June, 2011

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
  • Fool if you think its over!

    (courtesy Chris Rea)

    I always seem to start my blogs by commenting on the weather, so here we go!  It has certainly been a right old mix with days of blue sky and sunshine, followed by grey, wet days that make it feel like November.  It is really odd when you hear about the really warm dry weather other parts of the UK have been experiencing and yet, on a couple of evenings we have had to light the fire.  The schools on Mull break up on Thursday for their long summer vacation - I just hope the children get some days of sunshine to enjoy - unlike last year when the day after they broke up, it started raining and didn't stop until they went back to school when the sun promptly came out.

     

    Of course we are lucky in other ways - we have a huge variety of wildlife literally on our doorstep.  In my own garden, we had been hearing a strange "squeak" for some time and couldn't work out what it was.  By method of elimination and a bit of logical thinking, we have discovered it is a snipe!  That will be a good one for the Big Garden Birdwatch.

     

    You may have read in the national press about a very exciting visitor to Loch Frisa - a European Roller!  It had been spotted early one morning by a visitor to the Island and luckily for us, it flew across to Loch Frisa.  A truly stunning bird, about jackdaw sized but the most incredible electric blue colour.  It had probably got blown in on a weather front and should be down in the Mediterranean or Africa.  I bet it noticed the change in temperature.

     

    At Loch Frisa, we are able to enjoy a huge range of wildlife.  This year we are able, for the first time, to drive the whole length of the Loch, stopping along the way to marvel at a whole variety of sights.  Incredibly, it was a wet day last week when I met the group at the meeting point of Loch Frisa.  We hadn't gone far when something caught my eye flying along the ridge - it was a short eared owl.  We watched it hunting for sometime and many of our visitors were amazed at just how big they are.  Shortly after, we were treated to a male hen harrier "quartering", or hunting for small mammals such as voles.  It wasn't long before it pounced on something and then we were treated to a view of the female rising up to meet the male and the amazing mid air food pass.  The female doesn't let the male near the nest if there are chicks so he delivers it to her talons mid air before flying off, so that the female can then feed the chicks. 

    It looks like our young buzzard has now fledged - on Friday both parents and the youngster were creating a right old din next to the hide as they were following each other around as the youngster tried to keep his balance and learning to fly at the same time - very entertaining to watch.  Apart from birds, we are lucky enough to enjoy a wide variety of butterflies and flowers.  Where the Forestry Commission have cleared areas of matured pines, large swathes of foxglove have popped up creating a beautiful purple carpet.

     

     Foxgloves Loch Frisa

     

     

    Foxgloves at Loch Frisa - photo Debby Thorne

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Golden Ringed Dragonfly

     

     

     

    Golden Ringed Dragonfly - photo Debby Thorne

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Everywhere you look at the moment, there are signs of new life - so many baby birds - along the track young willow warblers, the common sandpiper, chaffinches, and siskins.  Also evidence of  young with the great spotted woodpeckers flitting back and forth with beaks full of food for their young.

    Our most exciting news at the moment is that barn owls have taken up residence in the barn owl box and the female, as of last night, was incubating 2 eggs.  Its great that we can watch this fabulous bird from the comfort of the hide thanks to the hidden camera in the box.  Of course we will keep you posted on how they progress.

     

    Barn Owl

     

     

     

    Female Barn Owl - photo Debby Thorne

     

     

     

     

     

     

    So although the weather may be unpredictable, the wildlife is always there - sometimes you dont have to look very far.  But the icing on the cake for our visitors on a dull wet day, was to see Skye and Frisa sat in their old favourite tree, calling to each other and preening.  Always such a delight to see.  Some of you have been asking about the tests that were carried out on the egg retrieved from the nest.  The tests showed that the egg was fertile but had stopped developing early on.  At least this confirms that both our birds are fertile so we will be crossing everything for them next year.

    If you would like to come and experience the incredible drive through at Loch Frisa, (come rain or shine)  you can book on a trip by calling the Craignure Visitor Centre on 01680 812556.  More details can be found at Mull Eagle Watch.  You never know what you might see.

    House Sparrow

     

     

     

    Male House Sparrow, Loch Frisa - photo Debby Thorne

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Our other white tailed eagle family, Green T and Blue 9, continue to do well.  I was watching the chicks today who are nearly 8 weeks old.  One of the chicks was doing a lot of wing flapping - getting ready for the big day when they leave the nest.

    Dont forget you can follow us on Twitter at @skyeandfrisa and also on Facebook at Mull Sea Eagles.

    Until next time .....

    Debby Thorne

    White Tailed Eagle Information Officer, Mull

  • Goodbye doesn't mean forever

    Kellan came into our lives on 25 April 2010. Watching from afar, we thought there had been a hatch. His mum, Yellow Black Spot (YBS) was restless, fidgety. Up and down, looking into the nest. Something had changed. Two days later we confirmed it. YBS was feeding Kellan. Delicate, tiny strips of fish from a friendly boat operator on the sea loch below. His dad was a regular visitor, taking advantage of this helpful opportunity as all white-tailed eagles will.

    Kellan had his first near miss in life when his parents were disturbed and left him alone, cold and exposed to the chill of an early Mull spring. He was less than a week old. Any other young eagle might have given in there and then but from that day on we knew Kellan was a fighter. As soon as she knew it was safe YBS was back at the nest, brooding him closely, warming him up amongst her dense, cosy breast feathers. He was safe again and he couldn't have had a more spirited and devoted mother.

