Well as I sit here typing, the wind is howling outside and the rain is lashing against the window and it seems like the whole of the UK is getting a battering this time. Incredibly, just yesterday we were enjoying blue sky and sunshine. The car thermometer read -4C as I left home for Loch Frisa and as I drove down the forestry track, I could see the loch shining like a mirror and Ben More looking splendid with a covering of snow. Ben Talaidh which is also visible from Loch Frisa and lies up Glen Forsa made a great picture sat between the fir trees.
Ben Talaidh from Loch Frisa - photo Debby Thorne
As I put the key in the lock to the hide, I noticed one of our adults sat on top of a dead larch tree just basking in the morning sunshine. Just stay there until the visitors have seen you, I whispered under my breath. I quickly filled the feeders and got the hide ready and was just about to put the telescope out when I heard that familiar sea eagle call sounding like it was just outside the hide. I quickly dashed to the door and spotted Skye sat on a small tree just yards from the hide. Then another call - this time it was Frisa answering back and sitting nearby. I held my breath hardly daring to move but just waiting to see if they were settled or about to depart. They looked settled so crept out of the hide and drove up the track to meet our visitors. I explained there was the possibility that both our adults were sitting close to the hide and we had to be very quiet. We drove back down the track to the hide as I frantically scanned to see if they were still there. Dave had been on watch and as we approached gave a big thumbs up to say there were still there.
The group were quiet as church mice and could hardly believe what they were seeing. Frisa flew a short distance and sat on a crag so we were able to enjoy a great view of her profile against the background of the sky. We were able to appreciate the size and depth of her beak - much bigger than a goldie! And as if that wasn't enough, we were then joined by a juvenile golden eagle circling over the larches. It gave us a great opportunity to point out the markings on a young golden eagle with the white spots on the underside of the wing and the white rump. What more could you ask for - a fantastic location, fantastic wildlife and a fantastic group of people. And for some of our visitors made even more special. We were joined by Mr and Mrs Hirst who were on Mull celebrating Mr HIrst's 60th birthday. Mr Hirst had always wanted to see a white tailed eagle and as a present, his wife had booked a holiday to Mull with the hope of catching sight of our spectacular birds. Well I think he was more than delighted with his birthday present.
We were also joined by John and Meg who were on their Honeymoon.
John and Meg at the Eagle Hide, Loch Frisa
They were married on Saturday and had decided to spend some time on Mull. What a great choice. When I explained that Skye and Frisa had been together for 14 years they were truly amazed and wondered if they could learn anything from our eagles to help them have a long happy life together - good communcation, always looking out for each other and great with youngsters are some ideas for starters! Many congratulations and a long and happy life together.
Frisa, our female - photo Debby Thorne
It is also someone else's birthday tomorrow - Happy Birthday Dave - hope you have a great day!
Dont forget the hide is open throughout winter. Full details of Mull Eagle Watch.
White Tailed Eagle Information Officer, Mull
The intrepid Autumnwatch team have left the island! After a frantic five days of trying to dodge some serious autumn cloud bursts (not always successfully) and trying to keep cameras steady in severe gale force winds, life on Mull today returned to normal. Except today, something very abnormal happened.
By late afternoon with heavy showers blowing through giving way to brief periods of calm and thin, veiled sunlight I ventured north to the forested shores of Loch Frisa. A favourite spot. A peaceful scene. Ravens and hooded crows were still feeding on what was left of a red deer stag carcase high on the hill. Sometimes the grey clouds darkened further as the gang of corvids rose as one and circled, tumbling and diving on each other and then settling again to feed eagerly before the long, cold night ahead.
As I took a deep breath of spruce and bracken-scented air, I was suddenly aware of an approaching sound like the roar of a Tornado jet fighter. I looked straight up and there high above me an adult sea eagle was soaring which was then immediately joined by another. It was our local pair: 18 year old female Frisa and her faithful mate for the last 13 years, Skye. I've seen them and they've seen me on a regular basis for the last seven years. But the noise of rushing air had not come from them. Here it came again, louder this time, more forceful, more angry. More, well, frightening if I’m honest. Still I could see nothing but Frisa and Skye clearly could. They were nervous too, looking all around, craning their necks up and behind them to try and locate this unnerving, invisble force. Then they started to call. A loud echoing cry of alarm. First Frisa, her call deeper than Skye's which then overlapped with hers.
