Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Time for a Bath

After yesterday's torrential rain, with more overnight, you would think our eagles had seen enough water, but no! We arrived at the hide this morning with the first trip of the day and thankfully it was dry enough for everyone to stand outside to get the best views of the eagles.

Skye was on the nest incubating those precious egg(s), and I started to tell our visitors about the history of the White-tailed Sea Eagle in the UK, whilst they scanned the sky and trees for a sign of Frisa. Suddenly a shout went up - "Eagle" - and we all watched as Frisa flew in over the trees.

At first we thought we were going to witness a changeover as she came right over the nest and she and Skye called to one another. But she kept going and suddenly dropped rapidly over the loch. I saw a group of gulls fly up as Frisa swooped, came up and swooped again, and I thought she must be trying to catch one. For a few moments she went out of sight, then someone spotted her. She wasn't sat plucking a gull as I expected, but standing in the water at the edge of the loch having a very thorough bath!

She dunked first one wing, then the other right under the water, then crouched down flapping both wings and her tail. Then she walked onto the shore and sat preening, cleaning individual feathers with her beak.

We thought she would be satisfied with her ablutions but a few minutes later she was back in the water going through the whole process again - whilst all the time the gulls mobbed her. Once again she hopped out of the water and this time she travelled further up the bank and spent at least another half hour preening, before flying back over the loch and disappearing out of sight.

It's likely that Frisa had been hunting earlier in the morning and her feathers were probably soiled with the blood and innards of whatever she had been feeding on. Birds of prey are very fastidious about keeping their feathers clean and healthy - soiled, sticky or salt-laden feathers lose their waterproofing and the bird can chill much more quickly.

One favourite component of Skye and Frisa's diet is Fulmar - a sea bird which they catch either in flight, or pluck from its perch on the cliffs. However, the Fulmar has an unpleasant but highly effective defence mechanism - it spits a disgusting mess of regurgitated fish at its adversary! This substance is very oily and can severely damage feathers, so predators are quick to clean it off.

Although the sun didn't manage to break through the low cloud today, it stayed dry until later in the afternoon and Frisa was spotted during the afternoon trip sitting in a tree with her wings spread wide. The breeze would have quickly dried off her damp feathers, ready for her to take over incubation duty from Skye.

We had a scare today when the alarm which warns us that someone is walking, cycling or driving along the track near the nest kept sounding at our watch point, yet no-one appeared at our end of the track. The worst possible thing for the eagles is for someone (or worse still a group of people) to stop on the track to watch the nest. Incubation is such a sensitive time and it doesn't take much disturbance to put the adult bird off the nest. In this cold, damp weather the egg(s) would chill within minutes, so I jumped in the van and drove down the track wondering what on earth (or who on earth) I was going to find.

The perpetrator of the crime was none other than a harmless spider! It had woven its web across the front of the sensor, and every time it crossed the beam it set off the alarm warning us that someone was in the wood. I carefully gathered up the spider and relocated him to a nearby tree, and peace reigned again. There's never a dull moment on sea eagle watch!

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