Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Good luck Skye, Frisa and Heather

Well, this is my last blog for the time being as I finish as the eagle hide lead ranger on Friday. The time has gone so quickly, and it has been such a privilege to watch Skye and Frisa from nest building through to fledging this year's chick. I feel I know them personally and will not be able to keep away for long. I have been working with and studying raptors for many years now, but I think this year has been one of the most rewarding jobs I have had, even taking into account the tragedy of losing Bracken. How many people get to work at the only White-tailed Sea Eagle viewing hide in the world, set in beautiful surroundings, and have the chance to share their enthusiasm with visitors to the hide?

All three eagles are still in the area and being seen regularly, and the hide will continue to open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for the time being. The trips will be at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. and will last two hours. Booking will continue to be through the Visit Scotland office in Craignure - the 'phone number is 01680 812556.

Skye, Frisa and Heather have had plenty of carrion to feed on recently, with a dead sheep on the hill, and now that the deer cull is in full swing there are grallochs to eat. Each year the deer stalkers, working with the Deer Commission, need to cull a certain number of red deer on the island. They begin by stalking the stags during the autumn, and move onto the hinds later in the year. The cull is necessary as too many deer would result in some of them starving to death. The elderly or weak deer are taken out, leaving fit and healthy beasts to carry on their line. After a successful stalk when the animal has been shot, the stalker removes the intestines (or gralloch) before taking the deer off the hill. The gralloch is left out for birds of prey to feed on, and often the sound of a gunshot at this time of year will attract a sea eagle to the area as the bird associates the noise with the possibility of food. If you are walking on the hill do look out for notices telling you that stalking is in progress in an area. Not only could you be putting yourself at risk, but you could also inadvertently ruin a stalk which may have taken hours to set up, quite apart from doing a sea eagle out of a meal!

During the winter months it is more difficult for all birds of prey to find food, and a gralloch could mean the difference between starvation or a full crop. For this year's young birds, if they can get through their first winter they stand a good chance of surviving so that they, too, can breed in the future.

Before I sign off I thought I would give you an update on Mull's sea eagle population - the ten pairs on the island managed to fledge ten chicks between them this year. If only Bracken had survived we would have had eleven which would have been a record for Mull! Across Scotland, the total UK population of 45 pairs of White-tailed Sea Eagles fledged 36 chicks. As the young birds from the East of Scotland releases begin to mature they will spread out and begin to breed with the West coast birds - we have already had three of the Tayside birds on Mull! There are also plans to release Sea Eagle chicks into Norfolk and Wales, so one day we may see them back across the countryside where they used to be seen regularly before they were persecuted to extinction.

One of the greatest success stories for Mull's sea eagles this year concerns our oldest pair. These birds were part of the original release scheme on Rum in the 1970s and 1980s. The female is now 30 years old, and the male 28. They have been breeding on the island for many years and have reared over 30 chicks. Last year they were disturbed at the nest by a greedy photographer who wanted the ultimate photograph. The female had only started incubating her eggs on the previous day, and the sight of the photographer under her nest was more than enough to cause her to fly off. Although the photographer was arrested, having been spotted by one of the volunteers who watch our sea eagle nests for 24 hours a day during the breeding season, the bird was off the nest for around 90 minutes - long enough for the eggs to chill on a cold March day. Of course the bird returned to her nest and continued to incubate the useless eggs for 46 days (the normal incubation time is 38 days). It was heartbreaking for those of us watching her. But for once the story has a happy ending. This year the pair built a new nest in a very inaccessible place and managed to rear and fledge two healthy chicks. This would have been amazing for most sea eagles, but for a pair of birds already considered beyond their breeding age, it was nothing short of a miracle. And the photographer? He was arrested, charged with reckless disturbance, fined £600 and had all his photographs and camera equipment confiscated. Hopefully the resultant publicity will have put off other people tempted to try to get that little bit closer than anyone else.
So thank you for reading this blog; if you visited the eagle hide it was a pleasure to meet you, and if you didn't please try to come next year - I can promise you an amazing experience.
Goodbye for now,
Sea Eagle photograph copyright Iain Erskine, Stalking photograph copyright Steve Irvine

Friday, 18 September 2009

Playing Hard to Get?

This week the Sea Eagles have really made us work hard. As Heather, their chick, gets braver they are all venturing further afield, although they always come back to the loch to roost. We have been arriving at the hide earlier each day so that we can locate at least one of the birds before we collect our visitors.

