It wasn't quite what I'd planned for Monday morning. But at 0500 this morning, the alarm went off, waking just about everyone but me. A sharp jab in the ribs did the trick though. By 0530 I was in the landrover, it was pitch black outside, the rain was tipping down and I was wondering what on earth I was doing. The plan was to do two live interviews on GMTV at 0650 and 0810, primarily about the claims from a few crofters in Gairloch in the NW Highlands of "substantial" lamb losses to sea eagles. The crew had been out and about around Mull yesterday filming sea eagles (or were they buzzards?) and chatting to a few local farmers. They wanted the live segment this morning to sum it all up and to find a way forward (some hope!) in advance of a public meeting planned in Poolewe tonight.
Just as I turned off the main road and down to Duart Castle - the scenic backdrop the GMTV crew had planned, my windscreen wipers packed in. I wasn't exactly at my most relaxed as it was but for this to happen now in a torrential downpour was a nightmare. I waited a few minutes, the clock ticking ever closer; the rain eased and I carried on, the first hint of light grey appearing in the eastern sky. There ahead was the huge satellite truck (I wondered if they could pick up signals from Mara and Breagha - or even Nethy and Deshar?). Ahead of that was the vehicle with the presenter Claire, soundman and cameraman. I never cease to be amazed at the length TV crews will go to getting a story. I mean, the expense of getting everyone over here, for a live link - all for a sea eagle story? I arrived with plenty of time for a rehearsal - although the actual live link bore little resemblance to it!
At both 0650 and 0810 (usually the PM's slot I was told), I had about 90 seconds to get across that the claims that a 5kg sea eagle could lift a 35kg well-grown lamb was a biological, physical impossibility; that with hill farming in crisis and tourism generally down this year, we should be working together to turn this issue around (whatever the truth of it) not fighting about it and that here on Mull, we do our best to ensure that sea eagles are increasingly seen as an asset (by most) rather than a problem. You don't have to like sea eagles to realise that they are now a major tourism attraction bringing in about £2 million a year to the local Mull economy. The income from visitors to the hide (about £10,000 a year) is all spent locally with at least 50% going back to local good causes as small grants so that everyone (from the Girl Guides to the Young Musicians to the school sports day to Mull Young Athletes to Mull Senior Citizen Lunch Clubs to the Salen Church rennovation) benefits from sea eagle money. That way, love 'em or hate 'em (and some still do) at least they're paying their way.
Whether I succeeded or not in the 90 second sound bites is anyone's guess as I've still not seen it and despite being told it has an audience of 6 million at that time of the morning, I've not yet heard from anyone who watched it (apart from my loyal family of course who all said daddy was great!) Oh well, that will do for me.
Whatever the outcome of the public meeting tonight, let's all hope that a sensible way forward is forthcoming. Farmers here, as elsewhere, do a huge amount of good for the natural environment. Their cattle and sheep graze to produce important habitats and wetlands for waders and geese, their hay, crops and silage supports corncrakes and the outdoor winter feeding of livestock supports farmland finches and choughs. And many have golden and sea eagles on their land too which are enjoyed by thousands of visitors. The new Rural Development payments across Scotland should support such stewardship and RSPB is working hard to make that happen. As I said, it shouldn't be about the never ending circular arguments about eagle and lambs, how many lambs were sick, dead or healthy. That debate was going on here over 100 years ago. We all know the end result of that. Surely the debate has matured since then? Well at least one thing has changed for the better and that is that public opinion is now firmly and overwhelmingly in favour of having magnificent birds like golden and sea eagles in our landscape. It should be about mature solutions and positive management payments for those that look after them and manage land for them on our behalf.
Live TV has a way of draining you of nervous energy so it's time for bed. I'm away for the next two nights, with no access to a computer (hooray!) so no updates I'm afraid but fear not, normal service will be resumed. In the meantime, I join you in wishing poor Deshar fair weather and all the luck in the world for a safe landing, wherever that may be and hoping that Nethy at least is on the right track. Farewell.
Dave Sexton RSPB Scotland Mull Officer
Okay, I confess, I've not been to Loch Frisa today. It was family time, a bit of gardening, sorting the pond and getting the firewood in the woodshed. I guess we all prepare for seasons in different ways. But for the autumn and winter ahead, the birds in the garden were doing their fair share of stocking up. Bullfinches were on the rose hips, chaffinches were, well, everywhere and a buzzard was hunting voles out in the field.
But despite attempts to have a day off, we were still visited mid afternoon unexpectedly by a roving GMTV film crew who were interested in finding out more about sea eagles on Mull after the various and surprising claims of lamb losses emerging from further north in Scotland in recent weeks. We'll see how that turns out tomorrow.
For now though, our Loch Frisa twins are fine and hopefully tomorrow I may even catch a glimpse of them with my own eyes and not just via sat tag data on a computer screen!
For most of today, the weather on Mull has not been at all conducive to finding eagles. However, all the latest satellite data shows that both Mara and Breagha are fine and continue to spend most of their time on the south side of Loch Frisa. Mara continues to be the more active according to the data which had me a little worried about Breagha. However, whenever I've seen them both together, there is no difference in their apparent levels of fitness or flying prowess. I asked Roy Dennis of the 'Highland Foundation for Wildlife' who helped us fit the tags why the data seems to show Mara as the more adventurous.
He believes one possible reason is that, as the bigger bird, the satellite tag may be deeper in her plummage and therefore covered by Breagha's feathers more often. This means that the miniature solar panel is getting less charge so the data is less precise. We hope this will sort itself out in the weeks ahead. The more they fly, the more exposed the tag is to the sun and the better the detail of the data. The grey weather of late won't have helped either. By late evening though there was blue sky at last and a wonderful sunset in between the numerous rainbows over Salen bay.
It was a high tide tonight which had nudged most of the common seals off their favourite haul out but we did just glimpse two otters near the old boats on our way to Tobermory. I hope it's the mum and her cub as we had an otter killed on the road there just last week which we think may have been her well grown cub from last year. We'll keep watching and hoping that mum and this year's young cub are okay. Tomorrow looks to be a brighter day so we'll see what that brings. For now, all seems well with our sea eagle family, so rest easy.