Monday, 21 May 2012

Four stars for our eagle family

We have just heard that Visit Scotland have awarded us four stars at the new Glen Seilisdeir hide - the same as we were granted at Loch Frisa!

iona and fingal
Iona feeding one of the chicks  Photo: Sue Dewar
Our chicks are growing rapidly - instead of fluffy white heads and bodies they now appear grey where the adult feathers are just beginning to show through under the down.

On one day last week the rain poured down incessantly and the adult birds took turns in brooding the youngsters, only standing up to feed them whilst spreading their wings like umbrellas to shelter them from the wet. I am beginning to think that Sea Eagles have an inbuilt weather forecast as the previous day they brought in loads of food including what looked like a large rabbit, so there was plenty for the whole family to eat, even if the weather was too bad to allow the adults to hunt.

iona and fingal
Iona and Fingal above the nest
Photo: Sue Dewar
 On Friday the adults spent the day warding off two cheeky hooded crows who were either trying to steal food (or maybe the chicks) from the nest, or constantly dive bombing the adults. Each time they appeared Iona called loudly and Fingal was heard calling back from a short distance away. He then flew in to the nest with the crows in hot pursuit, even making contact from time to time.

Eventually the crows gave up after several skirmishes, and the adults decided that the chicks could have the nest to themselves for a while, but neither of them were prepared to leave altogether, and spent the rest of the afternoon sitting on branches above the nest keeping watch. The chicks no longer need brooding all the time; they will be three weeks old this week and have been able to regulate their own body temperature for almost a week now. By the time they are four weeks old they will be beginning to look like Sea Eagles and will start playing tug-of-war with their food.

This week we have our first school visit of the season from Lochdon Primary School, and the forecast looks promising so we should have good views of the eagles and plenty of fun outside.


Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Peace reigns at Glen Seilisdeir

All is well at our Sea Eagle nest, and Iona and Fingal are the proud parents of two healthy chicks. They are almost two weeks old and are growing rapidly. At three days old we were already seeing wobbly, fluffy white heads bobbing about in the nest - now there are the first signs of grey showing through the white. The heads have stopped wobbling and are now expertly aiming for mum's beak - provided it is full of food!

To begin with Iona did all the brooding of her new family, with Fingal in charge of catching their food, but now both adults take turns. So far the chicks have been fed mainly on fish and seabirds such as Fulmars. To begin with the parent birds tore off tiny pieces of food to offer to their chicks, their enormous beaks bigger by far than the chicks' heads. With each day the morsels of food are getting larger and the chicks are getting greedier - it really isn't surprising that by eight to nine weeks they will be fully grown, and in ten weeks' time they will be ready to leave the nest.

As you can see by the photograph (taken for us by islander Alan Jack) the nest is very exposed, of necessity because with a wingspan of 2.4 metres the adults have to be able to spread their wings before launching themselves from the tree. You can just see Iona's pale head as she broods her charges on the nest.

To give you an idea of size the nest is about two metres across and just over half a metre deep, with a nest cup where the chicks lie and a built up surround so they are safe from falling. Over the last weekend the weather on Mull was atrocious and we were very concerned for the chicks' safety. Strong cold wind and heavy rain can be lethal for young birds and it was with some concern that we arrived on Monday to see if the nest was still intact with its precious contents. Thank goodness it was and as the weather warmed and the sun came out we were very relieved to see that all was well.

Last Friday we were visited by an assessor from the Green Tourism Business Scheme, and we are now awaiting our grading. All our power is provided from solar panels, and we strive to be eco-friendly in all that we do, so we hope that the assessor was impressed with what he saw.

The hide has been really busy, and everyone loves the new format. As the chicks grow we will see more and more activity at the nest, so if you are heading to Mull this summer do come to see us.

Friday, 4 May 2012

First white-tailed eagle chick hatches at Mull hide

White tailed eagle
Mull's White Tailed Eagles
The first white-tailed eagle chick of the year at the Mull Eagle Watch hide has been spotted by rangers.

It’s hopeful that a second egg is in the nest and that the proud parents, Iona & Fingal, will have another chick to look after in couple of days.

For the past 38 days, the adult birds have taken turns in incubating the eggs, sitting very low on the nest.

First indications that something had changed was on Tuesday this week when the female was sitting higher up on the nest. She was also fidgeting and fussing with the eggs so it was clear that a new arrival was coming.

Sue Dewar, White-Tailed Eagle Ranger with Mull & Iona Ranger Service said:

“We are thrilled to bits at the news and we are keeping our fingers crossed that all goes well with the remaining egg.

