The upside of the bad weather is that it gives me a chance to catch up on some data entry and update my blog.
The majority of the 2008 released birds are still roosting north of the Tay estuary and moving back and forth into Fife. Their main diet still seems to be rabbit, which they are often seen catching and which we find in pellets at their roost site.
Two birds have broken away and moved south-west, a male, ring number 88 was spotted at Carsebreck, near Blackford on the weekend, this bird has been quite sedentary, one of the last to stop roosting near the release site, so its great to see him beginning to explore. This area supports large numbers or wintering wildfowl and was visited by birds last year. A female, ring number 92, has moved further south, roosting at Flanders Moss and becoming the third East Scotland sea eagle to visit the Argaty red kite centre over the last 18 months.
Bird ‘5’ is being seen regularly on Mull at Loch Scridan and Calgary bay on the west coast of the island where bird ‘C’ another of our females has been spotted recently. Now in her second year plumage you can see her lighter feathers starting to come through, compared to the darker plumage of the younger birds.
In the last blog I mentioned that a bird had been spotted up at St Fergus just south of our Loch of Strathbeg reserve, on a wet and windy Monday I headed out with some RSPB residential volunteers and tracked the bird down sheltering from the weather in a thin strip of plantation woodland. It turned out to be ‘Ralf’ who had last been in the area in October before moving back down to Fettercairn. He has been showing well again at the cemetery, much to the annoyance of RSPB staff who would love to add sea eagle to the 2009 reserve bird list!
Our field teachers are preparing to go into some more local schools over the next two months to tell them about sea eagles. Meanwhile, in Norway, the adult birds are starting to nest build so just like Dave Sexton on Mull, Alv Ottar who coordinates our chick collection is keeping a close eye on them to see where they choose to nest and where our next lot of chicks will come from.
It has been interesting to observe the dispersal of the second batch of sea eagle chicks, now aged 7-8 months. Five birds have set up a communal roost in the Carse of Gowrie, whilst another four birds continue to roost close to the release site and move throughout Fife. This is a stark contrast to last year’s birds at this time, who had all moved out of Fife, with the majority of birds in a communal roost in Strathbraan. Although birds spent sometime in the Carse, north of the Tay estuary last year, the second batch of birds have lingered here much longer. We carry out extensive screening of health and pollutants when the birds enter Scotland and it will be interesting to see how different factors affect birds survival and health as they grow and disperse or whether this is just down to differences between individuals.
The communal roost near Loch Tay appears to have broken up. Some of last year’s females have been covering a lot of ground, birds 5 and 7 were on Mull on the 17th December but bird 7 was then tracked and seen by two project volunteers near Murthly on the River Tay on the 20th December, covering over 100 miles in 3 days! Here she encountered a 2008 male (ring number 89), who has also been in the area and near Loch of the Lowes since early December.
We had our first confirmed sighting of one of last year’s birds sea fishing just north of Arbroath and have also received more sightings of sea eagles interacting with red kites around the west end of Glen almond in Perthshire.
As well as starting to apply for this year's licences and plan logistics, I am also looking forward to the release of a 20 minute film on the East Scotland project which is due out in February and continuing education and outreach in the local area with our field teachers at our Vane Farm reserve.
Many thanks to everyone who has reported sightings over the Christmas period and best wishes for the New Year.
Ring number 94 or ‘Ralf the regal eagle’, as he’s been nicknamed by the warden, has been on the Isle of May for a month. During his time on the island he was seen pouncing on a young herring gull (no mean feat for a small male eagle!), eating other gulls and fulmars (thankfully without getting oiled) and he also made his YouTube debut, standing on a rock before taking off! And finally on Sunday (21st September 2008) he was seen heading for Crail on the mainland.
Bird 80, our largest female, has been commuting daily between the Montrose basin and release site in Fife! She has been seen eating common gulls in Montrose during the day and then returning to the release site to roost. Joining her at Montrose, although not doing the commute, has been another female, number 93.
It still amazes me how this year’s birds are going to almost the same places as last year’s birds did. I had a call on Friday from Euan McIlwraith, a reporter on BBC Radio Scotland’s Out of Doors programme, who had spotted a young sea eagle at RSPB Fowlsheugh (just south of Stonehaven) whilst walking the north sea trail. His call was nearly to the day that a bird reached this area last year.
Bird K, a female from last year, dropped into the Argaty red kite centre, near Stirling last week. The bird soared high above the hide and was mobbed by up to 20 red kites before moving on. Last year bird T spent a week roosting at the site.
Another of last year’s females ‘C’ reminded us of how far these birds can travel. After being radio-tracked and seen flying above Lochearnhead, she then flew over 40 miles along the river Earn back to Fife, where she was then seen flying with 1 of this year’s males.
We are still maintaining the food dump near the release site in Fife which is currently being used by 9 birds. We leave food out for the youngsters, to help them out while they are learning how to find their own food. This mimicks the support that the adult sea eagles would give them in the wild.
In the last 2 weeks we have seen the eagles starting to play fight and attempt to lock talons, an important social interaction for year’s to come when they start breeding. The young birds are also getting more skilled at swiftly turning 90 degrees in mid-air to give any mobbing buzzards or crows the brush off.
Elaine (project assistant) and I recently spent a day at a small area of Scots pine woodland near Loch Tay, where based on radio-tracking and sightings, we suspected last year’s birds had been roosting. We found a lot of sea eagle feathers confirming that they use this site regularly and also a few pellets and food remains. Sea eagles are extremely sociable birds forming roosts in a similar way to red kites. This could prove a useful site to monitor their diet.…talking of which, the pink footed geese are now starting to arrive, which the eagles took a great interest in last year, so I expect we’ll see some big movements over the next month or so.
