December, 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
  • Deep and crisp and even

    I don't know if this will work! I've tried to keep Debby's excellent blog and photos up here for a while yet so that I can just add a few words to it...

    Still stunningly beautiful here on the Isle of Mull. A covering of snow, ice crystals and frost on everything. And with a cloudless blue sky, the sun has shone bright all day. The garden birds have been busy on the feeders since first light and down at the old pier, a peregrine was dashing after his Christmas dinner, a seal surfaced nearby with a loud snort of frosty vapour and then an otter appeared briefly before slipping away out of sight behind a rocky headland. Not bad for a 15 minute wander from the house but it's what you can expect during a winter visit here.

    The satellite data just in shows our 2009 male sea eagle chick Oran has headed south to Islay for Christmas. Islay is a fabulous place and the RSPB reserves at Loch Gruinart and the Mull of Oa, where Oran has gone, are amazing places for wildlife. I'm sure they'll keep an eye on Oran for us. The female chick Venus is still with us on Mull. Last year's chicks satellite tags are now on a winter setting but we're pretty sure female Breagha is near the Isle of Skye and her brother Mara is over on Morvern. Fantastic that they're all still alive and well. Long may it last.

    If you happen to take a look back at the Archives for this blog to last summer 2008 you'll find a blog called 'The longest day' in several installments. It was about a sea eagle nest which fell out in a summer storm and the two chicks which were rescued. Well, some brilliant news just now that one of those free-fall twins 'Yellow G' was sighted on Mull today by Bryan Rains who runs 'Wild About Mull' wildlife tours. Yellow G is the same age as Haggis (from 2006) and has yellow tags. Just great to think he's now 3+ years old. When I found him as a heap of soggy, broken feathers at the bottom of the cliff, I doubted he would survive the night. Makes it all worthwhile. Why not have a read of those adventures in the Archives over the Holidays if you can find them!

    It just remains for me to thank you all for sticking with us and reading about our adventures with the white-tailed eagles. They are inspiring, special birds who do take your breath away and I hope you can visit us and them in 2010. From a frosty, snowy Isle of Mull, a very Merry Christmas to you all.

    Dave Sexton RSPB Scotland Mull Officer

    Take my breath away

    courtesy Berlin (from the film, Top Gun)

    Well as I type this, there are just about three and half sleeps until Santa arrives.  Even on Mull, with its slower pace of life, there is still that frenzy of activity that goes on during the weeks leading up to the big day.  The Pantomine in Tobermory - not to be missed - was excellent as ever, the School Christmas Play, again excellent (although there may be a touch of bias!), the Christmas party and the fight for the sprouts in the Co-op!  Added to that in our house, decorating the lounge, installing a log burner, the arrival of a puppy and the stress of a missing chicken!  A mad house to say the least!

     Sometimes though, its just nice to escape for some peace and tranquility.  And for me, there is only one place - Loch Frisa.  I left hubby fighting with a log burner and headed off.  We have had some snow which has stayed with us for a few days mainly because its so cold and the snow hasnt had a chance to melt.  But today was bright and having spent 20 minutes clearing the windscreen, headed for the Loch.  As I drove down the track, I was amazed at the number of animal tracks visible in the snow.  As the Loch came into view, I was met by a beautiful wintry scene.  The Loch was like glass, still and beautifully reflective.  Snow still lay on the ground and as I stopped to admire the view, I caught sight of a familiar shape on a knoll.  It was Skye.  He looked truly magnificent with the snowy backdrop - I could almost imagine I was in Norway.  I scanned round and found Frisa, sitting on what is now becoming a regular tree.  As I arrived at the hide to fill up the birdfeeders, I was greeted by a blue tit, dunnock, great tit and a coal tit - all pleased to see me and hoping I wasnt empty handed.  Feeders duly filled and the birds happily feeding, I notice two huge ripples on the Loch - our two otters were playing hide and seek.  Then across the glen, that familiar sea eagle cry - Frisa then took off and joined Skye.  They seemed so pleased to see each other - lots of calling that echoed around the glen.  A truly beautiful sight.  And then, catching me by surprise a mating!  Skye and Frisa affirming that special bond they have.  They have been checking out treees looking for the next family home.  I slipped away unnoticed, leaving them to enjoy their own company as I felt I had intruded enough.   