Today was the most unusual roost of all. We had driven right along the loch to try to find them, prepared to lead a small convoy of visitors to spot the birds. We drew a complete blank. They weren't at any of their favourite roosts, nor did we see them flying or indulging in one of their favourite pastimes of drinking and bathing at the edge of the loch. We set up our screen and DVD player (powered by solar panels - thank goodness it has been sunny recently) so that we could at least show our visitors some footage of the eagles, and set off to collect them and escort them to the hide.

On the way we stopped at the top of the hill (the only place we can get a 'phone signal) to call in to the booking office and check if we had any more bookings for the trip. Whilst my colleague, Debby, was making the call I noticed a number of Ravens and Hooded Crows circling and diving right on the horizon. I grabbed my binoculars and scanned the hill. There was certainly plenty of activity from the Ravens and Crows, as well several stags right on the horizon and more lower down on the hill. As I scanned lower down the hill, looking for some carrion that might have attracted the birds, something caught my eye. There, at the top of one of the Sitka Spruces, were our two adult eagles, quite happily perched one above the other. This pair have such a firm bond, and most of the time when we see them perched together they are in the same tree, sometimes on the same branch.

We set up the scope and all our visitors had a great view of Frisa at the top of the tree, and Skye slightly lower down. As we watched, Frisa looked up high above her and then took off. Whilst everyone else watched to see where she went, I scanned the area she was looking at and sure enough, there was Heather, their chick. Shortly afterwards Skye took off too. They were flying so high that we were afraid that that was the last we would see of them.

The party carried on down to the hide, we started our introductory talk whilst scanning the area, and there, sitting in one of his favourite trees opposite the hide, was Skye. He stayed there all morning, preening the last of his moulting body feathers, sometimes turning and stretching his great wings almost as if he was posing for us.

Our visitors were delighted - what more could they ask for?

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Raptor Bonanza

After days of torrential rain and strong winds the weather has finally changed and it seems that all the wildlife is celebrating.

When I arrived at the hide this morning Skye was sat in the trees opposite, preening himself and looking very relaxed. He waited there until our visitors had all had a really good look at him through our scope.

We went outside for a better view and there were Frisa and her daughter Heather, circling high above us. What a relief! We hadn't seen Heather for a few days and were wondering where she was and if she was OK. The chicks are usually seen with the parent birds at this stage, with food still being brought to them and the adults taking them on hunting trips. But today it seemed that that was exactly what was happening. The two birds circled higher and higher before heading off across the loch in the direction of Calgary. Hopefully Frisa was going to teach her chick how to hunt for their favourite meal - the Fulmars that the adults take from the cliffs. Whatever their plan, they disappeared over the horizon and had not returned in time for our afternoon trip.

Skye, possibly disgruntled by the fact that all eyes were on Frisa and Heather, took off from his perch and flew across to his favourite Larch tree, giving us a close view of his short white tail, huge beak and enormous broad wings. He settled down to preen again.

One of our visitors spotted a little flock of Crossbills at the top of the trees closest to the hide and as we tried to train the scope on them a beautiful Golden Eagle drifted across the treetops. Not to be outdone, the local Sparrowhawk put in a brief appearance in front of the hide, scattering all the songbirds far and wide. Young Buzzards seemed to be everywhere, as did the Ravens, and as a fitting finale a Peregrine Falcon flew over the old nest tree. And all the time the sun shone!

I really can't believe I only have two weeks to go at the hide. It has been such a privilege to witness a whole season with Skye and Frisa - from nest building, through egg laying and incubation, hatching and finally fledging. I've become quite attached to "our" birds and it was desperately sad to discover that our male chick, Bracken, had died after falling from the nest. But that's nature, and Heather is fit and well and receiving her parents' undivided attention. Maybe I can come back to the hide next year?

Friday, 4 September 2009

Floods, feathers and fledglings

The weather here for the last couple of weeks has been dreich to say the least, with burns in full spate and waterfalls thundering over the rocks. Most of the views of our eagle family have been of very soggy birds sat in the trees and preening, and Heather, our chick, has been out of sight for most of the time. Eagles (like all birds of prey) have a preen gland at the base of their tail; when they preen their flight feathers they take oil from the preen gland with their beak and then run it down the feathers. This helps with their weatherproofing and keeps their feathers strong and healthy. It will take a while for Heather to build up this weatherproofing so sensibly, when the weather is very bad, she finds a perch deeper in the forestry to keep her out of the rain.

