Our female white-tailed eagle, Iona, is currently sitting on 2 or possibly three eggs on the pair’s new nest in the top of a Sitka Spruce tree at Glen Seilisdeir. The first egg was laid late on 29th March and so is now 20 days old, just over half way through the 38 day incubation period: if everything goes to plan the first egg will hatch on 6th or 7th May.
We have had a brilliant week of weather leading up to the Easter weekend, culminating in a warm sunny day on Good Friday, with hardly a cloud in the sky. The eagle sightings have been spectacular with up to 6 eagles, 3 white-tailed and 3 golden, seen at any one time. On Monday we noticed 3 white-tailed eagles on and around a carcase on the hillside above the forest. Several ravens and hooded crows were also showing interest in the food and harried the eagles relentlessly when they took off. In mid-week we had a close fly-past by a juvenile golden eagle and today we walked down the hill to greet our visitors for the morning trip and noticed Fingal, our male bird, sat in the large tree just above the car park. He stayed there for about 20 minutes while we talked about him, and many photographs were taken. While we watched, a hooded crow flew onto a branch above him, repeatedly calling and finally diving down to drive him out of the tree.
All of our visitors are special, but on Thursday we had an extra-special visitor in the person of Professor Aubrey Manning, perhaps most famous for presenting TV programmes like ‘Landscape Mysteries’ and most recently ‘Earth Story’. He has long been a supporter of the Scottish Wildlife Trust and was fascinated to hear the success story of the reintroduction and recolonisation of the white-tailed eagles to Scotland.
Many of the groups this week comprised mainly families and it has been very rewarding to see how much the children have enjoyed seeing the eagles and other wildlife in Tiroran Forest, including numerous chaffinches, siskins and coal tits around the bird feeders, and a number of bloody-nosed beetles and a rare oil beetle crossing the woodland track. Our life-size replica white-tailed eagle nest has been very popular for photo opportunities with the kids and we have had up to 8 ‘chicks’ in the nest at any one time.
We are proud to have retained our maximum 5-star rating from Visit Scotland this year and we are continuously trying to improve the visitor experience. We now have a Mull Eagle Watch facebook page too, so do check that out. If you live on the Isle of Mull or are visiting the island this year do come along on one of our twice-daily trips (10am and 1pm each weekday). To book, telephone 01680 812556 or call in to the Visitor Information Centre at Craignure (opposite the ferry pier).
Always drive safely on Mull roads, but if you are visiting Mull in the next couple of weeks do take extra care as there are numerous free range lambs and calves at the moment.
Mixed weather this week with great views of white-tailed eagles and golden eagles on sunny days and long periods of inactivity from the birds on wet days.
Our female, Iona, laid her first egg on 29th March, so that means it is 13 days old today – just another 25 days until it (hopefully) hatches. She has probably laid at least another egg, possibly 2, but we won’t know for sure until they hatch. Fingal, the male, has been taking his turn incubating the eggs, allowing Iona to leave the nest to feed. We are getting the impression that there is a red deer carcase somewhere up on the moorland above the nest site, as we have not seen any small prey items being brought in. Both adults have favourite perching branches near the nest and we have watched them preening for long periods. On one occasion we even saw Iona fly down toward the burn that flows near the nest tree, presumably to drink or bathe.
There have been two other white-tailed eagles in the vicinity of the nest this week: a juvenile, probably Orion, their last years young, and a sub-adult bird that cheekily landed on the nest. Fingal half-heartedly chased it away, and the two eagles were seen soaring together over the forest. The other bird was noticeably larger than Fingal and is probably offspring of the pair from 3 or 4 years ago.
On most days we have seen golden eagles soaring above the moorland and mountains that form the backdrop to our nest, and their has been a great deal of interaction with our local ravens that appear to have fledged young already. Buzzards have been getting in on the action too, while a sparrowhawk, hen harrier and peregrine have all made appearances on different days.
Our feeders near the hide are being emptied every day by a horde of chaffinches, siskins and coal tits. Common crossbills have been seen and heard most days too, as they flit through the tops of the spruce trees, rifling the cones for their remaining seeds. A new owl nest barrel has been erected in a tree close to the hide which has a camera in it and we hope that it may soon be occupied by a pair of barn owls or tawny owls. We have also had a report of a pine marten from a nearby garden this week.
The camera that relays live pictures of the nest to the hided has been relocated because of the new nest site chosen by the eagles this year. We hope to have it up and running next week and will be attempting to get a live webcam going soon.
Today we had some great children at the hide who spent most of the afternoon constructing the most fabulous full-size replica of a white-tailed eagle nest. Check out our new Mull Eagle Watch facebook page to see the photos.
Lots of eagle activity for the first week of Mull Eagle Watch trips.
Having located the new nest of our pair of white-tailed eagles - Iona (female) and Fingal (male) – we have made rapid changes to maintain and improve the visitor experience, which was again awarded the maximum 5-star rating from Visit Scotland last year. Two new shelters have been constructed to provide cover from which we can watch the eagle nest out of the worst of the elements. Our viewing points are further from the nest, but enable wonderful views of the birds and nest in their element as the fly above the tree tops and soar up over the moorland. Ben More, the tallest mountain on Mull, provides a spectacular backdrop and we have watched as the snow has gradually melted in the spring sunshine.
We have seen regular changeovers of our pair following the laying of the first egg late on Friday 29th March, with the departing adult often perching in the top of nearby trees to preen and stretch for long periods, while the other bird hunkers down on the eggs. Their distinctive yelping contact and pair-bonding call piercing the still air of the Glen. Golden eagles have been spotted too, often soaring high toward Ben More, but sometimes coming close as if investigating the new sea eagle nest.
Other interesting news this week is that a pine marten has been reported in the grounds of Tiroran House Hotel, just a mile to the south, on the shore of Loch Scridain where our pair do much of their hunting. These beautiful, but voracious, mammal predators seem to have appeared on Mull in recent years and are reputed to predate eagle eggs from the nest!
Visitor bookings for our second week are building up, prior to the Easter rush, so make your reservation on 01680 812 556 or call in at the Visitor Information Centre at Craignure where they will give you directions. Trips run at 10am and 1pm each weekday. Income from the trips helps support local organisations and projects via the Eagle Fund.
I will again be leading trips this year for the RSPB along with the new Forest Commission Scotland/Mull & Iona Community Trust Ranger Rachel Ann Evans, who is expert on birds of prey.