    I returned home to learn the missing chicken had returned home and the log burner had been installed and is now alight and burning brightly.  All is well for the time being!

    Dont forget it is important to keep feeding our garden birds at this time of the year and also to make sure they have water available!

     Dunnock Loch Frisa



    Dunnock - Loch Frisa (photo Debby Thorne)





     I would like to take this opportunity of thanking everyone for their support this year.  It has been a priviledge having a window into the world of these magnificent birds and to be able to share it with our visitors to the Hide and here on the Blog.  I would like to wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful, healthy and Happy New Year.  I hope to see many of you at the Hide in 2010 which is going to be a very special year for us.  More details to follow.

     Loch Frisa



     Loch Frisa (photo Debby Thorne)


    Loch FrisaLoch Frisa (photo Debby Thorne)

      Dont forget the Hide is open year round - details here

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

  • The night the earth moved

    The sturdy oaks will have offered their usual sanctuary for an eagle looking for a safe roost site. Last night the Hebridean skies were clear and the temperature plummeted below freezing. By late afternoon, as the light was fading, three young sea eagles dropped out of the dark sky, circled and chased each other once or twice before vanishing out of sight into the wood. Their haunting calls echoed round the glen for a few minutes and then there was silence. In the adjoining wood sat the resident territorial adults, side by side, offering warmth to each other for the long winter's night ahead. So, at least five eagles in close proximity, maybe there were more. But all were together in a traditional eagle haven. Safe for the night. Or were they?

    Somewhere deep underground, the earth was restless. The vast plates of the Great Glen Fault were straining to shift. Hard rock scraping against rock, barely discernable movements. But the pressure was building. The force was becoming impossible to halt. Miles down in the earth's core, ancient magma from Mull's volcanic past still flowed. One day, somewhere on the planet, it would erupt again but not here. Not tonight. Or would it?

    The signs were ominous. Back in the wood, the eagles stirred. Some unkown sense had alerted them to an approaching storm. But the skies were still cloudless and the stars flickered and shone brightly in the inky blackness. There was no moon. For a few moments it seemed the darkest it had ever been and the eagles were all tense. The youngsters sitting apart from each other felt especially vulnerable. It was a sensation none of them had known before and they had no way of knowing how to react . The adults had comfort with each other, their soft plumage almost interwined. Together but still unnerved.

    It started at 05:39am. It began shaking its way up through the deep spreading roots of the old oaks and it grew in intensity. The eagles were all startled at once. Gulls on the sea loch were calling out, strange, previously unheard alarms. There was no wind but proper waves were lapping suddenly and roughly onto the pebble shore of the loch which had been flat calm just seconds before. In the darkness, the young eagles could only sit and stare out, their talons clenching ever tighter into the lichen-covered branches. Somewhere in the same wood, a small flock of sheep also huddled close together for warmth suddenly scattered in all directions, stumbling across boulders and roots. On the far side of the loch, the cattle were bellowing loudly - cows searching for calves, calves seeking mothers. A flock of greylag geese rose into the air as one as panic engulfed them. But the birds of the night, the tawny owls which had been hooting in territorial disputes, fell silent.

    Early this morning as the island slumbered away the weekend, at 05.39:54.2, the earthquake hit Mull. Its epicentre was deep in the earth beneath the roost trees of the eagles. The rumble grew to a crescendo; it sent thunderous waves through the land. High on the frozen scree slopes of Ben More, a shower of ice-shattered Igneous rock tumbled down the mountain as a herd of red deer dodged the flying missiles. Further round the coast, some rocks made it all the way down and bounced wildly onto the Gribun road. The eagles were on the verge of taking flight, but it was still dark. Every instinct was telling them not to, it wouldn't be safe. And yet every tense flight muscle was urging them to flee this unseen danger. It must have been terrifying.

