Goodbye doesn't mean forever

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Mull Eagle Watch

Follows the fortunes of Mull's white-tailed eagles and the Isle's other fascinating wildlife

Goodbye doesn't mean forever

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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.

  • Hi Jillian

    Thanks for your comment. Sadly I'll be away from Mull again so won't get to meet you. I'll be working with bald eagles, Frisa & Skye's close cousins across the pond in the US. Sorry! Hope you have a great trip. Debby will be here to help you enjoy your visit. Dave

  • Thanks Dave for the update on Kellan, just an amazing story. All our thoughts and wishes are with him, wherever he is.  Thanks also Debbie for the great video, fantastic to see a snippet of the eagles' daily life! I see the juvenile WTSE is still around Lincolnshire.  I wonder if he/she will ever move north.   Have wonderful holidays all of you travelling to Mull, we were there about four weeks ago, and it truly is a special place, with very special people.

  • I obviously had "a senior moment" and forgot to check page 2 for my comment made over the weekend.  I must be older than I realised!!!

  • I posted a comment over the weekend which has not appeared, I don't know why.  I commented what a relief it was to reach the end of the saga to find that nothing horrible had happened, we must have all been on the edge of our seats.  A little disappointed that we will not see Kellan when we visit in September, but at least he is well and flying free somewhere.  Good luck to him and all this years' fledglings, and thanks for all the great work the people on Mull do to ensure their safety, hopefully there will be others to view, plus the otters, seals and what was a first for us last year, diving gannets, great sight.

  • Thanks for your blog, hopefully you will tell us when anyone spots him in Scotland and I am sure he will do well now with everyones wonderful care and help during his life on Mull.

    I am hoping to see Dave this year as he was only holiday when we visited the hide two summers ago.

    Will you be around, Dave at the hide on 1st/2nd/3rd/4th August as I would love to meet you????

    Getting excited now about my Mull visit at the end of term.

    Jillian

  • What a fabulous story and such dedication by all those involved.  Well done.

  • Phew, what a relief to reach the end and know that nothing horrible had happened.  You had us all on the edge of our seats, I'm sure.  Like Sooty, it's only 12 weeks until we come to Mull, and though we were hoping we might spot Kellan, we're so pleased to know that all seems well with him, although how he or any bird or human can actually choose to leave Mull I don't know, it is such a wonderful peaceful place, only wish I had the choice!!!   Thank you, Dave, for keeping us up to date with the Kellan saga.

  • Everybody connected with recovery of Kellan deserve lots of praise but perhaps a special mention of the brilliant vet who operated on him.Find it almost unbelievable that such a bad injury and infection could be mended to give him a near normal life.

  • That bird is a fighter he will be back I am sure

  • Fly free Kellan I am sure one day you come back and say hello to Dave and your friends on Mull - if not I am sure someone will see you with your kinky wing and tell him , Dave just say farewell see you soon .

  • Thank you Dave. I guess from now on everyone will be searching for an Eagle with a kink in his wing. Lets hope it's not too long before that occurs.

  • A lovely story Dave, of an amazing Eagle - I must now go and dry my eyes! Happy soaring Kellen :-)

  • Thank you very much for another great blog Dave, it’s good to hear your lovely story telling again.

    Don’t ever give it up.

    Such an amazing success story, Kellan is one lucky bird to have so many wonderful people to help him through his traumatic life so far. I truly hope he one day returns to Mull and maybe even have young of his own there. Wouldn’t that be a super thank you to you all?

  • Well done and thanks to everyone involved - it is truly heartwarming to hear such a story in this day and age.  Stay safe Kellan and I hope someone spots you somewhere just to give us some reassurance.

  • Kellan's so beautiful, your blog had me with tears rolling down my face and a heavy feeling in my chest, so emotional, its a success story why am I crying!!!!!

    The gods will bring him back to you, to show you his babies and that all is well