Yesterday the rain was sporadic and we actually had spells of blue sky and sunshine! When I arrived in the morning both of the adults were sat up on adjacent fence posts on the way up to the hide. They looked a little bedraggled, and when I went to collect our visitors it was raining again so I fully expected them to go and look for cover. Nevertheless we stopped and there they were. The sky cleared, I put up the scope and 19 happy visitors had perfect views of Skye and Frisa. We spent an hour there, talking about sea eagles and the problems they had had to contend with over the last three centuries culminating in their extinction and the successful reintroduction programme.

This year on Mull our eagles have fledged ten healthy chicks, with 36 chicks fledged across the whole of Scotland (including ours). The Scottish population now stands at 45 breeding pairs, plus a large number of juveniles too young to breed yet.
Skye and Frisa then decided it was time to catch some lunch and both left their perches and flew off towards Calgary - probably after another Fulmar or two from the cliffs there. They hadn't reappeared by the time I collected the next group of visitors at 1pm, and I was a little concerned that we'd seen the last of them for the day. But as I started telling the group about the Eagle Watch project there was a gasp as Skye flew in to his favourite Larch tree. A minute later Frisa appeared and circled round in front of the hide before joining her mate on the same branch. The two of them sat there like an old married couple.

As they both preened their body feathers it looked as if someone had emptied a pillow full of down. Normally the female will moult her wing and tail feathers whilst she is on the nest, and the male will start to moult once the chicks have fledged. I find it fascinating that they always moult corresponding wing feathers so that they are always balanced and their flight is not impaired. They continue moulting the downy body feathers and are constantly preening.

The eagles stayed in the Larch tree all afternoon and were still there when I left the hide to go home. I wonder what tomorrow will bring? Hopefully we'll see Heather .....

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Viewing at the hide.

A quick note on changes to trips to the viewing hide at the end of the month.

From Monday 21 September trips to the hide will run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 10.00am and 1.00pm. Please note these details are subject to change as the season progresses. You can make bookings through Craignure Information Centre on 01680 812 556.


No change to prices (which include RSPB members): Adults £4, children (16 and under) £2, Family ticket (two adults and two children) £10. Free to island residents.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Wet and windswept

Well, the forecast for today wasn't good, and for once it was right. When we arrived at the hide this morning Frisa, our female, was sat up in one of the Larch trees looking very wet and bedraggled. There was no sign of Skye (our male), or of Heather (their chick), and that was to be the pattern for the day. As the rain got heavier and the visibility worsened, Frisa took off and flew a short distance further into the trees to keep as dry as possible. Hopefully Skye and Heather were doing the same thing.

Come the afternoon trip there was nothing to see and half of our visitors decided to cancel their visit to the hide. Reluctantly I left to come back to the office to catch up with some paperwork. If the birds fed well yesterday there is really no need to fly again today - better to stay in the trees.

Views for the earlier part of the week were more promising with great fly-pasts by both adults although Heather has been keeping herself out of sight. She has found a new place to sit, just round the headland in front of us.

Yesterday we took a stand to the Mull and Morvern Agricultural Show in Salen to promote the hide and the Mull Eagle Watch project. We always make a point of telling our visitors about Operation Easter - the round-the-clock watch we mount on our Sea Eagle nests during the breeding season. Most people are amazed and outraged that there are collectors who still steal the eggs of rare birds, and as the rarest and largest bird in the UK the Sea Eagle (at just 45 pairs) is a prime target. Operation Easter was the brainchild of Strathclyde Police and involves a large group of volunteers - islanders and some of our visitors - who give up their time to watch the nests 24 hours a day, supported by extra police officers from all over the country. The initiative has been co-ordinated by our own Wildlife Crime Co-ordinator on the island - PC Finlay Christine. In March Finlay was presented with an award for Police Wildlife Officer of the Year in recognition for all his work for wildlife, and especially for Operation Easter which has been the basis for many other nest watch schemes. Sadly Finlay has recently retired, but rest assured that Operation Easter will continue - there are too many of us determined to continue to protect our eagles.

Mull hasn't lost any eggs to collectors for nine years, although tragically the last two eggs that were taken were within two days of hatching! It is beyond me why anyone would want to steal the eggs of any bird, let alone such a rare one. The eggs have no monetary value but are seen as trophies by the egg thieves. They are placed in specially made cases and often hidden at a different address to that of the thief, as they can be confiscated if found by the authorities. An egg collector in Scotland was recently charged for being in possession of 5,000 eggs of various rare birds - potentially 5,000 chicks which could have hatched and boosted the population.

The saddest thing is that many egg collectors are extremely good ornithologists. They often keep detailed diaries as they watch the nests of the birds they hope to target. Some of these diaries would be invaluable to professional ornithologists as they give details of particular nests over many years. Egg collecting often seems to run in the family, and some diaries and collections have been recovered going back to the late 19th and early 20th century. What a shame that all the information in those books can't be used for the right reasons!