    A few miles away I was jolted awake from a deep sleep by the rush and roar of the primeval shudder which shook the foundations. At times like this, you are instantly wide awake, heart thumping, tense, straining to hear, trying to gather your senses. But all was silent. Was it thunder? An explosion maybe? As the minutes passed, you suddenly realise you've been holding your breath and you start to breathe again. The heart rate returned to near normal but any return to sleep was a long way off. What had just happened - could it really have been an earthquake? And what of the eagles now settling again back at their roost in the old oak wood? They couldn't comprehend the events of the night. The fearless, strong eagles had known fear and weakness for the first time in their lives - but they had survived. The cattle were calm again; the loch's ripples had eased and the sheep had settled. Even the owls had resumed their nightly challenges. On a nearby farm, a frantic sheepdog was still barking but nothing new there.

    Mull had just had a very modest reminder of its violent geological past and we'd all experienced the unbelievable force of a restless Mother Earth. It was just the smallest, tiniest  glimpse imaginable of what terror and destruction some parts of the globe have endured over time. Even our little rumble in the hills had caused a momentary panic in the soul. But for us, the sun came up again on another beautiful, frosty day and the eagles flew from their roost at daybreak and away into the mountains. Our little bit of Mull really had moved - just a bit - the British Geological Survey said it did. For us all, it would be a night to remember.

    Dave Sexton. RSPB Mull Officer

  • Reunited and it feels so good!

     courtesy of Peaches & Cream

    Well - what a turn up for the books this week.  After Dave's story of Haggis's return to a frosty welcome from his parents, I have been keeping a beady eye out at Loch Frisa.

    We have have some lovely winter days here - really hard frosts, followed by crisp clear blue sky and sunshine.  There has been snow on top of the hills which is helping us all get into the festive spirit. 


    Ben More overlooking Loch Scridain




    Ben More overlooking Loch Scridain

    Photo- Debby Thorne





    This week at Loch Frisa has certainly been a hive of activity.  If you have checked the movements of the chicks that were satellite tagged this year - Oran and Venus, you will notice they are both at Loch Frisa

    Then on Wednesday as we watched one of our adults basking in the sunshine, suddenly another eagle appeared and landed about 4 branches below!  I literally held my breath - I thought my eyes were deceiving me - a youngster - chocolate brown all over and looking very much at home - our adult just looked down and didnt move a feather - if only I could read their thoughts!  It was Heather! back home but what a different welcome she received compared to Haggis.  I checked and checked again, not quite believing what I was seeing.  its been about a month since I last saw her and really thought she had left home but there she was sat in the same tree as one of her parents - I couldnt tell whether it was Skye or Frisa but have a hunch it was Frisa.  I have to say I had tears I was so pleased to see her and relieved she was fine.  She looked in fantastic condition.  On Friday I had to go up to the Hide and was met with the most wonderful sight.  Frisa sat on one of her favourite rocks, Skye sat half way up a tree and in between them, Heather at the head of a burn waiting for a fish to appear.  To see the family reunited was fantastic - it certainly gave me a warm glow on a chilly day.  As to the whereabouts of Haggis, who can say whether he is even still on Mull - I will certainly keep an eye out for him and indeed our other chicks.

     I'm glad you enjoyed Highland Haven on Thursday - it was a beautiful film set in a stunning location.  We are fortunate to have black throated divers on Loch Frisa too amongst a whole host of other wildlife and of course our own resident white tailed eagles, Skye and Frisa.  Dont forget, the hide is staying open.  If you are coming to Mull, contact us to arrange a visit.  Full details here:


    Fallow Deer - Photo Debby Thorne





    Fallow Deer - Photo Debby Thorne






    Debby Thorne

    White Tailed Eagle Information Officer

    Isle of Mull