Mull Eagle Watch


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
  • Introducing the Class of 09 - Oran & Venus

    We've now changed the look of  this page to allow you to keep track of two new white-tailed eagle chicks from Mull. And now, as promised, we've added some new photos of them so you'll know what they look like - if you're ever lucky enough to see them! Thanks to Katie for sorting that. I love the shot of Oran on his nest greeting FCS climber Nick Purdy. Not a very friendly welcome! Oran and Venus are joining our first two chicks from Loch Frisa in 2008, Mara and Breagha. Don't forget to use the + and -and arrow buttons on the maps to zoom into see where they've been and when. They were all fitted with light weight, solar powered satellite tags to help us study the dispersal of immature sea eagles away from their nest areas. They were fitted by Roy Dennis from the Highland Foundation for Wildlife with help from our tree climber Justin Grant. Our thanks to the private landowners concerned and to Forestry Commission Scotland, their climbers and rangers for all their help on the day. The tags were funded by Scottish Natural Heritage and the data will be collected and mapped by John Sutherland and Sally Fisher from the RSPB's Data Management Unit. The all important analysis of the satellite data will be carried out by Natural Research Ltd on behalf of the Sea Eagle Project Team. Our thanks to them all and to the RSPB's web team for helping us get all this information out to you!

    Oran is a fine, dark male chick who fledged from his mighty tree top nest in July. He is named after St Oran who is believed to have travelled through Mull to the Holy Isle of Iona in the 12th Century. We hope that our young eagle will be watched over and kept safe by his Saintly name sake. Oran is doing well so far. He returned to his nest to be fed quite a few times after his maiden flight which is quite unusual. He may be a bit of big baby and uncertain of launching off on his own into the big wide world. Over the next few months we'll find out how he gets on.

    Across a few mountain ridges, from another Mull nest flew a beautiful young female sea eagle called Venus. She is named after the Goddess of love and beauty, flowers and Spring. Venus, the planet, is also the brightest light in the night sky and she appears at dawn and dusk as if to welcome the new day and to signal the approaching night. We couldn't think of a better name for our young female eagle. Like Oran, she too is now venturing further afield and is already well clear of her nest area. The parents of both chicks will happily tolerate their offspring around them for several months to come. They may not be bringing in much, if any, food for them at the moment but they will gladly share a deer, seal or sheep carcass with them. The chicks will know to follow along behind their parents in the expectation of a free handout. Soon though they will start to explore on their own and day by day, week by week, the distance between them and the adults will grow and the family bond will weaken. Unlike Mara and Breagha who spent alot of time together, Oran and Venus will soon be tackling life's challenges alone. This time last year, as Mara and Breagha began longer flights away, they seemed to find some comfort or at least reassurance  in each other's company on a regular basis. Life will be very different for young Oran and Venus. We will be watching them as closely as we can but they are wild birds and our role is simply to watch, study, learn and to protect. Our pioneers Mara and Breagha have proven they can survive out there and have now firmly dispersed from Mull. Mara may not be too far away on Loch Sunart but Breagha has ventured further into the north west Highlands. We wonder where the first big flights for Oran and Venus will be to? Will they ever meet up with Mara and Breagha? Stay tuned as we join them all on their extraordinary journeys.

    Dave Sexton RSPB Scotland Mull Officer 

    The Eagle Hide at Loch Frisa is still open! Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 10am and 1pm. Call 01680 812 556. Come and see us - and the eagles! Last week Debby and the groups of visitors saw the sea eagles AND the golden eagles - and the first red deer stag of the autumn was heard roaring around Loch Frisa so what are you waiting for? Plan your fall trip to Mull now and capture an autumn moment...visit the Holiday Mull & Iona website for details.


  • Welcome to the Class of 2010: Introducing Shelly & Midge

    In case you missed it, here is a link to BBC2 Iplayer for the short film by Gordon Buchanan called Mull - Eagle Paradise - enjoy!


    We've made you wait for this moment but they're here at last!

    At the end of June this year with help from our friends at Scottish Natural Heritage and Forestry Commission Scotland, we fitted light-weight satellite tags to two of Mull's fine young white-tailed eagle chicks. World renowned bird of prey expert Roy Dennis from the Highland Foundation for Wildlife and climbers Justin Grant, John Taylor, Philippa Revill and Nick Purdy all helped the operation go smoothly with minimal, short-lived disturbance to the chicks and their parents.

    This is Year 3 of a three year study into the dispersal patterns of immature sea eagles from their nest site. Our first two chicks Mara and Breagha in 2008 from Loch Frisa are still with us, exploring Scotland as they prepare to enter their third winter. The two chicks from 2009, Oran and Venus, sadly are no longer transmitting and we fear we may not be hearing from them again. Gone but not forgotten.

