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!

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