That title relates to our Half Pint and his/her sibling! We had a beautiful afternoon on Mull today - lovely blue skies, sunshine, bit of a breeze - perfect fledging weather I thought! As I made my way to get a good view of the nest, I was half expecting to just see one dark brown chick sat on the edge of the nest - but oh no - two beautiful sea eagle chicks, sat in the sunshine, looking as chilled as they could be. They looked far too comfortable to consider fledging. As I was admiring the chicks, I received a text message from Dave "Think of me going to a birthday disco for 7 yr olds" (What a picture that conjures up!) - I did chuckle as I sent one back saying "think of me watching eagles all afternoon in the sunshine" - I think he is missing the birds! Well those two look like they are going to have to be evicted - hopefully Mum and Dad will start bringing back food but not delivering it direct to the nest, but trying to encourage them out. They will be 13 weeks old this week so are ready and able. I will pop down later in the week to check progress - watch this space!
Earlier this morning, I had to pop up to Loch Frisa to take some stuff up to the Hide - it was drizzly first thing so didnt expect to see any of the Frisa family - I stopped along the track to the Hide above the Loch where you get an all round view of the Glen - I glanced along the usual spots and was surprised to catch the outline of one of our birds. I ran (not something I do very often) back to the van to grab the scope, by the time I had it set up, the bird was up and flying - that familiar huge wingspan, dark chocolate brown - it was Heather! Fantastic - she did a great flying display before disappearing out of sight. I went down to the Hide and had a fright when I saw someone sat on our eagle bench. The Hide is now open Monday to Fridays so I wasnt expecting to see anyone. It was a gentleman who had been on our trip Friday afternoon but sadly the weather was awful and the birds were hiding. He had walked down the track (2 miles) in the rain to see if he could catch sight of one of these birds. "I dont believe they exist" he said jokingly. I told him I had just seen our chick flying but he had been looking in completely the wrong direction. I grabbed a scope from the hide and within 2 minutes, Frisa came flying across the Loch. Luckily the gentleman was looking in the right direction this time! She did a lovely fly round then landed in one of her favourite roosts. A couple of minutes later, in came Heather, following the same flight path - Frisa took off and Heather landed on the same branch she had been sitting. It was as if Frisa was showing Heather a good branch to land on! Needless to say, the gentleman was over the moon as he returns home tomorrow! If it was possible to hug those birds - I would. To see the joy on his face (and mine too for that matter) was priceless.
After checking Half Pint this afternoon, I went on a drive round the Island, checking some of the other birds and had a beautiful encounter with an adult Golden Eagle and a juvenile. As I stood there watching them soaring in a blue sky, I thought of Alma - how she must have enjoyed similar flights but sadly now, no more. Such a senseless waste of a truly majestic and beautiful bird. Can I take this opportunity to say thank you to you all in your efforts to stamp out poisoning - from signing the pledge to writing to MP's - let's hope Alma hasnt died in vain.
Debby Thorne - White Tailed Eagle Information Officer, Isle of Mull
Wow! What a day it has been. The weather has changed, again! Warm and sunny with just enough breeze to keep any midges away. As I arrived at the Hide this morning, I was greeted by Skye and Frisa have a fly around together, enjoying each other's company with just a bit less stress now that Heather is doing so well by herself. They still keep an eye on her but she is getting ever more adventurous, flying higher and just a bit further.
I was halfway through the talk this morning, when we spotted something flying - two golden eagles - we stood for about 10 minutes just watching them soaring when we spotted another - this time a juvenile goldie. They gave a great display when Heather, our chick was seen flying over the Loch towards the Ridge - lots of oos and aaahs - she really is stunning. I wish I could capture a close up shot of her for you but take it from me, really dark chocolate brown and huge! Like most birds of preys, the female is larger than the male, so she is bigger than her dad!!
We then had a great view of Skye and Frisa again, keeping a close eye on their youngster when a young lad who was visiting, and was keen as mustard, spotted another eagle - this time another juvenile white tailed sea eagle, not quite the full white tail but a lighter coloured head - too high up though for us to see any wing tags to try and identify it. Certainly a fantastic morning's viewings.
This afternoon, I decided to have another go at checking out Half Pint and his sibling. Dave's scope is still drying out in the airing cupboard (hope it recovers by the weekend when he returns!) but with the weather still warm and sunny, thought I would have a better chance at seeing and indeed hearing our chicks. I hadnt gone five minutes from the van, when I spotted one of the adults flying in carrying a seabird. What a great start. The adults will bring food to the young if they are on the ground or on lower branches so makes it easier for us trying to locate the chicks.
As I moved into position, my ears were filled with what is so recognisable as sea eagle chicks calling - they were going mad - and the reason, the other adult appeared carrying a fish. The chicks spot the parents coming in and call with excitement - this also allows the parents to spot the chicks as they move around either on the ground or in the trees After about 20 minutes, I decided to leave our little family. Everything had gone quiet. Mum and Dad were sat close together in a tree, like an old married couple - both chicks had been fed and were quiet. All is well with the World! A great end to the day.
