August, 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
  • Bank Holiday Bonus

    Well as I sit here typing, there is not a cloud in the sky and as the sun goes down, there is a lovely pinky hue.  It has been lovely and warm today and the sun cream has made a welcome return.  We are having some truly wonderful weather, although there are signs of Autumn creeping through.  The bracken has started to turn golden yellow and the rowan trees are weighed down with their bunches of brightly coloured berries.

    For many people, today was a Bank Holiday but not in Scotland.  Today has been business as usual, and at the Hide, work started early.  One of the smaller cruise liners had docked in Tobermory and was sending a full party down to see our eagles!  They had only managed to drive about half way along the track when both Skye and Frisa came into view.  Not doing one of their special fly pasts but Frisa sat on a fence post, basking in the morning sunshine and Skye sat some distance away in a spruce tree doing likewise. Usually, they tend to sit side by side, even on adjoining fence posts but today it seems they each wanted their own view of the Glen.  It certainly isnt quite the view our visitors expect - the 4th largest eagle in the world sat on a fence post!  We then drove onto the hide, where we were able to get an even closer view of Skye, looking handsome as ever with his white tail absolutely glistening in the sunshine.  I can honestly say, they left Loch Frisa to head back to their ship on cloud 9.

    The afternoon group had a completely different experience.  Dave was acting as "eagle spotter" while I met the group at the start of the Loch Frisa track - as I headed off, message came through both adults were sitting on one of their favourite knolls.  As I headed up to the vantage viewpoint, a second message came through "they've flown".  My heart sank.  We parked the cars and started scouring the sky and the far hills.  Dave arrived shortly and it wasnt long before the cry of "I can see something" rang out.  On the far side of the loch, over one of the crags, a distant golden eagle was circling, rising ever higher on a thermal.  And then, not wanting to be outshone by the goldies, that familiar form of our "flying barn doors" appeared - Skye and Frisa, flying together enjoying a welcome return to perfect flying conditions.  They started off, a fair way off in the distance and teasingly edged closer to us - enough for us to make out that magnificent white tail and enough for us to be able to make out the difference between Skye and Frisa - Frisa being about 25% larger than Skye.  You couldnt help but feel yourself being lifted with them - occasionally they would rise on a thermal and we held our breaths waiting for them to disappear out of sight but they were having a great time and were not in a hurry to head off anywhere.  But of course, all great things must come to end and eventually they drifted off together, across the far hillside, out of sight.  Again, our visitors went home happy.

    But it didnt end there! After everyone had left, I pottered about the hide, tidying up when out the corner of my eye, I saw a large bird heading low across the Loch.  I dashed outside and there was Skye heading straight for the hide - I didnt need my binoculars - he went straight over head, circled a couple of times and then I spotted Frisa, coming in from a different direction to join Skye.  By now they were both calling to each other and flying together - at one point they were side by side and they looked like they were joined at the wings.  Today was just perfect flying weather for our eagles and they certainly made the best of it.  And the weather looks to stay the same for most of the week.  As Skye and Frisa flew together, our young buzzard appeared, over the field next to the hide.  We see him every day and is certainly very vocal, often calling to mum and dad "feed me".  He landed on a nearby fence post, no sign of Mum and Dad, before deciding probably best that he starts looking for tea himself - Mum and Dad could be some time!

      Loch Frisa - photo Debby thorne

     

     

     

    Loch Frisa this morning - photo Debby Thorne

     

     

     

      Loch Frisa                                                                                                                           

     

     

     

     

     Midday - just a few fluffy white clouds!

     

     

     

      

    As some of you may be aware, I have just returned from a week away at the Birdfair at Rutland Water.  It was the first time I had attended the event and I was working on the Wild Scotland stand, representing the eagle hide.  It was great to meet so many people, both past and future visitors to the Island and indeed, to the Hide.  I was also priviledged to a viewing of the osprey family, both parents and 3 very healthy chicks.  Whilst watching the family, the male chick decided to practice his fishing skills - a spectacular sight indeed.  A big thank you to everyone who came and said hello - I had a fantastic time, although my feet have just about recovered. 

