Eagle Hide is staying open - trips running on Tuesdays and Wednesdays - book through the Craignure Visitor Centre on 01680 812556.  Full details here http://www.rspb.org.uk/datewithnature/sites/mull/index.asp




    Elvis the Otter in Tobermory Bay

    Photo Debby Thorne







    Dont forget to help protect our Birds of Prey by signing the pledge here http://www.rspb.org.uk/supporting/campaigns/birdsofprey/


     Debby Thorne - White Tailed Eagle Information Officer

    Isle of Mull

  • Strictly come birding

    Well we've had celebrity dancing, cooking and ice skating. We've had celebrities in the jungle, up Mount Kilimanjaro and making it to the South Pole (probably the North Pole too but I must have missed that one). We've had celebrity ghost hunting, Love Island, men in boats, wife swapping and finally here comes celebrity birdwatching! Yes folks standby for a new look to Sky 1 in the New Year as comedian Bill Bailey and two teams of yes, you guessed it , 'celebrity birders'  try and get to grips with the fun of finding and identifying birds. This week we've had a large crew from Fever Media here on Mull making the series for Sky. They've been at RSPB reserves and other locations across the UK and we're delighted they chose Mull for their Scottish challenge. With help from our friends at Forestry Commission Scotland and a whole host of other local businesses, the two teams were set tasks by Bill and whichever team saw the target species for the day were awarded points and eventually declared the winners. They sailed across from Oban to Craignure spotting seabirds along the way; they mountain biked down from the high tops to sea level and explored Salen bay in kayaks. Each night they all returned to camp (yes they were under canvas) and around the camp fire they compared their digi-scoped photographs and identified what they'd seen. It was all good fun and they all seemed to enjoy themselves, especially on the last day at Loch Frisa where eagles, of course, were top of their lists. Our Mull teams comprised the team captains stand-up comedian Jeff Green and TV presenter Alex Zane with their celebrities Jayne Middlemiss (think Top of the Pops, Love Island and Masterchef - she won that) and undercover reporter/Dancing on Ice star Donal MacIntyre. The whole exercise has been an amazing logistical exercise for everyone involved and with a total crew of 20+, it rivalled the scale of Springwatch at times. And who won? Well you'll have to tune in for that result. And was it all worth it? Well it's always difficult to assess these things. It may introduce the joys of birding to a whole new audience who might not normally watch these programmes. It might make more people join the RSPB and care about the natural world. It will show the autumn splendour of Mull to millions and just a few might decide to visit next year, come to the hide and fall in love with our eagles. I counted up 12 local businesses from boat operators to camp sites, local pubs to bike and kayak hirers who have all benefited in some way from this late season bonanza. If nothing else, a whole group of folk who might never have picked up binoculars before enjoyed the experience and the place. As the director said 'Cut!' after the last scene, Jayne couldn't contain her excitement at having just watched a golden eagle overhead being mobbed by six ravens. She carried on watching and carried on exclaiming in her broad Geordie accent: "Totally awesome!" And it was.

    There's always a great sense of relief when a project like this (which could go badly wrong) goes so well. The sun shone, the rain held off for the most part despite the dire forecasts and all the arrangements seemed to slot into place. There's always relief when the eagles show up on cue although it's never guaranteed and there were some long, nervous waits. And there is always huge relief when the roadshow finally rolls on out of town and onto the next location - this time it's the turn of RSPB's fabulous Mersehead reserve on the Solway Firth where the thousands of wintering barnacle geese are the stars. They really can't miss them! They might all bump into Simon King on his way to that part of the world for Autumnwatch next week. There'll be more TV crews and celebrities than geese at this rate.

    Jeff Green, Donal MacIntyre, Bill Bailey and Jayne Middlesmiss try and identify the bird in a digi-scoped photo

    Jeff, Dave, Jayne, Bill, Donal and Alex during a break from filming


    Debby with her group visiting the hide, trying to act normal!


    But back to the real stars: Frisa, Skye and Heather. When the crowds had gone I stopped at a look-out on my way home. Frisa and Skye were sitting on the ground, relaxed, preening and looking gorgeous in the autumn sunshine. And there between them, actually lying down and completely chilled out, was Heather. It was the classic family portrait. There's always a slight pang of sadness wishing Bracken was there with them too. Who knows? Perhaps he was.

    Dave Sexton RSPB Scotland Mull Officer

    The satellite tracking map on my laptop seems to be down at the moment so I can't see if the latest data has been uploaded but I can report that all is well with our four satellite tagged 'chicks'. Mara is still resident around Loch Sunart and Morvern/Ardnamurchan; Breagha is still in the far north-west and island hopping from Raasay to Skye; Venus is mostly in central Mull around Loch na Keal but Oran has become the first of this year's chicks to really go exploring and has made it to the mainland, not far from Mara. Let's hope they meet up and compare notes and that they all stay safe.

    A special thank you to Carrie for the fantastic range of eagle mugs, coaster and key ring.  Ever considered trying out your entrepreneurial skills in 'The Dragon's Den'?  Added to the delicious chocolates from Jillian a while back (which I finally managed to get Debby to relinquish), it's been a great season. Many thanks!