November, 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
  • Haggis on St Andrew's Day? No thanks.

    This wasn't the blog I'd planned to write tonight but I thought readers might like to hear of an adventure at Loch Frisa today. The other blog will have to wait a while.

    Today dawned bright and very frosty. There was ice on the road and the grass crunched under foot. The sheep were huddled round a bale of fresh, sweet hay munching eagerly after a long, chilly night. Loch Frisa looked idyllic: not a ripple on the surface apart form the occasional trout; in one bay a dabchick was busy diving every few minutes and a cormorant was perched out on the island in front of the Eagle Hide. Frisa was sitting on her favourite grassy knoll and Skye was in the larches staring down into his usual burn. Little by little the winter sun edged higher, first illuminating Frisa and then Skye, both looking regal and magnificent in the early morning sunshine.

    Out of the blue flapped a sub-adult sea eagle, crossing the glen, over the hide and up into some spruce trees above the loch. I spilled half my coffee as I scrambled to get the telescope in position. The steam of the coffee billowed up in the sub-zero air, fogged up the eye-piece and obscured my view. As it cleared, I got the 'scope in focus and there was the eagle, looking unsettled, but with wing tags which were easy to read. They were yellow, that meant 2006. And the letter was 'H'. That could only mean one thing; I was looking at good old Haggis, one of Frisa and Skye's twins from that year. He was now heading towards being four years old and he looked every bit the young adult. His beak was already yellow and his head pale but his tail was far from being pure white and I could see his eye colour was still that of a youngster. He had flown over Frisa and virtually passed Skye and he was looking distinctly uneasy. This was not to be the warm homecoming he might have hoped for. Within a few minutes, the welcome from Skye matched the air temperature and things turned distinctly frosty. He flew round and perched on a boulder just 50m from Haggis. This seriously spooked the young male and he took off - with Skye in hot pursuit. They skirted round the front edge of the larches and vanished into the forest. Over the next 10 minutes, first one, then the other would shoot out of the trees before I'd lose sight of them again as they raced back into a fire break. Then I noticed Frisa had gone from her hummock and there she was steaming across to join the fracas. She too crashed into the forest and there was silence. To be honest, there were times when I feared for Haggis. I could only imagine what was going on in there. As far as Frisa and Skye were concerned, especially Skye, here was a young pretender, a sub-adult male in the heart of his nesting territory. There could be no bigger threat to him. Would they know it was their Haggis just stopping by to see the folks? Sorry. Probably not.

    Haggis and his brother Oatie were named by children at Lochdonhead Primary School in 2006 They were the stars of their day; they starred on our webcam that year and Kate Humble came north to film them for the pilot series of The One Show. Later we received reports of them from various parts of Mull, then Haggis turned up in the Outer Hebrides on Lewis. Later he was reunited with Oatie at Loch Scridain on Mull and was recorded last year over on the east coast. So he has been quite a traveller in his young life. The least he might have received was a warm welcome when he drifted homewards. But it was not to be. This is, after all, the wild, not Disneyworld.

    Every now and then I could hear calling from withing the forest, distant echoing calls. Then without warning first Frisa, then Skye flew up and perched together in a big Sitka. But no Haggis. The pair called loudly on and off for the next half hour and sat side by side, united. I can only guess and hope that Haggis made his escape thought the back of the forest and out across the brown wintry hills out of sight from me. His life journey was not over yet. Or perhaps he was hiding in the dense plantation, waiting for his moment to break free when his angry parents were not watching. Some hope. For now, at least peace was restored to their loch-side home . It had been a rare insight into the private life and times of our famous Mull white-tailed eagles. It may not have been the fairytale reunion we'd have liked for the returning long-lost son but these are wild spirits and we wouldn't actually have them any other way.

    I'm off south for a few days into the Smoke for my own family reunion. I hope I get a warmer welcome!

    Dave Sexton RSPB Scotland Mull Officer

    Don't miss The Natural World this Thursday 3 December BBC Two 9pm: HIGHLAND HAVEN. It's a winner.   Here is a short preview clip



  • Take it to the Limit, One More Time

    by the Eagles (who else?)

    Like some parts of the country, we've had some really wild weather here on Mull - our thoughts are with those people suffering from flood damage and the family of the Policeman who tragically lost his life as the bridge collapsed in Workington.  Just another reminder of the sheer strength of Mother Nature. 

    This evening, as I went out to put the chickens away, I could hardly stand up - the rain was virtually horizontal.  But for those of you who have been to Mull, you know how quickly the weather can change.

    This week at the Hide, one group of visitors experienced a hail storm, sunshine, and torrential rain.  However, it didn't stop them from seeing some of our fantastic wildlife.  A golden eagle flew over the hide with two buzzards for company - it is great when you see these two species together as it gives you an idea of the difference in size and profile.   I think one of the questions I get asked most is "how can you tell the difference between a buzzard and a golden eagle?  When you see them both together, there is no doubt. 

