July, 2011


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
  • If you gotta go, go now!

    (courtesy the Moody Blues I think!)

    Well, I normally start with the weather and so delighted to report its been sun, sun and more sun.  We have been thoroughly spoilt on Mull for the last few weeks.  Beautiful clear blue skies and warm sunshine - almost a heatwave with the garden thermometer reaching 30.9°C - Dave wont believe it when he returns.

    As usual, this is a really busy time on Mull - the English schools have now broken up for their summer break so the Island is bustling and trips to Loch Frisa are filling up.  Skye and Frisa have returned to thir regular lochside tree and occasionally sitting in one of the trees close to the hide.  Just sad that at this time, their chicks would have just about fledged and we would see Skye and Frisa teaching them flying and hunting techniques.

    Our newly fledged buzzard has certainly given us plenty of entertainment.  Yesterday he was running up and down a newly mown field in front of the hide - looked so comical as Mum watched from a fence post.  Eventually she called to him, took off with him in hot pursuit and showed him how to hunt from above the ground, almost hovering and was rewarded pretty quickly with a rabbit for lunch. 

    We also have a newly fledged grey heron - its great watching the adults showing them what to do - the adult heron was trying to encourage the youngster to fly but he kept landng as if to say, "I've had a enough, I need a rest". 

    Our exciting news is at the time of writing our barn owl has had her first hatch!  She eventually laid 7 eggs and I expect a 2nd hatching this morning.  Its lovely watching her from the hide checking on the eggs, and the odd glimpse of the chick.  We have put up another box in the trees nearby for Dad as a roost which will also be useful once the chicks fledge.  I will keep you posted of progress and try to grab some photos from the camera. (Just a reminder that the barn owl is on Schedule 1 of both the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 and The Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order, 1985; therefore the birds, their nests, eggs and young are fully protected at all times throughout the UK).

    The sand martins have fledged their second broods and the sky is full of them, as well as swallows and their young - always a delight to see.

    In between trips to Loch Frisa, I have been checking on our other nest sites as we hit fledging time.  Delighted to report that about half our chicks have now left the nest with the rest following shortly.  Green T and her family are doing well.  I really thought one of the chicks would have gone by now - but checked yesterday and they are both still there.  Its a time of great excitement as the youngsters prepare to go but also tinged with a hint of sadness - having watched a family from tiny fluffy chicks, then mature into fully grown, handsome eagles is a real priviledge - once they have left the nest they are on their own in the big wide world.  We hope and pray and cross everything possible that they remain safe and make it to adulthood themselves.

    I was over on the Treshnish Isles last week and was delighted to see good numbers of puffins, razorbills and kittiwakes - but they are not safe - 3 out of 4 kittiwake nests will fail because of lack of food - our seas our changing and we must do something and do something NOW.  We are asking everyone to take a step, just one small step - to help our wildlife - you can start by signing our pledge to help protect our marine life and join the campaign in Stepping up to Nature




    Puffin on Lunga - photo Debby Thorne




    Razorbills - Lunga

     Razorbills on Lunga - Photo Debby Thorne


    The other exciting piece of news is that a farm on Mull has reached the final of the Nature of Farming Award Awards.  Somerset and Carolyne Charrington run a 750ha upland livestock farm at Treshnish on Mull.  They have created and restored key habitats including native woodland, wetland, peat bog and moorland.  Please vote for them on the link above and you could have the chance to win a luxury weekend break for two!  They are certainly a great example for farmers and wildlife living and working together.


    And finally, just to let visitors know that the logging operations have started at the north end of Loch Frisa, which means the meeting point is now at the south end ie on the Tobermory to Salen Road..  If you wish to book a trip to Loch Frisa, just call our friends at the Craignure Visitor Centre on 01680 812556.  Further details here Mull Eagle Watch


    Until next time

    Debby Thorne

    White Tailed Eagle Information Officer, Mull


  • Why don't you stay - just a little bit longer?

    Well, I can't believe I am writing this but Mull has been experiencing some real summer weather - it has been warm and sunny and many of the lochs have been like glass - hardly a breath of wind to cause even the tiniest ripple.   I have never seen so many dragonflies - the golden ringed variety and butterflies everywhere.


    Due to unforeseen circumstances, we have not been able to run trips to Loch Frisa but instead have been taking our visitors to view a nest which I am delighted to say has 2 very healthy chicks.  We have been following this family through incubation and hatching and its been a delight to follow their progress.  Mum, known as Green T, and Dad, Blue 9 have been fantastic parents.  During the incredible gales we had a few weeks back, Mum managed to get both chicks underneath her, and hunkered down against the wind and refused to budge - I was amazed when I went down the following morning and found the nest still in tact with all occupants safe and sound.  A great credit to their nest building abilities too.