To end on a bright note, Mull's Sea Eagles have managed to fledge ten chicks between them this year - a great result!

Friday, 7 August 2009

Now you see them, now you .......

What an amazing day! Although the forecast was for sun and showers, the latter never materialised. The loch was completely still, reflecting trees, hills and clouds.

I arrived at the hide to witness a fly-past by our adult male, Skye. He landed in a tree opposite the hide and I quickly set up the scopes before leaving to collect the morning's visitors. Needless to say, when we returned he had gone and I hoped he hadn't gone hunting for the rest of the day.

I needn't have worried - not long after Skye returned, did a great fly-past giving everyone a good view of his white tail, and then Frisa appeared above him and the two birds circled above us before disappearing into the distance. Not to be outdone Heather, our chick, flew over showing off her flying skills and landed on a fallen tree in the bay opposite the hide.

We were also treated to a great view of the female Hen Harrier, and heard Kestrels alarm calling - probably spooked by the local Ravens.

Surely the afternoon couldn't be as good ...

No sooner had I started my introduction to the hide and the Sea Eagles, Skye flew directly overhead, as low as I had ever seen him. Again he circled to give everyone a very good view, then landed in the bay in front of us, just out of sight but not far from a Heron. Shortly afterwards Heather flew in and after a couple of attempts, managed to land in one of the trees opposite. As I walked down the path to the bottom of the field with our scope and a small party of visitors, the Heron caught an eel and took off, hotly pursued by Skye. As he has caught a Heron once before whilst the chicks were still on the nest, I wondered if we were going to see a repeat performance. They flew straight past us and we watched them for some time, then Skye dropped down out of sight and the Heron started to circle above him. I can only imagine that he had forced the Heron to drop his prey and had then taken advantage of it.

Whilst we waited to see what would happen next a Golden Eagle circled over the crag, and a Buzzard treated us to great views as he caught a thermal and spiralled up just above us. Everyone agreed that, whilst they are no longer a rarity in the UK, Buzzards are still beautiful birds. One of the youngsters in our group of visitors found a tiny common lizard on the grass path, and all the children crowded round to see it before it scurried off into the undergrowth.

Heather started calling every few minutes, and we were able to hear an adult calling from further away. I wondered if the adult had caught prey and was trying to persuade Heather to go and get it (rather than having it delivered by one of her parents). Whatever the calling was about, Heather was not going anywhere and sat in her tree preening.

At 15.00 our visitors managed to tear themselves away, and whilst I was tidying up the hide I happened to glance up to see Heather flying towards me. She came right overhead and I was amazed to see how much confidence she had gained in the short time since she fledged. She was flying very strongly with deep wingbeats and I watched her until she disappeared, before leaving for the day - though it was quite hard to tear myself away.

There are some days which are near perfect, and today was certainly one of them - good weather, an enthusiastic group of visitors and great views of our eagles. Wonderful!

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Hide and Seek

Now that Heather has fledged she is really keeping us guessing: we never know where she is going to appear next! Each time we see her her flying skills have improved a little more. At one point we saw her flying alongside Skye, her father, and it was incredible to see this 15 week old chick who was larger than her 15 year old father! As with most birds of prey the female White tailed Sea Eagle is larger than the male, so Frisa and Heather are 25% bigger than Skye. (The scientific name for this is reversed sexual size dimorphism!).

To begin with Heather wasn't too adventurous and spent a lot of time sitting on a headland protruding into the opposite side of the loch. Frisa caught two Common Gulls and delivered them to Heather, and she spent hours sat with her daughter. On one occasion two walkers spotted them, but instead of enjoying the view they had from the track they decided to walk across the fields until they were directly opposite the eagles. This proved too much for Frisa who took off and flew back across the loch to perch in a tree. She never took her eyes off the intruder.

Heather stayed put and we wondered if she would be tempted to join her mother. When the afternoon trip ended we stayed on to see what would happen, slightly concerned that Heather was on her own on a peninsula surrounded by water on three sides.

The following morning there was no sign of the bird and it had been raining hard. Where was she? We need not have worried. As the weather dried up and the sun came out Heather crept out of the bracken where she was sheltering from the rain. We were very relieved.

Since then Heather has become a little more independent and isn't so reliant on her parents. We have seen her flying quite high, although she is still a little wobbly from time to time. We think Frisa has been teaching her chick how to land as we have seen the two birds flying together. Frisa lands in a tree and then takes off again and Heather follows, landing on exactly the same branch! Maybe Frisa is trying to teach her which branches will take her weight?