    Over the next three months, Kellan grew into a strong young eagle. Dark chocolate-coloured feathers and liquid brown eyes. Fully grown in 12 weeks. And then one day the nest was empty, Kellan had made his maiden flight. He was seen flying well after that time and chasing his parents for food. He was well on his way.

    Then, in late August, he had his second near miss - a very near miss. A farmer gathering sheep found Kellan injured and struggling, perhaps days from death. He was lost in a forest of tall, dark bracken. He'd eaten all he could from a long finished carcass and his slow deterioration from that point seemed inevitable. But the farmer came to the rescue and between us, we managed to save him - again.

    And then others took over the task of getting Kellan back to full strength. The Scottish SPCA and their amazing vets worked miracles on his broken wing and leg. Maybe he'd landed badly and fallen through the oaks to the woodland floor? We'll never know. In the comfort and safety of the SSPCA's wildlife rescue centre he began his long road back. He gained weight, he fed well, he fought serious infections and his breaks healed. The operations were a success. He was nearly back to being a 'proper eagle' again.

    On December 22nd 2010 at 1335 he came back to Mull. On a cold winter's day with deep snow and penetrating frosts, he gazed around again in bewilderment at his old haunts. It may have been cold but it was perfect. Calm, sunny and he was coming home for Christmas. As his carers released their grip on his now strong wings, he glared at us all, turned and flew down and across the beach at low tide. Within minutes, his mother YBS, had joined him on the shoreline and they sat together, calling occasionally, as the winter sun edged lower behind Ben More. He was back amongst his kin. This time he was here to stay.

    We all helped him on his way; the Estate offered deer carcasses to sustain him in his first few weeks. But soon we reduced the offerings and eventually stopped them altogether. He was alone now and fending for himself. Despite his parents starting a new nesting season, they tolerated him nearby. Until it was time for him to move on. This time it was his decision. Some days he would explore further afield but always headed home to roost. We saw him seeing off hoodies, ravens, buzzards, other young white-tailed eagles and even a golden eagle. We saw him roll 360 degrees, just like his parents, when being hassled. Not bad for an eagle with a broken wing.

    One day last month I went to check on him on his usual hillside. There was no signal from his tail mount radio. Maybe the radio had finally stopped working? We knew it was due to stop soon. I sat there looking up at his favourite empty roost in the larches and then across at YBS and her mate tending their two new chicks. Kellan had gone.

    Just in case, I kept the radio tracking kit switched on as I headed back to Salen. As I rounded the corner near Kennedy's Garage, there was Kellan's signal on the radio - Channel 54 - yes it was him! He'd just made the longest flight of his life and was perched somewhere up in the forestry. Fantastic! He really was on his way now - doing exactly what we'd always hoped he would. He was still there the next day; he kept moving but was still in the area several days later. Some visiting botanists saw him fly from the conifers and off through the forest. There was no mistaking that slight kink in his wing.

    But the day after the big summer gale, the radio just hissed. There was no signal from Kellan. I kept the radio on all day, every day. Wherever I went I listened out for that familiar regular heart beat of his frequency. But I never heard it again. This time, I think, he really has moved on. Perhaps the gales helped him across the Sound of Mull to Morvern? Maybe that radio did finally run out of power. Six amazing months of life back in the wild after his precarious start in life, we couldn't have hoped for a better outcome. We knew we couldn't follow him forever and that this day would come. Despite a feeling of emptiness and a frustratingly quiet radio receiver, we're all so pleased for him and relieved he had a third chance at life back on his stunning island home.

    I think about him every day and wonder where he is. As his two new siblings this year grow big and strong in his old nest, I like to imagine Kellan soaring high on warm thermals far away, safe and free. Maybe one day we'll see him again. After all, goodbye doesn't mean forever.

     

    Photo copyright John McAvoy - SSPCA

    Dave Sexton RSPB Scotland Mull Officer

    We've thanked them before but it doesn't hurt to say it again. Kellan owes his numerous chances in life to the farmer who found him, also Matt Wilson, Claire Smith, Duncan Orr-Ewing, the local Mull Estate who welcomed him back, Mull Charters - Martin & Judith, the many happy campers and watchers who kept an eye on him, Mull Eagle Watch, Strathclyde Police, James Greig, Steve Irvine, Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and of course the dedicated staff and skilled vets at the Scottish SPCA . Together we made a difference.

  • Chick Update

    Some of you have asked for an update on the family of Green "T" and her mate Blue "9".  The two chicks are doing fantastically well - Mum and Dad are still feeding them but the chicks can now also feed themselves, helping themselves to leftovers lying around the nest.  The younger chick, only by a day or two, is turning out to be a bit of bully to its bigger sibling - and certainly makes sure it gets its fair share of the food. 

     

    I took a little film showing Mum feeding with Dad sat out to the right.  This is the first time we have posted a video so fingers crossed it works!

    Please note - filming at a white tailed eagle's nest requires a license from Scottish Natural Heritage

     

     

    (film copyright Debby Thorne, RSPB)

    Anyone coming to Mull in the near future and interested in seeing this family, please call 07920 817362

     

    Still lots to see at Loch Frisa including golden eagles, hen harrier, short eared owls, buzzards, peregrine, red throated diver and of course the regulars including the siskins, our whooper swan and the sand martins.  Skye and Frisa put in an appearance when we least expect it much to the delight of our visitors.

     

    Dont forget if you are coming to Mull, to book a trip to the famous eagle hide, call our friends at Craignure Visitor Centre on 01680 812556.  More details here Mull Eagle Watch

     

    Debby Thorne

    White Tailed Eagle Information Officer, Mull