June, 2014

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
  • Eagles soaring

    Our new white-tailed eagle chick will be seven weeks old on Wednesday (25th June).  We can see it moving around the nest, feeding and exercising its wings.  The overall plumage has darkened to the mottled brown colour it will remain for the first couple of years, very different from the pale head and breast feathers and white tail of the adults, which stand out from the dark green background of the spruce trees where the nest is located.  The chick doesn’t have the bright yellow beak yet either but like the rest of the body it is just about full adult size.  It will be another five weeks (on average), however, before this bird fledges.  It still has lots of flight feather and muscle development to do before it is able to take to the skies and soar majestically over Tiroran Forest like its parents.

    Unusually, last years offspring has been in the territory all spring.  Again today it was perched in a tree relatively close to the nest site.  ‘Orion’, as it was named by Tobermory schoolchildren, is much more difficult to spot when it roosting amongst the shadows in the imposing trees along the edge of the forest.  When it flies and is silhouetted against the pale sky, however, it has the same ‘rectangular’ wing shape of the parents, which give white-tailed eagles the nickname ‘flying barn door’.

    We have witnessed some spectacular interaction between our adult pair and the non-breeding pair of golden eagles that have been in the vicinity most of the spring.  The manoeuvrability of such large birds is staggering.  Last week we saw Iona, our female white-tailed eagle, leave the nest and, finding a thermal, soar skyward.  Suddenly, in the distance the golden eagle pair appeared, quickly descending to start mobbing her.  Each time, as they swooped down from above, Iona would flip over and show her talons to the attacking birds.  This continued for 20 seconds until the goldies decided that discretion was the better part of valour and began soaring higher and higher until they disappeared into the cloud.

    We have suffered some disruption to eagle nests this year by people trying to get too close.  There have also been reports from other parts of the country of birds such as nightjars having their courtship disturbed by watchers and photographers playing recordings of bird calls to attract them closer.  This is not only unethical, it is also illegal when disturbance to nesting is caused.  There have also been several appalling incidents of birds of prey being poisoned this year, and any action such as this should be immediately reported to the police.

    Not only are we seeing eagles each day at Mull Eagle Watch, we are also visited by a range of other birds and invertebrates.  We frequently spot red deer on the moorland above the forest.  Unfortunately, there are far too many red deer for the habitats to support on Mull as there are no natural predators here apart from humans.  Not only do they cause a problem to farmers, but also damage deciduous trees by stripping the bark, and over-browse moorland vegetation, especially heather.  This has a detrimental effect on all the many species such as mountain hare and emperor moth that depend on heather for food and shelter.

    Don’t forget that we now have a live webcam on one of the Isle of Mull white-tailed eagle nests at http://scotland.forestry.gov.uk/visit/mull/mull-eagle-watch

  • LIVE WHITE-TAILED EAGLE WEBCAM

    We now have a live webcam up and running on one of the white-tailed eagle nests on the Isle of Mull: http://scotland.forestry.gov.uk/visit/mull/mull-eagle-watch . This is the nest of ‘Sula’ and ‘Cuin’ a pair comprising a Mull-fledged bird and one of the Norwegian birds that was reintroduced to the East coast of Scotland. This pair have been featured regularly on BBC Springwatch this year along with some of the our otters and other wildlife.

    Our Mull Eagle Watch white-tailed eagle chick is 5 weeks old this week and its parents, Iona and Fingal, have been doing a great job of rearing it: regularly bringing prey to the nest in the form of sea fish, birds, rabbits and hares. Greylag geese numbers on Mull have increased enormously in recent years and now their goslings feature high on the white-tailed eagle menu.
    Ringing (the fitting of a BTO leg-ring and another colour-coded leg-ring) has been carried out this week with two climbers scaling the dizzy heights of a large spruce tree to reach the nest.