“It was on Wednesday afternoon that we first witnessed Iona, the female adult, bending her head down and gently feeding the chick.

“Tiny morsels of food were torn off by her huge beak and were delicately fed to her new chick. Iona was also very careful to keep her talons well out of the way so as not to put the chick in any danger.

”The new arrival is great news for the birds but also for Mull as so many people come to witness these massive and magnificent birds.”

Fingal, the male, was not seen during the afternoon the new chick arrived and was most likely to be off hunting to feed his new family.

If the female takes a break from her new duties the male adult will take over until she returns. If there is a second egg it could hatch in the next couple of days, as eagles lay eggs two or three days apart, but sit from the time the first egg is laid.

Dave Sexton, RSPB Scotland’s Mull Officer added:

“Whilst breaking out of the egg is one of the toughest parts of an eagle’s life, the next 10 days is also critical as they must be brooded by an adult at all times to avoid hypothermia. So Mull Eagle Watch and the CCTV will still be running 24/7 to ensure Fingal & Iona and their new family are not disturbed in any way”

Mull Eagle Watch is run by a partnership consisting of Forestry Commission Scotland, Mull & Iona Community Trust, RSPB Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and Strathclyde Police.

Part of the income from trips to the hide is put into a fund which is available to the islanders for local community projects. A recent survey reported that the white-tailed eagles alone bring in £5m annually to Mull’s economy, which is hugely important to the island.

All over the island, Mull Eagle Watch’s dedicated team of volunteers have been watching the eagles’ nests to ensure that no-one gets too close as the birds will leave the nest if they are disturbed by anyone – deliberately or inadvertently.

Because the Mull Eagle Watch are constantly on the lookout for egg thieves, nests are watched for 24 hours a day and this year CCTV is also being used with other high-tech equipment to back up our volunteers.

Once the chicks are hatched there are still problems from the very occasional photographer who wants to get closer than is comfortable for the birds, and two such people were prosecuted last year for ignoring instructions not to go too close. Fortunately on that occasion the chick survived, but only because volunteers and police reacted quickly.

The hide at Glen Seilisdeir is open Monday to Friday from April to the end of September, running two trips a day. White-tailed eagle rangers will tell the story of the eagles’ extinction and subsequent reintroduction, and then escort visitors to an outdoor viewing hide just 300m from the nest. Booking is essential on 01680 812556.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Have they, or haven't they?

white tailed sea eagle
Sea Eagle in flight - photo courtesy of Alan Jack
 This week we are playing the waiting game. Our egg(s) are due to hatch any time now and everytime the on-duty adult stands up on the nest, we wait with baited breath to see a tiny, wobbly white head, or the other adult bringing in food.

Yesterday afternoon the weather was superb (as it has been for over two weeks now), and the conditions were perfect for a precious Sea Eagle chick to come into the world. But the adults seemed to be just turning the eggs and then settling down to incubate again.

Maybe they could hear the first chick cheeping inside the egg as it started to break its way out using the tiny egg tooth on the top of its beak. Or maybe not! Eggs can easily take 36 hours to hatch, so, like Iona and Fingal, we must be patient and wait for that first feed!

We can't help thinking back to last year, when the beginning of May saw horrendous winds sweep the west coast of Scotland, and the eagle nests were all checked the next morning. We were convinced that at least one nest tree would have come down, but no, everything was intact and Mull's Sea Eagles successfully fledged 11 chicks in 2011.

We suffered even stronger winds over the winter months with one gust on Mull recorded at 165 mph. Surely some of the eagles would have to build new nests this year to replace those damaged? Sea Eagles are obviously better nest builders than we give them credit for as most nests survived. One nest did collapse and the following day the eagles there carried out a hurried repair job - only for the winds to return and the new nest be blown out of the tree too. But Sea Eagles are resilient birds and it's always surprising to see how quickly they put their nests together.

The new "wild hide" - photo courtesy of Alan Jack
Our new viewing hide, set into the woodland, is proving a huge success. Everyone says they feel closer to nature, and the smell from the pine trees is all-pervading. The shading at the front of the hide means that the eagles can't see us although they know we are there.

Occasionally they will hear something and if we happen to be looking through a telescope at the time we see a beady pale lemon eye staring back at us.

With luck we will soon be watching food being brought in for the chick(s) by the parents, and then tiny slivers will be torn off and fed tenderly to their offspring. I wonder if we'll have a hatching today?