Our resident Hen Harriers have been flying close to the hide giving our visitors amazing views of both the male and female. We are hoping to see them with their chicks in the next week or two. On a smaller scale a family of Spotted Flycatchers have just fledged right in front of the hide and we have enjoyed watching their antics with our visitors. There's never a dull moment at the eagle hide!

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Ups and Downs at Loch Frisa

The last time I wrote one of our chicks had left the nest at ten and a half weeks, and we were waiting with bated breath to find out what had happened to it. Unfortunately I had an accident and had to have three weeks off work, but I kept up to date with my colleagues at the hide. The two chicks (a male and a female) were named Bracken and Heather by children from Ulva Ferry Primary School on Mull. After a few days the "fledged" chick, Bracken, had still not been seen but after much discussion and soul-searching it was decided not to go in and investigate. It has been known for the chick remaining on the nest to be upset by someone creeping around below the nest tree, and it could fledge early, possibly damaging itself. So the decision was made to leave things be until the second chick fledged.

At twelve weeks old Heather fledged successfully. Bracken had still not been seen so the RSPB officer licensed to attend the nest, Dave Sexton, went through the forest to the nest tree where he made the grim discovery. Bracken was found dead, hanging towards the bottom of the tree, surrounded by a great deal of nest material. The nest was built at the last minute and it was clear that our male, Skye, was not entirely happy with the construction as he kept bringing in extra pieces of nest material right up to the time the first chick fledged. Both chicks had been very active, practising wing flapping exercises, and the weather had been very wet with strong winds. It seems that the combination of two six kilo chicks plus the adverse weather resulted in the front part of the nest collapsing, taking Bracken with it. We were heartbroken! A post mortem showed that Bracken had died of injuries to the wings and neck consistent with a heavy fall.

I'm pleased to say that Heather is doing really well. I returned to the hide on Monday this week (thank goodness) desperate to see her fly, and she didn't let me down. Even without seeing the colours of the birds it is obvious which is Heather as she is still mastering the art of flying, wobbling a little as she circles and sometimes forgetting to tuck up her legs close to her body. She looks very ungainly on the ground too.

Today we saw Heather flying with Frisa, circling high over the trees. Her legs were tucked up and she looked very confident. Later the two birds landed on a headland on the other side of the loch, giving us great views. Earlier in the week we had seen them in the same place feeding together on a gull.

So despite the heartbreak of losing Bracken, we have one strong healthy female chick in Heather. She is a beautiful chocolate brown colour and has yet to get her black beak, pale head and white tail which will all come over the next four to five years.

We are still getting plenty of visitors at the hide so if you are planning to come to Mull, please come and see us. Quite apart from our eagles we have plenty of other wildlife; we even had an otter walk nonchalantly through the car park and down to the lochside recently. It's great to be back!

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

This year's chicks

This great picture is the first image of this year's sea eagle chicks. It was taken by Alasdair Cameron, Wildlife Ranger Manager with Forestry Commission Scotland, during the birds’ ringing. See a larger version of the image.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

One down, one to go

On Friday morning I was watching the nest with a group of visitors. Both chicks were there and one was very active, flapping its wings and preening. This wasn't unusual and when I took the afternoon trip down to our forward hide I expected to see something similar. But no, there was only one chick. I scanned the branches around the nest to see if the chick was there. Nothing! Later, Skye, the male Sea Eagle appeared sitting in a larch tree well below the nest. I'd never seen him there before, and he seemed to be looking down at the ground most of the time.

The other chick seemed to be quite happy by itself on the nest, alternately exercising and feeding. I stayed on at the hide after the visitors had left, but eventually I had to leave, albeit reluctantly. Skye remained in position, but there was still no sign of the missing chick.

Saturday came and went with good views of Frisa and the chick in the nest, but still there was no sign of the "fledged" chick. Wherever it was, it seemed likely that Skye was watching over it as he didn't put in an appearance all day.

By Sunday we were beginning to get quite worried, and on Monday when there was still no sign of our fledged chick we were beginning to fear the worst. It was my day off, but I couldn't stay away - I was desperate to know if our chick was still alive. Maybe it had fallen and injured itself. Skye still hadn't appeared so we were hopeful that he was guarding his chick.

