June, 2010


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
  • Dates with destiny

    There are some good dates which stick in your mind. You know the kind of thing - birthdays, wedding anniversaries, happy times. Then there are the others. Less good times. Much less good. Two dates are now etched into my memory for all the wrong reasons and I need to explain to you why that is. January 21st and June 6th 2010 are the two dates concerned. I've already written about the first date January 21st which is the last time we heard from Venus, our big, young satellite tagged female white-tailed eagle. She vanished from our lives on that cold winter's day in an area south of Oban. We kept hoping her satellite tag had maybe malfunctioned and would one day spring into life again. It never has. Her tag was working just fine up until that point and she had been very active and on the move in the days preceeding her satellite silence. Something else had caused her likely terminal demise. But I suspect we'll never know for sure.

    Last week I got the kind of email from Roy Dennis which I've come to dread. He regularly sends me all the latest data from our three remaining satellite tagged young sea eagles: Mara and Breagha from Loch Frisa in 2008 and Oran from Loch Scridain in 2009. The data for Mara and Breagha, now over two years old, was looking good.  You can see it on the tracking map. Thankfully they're staying close to home. All was looking good. But then the words: "Sorry, no data for Oran". Your blood runs cold  and you catch your breath. A few days before, Oran had taken off on a long, bold flight from here and headed to the northeast of Scotland. He was a young eagle with the wanderlust and this was nothing new. Since fledging less than a year ago he'd been to Northern Ireland, Islay, Jura, the Mull of Kintyre and back home several times. Doing what fit and healthy young sea eagles do naturally.

    We waited for the next satellite link up but the next email started to sound more ominous: "Still no data for Oran". And the next. And the next. Urgent calls to the US sat tag manufacturers confirmed, as with Venus, that our young male eagle had been alive and well, on the move and his tag working perfectly right up to that last lonely moment somewhere on a high heather moor on June 6th. We have heard nothing since and we can only surmise that Oran too has now become another casualty. Sure, he could have flown into power lines. He could have had a fatal encounter with another eagle. Perhaps he wasn't as well as we'd thought . But does a sickly eagle suddenly undertake a long arduous flight from his familiar homeland to new, unknown territory? Who knows. It's also possible something else caused him to fade from our radar. We will be doing all we can to find out. 

    Venus was not with us for very long, just nine months. Oran at least managed to make it to his first birthday but was still gone less than a year from the date he fledged from his nest in the huge Sitka. Imagine the courage it took to launch himself from that nest! Some of you know that nest and what that will have involved. He always had the spirit of adventure and a feisty spirit. Take a look at the photos of him and Venus on the main tracking page to remind yourselves of what fine young eagles they were. They've done their bit for science and helped us understand how and where young sea eagles like to explore. It's just tragic that it was all over so soon for them. January 21st and June 6th 2010: dates that will stick in my head now for all the worst reasons.

    Good news? Yes of course there is some! This week we satellite tagged two healthy, bouncing Mull sea eagle chicks from the Class of 2010. Stand by for their debut on the world stage once they fledge in a few weeks time. Mara and Breagha are doing just fine. If you want to remind yourself of their story go to the BBC Autumnwatch website, look for 'Meet the Animals'/'Stars of 2008' and view the three video diaries all about them. By now, as they enter their third year, they will be looking less and less like scruffy young sea eagles and will be starting to mature, day by day, into their adult plumage. Their beaks and eyes will be gradually lightening; there may even be early signs of some white in their tails. But you daren't allow yourself to look ahead too far or to hope for too much.  

    Venus and Oran 2009-2010: we'll miss you.


    The following photos were taken by James MacDonald of Oran on the Mull of Kintyre  back in January

    Oran - Photo by James MacDonald










    Oran- Photo James MacDonald










    Oran - Photo James MacDonald










    Oran- Photo James MacDonald











    Dave Sexton. RSPB Scotland Mull Officer.

    If anyone has any information on the missing sea eagles Venus and Oran, please send a message via this blog which will not be published and will be treated in strict confidence.



  • Well look at you!

    Sorry couldnt come up with a song title about how much our buzzard chick has grown.

    Our buzzard was 4 weeks old yesterday and just look at the size of it!

    Buzzard Chick












    Mum has been brilliant bringing in voles, frogs, slow worms and even moles.  The rate of growth is phenominal.  Each day there are huge differences.  The feathers are really coming through now and our chick (still has no name!) is grabbing food and feeding itself.  Probably another couple of weeks before fledging but it has been a real honour to have a window on the world of our buzzard family.  The female did virtually all the incubating and we wondered how much work the male would do once the chick had hatched, but he has surpassed himself - bringing in lots of food and even with some to spare on the nest in case the weather is bad or they have trouble finding anything.

    On Friday we had the first glimpse of our merganser chicks - they made a quick dash across the loch from one side to the other - this morning they mad a dash to the small island in front of the hide and then disappeared in the long grass.  The sand martins have suddenly increased in numbers - several families have fledged and now spend time flying across the loch looking for small insects and then line up on the fence near the lochside.  Our powerful camera is able to get a real close up view of these lovely little birds.  Our female Great Spotted Woodpecker continues to visit the peanut feeder to the delight of our visitors - hopefully we will get a chance to see a youngster join her too.  We were delighted to get a real close up view of our red throated divers - a truly stunning diver - still waiting to see if they produce any chicks.  Our orchids are coming through now and there are butterflies everywhere.

