The six white-tailed eagle chicks have been settling well into their new home in Fife. On arrival, the chicks were given a health check by the vet and blood and faecal samples were taken. The blood samples will be used to confirm the sex of the individuals as well as to screen for disease. Although, we are still waiting confirmation from the blood samples, we have estimated that we have three males and three females!!
At the aviaries, the chicks were sorted according to size and housed in three pairs-this is to make sure that the bigger ones don’t out-compete the little ones. The two youngest chicks were put in an aviary together and the two oldest in another. The third pair appeared to be a bit of a mismatch in size but fortunately, the smallest chick definitely stood up for himself, and it very quickly became impossible to tell the difference without reading their ring numbers!
As it’s worked out, we have a male and female in each aviary. The chicks weighed between 3 and 4.5kg on arrival. We made sure all the chicks ate some fresh fish before letting them get used to their new surroundings.
Vet Alistair Lawrie checking the chick on arrival (photo by heather Richards)
Since arriving one of the older chicks was found to be suffering for a respiratory fungal infection and spent a few days at the vets being treated. This may have been something she picked up in the nest. She is now back at the aviaries with the other chicks and seems to have made a good recovery. Despite being ill, she still managed to gain 1.2kg in weight during her first week in captivity! All of the birds are eating well (about a kilo of food per day!) and enjoying a fine Scottish diet of fish (supplied by M&M Spinks and Fish in Crieff), venison (supplied by Highland Game) and grey squirrel (from the Aberdeenshire grey squirrel cull). The chicks are growing up fast and are now using their talons to tear up their food. A couple of the chicks are already starting to test their wings, jumping up and down on the platform whilst flapping their wings with great enthusiasm! It won’t be long until they’re ready to go....
The new home (photo by Heather Richards)
Unfortunately, the theme of single chicks and empty nests continued. Despite another 3:30 am finish, and no matter how many nests we visited, it became apparent that the Norwegian white tailed eagles were having an “off year”. We visited some incredible areas during this time. We ventured deep into the fjords and scaled some harsh and steep terrain to check nests. On the other hand there was one nest on an island 400m away from the busy town of Molde overlooking the harbour. It was amazing to see how close the eagles were settling to large human settlements and fitting in perfectly without any bother.
(Just one example of a scenic nest!)
After two days of accessing remote fjords by boat, the rest of the time was spent travelling on the immensely complicated road and ferry network between islands to some “mainland” and other island nests. This made a nice change as I was starting to struggle to walk in a straight line after spending so long in a rocking boat! It was also easier to fall asleep in a car than to attempt to curl up on a hard plastic bench in a boat.
On day 6 out of 7, we finally came across another brood of two. This was an unusual nest. It was a long relatively flat walk in into this one, and despite being in a wetland area did not overlook at dramatic fjord or the sea like all of the other nests that I had been to so far. Interestingly, this pair had quite clearly been “hunting” over the local landfill! In the nest, one chick had been nibbling on the remnants of a pork roast and garden birds' fat balls, and the nest had been lined with black bin bags. Alv Ottar said that this has caused problems at some nests as they don’t allow the nest to drain properly and the nest will flood! After ringing the chick that was to be left behind in the nest, Alv Ottar challeneged me to climb down the tree with the chick (inside a hessian bag) in my hands. I wasn’t going to turn down a challenge from Alv Ottar, but I can definitely say that it was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done! And all because I didn’t want to hurt the chick! Both the chick and I made it down unharmed and I couldn’t stop smiling for the rest of the day….even though this was only the 2nd chick in 6 days!!!
The following day I was due to go home. I knew that Alv Ottar and Ingar had kept a few nests that they knew contained twins until the very last minute. This was to make sure that they had the most time possible in the nest, and contact with the adults before they were taken…. I later discovered that in true Alv Ottar style, the last chick was collected at 3:30am on Friday morning-the day they were flying home to Scotland!! I cannot thank them enough for their commitment and mammoth effort they put in for the East Scotland Sea Eagle project!
This year’s trip to Norway to collect the final batch of sea eagle chicks got off to an ambitious start. Being the last year of the project, there were high hopes of getting the maximum number of 20 chicks to bring back to Scotland! I had even been in training to try and keep up with Alv Ottar Folkestad of the Norwegian Ornithological Society, who has been monitoring white-tailed eagles for about 40 years. He is super fit, and has been involved with the west coast reintoroduction, and the east coast re introduction since the start. Now in his 70s and retired, there’s no stopping him, and I was told I would have a hard time keeping up! One of the first questions Alv Ottar and his assistant Ingar asked me when I got off the aircraft at Alesund was; “would you like to visit a nest right now?”. An offer I was never going to refuse! This nest was less than 20 mins from the airport and a logical stop off on the way back to Alv Ottar’s house where I was going to be staying for the week.
The nest had one chick, which Alv Ottar ringed with Norwegian coloured rings and we left it in the nest. We can’t take single chicks from a nest as that would cause the nest to fail.
The following day was what I would describe as nothing less than EPIC. We set off on a boat from the bottom of Alv Ottar’s garden (which happens to be the fjord) at around 10am, and before I knew it, the sky was a funny colour and I was very hungry and tired. It was 3:30am and we still had about 7 nests to check on the way home!!! During this very long day we had visited around 30 nests and had only managed to collect one chick. It soon became apparent that the vast majority of nests only contained one chick if any at all. We didn’t climb to all of the nests. Alv Ottar was able to tell by looking carefully at them through the telescope whether they were active or not, and even how many chicks they had in them!
At this time of year, the sky doesn’t get dark in Norway. At around 1:00am there seems to be something resembling a sunset, and then again at 3:30am the sky lightens a bit to become daytime again. This makes it very difficult to stop doing field work!! I’m quite glad that here in Scotland, we get at least a few hours of darkness in summer as it gives us an excuse to go to sleep!
With our one lonely chick, we returned home at 11am the following day. Slightly demoralised and very tired, but this was only day one/two of field work! ……
The first chick to be collected this year at the foot of his nest.
Alv Ottar at a nest containing one chick (at 3:20am!!)