Friday, 9 April 2010

Operation Easter

After the amazing day I described in my last blog the weather hasn't been quite as good and things have been a little quieter. We can't complain as we are still seeing at least one of our eagles at each of our trips, and there's plenty happening on our Buzzard-cam at the moment with the nest growing every time we look at it. It's fascinating to see the bird carefully weaving grass and twigs into the nest until it looks just right!

The hide (and the island) has been very busy this week with the Easter holidays - all the more reason for us to keep up our vigilance whilst the Sea Eagles are on eggs. For eleven years now the island has run a nestwatch 24 hours a day for our most vulnerable pairs, masterminded by Strathclyde Police. The birds are highly protected by the Wildlife & Countryside Act, but there are still people who ignore the law.

The police had bright yellow signs printed asking members of the public to contact them should they see anything suspicious, and these are positioned all around the island. The watch is carried out voluntarily by islanders supported by the police, RSPB, Mull Bird Club and other enthusiastic volunteers. Over the Easter weekend we were supported by a large group of Air Cadets who camped out in bitterly cold weather to help with the watch. We are also very lucky to have a full-time Police Wildlife Crime Officer on the island who is constantly on call.

You might wonder why we need to go to these lengths, but even in this day and age we still have problems with would-be egg collectors, and people wanting to get close to take photographs. Since we have been running the watch we have only lost eggs once, although sadly these were in two days of hatching when they were stolen. Two years ago, however, a photographer was caught underneath a Sea Eagle nest. Although the police were on site within 20 minutes of receiving the call, the female had already left the nest. It was only the second day of incubation and it took almost two hours before the eagle was confident enough to return to her nest, so the eggs chilled. Of course the eagle went back to incubating her eggs and sat on them for over 60 days (although the normal incubation time is 38 days). It was heartbreaking to watch her sitting on the nest day after day. The photographer was fined and had his photographic equipment confiscated, but of course the damage had been done. Without Operation Easter this could happen again and again and we are so grateful to everyone who takes part and helps to protect our precious Sea Eagles.

To end on a brighter note, the same pair went on to build a new nest the following year and successfully reared two healthy chicks. This was quite amazing as the birds are our oldest pair on the island, from the original birds brought over from Norway and released on the Isle of Rum. The female is now over 30 and she and her mate are incubating eggs again this year - quite incredible.

Next week I'll report back on Skye and Frisa as we start the countdown to their eggs hatching. It's an exciting time!

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