       

    Mike Dilger - photo Debby Thorne Simon King - Photo Carrie WrightMike Dilger

     

     

     

     

    Simon King

     

     

     

    Nick Baker on the Wild Scotland stand 

     

     

     

    Nick Baker on the Wild Scotland stand - "its behind you"

     

     

     

     

     Dont forget to book a trip to the hide, just call our friends at the Craignure VisitScotland office on 01680 812556.  Full details here Mull Eagle Watch

    Debby Thorne

    White Tailed Eagle Information Officer, Mull

  • Born to be wild

    One of the great highlights for me every year is to actually see the young white-tailed eagles which you've watched over and fretted about for so long, actually in the air and flying! After all it's what they're born to do. Whilst it's the one thing we have little actual control over (as Loch Frisa proved this year) to see the chicks through hatching, growing and fledging is how we judge the success or failure of our year with the eagles. This year I'm delighted to report we have ten fine, strong young sea eagles on Mull already flying confidently around their nest area. It's an equal best with last year and 2006 and an amazing achievement for the adult birds involved.

    The full dramatic news of how they've fared all down the west coast of Scotland this year is yet to be told but it's looking promising. And make no mistake: as big and as powerful as these birds are, they need all the help and protection we can give them. So once again, at least as far as Mull is concerned, it's testament to the work of the farmers, landowners and the local community here that the eagles have done so well. And one other very important group of people which we shouldn't forget: our visitors. Many of you send in vital sightings and reports of what you've seen and many assist each year with Mull Eagle Watch, keeping an eye on our precious natural heritage during your hard-earned holidays and reporting any suspicious activities to our friends in Strathclyde Police. Thank you all. You've all played your part.

    More on the final results of this season's breeding performances another time but just now I wanted to share with you a brief encounter with one of the recently fledged sea eaglets here on Mull. He is one of two male chicks fledged this year from a nest where, if you know Mull and you're into golf, you'll know that a 'double eagle' during your round is firmly on the cards. Both chicks were sitting side by side on an off shore skerry. They seemed to be very bonded to each other, at least for now and followed each other everywhere. Here on the seaweed covered rock they were probably observing otters or the seals hauled out nearby. Gulls, oystercatchers and a solitary greenshank were busily feeding as the tide edged higher.

    First one chick and almost immediately the second, eventually took flight as the water lapped around those big, as yet untested talons. One flew purposefully back towards the nest area whilst the second one, for once, did not follow his brother. He veered off and headed straight towards me - at eye level.

    As the distance between us closed, I ran out of focus on my excellent RSPB-brand binoculars so gently lowered them and just watched with eyes wide open. He'd gained a little height but not much. I found I was holding my breath as I wondered just how close he would be prepared to come. And still he came.

    Finally as I tilted my head up to follow his flight track, there he was just a matter of feet above my head. He was working hard to stay airborne and for a split second I planned what I'd do if he landed in my lap. His feather-light broad, long wings were flapping hard and the sound of the wind through those stiff new primaries and secondaries swamped the sound of the gulls alarming over the bay. Suddenly he got a bit of a lift and rose a few more metres so that he could stop flapping as if his life depended on it and soared once in a tight circle. He drifted off and then came back, all the time with his head and massive beak craning down to look at me (who had just about started breathing again). What was he up to? Was he just being naturally curious as young sea eagles often are (it's what made them - potentially still makes them - so easy to persecute) or was he simply coming to check out this lone figure which he may have seen many times before checking him out when he was still a growing chick on the nest? He circled low over me for several minutes. Watching him in full control of the summer breeze and choosing to do what he'd done was one of those moments in time that will stay with me forever.

