March, 2010

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
  • Wishing on a star

    For a brief time last night the skies were clear and the stars were twinkling at their best.  A distant tawny owl was taking advantage of the calm conditions to proclaim his territorial rights and some curlews were calling down on the bay. There really were signs of spring - daffodils now out in force and a garden pond heaving with frogs having fun - but the weather forecast for the next few days told a very different story.

    Over the last few days, Frisa and Skye and other local pairs have been doing what they should be doing. A natural timetable of  incubation, change-overs, preening, hunting, roosting and then doing it all again. Occasionally they go for a well earned bathe. It's quite telling to consider the scale of what they require for this. In the garden, the blue tits wash in a small plastic tray, the blackbirds are in the bird bath, the collared doves are in the pond and the white-tailed eagles? They've got an entire 5km long loch to splash about in! Once suitably cleansed, it's back to the favourite loch-side tree to perch and preen with wings out-stretched to catch the breeze.

    There are occasions when they don't quite time it right. If either bird has been sitting for more than 3 hours or so, they can often be very keen for a break. They may come off the nest before the other one is ready to settle and a few harsh words are exchanged as a consequence. If you've ever wondered what it's like to watch over a sea eagle nest 24 hours a day, try taking a shift with the brilliant Estonian white-tailed eagle web camera where you can watch a live direct stream from the nest Estonian Webcam . It's fascinating to watch their behaviour in such close, intimate detail. The fidgeting, the turning of the eggs, preening, sleeping, calling to incoming mate or intruders - it's all played out in wonderful technicolour with sound. It will at least give you an idea of what's happening to Frisa and Skye at the moment.

    If you're coming to Mull over Easter, do please book on to a trip and come and see us and our friends from Forestry Commission Scotland and the Mull & Iona Community Trust. Call 01680 812 556 for information.

    As I write, the bay and the sky are grey and moody. It's hard to see where one ends and the other begins. White-capped waves are hitting the seal haul-out rocks with some force and the tops of the hills, already white again from overnight snow, are disappearing into the mizzle. When I gazed up at the stars last night, it had looked all set for a nice calm mild night. How wrong can you get? As we go crashing headlong back into a freezing northerly blast, spare a thought for some very cold but devoted eagles (and eagle watchers) going about their duties. With more than a touch of Arctic conditions set to prevail again this week, there's no telling what might turn up.

    And if there are any twinkling stars out where you are tonight, please make a wish that all will be well for Frisa, Skye and their precious, rapidly developing chicks safe within the protective eggshell and tucked in warm against their parent's brood patch. It's going to be a testing time for everyone. Wrap up warm.

    Dave Sexton RSPB Scotland Mull Officer

     

  • How do you like your eggs in the morning?

    I like mine with a pair of eagles!!

    As Dave mentioned in his last blog, Skye and Frisa have decided on this year's nest and are now well into the routine of incubation.  Both adults take turns in sitting on eggs, although Frisa will tend to do a bit more.  It's fascinating watching their behaviour.  They are incredibly careful when they perform their changeover of duty.  The incoming bird will land on the edge of the nest, wait for the bird that has been incubating to gently ease itself backwards off the egg before the incoming bird then settles down.  The outgoing bird will then tend to fly to a favourite roost tree and have a good old preen usually followed by some well earned flying time.  We have had some incredible spring like weather the last few days and the birds have been taking advantage of the thermals going to some incredible heights. 

    For those of you who follow the Estonian eagles, you will know that the female laid her first egg today!  If you go to the website and look at page 37 on the forum, there is a short video of her laying that first egg.  Incredibly, she makes a gentle chirrup-like sound as she lays - something we were unaware of before.  It really is a great webcam and I would encourage you to check it out - here is the link. Estonian Webcam 

    Incubation lasts for around 38 days and of course we will keep you updated with developments.

     Estonian nest - 1st egg

     

     

     Estonian female with her 1st egg

    photo courtesty Looduskalender website

     

     

       Estonian sea eagle nest

     

     

    Bit of housework needed on this nest  photo taken couple of weeks ago, thankfully now

    thawed!   photo courtesy Looduskalender website

     

      

     

    One day last week I had a very pleasant encounter on the way to carrying out a shift for Mull Eagle Watch (the 24 hour watch on our eagle nests) - as I turned a corner heading up to the loch, I was met by the familiar profile of a sea eagle gently coasting along and seeming in no hurry to go anywhere.  On closer inspection, I could see this was a very young eagle, no sign of white on the tail or paleness of head but a lovely dark chocolately brown. My instinct was to say "Heather" !  Obviously without being able to read her leg ring I cannot know for sure but this bird was huge (like lots of birds of prey, the female is larger than the male) and she certainly looked at home over Loch Frisa and just seemed to linger longer than other visiting youngsters. 

