All in the family

Wildlife

Wildlife
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Mull Eagle Watch

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

All in the family

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It had been a long wait to see Kellan again back in April (see blog 'Out of the Blue') and I wondered how long I'd have to wait before he appeared again. As things turned out, not very!

We left him safely at roost on that early spring evening at Killiechronan. He was back in the heart of his parent's territory and clearly felt safe and secure. His father (previously wing tagged White X in 1995) and his mother, the feisty Yellow black spot from 2000 were content too to have him nearby. He was one of the family after all. As a young adolescent, he is now at the age when he might well be chased off by territorial pairs, especially at that time of year when nests are being built and eggs laid. But, for one night only, he was allowed to rest and feel at home. Did they recognise him as one of their own? Doubtful I think - but we can wonder.

He'd gone by the next morning. White-tailed eagles of Kellan's age rarely stay long in one place. The wander lust moves them on and despite his earlier injuries, he is still a restless spirit always alert to new food opportunities and adventures or maybe companions over the next horizon. It was only a week or so after this heart-warming encounter that I decided it was time to check in on Skye and Frisa. You're not meant to have favourites in this job but...

Last year Skye and Frisa fledged a single chick after two years of failure for unexplained reasons. I was heading towards their previous nest sites to look for signs of occupation and to decide how Mull Eagle Watch might best protect them this year so that they had the best possible chance of success. As I rounded a bend, a familiar eagle silhouette perched in a huge sitka stopped me in my tracks. The dust settled and as it cleared I could see the young eagle was still there, unperturbed by the activity on the track below.

Squinting through the telescope on the window mount, I thought I could see that familiar wing droop. Well, not exactly a droop but just not held in the perfect position. The plumage looked right too for a three year old: very mottled brown, lots of patchy whiteness in the feathers, a pale yellow beak and a tail with some hints of things to come. We sat looking at each other for about half an hour, wondering who was going to shift first. He kept altering that wing position, obviously still not entirely comfortable and I knew it was Kellan again! With that he dropped out of the tree and began beating those mighty, miraculous wings. He soon gained height and then just kept going up! Now his quirky flight was even more evident but it was heartening to see him flying even more proficiently than I'd ever seen him. He drifted towards Salen and then back north. By now he was literally just a dark speck in the wide blue sky and had I not seen him to begin with, I'd never have picked him up. At that height, I thought, he could easily leave Mull and soar and glide his way to Morvern and beyond. Perhaps he already had and decided to come home to visit family?

I started to trace back his ancestry in my mind and to work out who he was related to on Mull. It didn't take long to realise that his father 'White X' was the single chick offspring in 1995 from the most famous white-tailed eagle of all time, Blondie, the female who raised the first wild chick since the reintroduction began, way back in 1985. And whose territory was he in now? Skye and Frisa's - Frisa is also one of Blondie's chicks from 1992. I'm not entirely sure what relation that make them - is Frisa his great-aunt or something? No matter. I have a hard enough job keeping track on 'Who do you think you are?' so there wasn't much chance of me working this one out. Instead I just leant on the Landrover to steady the binoculars and watched the speck of Kellan drift away to the north towards Glengorm and finally, once more, he was gone.

Further on I found Skye and Frisa just where I wanted them. Safe and secure and getting on with their own nesting attempt. It had been a very good day. Summer has now been and, it feels like, almost gone! Mull has had some beautiful long sunny days, along with the occasional string of unsettled Atlantic lows creeping in to spoil things. There was bad weather at the vulnerable hatch time this year and we lost some eagle chicks at that stage. Twins became singles with the strongest - often the first to hatch, being the sole survivor. As I write, Skye and Frisa's single chick has fledged and is to be seen regularly over Glen Aros, often on the fencelined ridge opposite Crannich. This is always a favourite perching area for Skye and Frisa and their chicks always follow them there. This year's chick, a female 'Breeze' is a real beauty. But aren't they all? Summer Breeze, makes me feel good.

It was time to check on one of Skye and Frisa's offspring - their first ever in fact, Green X from 1998. She has been paired up and nesting elsewhere on Mull since 2002. It's a remote and long journey but it's always worth the arduous drive and walk. Finally in position and the long wait commenced. I'm watching through a telescope across a wide sea loch and in the past I have picked up fledged chicks as they break the skyline or explore along the shoreline. This time though there were no chicks to see. I knew they'd had a chick just a few weeks previously and it would have been bad luck but not unheard of to have lost it even at this late stage. Green X was perched in one of her usual dead trees on the cliff top. No sign of her mate or the chick. It's a long way to go to get a no-show but as the sun dipped behind some low clouds it felt like it was going to be one of those days.

Out in the loch some gannets were diving and then in amongst them all, a bottle-nosed dolphin leapt clean out of the water, followed by another, and another! If anything can cheer you up on a chilly, grey late afternoon it's a pod of dolphins. One final scan of the ridge before heading for home revealed a golden eagle on patrol. I followed it as it suddenly changed direction, closed its wings and steamed menacingly towards an immature white-tailed eagle. It had come sailing innocently over the ridge but was now dropping fast to lose height to avoid the golden eagle which was closing on it. At the last minute, the golden eagle veered off and the young white-tail continued its descent in a more leisurely, controlled manner. At first I thought, at last, the fledged chick! But as it got closer, I shook my head in disbelief as the unmistakable form of Kellan loomed into view! With his legs dangling down he hang-glided this way and that and seemed in complete control. In a few moments it was touchdown, on the beach. He hopped and jumped and stumbled a little as he landed and then did his familiar walking routine along the shore. This bird is really getting about!