    When the chicks first hatch, they are white and fluffy and would fit in the palm of my hand - at 9 weeks, they are pretty well full grown - with chocolate brown feathers and a dark beak.  There is a lot of wing flapping going on, jumping up and down and at one point today, one of the chicks was airborne for about 10 seconds.  I held my breath until it landed safely back on the nest.  The young eagles tend to fledge between 10 and 12 weeks of age.  Its quite a nail biting time as the young eagles dont take to the skies straight away but instead come down onto the lower branches and onto the ground.  The parents will continue to bring food into them but instead of delivering it to the chicks, they deliver it a distance away, to encourage the youngsters out, build up their confidence and eventually start hunting for themselves.  It seems such a short spell between hatching and fledging and today I realised that I will not have much longer of being able to enjoy watching these 2 youngsters on the nest - they are already itching to leave home!  Under my breath I whispered - just stay a wee bit longer but of course I know its countdown.  Our visitors have really enjoyed the experience of watching the antics on the nest too.  We will continue to visit this nest until the end of July, so if you plan to visit Mull and wish to join me for a trip, call me on 07920 817362.



    Here is a short clip of our eagle family - Dad arrives with a fish - quickly snatched by one of the chicks who instantly mantles to protect his food - while the other chick looks on - he didn't have to wait long for his meal as mum arrived shortly after.


    Trips to be Loch Frisa will be resumed in due course.  And of course, I am still keeping an eye on Skye and Frisa.  I saw them a couple of evenings ago.  They were sat side by side on a lochside tree basking in the evening sunshine.  The barn owl, at the last count, was sitting on 6 eggs and so we will be keeping a close eye on them as hatching date approaches.

    To book a trip to Loch Frisa, please call the Visitor Information Centre at Craignure on 01680 812556.

    Debby Thorne

    White Tailed Eagle Information Officer, Mull

  • Breagha the beauty

    In Gaelic, Breagha means 'beauty' or 'beautiful'. She was named by children from the Salen Primary School Gaelic Unit along with her brother Mara (meaning 'sea' or 'ocean'). That was back in July 2008 when Gordon Buchanan and BBC Autumnwatch helped us to fit the Loch Frisa siblings with satellite tags as part of a study into young white-tailed eagle dispersal from their nesting area. We've followed Breagha and Mara ever since. Sometimes their solar powered tags didn't send in the data when we wanted it. Maybe they were perched in thick forestry or the sun wasn't shining enough (can't believe that, I know) to charge the batteries. But then they were back and all was well. A fascinating and unique view into their young lives giving us useful new data to help protect them and all white-tailed eagles in the future.

    I remember once when they both came together at Loch Ba and settled on a shingle spit. They flew away in opposite directions and I wondered what lay ahead for them both. Mara has spent much of the last three years on Morvern, around Loch Sunart and Loch Shiel. Breagha has spent most of her time on Skye, Raasay and back here on Mull. One day last year I watched her from my garden fly across Salen Bay and settle in a pine tree above the old boats. She was maturing into a fine sub adult - yellow beak, a whitening tail and a sunlit eye. I'd hoped she would carry on transmitting for a year or two more. The satellite tags are programmed to work for 3-5 years. It would have been fascinanting to know where she might settle. Would it be back on Mull or further afield? She seems to have taken a liking to the Isle of Skye...

    Breagha - Salen Bay - photo copyright Bryan Rains


    But now I doubt we will know. We know from sightings that her satellite tag had started to fall off as the straps are designed to do. But since May 22nd, her tag has stopped working. If you look at her movements before that date on the tracking map you can see she was behaving normally, the tag was working well and she was on the move, roosting on islands in the loch and generally doing what she should do. Perhaps the tag finally slipped off and dropped into the deep waters of the loch, never to be heard from again. And we hope beautiful Breagha flew on to continue her long life.

    Breagha gave us so much. She let us into her secret world, if only for three short years and has unwittingly contributed hugely to our knowledge of young white-tailed eagle dispersal. We will now be able to look after those eagles who follow her in the years ahead. We wish her well and will continue to follow her 'little' brother Mara who is thriving. Let's hope his tag keeps going for another year or two. To re-live the BBC satellite tagging films on Autumnwatch 2008 visit the 'Holiday Mull & Iona' website www.holidaymull.com and go to the 'Mull Eagle Watch' pages. You'll see again and remember just how beautiful she was...and hopefully still is.

    Breagha - from all of us - thank you for sharing your early life with the world.

    I'm about to embark on a short journey of my own - across the USA, coast to coast  (meeting up with Skye and Frisa's distant cousins, the bald eagle). Catch up next month...

    Debby it's all yours!

    Dave Sexton RSPB Mull Officer