....I do like to be the sea, especially if I'm a young sea eagle...making the best use of the themals during a warm April and heading south from Angus to the to the Forth.
TurquoiseZ, H, X and Z have all spent most of April and May there being joined by 1 and 3 year old females. Turquoise8 also broke away from the group heading even further south and spending some time in Northumberland.
TurquoiseZ (Norbett) has been making some of the biggest trips, first leaving the Backwater reservoir area in early April to move onto the Forth and popping back into Loch Leven at the end of April. His biggest movement was from Driesh in Angus to Tentsmuir over 40 miles away 2 days later.
Below is a map of his movements and him flying over the seals at Tentsmuir – many thanks to James Boardman for permission to use the photos
We were concerned about the effects of the strong winds on the eagle project on both sides of the North sea last week. I headed up to the release site with trepidation to check for any damage after the strong winds, luckily no trees had fallen on the aviaries but the wood certainly looks very different and this year’s young eagles will have no shortage of perches with all the fallen trees. In Norway Alv Ottar is out daily checking nests ands there have been some failures with young chicks being exposed to the wind and rain however, the season is looking good.
YellowO has returned from the Isle of Bute being tracked and seen over Tentsmuir on the 13th May. YellowE moved south from Aberdeenshire in early April to Atholl estate and the Loch Garry area in Perthshire where she is being spotted regularly.
I was lucky enough to get over to Mull during April to film some updates with Dave for a new sea eagle dvd for schools, its great to see how the west coast population is really going from strength to strength and share people’s excitement at spotting their first eagle at the Loch Frisa hide and we can’t wait to bring this experience to people in the east, although I expect the birds will keep us guessing for a couple more years about where they may breed. We’re already starting to see a trickle as increasing numbers of people contact me each year hoping to spot an east coast eagle during their summer holidays.
I’ll be jet-washing the cages and building new nests with project volunteers next week then off to Norway soon after to start collecting our fifth lot of chicks. Its really exciting to think that there are sea eagle chicks sitting in nests in Norway right now and growing fast, that will be flying around in East Scotland in a few months time
As always at this time on year I am now chasing my tail, with 16 new hungry mouths to feed twice a day! We imported our latest batch on Friday 24th June, bringing the project total to 80 over the last five years. But, before I get to that I thought you would like to see how chick collection went in Norway.....
I flew into Alesund from Aberdeen on the 15th June, it was still light as we chatted all things sea eagle at 11pm! Alv Ottar had already collected one female by this stage, however, she had come out of the nest with a chest infection so was receiving medication, although ill she was large and feisty! We headed out in a boat the next day, checking 19 nest sites in total, half of them visually from the boat to check for occupancy and the number of chicks and jumping out onto small islands along the coast to walk in and check the others. The first nest that contained twins and we collected a chick from was on a small island opposite the town of Molde. The nest was in a tall pine and it took several goes to get the ropes in!
We managed to collect 3 chicks in total that day. They are very sociable and huddle together to comfort themselves after their ordeal back at the holding pens in Alv Ottar's garden.
It is often hard to see into the nests in Norway you can see a nest is active but can't see how many heads are in there. We drove to nest, pulling over at the side of the road to check it with the scope before we walked in. amazingly we could see 3 heads, triplets! This is great as it means we can collect two chicks from this nest, triplets are quite rare as not many pairs are able to feed 3 chicks or build a nest large enough to support them! The other surprise about this nest was that it was next to a firing range, quite off-putting as you try and climb a tree! However, the eagles were not fazed by this, actually choosing to build their nest here after the rifle range had been there for sometime. This is a great example of how tolerant of people some of these birds are. We collected two females from this nest, leaving the smaller male. We checked another couple fo nests on the way home but they only contained. one chick. However a couple of phonecalls from people collecting in Bergen to the south and in areas further north mean we had another five chicks!
