September, 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
  • Every breath you take ......Owl be watching you!

    (courtesy of The Police)

    Sorry for the title - I can hear the groans from here! 

    Many of our visitors have been completely enthralled by our family of barn owls.  You may recall, a couple of posts back, the 3 chicks had their leg rings put on and were put back in the nesting box.  Well less than a week later, the 2 larger of the chicks decided it was time to leave home.  Things had got cramped in the box as the youngsters practised their wing stretching.  They had also tried climbing out the opening too so I wasn't too surprised when I arrived one morning to find 2 of them had left home - leaving behind the smallest of our 3 chicks.  The eggs hatch alternate days so there can be quite  a size difference between the first hatched chick and the last one.  So I was relieved to see the smallest one had decided against joining his older siblings.  The youngest still had a fair amount of down and its feathers still had some growing to do.

    Following the departure of the 2 young chicks, we continued to see voles appear in the nest box so knew Mum and Dad were providing for the small one but of course, had no idea how the 2 fledglings were doing.  Their fledging also coincided with a bout of heavy rain and strong winds.  On a couple of occasions, Dave and I between us were able to spot the youngsters hidden in the undergrowth.  With a long spell of heavy rain and strong winds, we started to worry about our 2 youngsters.  We hadnt spotted them and were not sure whether Mum and Dad were still bringing in voles for them.

    On Monday, the weather cleared and it looked as if we were in for a clearish evening.  So Dave, his daughter and I decided to do an owl watch from the hide.  We settled into the hide just before dusk and it wasnt long before things started to happen.  Four red deer hinds came out of the woods, crossed the track and stopped to graze in front of the hide in the field that leads down to the loch.  We just froze, knowing that the slightest movement would frighten them off.  We scoured the surrounding fields as the light quickly disappeared.  Suddenly,  a flash of white flew across the front of the hide.  It was so hard not to squeal with excitement - but to keep focussed and follow where it went.  We focused on the trees and spotted a second owl, sat on a branch.  We had the door of the hide open so we could hear any calls.  As those of you who have been to the hide will know, its a wonderful state of the art structure, but being made of wood, is prone to creak at the slightest movement.  None of us dare move for fear of a creak.  We then saw 2 of the owls head out of the fields - that would be the adults off to hunt for voles.  We had the camera switched on too for the youngest one - the adults had already provided him with a vole for tea so he was quite settled.  We then scoured the trees and spotted our 2 chicks - fantastic! They were sat on 2 branches, one above, one below.  They looked in great condition.  We were delighted to see them doing so well.  As we watched them, we could hear a call, coming from the top of the same tree.  This time a tawny owl.  Fantastic.  Having seen our owl family, doing well, it was time to leave as we crept out of the hide in the darkness, trying to find car keys and closing the car door quietly.  We drove along the track and were saying how pleased we were that the owls had survived the wet and windy weather, when another tawny owl flew out of the trees next to the track on our way out.  Incredible.  How about Mull Owl Watch?

     

    Barn Owl Chick - Photo Debby Thorne

     

     

     

     

     

    Barn Owl Chick - photo Debby Thorne

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Today, like the rest of the UK, we have experienced a mini heatwave - lovely blue skies and sunshine and 20 degrees on the thermometer.  No doubt the adult barn owls will be out hunting tonight for their family - the young one still in the nest box is looking great, starting to lose the down on its head and doing those all important wing stretches.  Not long before he goes too.  It has been an absolute joy watching this family over the summer and I have learned a lot about barn owls - truly beautiful birds.

    Some of our visitors have fallen under their spell too and we have received some very generous donations - a big thank you - the money will be used to purchase 2 new wooden owl boxes to replace the plastic barrels that are up at the moment once the owls have finished with them for this year. 

    And of course, Skye and Frisa looked stunning against the backdrop of a sapphire blue sky today - their white tails positively shone in the sunshine.

    Until next time ......

     

    Debby Thorne

    White Tailed Eagle Information Officer, Mull

  • Dinner is in the Dog!

    Well for those of you who follow us on Twitter, @skyeandfrisa - you will have seen that something went on at Loch Frisa this afternoon.

    Well to be honest, it really started yesterday.  As you may have seen on the weather forecasts, we have been experiencing some really blustery, showery weather, in between bouts of blue sky and sunshine.  This is great weather for birds of prey - they love to come out in between the showers, to dry off their feathers and also to look for food.  The eagle youngsters also love to show off practising their new flying displays, playing tag, diving and soaring with buzzards and kestrels, hooded crows and ravens all joining in.

    Yesterday, we were watching a sparrowhawk divebombing a hooded crow - it was relentless.  The crow kept trying to land on a branch but the sparrowhawk chased it off - then the crow would turn on the sparrowhawk and the tables were turned - this went on for about ten minutes when we became aware of  2 large birds heading towards the hide.  We just managed to shout "Eagles!" as we all dashed outside.  And there was one of our adults, chasing another white-tailed eagle - at one point they threw their talons up to each other in a challenge - it was hard to see which of our adults it was as it all happened so fast. 

    Just as either Skye or Frisa was chasing the other white-tailed eagle, our 2nd adult appeared as if to provide an escort,  They all disappeared over the trees.  We just held our breath and scanned the skyline.  After what seemed like hours, but was probably only 10 minutes, one of our adults appeared back over the horizon, drifting along the tops of the trees.  We waited for our 2nd adult to return and it seemed forever but eventually we were relieved to see both Skye and Frisa back over the loch. 