    Our pair have also been forced to defend their nest and the area around it from other birds of prey (especially a pair of buzzards that have been nesting close by) and corvids: ravens and hooded crows. These birds don’t appear to be interested in the chick particularly (although they could certainly injure or kill it), but seem intent on trying to steal some of the prey remains that litter the edge of the nest. This has all lead to some spectacular views of aerial battles, soaring eagles and dramatic flights of our adult birds carrying prey too and from the nest.

    Visitors to Mull Eagle Watch have also been delighted with other fascinating sightings, including regular views of a non-breeding pair of golden eagles, the antics of siskins, coal tits, chaffinches and other birds on the feeders, and a wide range of invertebrates appearing close to the hide with such notable species as marsh fritillary butterfly, red-necked footman moth and gold-ringed dragonfly.

    John Clare – Community Information & Tourism Officer

  • FLAMING JUNE AT MULL EAGLE WATCH

    Here we are into June already, and while Springwatch covers one of the more recent Isle of Mull pairs of white-tailed eagles (a Mull-fledged bird and a Scottish East coast release bird) the Mull Eagle Watch trips continue at Tiroran Forest in Glen Seilisdeir. 

     Our white-tailed eagle chick is 27 days old today and is growing rapidly.  Already its plumage is darkening and the parents are spending less and less time on the nest.  Prey in the form of sea fish and seabirds is brought in regularly, with Iona and Fingal only generally remaining for a short while on the nest itself to feed the youngster.  For the remainder of the time they are either off hunting, soaring above the woodland, or roosting in the tops of nearby spruce trees where they preen and watch for potential threats.

     On a clear day, the view from the hide is spectacular:  Ben More, the highest mountain on Mull forms the backdrop to the foreground of dense blocks of conifer trees with moorland above.  In addition to the activity of our pair of white-tailed eagles, Iona and Fingal, on and around the nest, we regularly see golden eagles soaring overhead, including a pair of non-breeding sub-adult birds that appear to be looking to set up a territory nearby.  Ravens, hooded crows and buzzards are always in the vicinity too, and sometimes mob our pair as they fly to and from the nest.  Siskins, chaffinches, coal tits and greenfinches regularly visit the nut and seed feeders, we hear cuckoo, wren, blackcap, willow warbler and great spotted woodpecker and occasionally red-throated diver.

     Today we have hardly seen the nest at all, however, as a ceo (sea mist) rolled in at 9am and stayed for most of the day.  The midges were numerous as well, thriving in the still, moist air, attracting a host of hirundines – swallows and house martins – that swooped and wheeled above the glistening tops of the forest trees and over the rushing burn that flows down the Glen to enter Loch Scridain, the sea loch where Iona and Fingal do much of their hunting.

     The spruce and larch trees have put on extensive growth in the last few weeks and it is now harder from a distance to differentiate between the two species – a vital factor in visitors identifying where the eagle nest is located.  In the small patches of deciduous woodland at Tiroran, the bluebells are still dominating the senses of sight and smell, while the flowers of grassland and heathland species including pignut and tormentil are now dominant in the open areas.  We have been seeing more invertebrate life recently, with the emergence of green tiger beetles, wood tiger beetles, golden-ringed dragonflies and the rare marsh fritillary butterfly.  An unusual sighting at the weekend was a silver hook moth – a nationally notable species.

     Mull Eagle Watch is a 5-star Visit Scotland attraction and was awarded a Silver Green Tourism award 2 years ago.  We still use solar panels for all of our energy requirements and have carried out various environmental improvements such as minimising vehicle usage (only less-mobile visitors are allowed to bring their vehicles on site), encouraging visitors to cycle to the event, collecting rainwater for site uses, and promoting recycling and local purchasing.  We are also a dog-friendly visitor attraction and encourage children to visit and learn about environmental issues.

     Trips are 2 hours long, ranger-lead and take place at 10am and 1pm each weekday.  To book ring 01680 812 556 or pop in to the Visit Information Centre at Craignure.