     We wandered down into the field, which was very soggy to say the least.  On a couple of occasions, I have spotted Skye and Frisa sat at the edge of the loch where a burn runs out, looking for fish.  As we arrived at the bottom of the field, out of the corner of my eye I saw something move.  About 100 yards from us were two stags with huge antlers - we just froze.   

    As a shower was advancing up the Loch, we made for the Hide to shelter.  As we got back inside, the rain lashed down and the wind howled around us. This continued until the tour was coming to an end. It was then that I stuck my head outside the door for a quick look round - "Eagle!" I shouted.  Above the trees in front of the hide one of our adults was flying towards us - it veered in front of the larches and then disappeared.  We watched the gap at the side of the hide waiting for it to appear but nothing.  Then, suddenly a cry of "there it is!"  Frisa appeared from the trees, legs down ready to land - she was only about 20 yards in front of us!  She landed in the field we had just walked through at a spot where the burn rises and is level with the field. She sat and watched the rushing water, waiting for a fish to appear.  It has to be one of our closest encounters - just yards away.  We sat in awe watching from the hide, barely whispering in case she heard us.  I'm sure she knew we were there as from time to time she looked straight at us.  She stayed for about 20 minutes, and then took off giving us a fantastic view of that beautiful white tail.  She flew across the Loch and then, directly above her, flew a male hen harrier - what a photo that would have been!  What a great way to spend an afternoon. However, I had to charge home to collect my daughter from a friend who was going away for the weekend. Talk about leaving it to the last minute, or, taking it to the limit, one more time. I wonder how many more times they will do this to me.


    Buzzard - Photo Debby Thorne



    Buzzard - Photo Debby Thorne






    Even with the weather not at its best, we still get stunning views of our wildlife.  Don't forget, the hide is staying open over the winter.  Full details here   Call 01680 812556 to book a trip.   We will run the trips to fit in with demand so give us a call if you are on the Island.



    Rainbow over The Sound of Mull - Photo Debby Thorne





    Rainbow over The Sound of Mull - photo Debby Thorne






    Don't forget to watch Blue Peter this Tuesday, 16.35 on BBC1!  I wonder if its still Valerie Singleton, Peter Purves and John Noakes??


    Debby Thorne

    White Tailed Eagle Information Officer, Isle of Mull

  • Oran flies south

    Our male white-tailed eagle chick from Mull this year, Oran, has made a dramatic flight south. He had seemed settled and has spent the last few weeks just across the water from here on Loch Sunart; then he came home for a while but has now headed down to the island of Jura. We are hearing more reports lately of young eagles on nearby Islay perhaps attracted by the thousands of wintering geese. Maybe this is where Oran is headed next.  Our colleagues at Loch Gruinart reserve will be watching out for him and we'll see what the next set of data tells us. Meanwhile our female chick Venus has drifted over a mountain ridge or two and was last recorded at Loch Frisa, home to the Eagle Hide. If you're lucky and planning to visit us soon you may catch a glimpse of her. The Eagle Hide is still open and feel free to call 01680 812 556 to arrange a trip. We can be flexible with the days and times to suit you. Today both Frisa and Skye were on view. Again both perched in larches very close to the hide and were watching below into the burns for brown trout. They looked magnificent in the weak winter sunshine. I wonder where Heather has gone to now? Next time we'll give you an update on where last year's chicks from Loch Frisa are doing as they enter their second winter. Mara and Breagha have both been on the move lately...

    Meanwhile, the long awaited feature on Blue Peter will be aired next week. The team tell us that it will be shown next Tuesday 24 November on BBC One at 4.35pm. If you haven't seen Blue Peter for a while, give yourself a treat, re-live your childhood, settle back with a cup of tea and enjoy. Better still tell any nieces, nephews or grandchildren to tune in. I will be wearing my Blue Peter badge wih pride.

    Finally, Allan Mee who manages the white-tailed eagle reintroduction project for the Golden Eagle Trust in Ireland sent me a quote I'd like to share with you. It's from a book on the legends and stories by Native Americans. It was written by a wise man called Lame Deer of the Brule Sioux Nation. They knew how to live with eagles; they respected them. Perhaps some lessons to be learned? I'll leave that for you to decide. As Walter Cronkite used to say - 'that's the way it is.'

    Until next time...

    Dave Sexton RSPB Mull Officer  

    "So we are descended from the eagle. We are an eagle nation. That is good, something to be proud of, because the eagle is the wisest of birds. He is the Great Spirit's messenger; he is a great warrior. That is why we always wore the eagle plume and still wear it"