There is a lot to catch up on since I last wrote and I know that everyone is keen to know how our new arrivals and last year’s birds are getting on.
Norway In early June I was lucky enough to get out to Norway, to help with chick collection and experienced just how hard won our birds are. We only collect from nests containing twins, leaving a chick behind. It is not always possible to see into nests from a distance to check if there are 1 or 2 chicks so we had some very long walks in and scrambles up the side of fjords only to return empty handed!
New arrivalsOn 20th June we imported 13 birds to Edinburgh Airport, where they were met by the media and Minister for the Environment, Michael Russell. A further 2 females arrived in July, bringing our total to 15 birds for 2008, 8 males and 7 females.
The birds were released on some rare dry days between the 10th and 18th August when all aged over 3 months old. Four of our birds were real media stars, being released live on national TV on the BBC Breakfast show. One narrowly missed my head before flying off beautifully for the camera. Not all releases go like this, other birds took an hour and a half to go, a couple tried to land on some very small branches and one female jumped onto the ground before taking off again!
The last to go were our group of 3 younger birds, 2 females and a male. One of the females has been quite a character, calling non-stop throughout the captive period at anything that flew past and getting in a frenzy over food, stamping on it all when we put it through the hatch! When it came to release, both of the larger females stood on the perch blocking the hatch while the smaller male bounced around behind them, quickly moving his head from side to side and trying to get out of the gap, he eventually managed to push passed and was the first to go. We use our radio-tracking equipment to check that all our birds have had a safe landing.
Every time I sit down to write this the birds are moving to new locations! For the first week or so there was a lot of rain and some strong winds recently which kept the birds near the release site and using the food dump.
However, 1 male ring number 94, released on the 13th August reached the Isle of May on Saturday (23rd August), much to the delight of the passengers of the May princess and SNH reserve warden Tabitha. I was able to confirm which bird it was by radio-tracking from the mainland. He was still there on Tuesday, being mobbed by gulls and having eaten his first fulmar chick. Most seabirds on the Isle of May have fledged, but there are large numbers of gulls and rabbits on the island and some late fledging fulmars so he won’t be short of food. We will just have to wait and see how long this bird stays.
Some people have asked me whether the sea eagle on the Isle of May, will have an impact on the seabirds, but it must be remembered that these species evolved together and the pressures currently being felt by seabirds are due to climate change affecting their food availability. Fulmars were not on the East coast of Scotland when sea eagles were last here, but are well adapted to protecting themselves by projecting oil at predators, which include large gulls. Another 1 of our males has, (ring 89) has joined up with one of last year’s females, (wing tag 7) now aged 16 months, at Loch Leven. Bird 7 has been quite a wanderer, making it over to Mull and spending time at Loch Tay. This is the first record of the two groups of birds joining up and is great news as sea eagles are very sociable birds and the younger male will definitely learn where to find the best feeding and roosting spots from the older female. Another wanderer, bird F or Fifer as he is known (despite spending very little time in Fife!) returned to near Perth on the 11th July after spending the last few months on Mull.
I’ve also had a report of a bird seen eating a common gull near Montrose Basin, we’ll confirm which one of the birds this is in the next couple of days. Sea eagles have great eyesight and learn to hunt through a mixture of determination (they’ve got all day at this age!) and trial and error, and its great to hear reports of them finding their own food so soon after release.
Its been really interesting to see this year’s birds exhibiting the same behaviours as last year’s. From their floppy winged, laborious first flights they are now beginning to soar and interact in small groups, using many of the same fields as last year’s birds to practice their flying and even perching in the same trees and on the same rocks!
Colour ringsDue to a temporary hiccup in the licensing process, we have not been permitted to fit wing tags to any birds this year. Instead, all this years’ sea eagles are fitted with a colour ring on the left leg. The colour combination shows that the bird was born in 2008, A9 is for Scottish birds and the 2-digit number below (e.g. 96) identifies the bird. Don’t worry if you can’t read the ring number, or even see the colour ring, they can be tricky. Although, we’ve had some good reports from digital photos.
All sightings are still extremely valuable and can be followed up with radio-tracking to identify the individual. Please also remember to still look out for last year’s birds. Eleven of last year’s birds are still alive, a survival rate of 75% and we haven’t lost any birds since November. They have completed their first wing and body moult and are now moulting their tail feathers.
Thanks to everyone who has been reporting sightings. Please continue to do so at: firstname.lastname@example.org
It has been a year since I started working on this project and time has flown by. Our next lot of chicks are just starting to hatch in Norway, but it’ll be a few weeks yet until we discover how many nests containing twins we have in our collection areas. This time last year there was bad weather in Norway which led some pairs to fail, so we have our fingers crossed! I’ll be joining members of the Norwegian Ornithological Society in early June to help with chick collection.
Here in Fife we are busy with preparations for the next batch. Licences have been secured and logistics are being arranged for their transport and arrival. Cages are still being cleaned and disinfected and perches are being replaced after damage suffered last year from pairs of 4kg eaglets jumping up and down on them!
Last year’s birds are still on the move exploring new areas; birds 5, T and K moved up to Loch Tay in the last month where they are frequently being spotted by people out fishing. They’ve had at least one scrap with some juvenile golden eagles in the area and bird K has lost a tail feather. Birds also ventured into Midlothian for the first time.
Our Loch of Kinnordy reserve near Kirreimuir has had a couple of visits recently and I’ll be heading up to Beauly soon to check out some recent sightings that have been reported from there. And finally we still have birds in Fife and the Perthshire glens, with one being spotted flying over Errol on the weekend, a great bird for the garden list!
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