I was just about to pack up, relieved to have seen Kellan again but frustrated at not seeing the chick when in it came, parachuting in and landing almost on top of him. There was a flurry of giant brown wings and yellow legs but Kellan quickly decided his distant cousin was way too close for comfort. He took off from sea level really easily and worked hard to gain height. Soon he was over the ridge again but this time the chick joined him and the two young eagles soared and chased and briefly talon grappled. Green X flew in and perched on a ridge cairn to watch, ensuring her chick was coming to no harm. It was clear for all to see that this was just a friendly family encounter. For me to see Kellan interacting so easily in this way was the real highlight of the day.

I began to imagine him in another year or two, pairing up with his own mate and engaging in similar flight routines. Who would have thought it? There were times when we doubted he'd survive the night, let alone survive to breeding age. But there's a long way to go yet and many hurdles to overcome. Mustn't get ahead of ourselves. For now I was just so grateful that after a long wait, he had actually helped me locate the fledged chick. It was a real family affair. Blondie would have been proud.

With the light fading fast, the two youngsters separated. The chick joined her mum Green X and they both flew along the coast to roost. Kellan, alone once more, glided away into the gathering dusk. When will I see you again?

Dave Sexton RSPB Scotland Mull Officer

The Mull Eagle Hide 5 star experience continues. Call VisitScotland on 01680 812 556 to get the latest news on walks and sightings.

  • Hi Sooty, pleased to meet Dave-the Otter can wait, have a good trip to Mull.

  • Well Jillian you ask for too much Dave and a Otter on the same trip.Sorry my idea of a joke.

  • Thanks for replying Debbie. Fascinating following the boys from Loch Garten and soon, Lowes and Bassenwaithe, stopped at the Bassenwaithe site on the way home but not as easy to see them as far away. Anyone with webcam withdrawel symptons check out the new panda twins at Zoo Atlanta and very new panda baby at the National Zoo Washington. Hopefully we will have a UK baby panda soon as well. Love Mull, made my husband drive round it many times in the 3 days we were there. Loved the quiet and coastal views of the islands but still not brave enough to go in a small boat. Missed otters again, Oh well will have to visit for a 5th time one day. Look forwrad to hearing the name for Iona and Fingles chick this year.

  • Hi Jillian - great to see you too! looks like the ospreys now on their way south - the great thing about Mull's eagles they are here all year round - hope you had a great time on Mull cheers Debby

  • Hi Dave, it was wonderful to meet you at last at the Salen show in August. I asked if you could fininsh Kellan's blog, thank you so much it was very interesting to read. We were lucky to see Iona and her chick sitting in the trees near the loch and flying across the loch before flying back to where we were parked again on the lock. We also watched yellow black spot on serveal occasions as well as one of her chicks. Had a great time on Mull despite the showery weather and touring Scotland, a brilliant 3 weeks. Hope to hear from you again soon.

    ps.Can you say hello to Debbie who I bumped into as I left the visitors centre in Loch Garten-it was great to see you.

  • Visited the hide in July and well worth the entrance fee, a fabulous experience, as is the whole of Mull. Booked again for next year

  • No apologies needed Dave, I have been waiting patiently for a new blog. What a fabulous read, well worth waiting for.  Kellan certainly seems to be enjoying his life of freedom after his rough start in life. I wonder if he remembers the ordeal he went through. It would be so good if he eventually finds a lovely lady to share his life with and bring up a family on the island so you can continue to follow his story.

  • Lovely blog Dave, great to hear more good news about Kellan and how he is doing so well. I can't wait to visit in March.

  • A very interesting long-awaited blog, David.  Do so envy you living and working on Mull, a truly fabulous place, heaven on earth in my eyes.  It almost seems as though Kellan is looking for you as much as you are for him, long may it continue.

  • Nothing to be sorry about,just nice to have such a good blog,doubt the day could not have been much better.

    How good a feeling it must be to know that all the effort put in by so many of you to help Kellan has worked so well and got him back into the wild and now hopefully every chance he will prosper.

    Good to know Skye,Frisa and Breeze go onto their favourite mound and we usually see Skye and/or Frisa on there most days when we are on Mull.Hope we manage to see you soon,we are just about ready for a long journey.

  • What a great experience. Have only been to Mull once and the sea eagles were just specs in the sky so must get back there again soon. Well done to all involved in their well being.

  • Apologies - had a go at trying to fix but seems there are gremlins in the system - hopefully you can still enjoy reading.

  • Oh, no apologies needed David  !!!  A truly wonderful Blog (as always) I was so caught up in the saga . Thank you so much for a terrific read. (and it's all true!  )

  • Sorry this has been published in one big block of text. The system seems to have ignored all the paragarphs settings. Will ask IS to work on it! DS