On Tuesday morning I arrived at the hide early and put up the scope to scan the trees around the nest. The visibility wasn't great, but there, at the top of one of the sitka spruce trees was a strange dark shape. Zooming in I realised it was our chick. It was sitting very awkwardly with one wing at an angle to its body. If this had been its first proper flight it obviously needed to practise its landing skills. I couldn't tear myself away - was it our chick? There was no white on its tail, no flash of yellow on its beak. I was sure it wasn't one of our adults, but struggled to convince myself that I was really seeing the fledged chick. The other chick was still on the nest, and seemed quite happy exercising and feeding on whatever delicacy the adults had brought for it.

When I arrived back at the hide with the first trip of the day I checked the scope - the fledgling had gone. It didn't appear for the rest of the day, and I was beginning to doubt my earlier sighting. Later in the afternoon the RSPB officer Dave, who holds a licence which allows him to get closer to the nest, spent some time in the woods below the trees and after a while managed to hear two chicks calling, one on the nest, and one further away. Whilst he was there Frisa, the female came in and landed.

The fledged chick hasn't put in another appearance yet, but at least we know we still have two chicks. We haven't seen Skye either, so he must be perched near the fledgling making sure it is safe and well fed. The chick's sibling is still on the nest making the most of the extra space, and being able to eat as much as it likes without having to share.

I can't say we're relaxed about the fledgling yet, but Frisa seems to be her normal self, and we have heard no alarm or distress calls from adults or chicks. Watch this space.....

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Will they ..... won't they

After last week's appalling weather we are once again blessed with blazing sunshine. There were times last week when we were seriously concerned for our Sea Eagles' nest. Two active chicks weighing nearly six kilos each on a nest battered by the wind and beaten by torrential rain seemed a recipe for disaster - especially when we saw the adult birds bringing in extra material to shore up the nest. On Monday this week the cloud was so low it was impossible to see the nest tree, let alone the nest and chicks.

But Tuesday dawned bright and warm, and our Skye and Frisa were busy hunting to feed their chicks. Although the adults always keep a "larder" of food on the nest in case they are unable to hunt, last week's supply must have been rapidly depleted. We were able to go back down to our forward hide where we can see the nest and the chicks. The first visitor to look through the scope was almost speechless, as one of our chicks was right on the edge of the nest flapping its wings hard. This behaviour has continued on and off all week, and at ten weeks old the chicks could fledge at any time now, although they usually go at around twelve weeks.

We are waiting to see the adult birds bring in food and sit in a nearby tree with it; this is the signal for the chicks to leave the nest for the first time. We can barely tear ourselves away at the end of each day, as we don't want to miss that first flight.

When the chicks first take off it will only be for a short hop, but each "flight" will be a little longer. Usually the flights are quite successful, but the first few landings are not so good with the chicks trying to land on branches that are too small for them. They spend time on the ground too, and in previous years we have received calls from members of the public telling us that a chick must have injured its leg because of the way it is walking. In fact the birds are quite ungainly on the ground and tend to look like John Wayne as they waddle about.

Our red breasted mergansers have beaten the eagles to it, as we have seen the female this week with a little flotilla of chicks behind her. The sand martins are on their second brood, the young greater spotted woodpecker is changing daily and has really mastered the peanut feeder, and the buzzards are due to fledge any day now.

Our hay meadow next to the forward hide is a mass of wild flowers with yellow rattle, ragged robin as well as common spotted orchids and fragrant orchids.

So we continue to watch our two chicks with bated breath and I hope that my next blog will describe their first flight.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Healthy chicks and happy children

On Wednesday this week our chicks were ringed; we have two healthy, well-fed chicks at Loch Frisa. It was a very hot day and the team had their work cut out, but fortunately both Skye and Frisa were away hunting and this year's chicks were co-operative as usual. As yet we don't know the sex of the chicks, but blood samples were taken when the chicks were ringed and the results will give us the answer. As usual, food was left at the nest in case the adults were away for long, but we needn't have worried! Frisa soon came in, checked out her chicks and seemed very surprised to see a supply of halibut in the nest!

We have had visits from two schools this week. A group of 17 third year high school pupils came over to the island from Oban and had great views of the adult sea eagles and the chicks at the nest. We also talked about food chains and had great fun taking apart Barn Owl pellets and identifying the bones in them.

Today the children from Lochdonhead Primary School (here on the island) came to visit and had a lovely time watching Frisa who sat up in a nearby tree and gave us great views. The owl pellets were very popular again and the children ended up each with a little pot of bones to take back to school.

Our chicks are seven weeks old now and growing by the minute. With approximately five weeks to go until they fledge they have become more and more active giving our visitors great views.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Time for a bath

Today dawned warm but dull with the forecast for rain. This morning at the hide we were treated to great views of both adult Sea Eagles flying and bringing in food, and the chicks were very active on the nest. At 33 days old now they are growing fast and are now greyish brown - difficult to see against the branches in the nest until they move.