Photo copyright Iain Erskine
I noticed they were now lower than before. They were still calling. I was standing out in the open in full view and yet they were getting closer ...and closer. Then the noise came again. Now louder still and causing a sudden shiver down my back. And like a torpedo from behind the conifers came the black bullet silhouette of an attacking golden eagle, wings folded back, aiming straight at Frisa and Skye. They were now circling even lower above my head and taking evasive action. As one golden eagle pulled away, a second and then incredibly a third joined in, like Spitfires in a war-time dog fight. Two adults and their summer-fledged youngster were ganging up on the bigger sea eagles...and winning. Where was a cameraman when you needed him?
With every eerie rush of wind through the golden eagle's wings and every bullying stoop, Frisa and Skye got lower and lower above me. Second by second, the aggressors pulled up further away from their intended targets. By the time, the sea eagles were right above my head, the trio had all but given up and the neighbours from hell drifted away together into the clouds.
With the danger gone, the clearly shaken sea eagle pair hang-glided down, legs extended and landed in a flimsy larch just 50m away from me. With a racing heartbeat, I stood for a minute or two to take in the scene. Even when I walked quietly and carefully back to the Landrover, they didn't budge. In fact they were even preening briefly. Relaxed again. At ease. Safe.
What had really gone on here today? We know that despite their smaller size, the golden eagles are still in charge here and rule the skies. Such encounters and disputes must happen on occasion and they can get serious but it felt today like Frisa and Skye had somehow sought me out as a means of actually evading their pursuers. There was no way the goldies would come that close and perhaps the sea eagles knew it. It almost felt in some small, weird way, like they trusted me to keep them safe. As if I was a way out of trouble for them. Who knows? They could also have just flown on once the attacking force had departed but they chose to come and perch nearby to recover.
Or of course, it was all just coincidence. I happened to be in the right place at the right time to witness an amazing piece of eagle action. I probably never was part of the plan. Maybe I was losing the plot after nearly a week of frenzied Autumnwatch activity and beginning to sound like an associate of St Francis of Assisi. Yes that was it. Nature just doesn’t work like that in real life – does it?
Then a buzzard decided to join in the fun - photo copyright Iain Erskine
As dusk was now falling fast, first Frisa and then Skye took off as another heavy rain shower engulfed us. They followed each other into the forest to their sheltered roost for the night and I lost them in the gloom. Then I got that chill down my spine again and knew it was time to head home to roost myself. Just another extraordinary day on Eagle Island.
Well I'm sure many of you have heard by now that we have some special visitors on the Island - the BBC Autumnwatch team with Chris Packham and Martin Hughes-Games. They have been capturing some of Mull's finest wildlife - I wont spoil it and tell you what but just to remind you to make sure you watch this Thursday, 4th November at 8.30pm on BBC2.
Today they came down to Loch Frisa to film Dave with Chris Packham - here are a couple of photos to be going on with.
Chris Packham and Dave Sexton - photo Debby Thorne
The Autumnwatch Team at Loch Frisa - photo Debby Thorne
Yours truly and Chris Packham with the famous Eagle Van!
Hope you enjoy the programme
The Island has been enjoying an influx of Waxwings and as the crew were packing up, what flew past the hide? yes a lovely flock of these beautiful little birds.
Waxwing in Salen Garden - photo Debby Thorne
We have also had flocks of whooper swans over the loch as well as the return of the siskins. This time of year is great for seeing large flocks of small birds such as finches - a flock of about 30 goldfinches have been clearing up the dead seed heads in front of the hide, along with crossbills that usually meet our visitors at the meeting point for the trips down to the hide.
Dave will be doing a fuller blog shortly - he's busy at the moment but dont forget to look out for him on Thursday!
Dont forget the hide is staying open throughout the winter - come and see the stars of Autumnwatch and Springwatch - our very own Skye and Frisa. Full details on Mull Eagle Watch