    Introducing Shelly and Midge!

    Shelly is a female chick and was hatched from the same nest as Oran last year. The nest is on land owned and managed by Forestry Commission Scotland who take great care to ensure the sea eagles nest successfully. The parent birds of Shelly and Oran are now very experienced. The female known by her wing tag as 'Green T' was hatched in the wild on the Isle of Skye in 1998 and her mate is 'Blue 9' from the 1997 releases of Norwegian birds in Wester Ross. This year they hatched two chicks and for a while Shelly had a baby brother. The dramatic story behind him will be told in a future blog but for now the spotlight is on Shelly. Her name is short for the Gaelic word for the summer-blooming yellow flag iris which abound in her nesting glen. She adapted quickly to the satellite tag which weighs just 70 grams and is solar-powered. She fledged on schedule aged 12 weeks old and has since been exploring her natal area. Soon she will be venturing further afield and we'll be with her. Follow her on the tracking page and see other photos of her and all the other pioneering satellite tagged chicks. Good luck Shelly!

    John Taylor (Forestry Commission Scotland




    Shelly - Photo John Taylor (Forestry Commission Scotland)  










    Midge is a male chick and is a brother to last year's chick Venus who is, sadly 'missing in action'. We're very grateful to the Mull estate owners on whose land Midge was hatched for letting these chicks be part of this important scientific study. Midge's parents have never had wing tags to our knowledge so we don't really know who they are but like the others, they are now very experienced parents and regularly raise a chick each year. Their nest site was particularly poignant this year as it was in the exact same spot as the first ever successful nesting attempt for this reintroduced population of sea eagles 25 years ago in 1985. It was like being transported back in time watching Midge bouncing about on his nest and seeing the adults perched nearby. Happy memories. But back to Midge in 2010! No prizes for guessing how he got his name. We were all being eaten alive by the voracious swarms of the Highland midge one balmy, muggy day in June. They were even beginning to bother Midge himself as he flicked and scratched his head sitting on his nest watching our approach. He too was fitted with his tag with no fuss or hitches and was soon watching us all depart allowing the parents to attend to him and feed him again. Like Shelly, Midge fledged on cue at 12 weeks of age but just take a look at his map when it's updated. You can view our sat tagged chicks here. The news today is that he's already gone as far as the nearby island of Lismore which is quite a big step for a young bird. Perhaps the recent winds have carried him there and he's gone a bit further than he planned? Look out for him if you're sailing past on Calmac's MV Isle of Mull ferry enroute for your autumnal break on Mull! Have a look at Holiday Mull and Iona for ideas.


    Photo - Roy Dennis (Highland Foundation for Wildlife)





    Midge - Photo Roy Dennis (Highland Foundation for Wildlife) 




    So there you have them. The fabulous, new Mull Eagle Watch chicks beginning to make their way in this dangerous world of ours. Now they're on their own and we can only watch, hope and pray that they live long and successful lives. Good luck Shelly and Midge. I think you're both going to need it.

    Dave Sexton RSPB Mull Officer

    Why not visit the Mull Eagle Watch project this autumn and winter. Debby is standing by to take your call!

  • White G - RIP

    For a brief update on recent developments please see the Comments under this blog. For now, for various reasons it's important that this story stays here as the main posting. A new blog will be coming in the next few days but meanwhile any news will be under Comments. 

    After the unfolding events of this week, there could only really be one subject for the blog at the moment For details of the case of White G, please see links on the Monday 10 November blog in The Guardian and see BBC News Online.

    Warning: for those seeking a happy ending, look away now.

    He had an uncertain start in life. Whilst still in the egg, his parents were spooked by something and left the nest unattended for two hours. We wondered if the egg would hatch. Luck must have been shining down on the nest and him that day. The air was mild. It was dry. The early spring sunshine was warm. He carried on living inside his protective shell. He was a survivor.

    The male returned and carried on incubating, soon to be relieved by the female. Everything returned to normal and on the appointed day, 38 days from laying, he fought and he struggled to break out of the egg. He was small enough to sit in the palm of your hand. Not that I tried it out. From day 1, his parents tenderly fed him on tiny strips of fish and meat. Day by day his wobbly, downy head and neck grew stronger. Soon we could hear him calling whenever he spotted one of the adults returning with food.

    By four weeks old, his first feathers were coming through, he was sitting up on his own and just a week later he was beginning to try to feed himself.

    Face to face with an eagle!