The juvenile Golden Eagle came through again - he nearly always takes a direct line over the nest and I wonder if he is looking at the store of food that our Sea Eagles have left for their chicks. Thank goodness he hasn't been tempted to go and help himself, and our adult birds don't seem to be too worried by his visits.

This afternoon the promised rain arrived. Both adult Sea Eagles were away from the nest but within minutes of the heavy rain starting both flew back in, one with food, and the chicks were fed and sheltered.

I took a group of visitors to our forward hide and we were treated to the most amazing sight. Frisa flew out of the trees and circled above the loch in front of us getting lower and lower. We all thought she was going to take a fish but no, she landed in the shallows about 150 metres away from us. First she drank, and then she bathed. Not just a quick dip, but a real dunking, shaking her wings and dipping her whole body under the water. After a while she walked out onto the shore, had a good shake and began to preen. We could all see her with the naked eye, but with binoculars and scopes the views were amazing.

Once she was happy with her appearance she took off and flew to the trees opposite us, all the time being mobbed by two Hooded Crows who actually made contact with her. One of them had the temerity to land in the tree next to her, but it soon decided she was a bit too close for comfort and disappeared.

It was certainly the closest view I've ever had of an adult sea eagle, and our visitors were speechless. After 38 days of incubating her eggs, followed by another month tending her chicks and feeding them, Frisa must have been feeling very much in need of a clean up - she really did seem to be enjoying her ablutions. Now her tail is whiter than white again!

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Sunshine and an Osprey!

Well, this week we could be in a different country. The torrential rain and gales have blown through and we have had the most wonderful warm, sunny days.

The eagles have been working hard to feed their rapidly growing chicks and we have had some wonderful views of both adults flying right overhead giving some spectacular displays. When the sun catches the white tail our visitors are awestruck.

The chicks are much more active this week at almost four weeks old, and are beginning to try to pull their own food apart. Their antics are quite amusing when they both have the same piece of food, with one of the youngsters often falling over backwards.

Whilst our party was split between the top and forward hides on Monday we had a fantastic view of an osprey flying through. Ospreys don't nest on Mull, but every year we have at least one bird turning up on the island and maybe one year we will have a pair who decide to stay. Our bird gave us a lovely display circling low over the loch before flying southwards.

We've also had a juvenile Golden Eagle floating around above the hide - not getting too close to the nest, thank goodness, but giving our visitors a great opportunity to see the difference in wing and tail shape between Golden and Sea Eagles.

As I write the sun is still shining - long may it last!

Monday, 11 May 2009

Some Anxious Moments

Last week's appalling weather had us on the edge of the seats as we wondered what was happening with our Sea Eagle family.

Torrential rain and low cloud meant that most of the time the nest was completely obscured and for two days we did not even see the adults going out to hunt. On the odd occasions we could see the nest the adult bird looked bedraggled and wet, but still huddled as low down as possible to keep the chicks dry and warm. Then to add to the eagles' problems a strong wind got up and the adults struggled to keep a hold of their favourite perch.

The worst time of all for me was when I saw both adult birds leave the nest and fly off towards Calgary, leaving two vulnerable little chicks lying wet and cold in the nest. Frisa was only gone for 30 minutes but it seemed like forever. When she eventually returned she brought in some food at last.

After the last visitors had gone I went down to our forward hide where we have a telescope trained on the nest. I really didn't expect to see anything as the cloud was so low, but it cleared just enough for me to see Frisa standing on the nest delicately feeding her chicks with the two little white heads bobbing up and down. The sense of relief was enormous, and we are hoping for better weather for the week ahead. This week is Mull Wildlife Week and we are usually blessed with sunshine, so fingers crossed!

We have had plenty of other sightings around the hide, so more of those in my next post.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Wonderful news!

I'm delighted to say that Skye and Frisa are proud parents!

We're not sure how many chicks they have, although we suspect two, but we have had some wonderful views of Frisa tenderly feeding her offspring.

It always amazes me that such a large bird, with feet almost as big as my hand, can tear tiny pieces of food from the prey and gently place it into her chick's beak - a beak about the size of your fingernail.

Skye is busy playing the proud father and has chosen a roost very close to the nest tree so that he can guard his new family when he is not out hunting for them. Frisa spends her time rearranging the nest bowl so that it is comfortable for her chick(s) before settling herself gently down to keep them warm. Today the weather was cooler and there were some very heavy rain showers, so she was brooding her young very closely, but she did allow herself a little time away from the nest. As soon as she was certain that Skye had taken over in the nest, she did a small circuit before flying right over our hide - as if to tell us all the good news.

