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!

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