    Today our visitors to the hide had some other spectacular views.  The first sighting this year of our red-throated divers and their rarer cousins the black throated divers all back on the loch.  We have also seen our male and female hen harrier along with the familiar sight of the kestrel hovering over the craggy cliff tops.  On top of that, a goshawk appeared which is a real rarity on Mull.  Our pair of pied wagtails also made a welcome return today, busy collecting material for their nest.  It won't be long before the sand martins and swallows arrive - spring really is here (for the moment).

     Siskin - Loch Frisa

     

     

     

     Male siskin at Loch Frisa

    photo Debby Thorne

     

     

     Dont forget, if you are coming to Mull, come and see Skye and Frisa and who knows what else you might encounter.  Mull Eagle Watch 

    If you are planning a visit to the Island, Mull and Iona Wild Isles week takes place between 8th and 14th May.  Lots of events are planned and once detail are finalised we will publish a link to the website. 

    Debby thorne

    White Tailed Eagle Information Officer, Mull

  • Peaceful easy feeling

    Wow. Where does the time go? All of a sudden, the harsh frost-filled icy winter is fading and spring is racing towards us like an eagle after a rabbit. The title of this blog (The Eagles 1972) doesn't exactly sum up this phase of stress and worry all of us feel as the white-tailed eagles settle down to nest again but it does portray the sense of satisfaction we feel when an old friend comes home.

    Gazing out from our back garden across Salen Bay, the herring gulls were alarm calling and there, flapping hard across the bay was an immature sea eagle. A closer look with binoculars revealed the small tell-tale outline of a satellite pack. I felt the bird looked extra large - a female - and the pulse quickened. Could it be Venus emerging from the silence of the satellites? She landed in a huge oak and was immediately surrounded by a menacing gang of hooded crows which teased and goaded her. A passing gull swooped on her and she nearly lost her balance as the crows became ever bolder, even tugging at her tail. In a minute or two, we were round at the famous old boats in the bay and gazing into the trees trying to find her. As we inched forward, the crows gave her location away and there she was. A big female immature sea eagle but she was too pale and mottled to be Venus who is not yet a year old and would still look quite dark. This was a second year sea eagle which could only mean one bird: Breagha had come home! A momentary sadness at it not being Venus was soon filled with a pride and pleasure at seeing our beautiful Breagha. She flew strongly out over the bay and we lost sight of her.

    Later in the afternoon on our way back from Tobermory, we stopped to scan the bay and there she was again. She was sitting on a skerry quite near the old boats and seemed to be carefully watching something in the water. I thought it might be all the common seals which regularly haul out on the rocks in the bay. But according to Bryan Rains of Wild About Mull tours who watched and photographed her earlier in the day, it was a fishing otter that she had her eagle-eyes on. Fabulous that she's learned this time honoured sea eagle tradition of letting the otters do all the work and then waiting for her chance to steal the prize. We took a few minutes just to watch her and admire her fine posture and noble, alert head, looking all around the bay. This was once a young, scruffy chick which RSPB climber Justin Grant had wrestled briefly with as he climbed into her nest and who cameraman Gordon Buchanan had helped lower carefully to the ground as he filmed the satellite tagging episode for the BBC's Autumnwatch in 2008. I had once touched and tried to calm this now healthy, relaxed young eagle sitting before us, wild and free, on a seaweed covered rock - back on the island she knows as home.

    According to the satellite data just received from Roy Dennis, we know that when Breagha was on the nearby Morvern mainland recently, she will have crossed flight paths with her brother Mara. Perhaps they soared together for a few minutes in the clear, frosty air and then as Mara headed north to Rum and Canna, Breagha veered westwards and headed home to Mull - perhaps for a brief visit to Loch Frisa to see what mum Frisa and dad Skye were up to this year.

    She was seen by regular Mull visitors Jenny and Chris heading seaward once more and then again heading west to Loch na Keal and finally gone from our gaze for who knows how long. Thankfully the satellite data helps us follow her every move even if we don't have the peaceful, easy feeling of watching her with our own eyes -  going about her business.

     Breagha - photo Bryan Rains

     

     

    Breagha, aged nearly two, doing some otter watching on a skerry in Salen Bay - notice how pale and mottled she looks - her beak is beginning to lighten too.  Photo by Bryan Rains/Wild About Mull

     

     

     

     

    Meanwhile, back in stress city, Frisa and Skye have finally settled on their choice of nests. It's actually where we thought they might be all along but to hear the very latest news about their next epic nesting adventure, you'll have to tune in next time. They have a long journey ahead of them but they would surely be very proud to know how well young Breagha is doing. Seeing her looking so good makes us feel good to have helped her a little bit along the way.

    Dont forget you can follow the white tailed eagles in Estonia via their webcam Estonian Webcam

    Dave Sexton

    RSPB Scotland Mull Officer

    Coming to Mull over Easter? Come and see us and the eagles at the Mull Eagle Watch hide at Forestry Commission Scotland's Loch Frisa by booking on a trip. Call 01680 812 556.