As I type this, I am looking out the window across the Mainland at the Morvern Hills - our latest satellite tracking of Mara and Breagha show Mara just over the water from Mull in Morvern - he feels like he is in touching distance. Breagha is up north on the west coast, a fair way from home! Keep safe.
We haven't seen much of the sun lately but in one break in the deluge I watched Frisa and Skye relaxing and unwinding after their busy summer. I gently pulled the landrover in, switched off the engine and rolled quietly to a halt. Frisa was to my left high in the sitkas; Skye was on my right in a larch. I panned from one to the other just enjoying them as they preened their soft plumage in the brief warm, sunny spell. Both looked regal and composed and somehow proud of their achievements this year. Somewhere nearby Heather was perched safely out of sight, probably drying off too. She was leaving her parents in peace, for now at least. As the sun's warmth penetrated their soggy feathers for the first time in days, first Frisa and then Skye half opened their broad, mighty wings and allowed them to droop a little. They just looked so chilled out. They deserved this moment. Then they went one step further, something I've never seen before. I thought I noticed Frisa's eyes were closed. I zoomed the scope in but they were open again. Then slowly but surely like someone after a heavy meal, her eyes closed completely and her noble head tilted slightly to one side. I looked across to Skye and he was doing the same! It was siesta time; I felt quite honoured that they felt so relaxed with me just 100m away that they could completely switch off. As I watched Skye, he did what people do when you watch someone drifting off on the train. Every now and then, as he snoozed, his head fell forward and he'd then jolt himself upright again, eyes wide open for a few seconds as if he'd been awake all along, only to slowly doze off again in the late afternoon sun. I looked back to Frisa and sure enough she was doing the same. They both just seemed overwhelmed by the stresses and strains of the last few months; maybe the heady cocktail of sunshine, warmth and the scent of spruce was just more than they could resist. It was certainly working on me! This afternoon nap business was catching.
As the sun slipped lower behind the trees, that slight chill which tells you it's no longer high summer, rippled through the larches and both birds gave themselves a good shake and a ruffle of their feathers. I don't know if they roosted there that night; I had to head off but I left with a sense of peace and calm. For birds which sometimes have to face such severe conditions in the wild, which can show such strength and at times such gentleness, I'd witnessed another new side to them: chilled, relaxed 'empty-nesters'. They both half-watched me drive off down the track and they were alone again - together in their domain.
Dave Sexton RSPB Scotland Mull Officer
Many readers may have seen news reports this week of the tragic canoe accident on Loch Maree involving a father and his son. The man involved was Mike Madders with his seven year old son Daniel. Mike worked here on Mull in the 1980s when the first sea eagles settled on the island before he moved to Islay and latterly Poolewe. Mike wrote the 'Birds of Mull' with Philip Snow and 'Where to Watch Birds in Scotland' with Julia Welstead. In addition to his expert knowledge and studies on birds of prey in the UK and abroad, he was also a successful businessman. He founded and was a Managing Director for the environmental consultancy and charity Natural Research Ltd which is working with us on the satellite tracking project. A full tribute to him appears on their website (link on the tracking page) and in the numerous news reports about the accident.
I first met Mike in 1984. We were new recruits to the RSPB and were about to be despatched on a secret mission to a mystery island. Sea eagles, recently released on the Isle of Rum, had started to be seen regularly on Mull. There were the first tentative signs of nesting and the year before, the first eggs had been layed. In March, we were briefed by Roy Dennis at his Highland home and then we both headed west with our new boss Roger Broad and boarded the ferry bound for Mull. Our base was Hazelbank Cottage in Lochdon near where one pair was being seen. We were both instantly captivated by Mull and could sense that we were both lucky to be part of conservation history in the making. On our first evening we headed to Ardnadrochit where Sheila served us our first (of many) home cooked meals. Sheila had been one of the first Muileachs to report the new and unusual big eagles flying over the house and as we ate dinner looking out of the window and out across the loch we knew one could fly by at any moment. The magic of Mull and of my time working with Mike on this historic project had begun. Within a day or two we had made our first major discovery of an active sea eagle nest a long way from Loch Don. I recall Roger saying when we 'phoned in that night for some guidance: "Well, you two seem to be doing pretty well on your own!" I guess for two rookie sea eagle field workers we weren't doing too badly for our first 48 hours on Mull. Forging new and long lasting relationships with the local farmers which continue to this day, we watched the nest round the clock come rain or shine. The male of the sea eagle pair was only four years old so still immature; the female who in later years would become known as 'Blondie' was mature but their breeding attempt was unsuccessful and they incubated way beyond the normal 38 days. Mike and I were back in 1985 to continue where we left off. This time our base was Eastcroft in Lochdon but our sea eagle pair had moved again to a new nest in a remote part of central Mull. Our eagle watch began again in mid March and we were joined by our colleague Keith Morton to conduct our continuous nest observations in what was noted at the time as one of the wettest summers on record. We would do 24 hour stints, relieving each other in the early evening. I recall Mike emerging foot by foot (he was over 6ft) from our tiny, leaking RSPB-issue tent. We would exchange notes on what we'd seen, he'd pack up his cooking kit, Earl Grey tea and favourite bag of muesli and stride off back down the track for a much needed bath at Eastcroft (hoping Keith had remembered to switch the hot water on). I would then crawl into the damp interior of the tent on the shore of the loch and settle down for the long night ahead. I think Mike had made friends with a wood mouse as there was always one keeping me company in the tent. One night it ate through my pack and consumed some of my sandwiches.
