Tuesday, 28 August 2012

An empty nest, and all's well at Glen Seilisdeir

Adult Sea Eagle being mobbed by a Hooded Crow
(Photo: Sue Dewar)
 Firstly, my apologies for the gap between postings. The last couple of weeks has been hectic to say the least and I’ve barely been in the office.

The good news is that our second chick finally left the nest just over three weeks after his sister. To begin with the female chick kept returning to the nest as the adult birds were still feeding her brother there, and if the adults weren’t around she continued to bully him and snatch his food.

Thankfully, Iona was usually on hand to see
fair play, and eventually her daughter discovered that she could fly just as well as her parents and began to concentrate on following them and learning to hunt for herself. She has given us some great displays but the highlight was one day when both adults and the female flew together over the forest and up towards Ben More, getting higher and higher until the three of them were just dots in the sky. A cheeky Buzzard mobbed the young female relentlessly but she was having none of it and managed to shake him off.

Once the young male was allowed to eat his food in peace he really started to fill out, his tail and flight feathers grew down properly and he began wing-flapping exercises to strengthen his muscles ready for his first flight. Sadly we weren’t around when he finally took off, but the following morning we could hear him calling from somewhere in the forest and after a few days he proved that he too could fly when he appeared back on the nest. The adult birds occasionally bring food in and leave it there (and it doesn't take long for the chicks to find it), but most of the time they are trying to encourage both fledglings to follow them and learn how to hunt for themselves.

After the wonderful weather we have had on Mull this summer, yesterday we had torrential rain and strong winds and when I went to the hide I was relieved that the chicks had fledged as they would have been wet and miserable sitting up there exposed to the elements.

With the Scottish children back to school now I can now tell you that Bunessan Primary School (whose turn it was to name our chicks) decided to call the young birds after their school colours. So our young male is Gorm (pronounced Gorum) which is Gaelic for Blue, and the female is Buidhe (pronounced Bweeya), Gaelic for Yellow. Both chicks will stay in the area with Iona and Fingal for several weeks yet, perfecting their hunting and flying skills before eventually exploring the rest of the island and beyond. For a while they may enjoy the company of other young Sea Eagles fledged on Mull this year; in the autumn we often see groups of them perched together like a Sea Eagle youth club! Then they will begin their four-year journey of discovery, each year their tail feathers becoming whiter, their beaks turning yellow and their body and head feathers becoming paler, until at five years old they will look just like their parents. At that stage they will be searching for a mate and a territory of their own - who knows where they will end up?

This is our last week at Glen Seilisdeir - the hide closes on Friday 31st August as essential logging operations begin in the forest on Monday. It has all gone far too quickly, but it has been a real privilege to watch Iona and Fingal incubate their precious eggs through to hatching, and to watch Buidhe and Gorm grow from wobbly four-inch high, fluffy white chicks to full-grown magnificent Sea Eagles. Over the next few days I will gather together all the images that I (and others) have taken at the hide and post them on my final blog for this year.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Eagle Bonanza

What a day!  In all the years I've been watching eagles on Mull I've never known anything quite like it.  Yesterday we were treated to the most amazing views of our Sea Eagles - so spectacular one of our visitors was in tears.  If that wasn't enough, the local Golden Eagles put in an appearance too, and not to be outdone our resident Buzzard joined in with the display.

When I arrived meeting point the visitors waiting for the trip to begin had been watching not one, not two but three Golden Eagles - two adults and a juvenile - flying towards Glen Seilisdeir from Ben More, getting closer than I've seen them before and seemingly unperturbed by a group of very excited visitors watching them.

We started the trip and watched both Sea Eagle trips on the nest - our female still keeps returning and stealing food from her smaller sibling.  Half of the group had gone further along the track with the other ranger, and suddenly the walkie-talkie beeped and the message came through that both adult Sea Eagles were sitting in a tree.  My group hurried along to join the others and sure enough, there were Iona and Fingal sitting together on the same branch of a spruce tree.  Could it get any better?

A few minutes later, an adult Buzzard flew over doing just that - buzzing the eagles and getting frighteningly close.  At first the eagles seemed oblivious to the cheeky bird, but then Iona, probably remembering how the Buzzard had tried to steal food from her nest, took off from the tree in the direction of the nest.  And then ..... our female chick appeared from nowhere, powering through the sky straight towards the Buzzard.  This was just too much for Fingal who took off as well, and the three eagles began to circle together getting higher and higher (but not before flying about ten metres right over our heads).  Next to the adult birds the chick looks huge - even dwarfing her mother.  She has certainly been getting more than her share of the food!  We watched all the birds getting higher and higher until almost out of sight - our fledgling flying the highest of all, still chasing the Buzzard who eventually decided that discretion was the better part of valour and changed tack flying back to his or her territory.

We walked back to the hide to make a quick check on our remaining chick at the nest - still not ready to fledge although he has been making little sorties onto the branch at the edge of the nest.  After watching those gargantuan birds flying above us he looked so small in comparison, but I'm sure he'll soon catch up.

And the only disappointment of a wonderful day - while all the excitement was going on where was my camera - back in the van of course!

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Good news at Loch Frisa

Frisa perched near the loch
Photo - Iain Erskine

Before I update you with news from the Glen Seilisdeir hide, some good news from Loch Frisa.  Those of you who have been following our Sea Eagles over the years will know that this year we moved from Loch Frisa to Glen Seilisdeir, leaving Skye and Frisa in peace after a busy time of forestry operations along the loch.   I'm delighted to tell you that Skye and Frisa have fledged a healthy chick this year.

Meanwhile, back at Glen Seilisdeir our fledged chick is still backwards and forwards to the nest, her sibling is not quite ready to go yet, and we have been having great views of the whole family. The adults seem to be bringing in mostly sea birds, fish and the occasional rabbit to feed the youngsters at the moment.  Our fledgling is still bullying her brother(?) but Iona is making sure that he gets plenty of food. 

I'll write another blog in the next day or two with any developments, but in the meantime here are three wonderful photos given to us by visiting photographer Chris Stone, showing the fishing technique of these magnificent birds.