    Skye and Frisa I hear you shout - Oh yes - of course - well they have been on great form recently - very much back together - spending time in the larches and near the loch side.   Frisa is going through a moult at present so not looking her best but still a beauty to behold!

    I hope some of you managed to catch "Wild Night In" last night with the Springwatch team raising money for the BBC Wildlife Fund to help save threatened wildlife and places.  So far over £1million has been raised which is incredible.  But its not too late to help - you can bid on a trip to see the famous Springwatch eagles, Skye and Frisa, led by none other than our own Dave Sexton.  Mull Eagle Watch has been fortunate to receive funds from the BBC Wildlife Fund - and now you can have a chance to help too.  You can take part in the Springwatch auction here - what a great prize!   Here is a link to the BBC Wild website http://www.bbc.co.uk/wild/

    And finally, I am sure many of you are aware of the news from Loch of the Lowes - Lady, one of the oldest breeding ospreys was not expected to survive the weekend.  However, as I am typing this blog, I have the webcam on and she is feeding her two chicks.  What an incredible legacy she will leave behind her - 46 chicks successfully fledged - what a great contribution to the osprey population.   I hope she manages to survive long enough for the chicks to fledge successfully - there are a lot of eyes on her just now!  Good Luck Lady.

    Debby Thorne

    White Tailed Eagle Information Officer

    Isle of Mull 

  • All those years ago...

    Can you recall where you were and what you were doing 25 years ago?  I was living in Hertfordshire, sitting behind a desk working for a large pharmaceutical company and listening to Wham 'Careless Whisper', Dire Straits 'Money for Nothing' (remember that video?), and my favourite band, Simple Minds singing 'Don't You Forget about me'! In the news that year - fire engulfed a wooden stand at Valley Road, Bradford during a football match killing 56 people; 38 spectators were killed during rioting at the European Cup final between Liverpool and Juventus at the Heysel Stadium in Belgium; the film 'Back to the Future' opened in the US; LiveAid concerts in Philadelphia, Pennysylvania and London raised over £50million for famine relief in Ethiopia; the first version of Microsoft Windows was released; Dian Fossey, the American mountain gorilla scientist and naturalist was found murdered in Rwanda.  To be honest, there wasn't a huge amount of good news around that year - or was there?

    On the Isle of Mull, back in 1985 something truly amazing was about to happen.

    In one of Mull's most scenic glens, a young bird was about to take a huge leap - not just any bird and not just any leap.  A young sea eagle had the hopes of his species truly resting on his wings - after an absence of nearly 70 years, a white-tailed eagle chick was about to take its first flight in Scotland.

    Last week, we were joined on the island by our RSPB friends and colleagues Roger Broad and Justin Grant - they are BTO licensed ringers and were here to start the exciting but tiring job of ringing our sea eagle chicks.  I was lucky enough to be able to join them on one of the sessions.  It was a beautiful sunny afternoon as we headed off.  As we arrived at the tree where the nest was located, Dave pointed out a long-since fallen tree where 25 years earlier he had been watching a nest waiting for a young sea eagle to take its first flight.  Ironically, it was only yards from where we were standing.  I can't begin to imagine how that must have felt watching a young sea eagle and holding your breath as it takes its first flight - the first flight for a sea eagle chick in Scottish skies for a generation.  I felt quite humbled to be on that same spot watching another sea eagle chick, who would soon be taking its first flight.  But for that first chick 25 years ago, taking its first flight - things didn't go quite as planned.  You can read Dave's blogs from that incredible experience The best and worst of times and A new dawn  Meanwhile, our chick was successfully ringed, measurements taken and DNA swabs taken to establish the sex.  As I left, I gave a backward glance and whispered "Godspeed little one - soon you will be spreading your wings and venturing into the big wide world - stay safe!" 

    Photo Justin Grant




    photo: Justin Grant 

    One of Mull's single chicks in the nest after ringing under SNH licence





    At Loch Frisa, we have been delighted to see the return of Skye and Frisa.  During this wonderful weather we are experiencing, they have being doing some fantastic synchronised flying displays and lots of calling to each other in mid air!  They have also been making lots of contact with each other - almost talon grappling at one point - as if they are re-affirming their bond with each other.  It is just great to see them back together. 

    Skye & Frisa



    Skye and Frisa back together again! (Skye sat above Frisa)





    Our buzzard chick is growing at a phenominal rate!  Each day I switch on the camera you can see the changes - its feet are huge - just like clowns feet - far too big for its body!  The sand martins have fledged one set of youngsters and its a delight to watch the youngsters following their parents over the loch diving and swooping, catching insects.

     Some of you may have seen the following photos in the Press this week - they were taken by Iain Erskine under SNH licence.

    Photo copyright Iain Erskine





    This photo really highlights the broad depth of wings of an adult white tailed eagle which was being harrassed by a hooded crow

    photo - copyright Iain Erskine







    Photo copyright Iain Erskine




    "Go on punk - make my day!"

    Great shot taken by Iain Erskine (under SNH Licence) - adult white tailed eagle being mobbed by a buzzard

    (photo copyright Iain Erskine)




    Dont forget, if you are visiting Mull, come and see Skye and Frisa at the only sea eagle viewing hide in the world.  Mull Eagle Watch

    Debby Thorne

    White Tailed Eagle Information Officer, Mull