Fast forward to a rare dry, sunny April morning. I called Mike on the CB radio and the now legendary message crackled back at me: "I think we're both daddies". And that's exactly how we all felt. Blondie and her mate had hatched and were feeding the first sea eagle chick to be raised in Scotland for 70 years. And the rest really is history but we can reflect and remember and say 'we were there'. The famous chick fledged and so began a dynasty which continues to this day with our very own Frisa who was raised by Blondie and her mate in 1992. From those exciting, pioneering days with one chick on the wing, we end this season with a record 36 chicks fledging in Scotland including an amazing 10 chicks on Mull alone. A fitting legacy for Mike. He helped get them to this point.
I can see him now striding like a stag through the drizzle across the Mull hills, wellies and torn waxproof jacket on with faithful pointer Merlyn at his heel, off to check another eagle eyrie or one of his favourite hen harriers.
Our condolences to all of Mike and Daniel's family, friends and colleagues at this time.
NB. Comments received on this blog are much appreciated but won't be published.
We always get a warm glow as we finally board that ferry and begin the voyage home to Mull. It had been a long, stressful drive north on crowded motorways after a hectic fortnight of visiting family and friends in London and Wales. At one point trying to walk down Oxford Street with a great tidal wave of humanity coming in the opposite direction to us, we felt like we were about to be picked up and carried back the way we'd come. Progress was slow and thoughts of striding the empty hills of Mull kept flashing through my mind. London was fun for a day but it was like an alien habitat for us now. At least in Wales, we did find a nice mountain to climb - the Sugarloaf - with splendid views across the Brecon Beacons. Regular texts from Debby kept me in constant touch with how our sea eagle offspring were faring. At Loch Frisa, Heather was clearly doing just fine and I longed to see her up and about and flying strongly with Frisa and Skye. If only Bracken could be there too...
But of most concern to us all was how Half pint and her big sister were doing. They were the last eaglets to be still in the nest when I went away. All the others were safely on their way but their nest and eggs had been delayed this year by the atrocious weather back in March and April. In fact they were some 10 days later than normal. The text message while I was down south which told me the nest was now empty was a relief in some ways but also worrying. Eventually both chicks were heard but some days later only one chick was being seen. Visions of my discovery of Bracken and of a chick last year dead under their nest trees flooded back. Needless to say, Half pint's nest was first on my list to check after unpacking the car and essential things like picking up the guinea pigs and chickens from Debby!
On the first visit, sure enough, there was only one chick sitting in a tree nearby. Both parent birds keeping watch. Where was the second chick? They should all be together. Finally yesterday, the heavy rain showers paused sufficiently long enough to enable me to get back out there to check once more. Once again, an adult on duty but this time no chicks and all was strangely quiet. No gulls alarm calling. Even the frantic oystercatcher didn't let out her usual explosion of alarm calls as I slipped and skidded my way across the seaweed covered rocks at low tide. The adult sea eagle just watched me go by, no sign of any alarm calls from her. I took my time along the shore line, stopping every few metres to scan the trees in the hope of finding the chicks perched there. Still nothing, still silence. Then I started to find feathers and down stuck to the tops of bog myrtle and sedge. The more I moved along the strandline, the more feathers there were. I started to be concerned as to what I was about to find. Until I discovered what could only be described as a grand eagle dining table! A large flat topped rock covered in prey remains of seaduck, shag, fulmar, gull...what a feast there had been. Clearly this is where the adults had been delivering prey to their newly fledged chicks. I think we all saw each other at almost the same time. There sitting on a rock some 50 metres away was one of the chicks looking big, sleek, smooth and strong. A little further on sat Half pint, now the same size but not quite with the same beefy, robust stature of her big sisiter. For a few seconds she kept peering down at large clumps of bladderwrack and grappling with them as if playfully attacking some future prey. What complete and utter joy to see them both, alive and well, after the long worrying months of incubation and hatching all those months ago. Both flew well and strongly a short distance along the coast and perched professionally as if they'd been doing it for ever. The adult - looking a bit moth-eaten now as her post-breeding moult sets in - came across, located them and circled once to be sure they were safe and then returned to her tree. They were well on their way. Half pint was now a full pint! Soon they would all be off across the Sound of Mull and our work would be done for now. On my way back, I glanced up at the battered and tilting nest which had worried us all so many times this season. It won't survive the winter that's for sure. I wonder where the adults will settle next year and where will Half pint be by then? We wish them all well in their next trials of life.