    But soon, as I knew he would, he eventually gained height and chose to abandon our brief 'one to one' in favour of seeking out his brother in the nest wood. He was leaving my world and heading back into his  - where he belonged - hopefully keeping a safer distance from the likes of us. Perhaps I should have waved my arms and shouted, shoo-ing him away so that he didn't try the same close-up and personal encounter with someone else, somewhere in the future with a 12-bore at the ready, armed and dangerous. Let's hope he never has to learn the hard way.

    I stayed where I was for a bit longer, lost in my own little celebration on behalf of the many who help the eagles here, of seeing another young sea eagle who was born to be wild, soar gracefully out of view.

    Dave Sexton RSPB Scotland Mull Officer

    Come to Mull this autumn and see them for yourselves. Book a trip on 01680 812 556.

  • Blue Skies and Old Friends

    Well I am delighted to report that summer has made a comeback on Mull.  Just when we thought our jumpers and coats were coming out of summer hibernation, ready for autumn and winter, the warm weather has returned.  We have been enjoying cloudless blue skies and warm sunshine, sadly a bit too late for our school children as they return this week. 

    Also making a welcome return to Loch Frisa has been Heather, our chick from last year.  Skye and Frisa have been checking out some new roosting spots along the Loch and on Friday, I took a trip along the forestry track to try and locate them.  Skye had spent most of the morning sat in the larches just in front of the hide, to the delight of our visitors.  As we were preparing for the afternoon group, he decided to take off, probably to join Frisa.  As I drove along the track, I spotted our young buzzard hunting above the hay meadow.  The farmer has been busy, making the most of the good weather and has cut and baled the hay.  This has given the young buzzard a great opportunity practise his hunting skills often watched closely by Mum.  As I drove further down the track, I caught a lovely view of a male hen harrier quartering the ground - we have not seen much of the female this year but certainly plenty of great views of the male.  And then, as I turned a bend, I scanned the wood looking for the pale heads of our adults but was taken aback to see a juvenile sat on a branch, close to the Loch.  I could just make out yellow starting to appear on the beak and light mottling to the body.  All the signs of a youngster about a year old - it looked quite at home and very settled sat on the tree.  Of course, we cant be 100% certain it was Heather but I feel sure it was - just popped back home to see how the folks are doing.

    Another exciting event this week was the arrival at the Hide of a rarity for Mull.  Many of you will be surprised when I tell you it was a Jay.  The most colourful member of the crow family, it can be quite difficult to see as they are quite shy woodland birds but for Mull, we have just had one pair confirmed breeding on the Island.  I heard it before I saw it - we used to have a family of jays frequent our garden before we moved to Mull so I was very familiar with its call.  I swung round to see it fly straight in front of the hide and land in the trees next to the track.  It stayed for about 10 minutes before flying off - hopefully it will stay in the area.

    The warm weather has also brought out lots of butterflies - there are Peacocks, Scotch Argus, and Red Admirals everywhere.  We have also seen our black throated divers still on the loch - its reallly encouraging that they have chosen to spend the summer at Loch Frisa - fingers crossed this pair will breed in the future.  They are truly stunning if you've never seen one.

     

    Photo Niall Benvie (rspb-images.com)  

     

    Black Throated Diver

    Photo Niall Benvie (rspb-images.com)

     

    Peacock Butterfly - photo Debby Thorne

     

     

    Peacock Butterfly - photo Debby Thorne

     

     

     

     

     

     As you can tell, there is never a dull moment at Loch Frisa - from birds, flowers, butterflies and mammals, there is lots to see.  Of course we now have 10 young sea eagle chicks that have recently fledged.  We are receiving lots of reports of sightings of the youngsters, taking those first flights, with Mum and Dad not far behind.

    You can book a trip to the only sea eagle viewing hide in the world at Loch Frisa, by calling the VisitScotland office at Craignure on 01680 812556.  Further details at Mull Eagle Watch

    I am signing off for a few days now - heading south to BirdFair at Rutland Water.  If any of you are about, come and say hello - I shall be in Marquee 3 on the Wild Scotland stand.

    Debby Thorne

    White Tailed Eagle Information Officer, Mull