    Another two weeks on and we came face to face for the first time. It was ringing and wing tagging time. He was lowered gently to the ground and I lifted him carefully out of the bag. I remember him as one of the feisty ones - so does our tree climber Justin who had the scars to prove it. He put up quite an impressive display for an eight week old bird!

    Soon enough, the measurements, ringing and tagging were complete: white wing tags were the colour for 2007 and his letter was 'G'. White G was official! And so safely back into his nest, a gift of mackerel left for him and away we went through the wood to leave them in peace once more.

    For the next month, he grew into a fine, strong young sea eagle. Rich dark chocolate feathers, bright yellow feet, dark beak and eyes. If a young sea eagle can be handsome - he certainly was. By three months old, he was ready to take his maiden flight. Before long he was joining his parents on trips to the nearby shoreline and delighting many visitors staying at the local campsite with his antics. I watched him one day 'grappling' for an hour or more with a piece of drift wood - half play, half serious training for catching his own prey in the months ahead.

    Going solo

    By October, he was on his own for most of the time. We had regular reports of him from Ulva, Killiechronan and one day I even saw him soaring over Salen Bay from my garden. He was well on his way. Over the winter, he spent alot of time around Loch Scridain in the south of Mull and was even photographed looking a bit wet and bedraggled in a spruce tree in Glen Seilisdeir - the glen of the irises.

    At the end of March this year, he was filmed by John and Janis Allen from Mull. He was trying to pinch a fish from an otter in Loch Don. It's something sea eagles are well known for - let the otter do all the hard work and then swoop in and grab the prize. It doesn't always work and it didn't on this occasion but the fact that White G had already learned to do this proved that his prospects for survival were good. He had got through the first really tough test of his life - he'd survived his first winter away from his parents. His future should have been very bright.

    Luck ran out

    But that was the last time anyone saw him alive. What happened next we can never know for sure. Like all young sea eagles, he had the wander lust and began a long journey to the mainland and cross country eventually finding good, suitable habitat in the Angus Glens. It was there that his luck ran out.

    One Sunday night in early May, the 'phone rang. White G had been found dead in woodland. A few days later a police and RSPB search of the area found over 30 poisoned baits littering the ground with others positioned on the tops of fence posts. A mountain hare had been cut open and it too laced with a deadly cocktail of illegal posions. Maybe this is what White G had fed on? The lethal ingredients in his contorted body in the brambles and bracken matched those on the baits.

    He must have thought he'd struck gold. Hare and roe deer venison - what a discovery for a hungry, young sea eagle, far from home! On Mull he'd only ever been used to people in awe of his flight. The worst he'd ever known was a distant memory of being lowered from his nest for checking and wing tagging. Why shouldn't he trust this food bonanza? Who, on earth, could possibly wish to harm him?

    Shocked and horrified

    Anything or anyone could have touched those baits tossed at random about the land. Pet dogs, children - the end result could have been the same. And so the police investigation got underway and continues today. Many here on the island, across Scotland and the UK are shocked and horrified that we are still killing our birds of prey in 2008. Responsible landowners and gamekeepers of which there are many will feel as sickened as we all do.

    The fact that a sea eagle from Mull was one of the victims has helped to make it 'a story' but a common buzzard too was found dead nearby, also poisoned. It didn't make it very far from the bait on which it had fed. White G struggled down the hill, seeking sanctuary in the cover of woodland as the toxins took hold of his nervous system. I pray his end was swift but experience tells us that this is not always the case with the pesticides involved here. We're grateful to the landowner who found and reported him - as shocked as anyone at the turn of events.

    'A national disgrace'

    Over ten years ago as Devolution was getting underway, Donald Dewar called the poisoning of raptors in Scotland "a National disgrace". It still is. So what can we do about it? Sometimes we feel helpless in these circumstances but there are practical, useful and meaningful actions you can take. You can help the RSPB fight this menace in the countryside.

    What you can do

    A. sign the 'Help Birds of Prey' pledge on this website;

    B. join the RSPB to support our work;

    C. let your views be known to your MSP, MP and relevant Ministers at Holyrood and Westminster.

    White G was a healthy, strong one year old sea eagle with his whole life ahead of him - maybe 30 years if he was lucky.

    He may have drifted back to the west coast or somewhere else and in a few years time paired up and started to breed. He may have built a nest that was easily viewable and brought pleasure to thousands of visitors every year, just like his parents did on Mull this year at Loch na Keal. He and a mate could have helped boost a local economy, he could have inspired many - young and old, he could have just been an eagle living and surviving in his native land. Not too much to ask really in 21st Century Scotland?

    Dave Sexton, RSPB Scotland Mull Officer