    This afternoon, we drove straight down to the hide as it was quite showery.  I stopped at the top of the hill to scan around the glen and noticed a large group of ravens on the skyline performing some stunning acrobatics.  We arrived at the hide and it wasn't long before we spotted one of our adults above the tree line, shortly followed by a second eagle, and then a third! So we had Skye and Frisa and an intruder!  I could see from the markings of the 3rd eagle, it wasn't quite mature but not far off - was it coming in to challenge Skye or Frisa? The intruder circled above the larches, shadowed by Skye and Frisa, then suddenly Skye made for the intruder, talons went up, then broke away, circling each other, lots of calling too - I could just imagine what Skye was saying "If I were you I would get out now or else ....."  Then Skye chased the intruder along the tops of the trees, followed closely by Frisa.  The buzzards were out too - at least 6 of them diving and soaring, hanging in the wind when they could. 

    Then we caught sight of another larger bird - a goldie! Now the buzzards looked tiny. A second goldie then drifted up to circle with the others, the sky was full of ravens - food!  That was it - there must be a carcass up on the hillside bringing in the ravens and the eagles.  And to confirm it, just to make it complete, a juvenile goldie joined in.  The intruder appeared again, obviously looking for an easy meal but Skye and Frisa were having none of it.  They kept chasing it out, meanwhile the goldies held court. 

    Skye and Frisa then flew across the loch and landed on the far shore - probably just catching their breath.  Skye then came back and landed in the field next to the hide where we watched him taking a well earned drink from the loch.  An amazing close encounter with our eagles.  The goldies were still hanging around, showing they weren't to be messed with as the young goldie just hung back a little, watching this incredible scene. 

    Several times I tried to leave the hide to head home, each time I thought it had all settled down, the eagles would appear again and I would have to stay and watching the interaction - the eagles, both golden and white-tails, buzzards, ravens and crows - it was hard to know just where to look.  Finally, it did go quiet - I was reluctant to leave but knew I would be missed as it was getting late.  Who knows what went on after I left - will we have a repeat tomorrow?  I hope so.

    Finally made it home, tea unfortunately didn't survive so the dogs benefitted - but believe me it was worth it.

    Until the next adventure...

    Debby Thorne

    White-tailed eagle Information Officer, Mull

     

     

  • Wink, Blink, Nod - and lots to Celebrate!

    (no alas - its not a song title- couldnt come up with one to fit!)

    Some of you may have heard by now the fantastic news that Somerset and Carolyne Charrington from Treshnish Farm on Mull won the RSPB Telegraph Nature of Farming Awards.  As you can imagine we are all absolutely over the moon - Congratulations to Carolyne and Somerset who do a wonderful job out at Treshnish.  A huge thank you to everyone who showed their support and voted too.  Gordon Buchanan, who grew up on Mull has said  "I'm so pleased for Carolyne and Somerset Charrington. Treshnish Farm is a worthy winner of this prestigious UK-wide award. It's a reflection too of the hard work of many other environmentally-friendly farmers on Mull and Iona who also go the extra mile for wildlife. This farm and many others are vital to the survival of our wildflowers, butterflies, moths and the famous Mull birds including corncrakes, white-tailed eagles and those all-important farmland finches, buntings and waders. What a place!"  Here is a link to their website http://www.treshnish.co.uk/

    A great example of farmers working successfully with wildlife.

    Its been a busy week at the hide too.  On Tuesday and Wednesday we were visited by the pupils of Salen Primary School.  Each class, from both the mainstream and the Gaelic unit, came and heard about the white tailed eagles, some were lucky enough to see Skye and Frisa and some were just happy to watch the chaffinches on the feeders.  I was so impressed by their enthusiasm - they asked lots of really interesting questions and all of them wanted to tell me their own stories of their wildlife encounters.  I think there may be some budding future David Attenborough's, Chris Packham's and Kate Humble's among them.  They were so polite and well behaved too - a real credit to the school and indeed to Mull.

    Pupils from Salen Primary SchoolPupils from Salen Primary School sat on the famous Eagle Bench at the Hide, Loch Frisa

     

    Yesterday it was time to ring our barn owls.  The eldest one, Nod, is 6 weeks old now and is looking every part a barn owl - just got some small bits of fluffy down and now practicising lots of wing stretching in the owl box.  All 3 owls looked healthy, although the littlest one still has some growing to do.  Its been wonderful to watch them progress every day, and have been a great hit with our visitors.  Here are a couple of photos I took (under license) during the ringing process.  Barn Owls are classed as Schedule 1 birds and are afforded the highest degree of protection.

    Barn Owl Loch FrisaBarn Owl with leg ring in place - photo Debby Thorne

     

    Barn Owl Chicks - Loch FrisaPosing for the camera! - photo Debby Thorne

     

     Barn Owl Loch Frisa"I really need to go back to sleep now!" - photo Debby Thorne

     

    I am sure you will agree, they are incredibly cute.  We will keep you posted on their progress.

    Skye and Frisa continue to delight our visitors too.  They have been spending a fair bit of time in front of the hide and today, they were sat side by side preening.  The hen harrier has been showing off too and this afternoon, did a fantastic fly past in front of the hide as if to say "look at me! not those eagles". 

    Autumn has certainly arrived on Mull, the heather is out and the red deer are coming down from the moutain tops, in readiness for the rut which is just round the corner.  We are starting to see the geese arriving too adding to our existing resident population of grey lags.  Dont forget to book a visit call 01680 812556.  More details at Mull Eagle Watch.

    Until next time ..

    Debby Thorne

    White Tailed Eagle Information Officer, Mull