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.....