Last weekend I received a very welcomed sighting of a 2012 released white-tailed eagle. As there were so few birds released in 2012 – only 6 compared with around about 15-19 in previous releases (and the wing tag colour isn’t the easiest to read) I rarely receive any visual confirmation of their whereabouts from colleagues or members of the public.
However, despite having limited contact with her, one bird has made some exciting journeys through Scotland already. “Grey T” (or Earl Grey T as she became known to some) has recently appeared on the Isle of Rum - home to some of the first white-tailed eagles to be released as part of a formal reintroduction to Scotland between 1975 and 1985 by John Love. She was seen sitting on a beach in the north of the island.
Grey T was last seen roosting with a large group of young white-tailed eagles on Skye in 2013. White-tailed eagles are sociable birds and often form communal roosts – especially young birds.
The following photograph was taken by Sean Morris on Rum.
Thank you Sean!
As if by clockwork, and with the first cold snap last Tuesday, Turquoise H, our 2009 released female white-tailed eagle appeared on Loch Leven! This is the 5th year running that Turquoise H with her partner Turquoise X have arrived there for winter.
The loch has been popular with birds released in all years since the first release in 2007, with 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 birds also being seen on the loch, and even a west coast bird in April 2009.
Turquoise H and X made their way here within weeks of being released, and have been returning regularly since. They were first seen on Loch Leven in August 2009, but since their first appearance, they have only ever returned to Loch Leven in the winter. They were next seen in December 2009 and stayed through until early March when they moved away again. The same pattern was repeated in 2010 but they arrived earlier in September for a few days returning again October to stay for the winter. In 2011, 2012 and 2013 their visits became very restricted to the winter time – arriving in December and leaving again in February.
The pair are now 5 years old, and this year they attempted to breed for the first time! (not at Loch Leven) Unfortunately, as is commonly the case with first breeding attempts, the pair were not successful. There is still some speculation over what the cause of failure might have been. Some of the possibilities are poor nest site selection (leading to exposure to bad weather), predation (by a fox for example) or that the eggs got chilled during incubation and failed to develop. But the good thing is that they attempted! and they will have one year of experience under their belts before next season when they can try again!
...although it would have been very nice to have seen a youngster accompany the pair to the loch this winter!
The birds have been seen roosting in their usual spots on Castle and Reed Bower Islands. They have also been seen during the day on St Serfs Island. Enjoy the view from RSPB Loch Leven’s cafe with a warm cuppa :-)
Check out this great atmospheric picture of Turquoise H taken by Karen Hartnell on Wednesday last week -
And if that’s not enough for you and you want to see even more eagle action, head down to Argaty Red Kite feeding station (http://argatyredkites.co.uk/index.php), where they had their first ever visit by a West of Scotland white tailed eagle yesterday afternoon! The bird had a silver BTO ring on its right leg and a black anodised ring on it’s left leg which is the system used on the west coast to ring white-tailed eagles.
This great photo was taken by Ivor Wilson who was at Argaty at the time -
Head down to the hide for 1:30pm to see the kites being fed and (if you’re lucky) the white-tailed eagle causing a stir!
We had an incredible amount of volunteer support this season with over 40 individuals giving up their time for our nest watch surveillance scheme. The value of an additional 80 eyes and ears is not something to be scoffed at.
From April to August individuals booked their slot in the hide to do their bit and help protect our first breeding pair of white-tailed eagles in Scotland in over 200 years. Elizabeth, one of our incredible volunteers, was in charge of the rota and her kitchen table fast became eagle headquarters.
Of course, we had a lot of volunteers as well as RSPB Scotland, Forestry Commission Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage staff to thank at the end of the season. With additional funding from Heritage Lottery Fund we were able to do this in style and organise a "thank you" get together with a tasty dinner supplied by Wild Rover Food.
The Burger Queue
Elizabeth sums up our thoughts on the evening perfectly:
I really enjoyed yesterday evening, it was really special to have everybody together to celebrate and I got to meet some of the volunteers who I had only communicated with by email!
You might think Europe's largest bird of prey is pretty tough. But in terms of disturbance - especially around the nest site - they are very sensitive. Eagles and their nests are protected by the law and it was our job to make sure they were not disturbed whether intentionally or recklessly.
Our famous Fife breeding pair (picture taken by volunteer Raymond Leinster)
Our hide was over 300m away to make sure we didn't get in their way. So it wasn't always easy to see what was going on but we were still treated to some spectacular sights. Read on for some of our volunteers favourite moments from the 2014 nest watch season:
Murray: My memorable moment is sitting in the hide through a hail and lightning storm, worrying that the sitting female might desert the nest. But she sat tight, shook herself off after the storm passed and settled on the egg again - a great mother!
Ali and Kenny: The standout moment for us was on the afternoon of Sunday 1st June. It was a day of clear blue skies with a hot sun beating down which prompted us to set up the telescope outside the hide. The forest was alive with birdsong and the drone of insects but above these sounds we were sure we could hear an eaglet cheeping. A sweltering hour spent staring through the heat haze down the telescope finally paid off – a white downy head with black eyes and beak appeared above the nest rim. Our first glimpse of the 2014 East Scotland sea eagle chick.
Linda and David: On dreich days when you could barely see the nest or when the birds were inactive you could be sure of activity at the hide!! Our outstanding memory of our time on nest watch has to be the sight of the young bird 'trampolining' on the nest the day after the 'bling' was fitted as if to say "Look at me I am all grown up and ready to leave home".
Some of our visitors to the hide
Richard: As I am a relatively new member of the team perhaps my experience is limited ,however my first viewing of the Sea Eagle family was indeed exciting and also historic. Managing to see both Parents and the recently fledged second Sea Eagle on the east coast of Scotland was a privilege.
Margaret: It has been a real privilege doing the nest watch and seeing the progress of the chick up to the time of fledging, also meeting other people who were doing the same. The moment that I will always remember will be the last hide day with Rhian and Daniel when the female was on the nest feeding her young fledgling.
Karen: I will never forget nervously watching the chick attempt his first 'branch out' from the nest, bouncing around on the branches of the nest tree, and then a couple of weeks later seeing him flying. I had a great view of him perched in a tree recently - he was completely unaware of the excitement, heart-stopping moments and laughs he and his parents have given us!
White A out and about
We are not sure how many white-tailed sea eagle nests we will have next year or how many eyes and ears we will have helping us protect them. But lets hope our famous Fife pair will triumph again next year making it third time lucky!