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 .....