The adult birds will be very busy for the next few weeks, bringing in ever increasing amounts of food for their family. By eight weeks of age the chicks will be fully grown - an incredible growth rate - and they will spend the last three or four weeks growing their flight feathers to their full length and practising wing exercises on the edge of the nest. At around twelve weeks the chicks will be ready to fledge and the adults will be trying to encourage them to fly by perching in a nearby tree with food until the youngsters take that plunge into the unknown.

Skye and Frisa are not the first pair of Sea Eagles on Mull to hatch their chicks this year. You might remember the publicity in the press last year when a photographer got too close to another nest on the island, forcing the female to leave her eggs for well over an hour. The eggs chilled and failed to hatch and the photographer was charged with reckless disturbance and fined £600. This year the eagles built a new nest and last week their chicks hatched, so everyone is delighted.

Skye, who is 15 years old, and Frisa, 17, have been nesting on Loch Frisa for eleven years now, so they know their territory well and this year's nest is well positioned to keep intruders away. They are still harassed by the local Ravens, buzzards, Hooded Crows and Golden Eagles, and even the occasional juvenile Sea Eagle flies a little bit too close to the nest, but you can rest assured that both birds will guard the nest with their lives.

There will be plenty of activity over the weeks to come, so if you can get to the hide we'll be delighted to tell you all about it. If you can't make it to Mull this year keep watching the blog and I'll do my best to make you feel as if you are here with us.

Monday, 20 April 2009

The tension builds

We have had some wonderful views from our hide, and with the recent beautiful weather, our White-tailed Sea Eagles Skye and Frisa have given us some great displays.

Most of the action has been from Skye, which is not surprising since our female, Frisa, does the majority of the incubation especially now we are nearing the hatch date. On one occasion Frisa must have needed to stretch her wings because as Skye came towards the nest she took off, circled on the thermals and then flew straight over the hide. Our visitors watched breathlessly and Frisa was close enough for them to see her white tail and huge yellow beak.

Since we opened we have had plenty of visitors, and even if the eagles don't fly, Skye spends much of his time perched in a tree close to the nest, so he is quite easy to see through binoculars.

We are watching carefully for signs of food being brought to the nest; we are nearly at the end of the 38 days incubation, so are waiting with bated breath. Hopefully our next blog will contain some exciting news!

Saturday, 11 April 2009

2009 season is off to a flying start!

The hide opened on Monday 6th April and we have had some wonderful views of the Sea Eagles over the last few days.

Both Skye and Frisa have been active, despite the bad weather on two days, and it looks as if they have chosen a favourite roost tree which is right opposite the hide. Yesterday one of them caught a gull which they took to the opposite side of the loch to eat, before flying to the roost tree.

Later in the day, Frisa flew to the same tree where she sat and preened for a while before taking off and flying right over the hide.

We've had plenty of good sightings of other raptors too, with Golden Eagles and Buzzards, and the occasional Hen Harrier. We now have a Buzzard-cam set up on a Buzzard's nest - the female hasn't laid eggs yet but has been adding greenery to the nest which is a good sign, and we can watch her every move on a screen in the hide.

Although this year's Sea Eagle nest is difficult to see, the views we have had of the birds this week more than make up for this so if you are planning to come to Mull the hide is well worth a visit.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Come and visit us.

If you haven't been before, Loch Frisa on Mull is one of the best places in Europe to enjoy unique and spectacular views of White-tailed Sea Eagles. Book a trip and you'll be taken by a Mull Eagle Watch ranger to the hide where you can watch the nesting family from a safe distance.

As well as these stunning birds of prey, Loch Frisa is home to plenty of other wildlife, including golden eagles, hen harriers, buzzards, otters along the coast and red deer, which will be calving in June.

Been before?

If you've been to see us before, the hide is about 500m further down the road this year, with parking on the opposite side of the road to and within 20m of the hide.

Times and prices

Prices and trips times are same as last year: £2 children, and £4 Adults. Trips times are at 10.00 am and 1.00 pm.

For full details of getting to the meeting point see our main page at

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Welcome to the 2009 season!

Welcome back - the sea eagle season is here again.

Once again we'll be running trips to the viewing hide and booking is essential. Trips to the hide will start on the 6th April 09. The booking line is now open - call 01688 302 038.

Full details of the season will be on the main sea eagles page at