After picking up two chicks from the overnight ferry from Bergen the next day we caught a couple of ferries to the outer islands and then borrowed a small boat to get out to a nest on a crag on a small island, we managed to misjudge the tide, getting dropped off on what we thought was the main part of the island and was infact another rocky outcrop cut off by the sea, the boat had left so we just had to take our boots off and wade across! This nest and others that day only contained one or no chicks so we were left empty handed. The first 2 nests we visited on my last day both had twins, we collected a male from each, bringing the total to 15. Our last port of call later than evening was to check a nest on a small island opposite the town of Ulsteinvik close to Alv Ottar's house, the evening light was great and we could clearly see twins in the nest, there was no time to get the boat out that evening but Ingar and Alv Ottar collected our final large female from this nest the next day whilst I headed back to Scotland to check everything was ready for their arrival.
On the 19th we drove to some sites further north and collected our youngest chick from a large over-hanging birch tree, this was a nest we tried to collect from last year, but following a storm both chicks were found dead in the nest. The chicks react differently to your head popping over the edge of the nest depending on their age and personality. The younger/quieter chicks tend to flatten themselves, lying as low as possible in the nest on their bellies, whilst older chicks will stand up as tall as possible holding their wings out to make themselves look big and hissing. We checked another nest on an island that was being used by people for a picnic. The nest was only 10 minutes walk away but everyone had left the eagles to it. Once we got back later that night we went fishing for the chicks, catching pollock, mackerel and cod.
The cages are all clean and ready, not an eagle dropping in sight from last year and the nice, soft nests made from garden bark and sphagnum moss are built,. The freezers are nearly full and I have arranged to pick up some haddock from M&M Spinks in Arbroath and some waste venison from Highland Game next week. My phonecalls in the office always cause a lot of laughter as people overheard me say ‘Necks? Oh yes they love necks, we’ll definitely have some of those’!
I’m flying to Alesund in Norway this afternoon to help collect our fifth batch of chicks over the next week. Every year people ask how many we are getting and the simple answer is ‘we don’t know’! We are licensed to bring in 20 each year, a maximum which means we wont be impacting on the local Norwegian sea eagle population and as many as our cages can hold. However, we only collect from nests containing twins, taking a chick and leaving a chick so as to minimise the interference in the adult’s breeding season and to increase the genetic diversity of the group of chicks we collect. Unlike golden eagles Sea eagles rarely have a weaker chick of the two so we just chose which one we take based on how many males and females we already have. The tricky bit is knowing how many chicks are in the nest before the long walk in or climb up a hill and tree! A lot of the eagles in Norway nest in broadleaf trees or may be far away on islands so it can be hard to see, that means we just don’t know how many twins are out there until we start walking into sites. We also like to leave the chicks in the nest with their parents as long as possible to give them the best start in life so try and squash our fieldwork into 10 days. In previous years we have collected the first chick around the 12th June, I was constantly checking my phone this weekend hoping for news. Finally Alv Ottar texted and it wasn’t good, Norway has had a lot of wind and rain making it hard to get out to the nests and also causing some pairs with smaller chicks to fail. From the 90 sites he and Ingar had checked it doesn’t look like such a good breeding season as last year when we managed to bring a record 19 chicks over. This isn’t a problem for the birds in Norway, they will be breeding for over 20 years so can afford some bad years, but is a worry for the project as we need to bring over 15-20 birds a year to hit our target of releasing 100 in total which will establish a healthy population. However, on Tuesday I received a text saying they had collected the first chick and had found some more nests with twins. We are heading out on a boat tomorrow to check a lot of small islands, fingers crossed for finding lots of chicks !
The last thing I did yesterday before leaving work was having a ‘GLOW meet’ via a webcam with Arn Gask School who are following our online education programmes, it was great to meet everyone and see their life-sized eagle they had made and thanks for all the really good questions! Apologies to Madderty Primary who had some technical problems so couldn’t join us.
2009 and 2008 birds are back up near Alyth with five being spotted the other day over Ruthven females turquoiseH and turquoiseK among them.