Whilst the numerous unfaithful osprey pairings around the UK go about their daily soap opera shenanigans, our rock steady pair of white-tailed eagles, Fingal and Iona, stick to what's important in life: their eggs - their future. These amazing birds have known each others funny ways for a decade or more and have seen each other through thick and thin for many years. And they really know what matters: each other. They've had their ups and downs since Iona laid her first eggs in 2003. It was also my first few weeks in a new job as RSPB Mull Officer and they were my first new pair of nesting white-tailed eagles. I watched them closely that year, like a couple of newly-weds, keen, eager, trying to do the right thing but not always getting it right.
They glared in apparent bemusement as their first eggs actually hatched before their eagle-eyes - and mine from my hideaway in the forest. I saw them one early May dew-soaked morning both standing nervously on the edge of the nest peering down in to the nest cup. Unseen by me, the egg shell was cracking and a wet, slithery eaglet was emerging into the scary outside world. The bright spring sunshine must have made them all blink and the soft down around Iona's brood patch soon dried and warmed the new hatchling. A few days later, as Iona attempted to feed the chick I could even hear the quietest of squeaky food begging calls. Like any new mum, she was a little hesitant, uncertain and yet determined by instinct to do the right thing. Characteristically for white-tailed eagles with tiny chicks, she drooled copious saliva from that huge yellow bill, mixing it with the fresh rabbit prey supplied by Fingal - his first such delivery. And one of his most important. It made the bite-sized offerings more palatable and digestible - from Iona's giant beak to the wobbling gape of her offspring. Down it went. Piece by piece, day by day.
They had chosen their first nest site well. A big old Sitka spruce in Glen Seilisdeir in the south of Mull. Glen Seilisdeir means 'Glen of the Irises' in the Gaelic and by early May, the yellow flag irisis were well advanced with even a hint of the first flowers emerging. Below Fingal and Iona's nest, lapwings displayed in the fields, greylag geese had angry and noisy disputes on the saltmarsh of Kilfinichan Bay and a late-staying summer plummaged great-northern diver called mournfully from far out in Loch Scridain.
Fingal, our male white-tailed eagle - photo courtesy Bryan Rains - Wild About Mull Wildlife Tours http://www.wildaboutmull.co.uk/
It seemed the perfect Hebridean spring for Fingal and Iona's first nesting attempt. So many first timers never even get to this exciting stage. This perfect pairing of a handsome Norwegian-released male from 1997 and his flighty Scottish-bred partner from the misty Isle of Skye in 1998 had produced something very special at the first attempt. As I crept through the dark forest to the concealed observation point at the end of their first week, my heart was full of expectation and optimism...
Coming soon to the Mull Eagles blog...Fingal and Iona face up to the stark reality of life as a breeding pair of white-tailed eagles and we follow their impressive if challenging fortunes over subsequent nesting seasons.
You may have heard that this year we will be hosting the first-ever Scottish Birdfair on the 19th and 20th of May at Hopetoun House near Edinburgh. This is the first event of its kind in Scotland and will bring together over 5,000 people who love nature and wildlife. A wide range of workshops on topics like seabird tracking, foraging, migratory species, birds of prey and the science of conservation will all be on offer. And, with all proceeds going to support our conservation work in Scotland, there’s even more reason to join in the fun. Find out more about the Scottish Birdfair on the website: http://www.scottishbirdfair.org.uk/
Dave Sexton RSPB Scotland Mull Officer
Come and visit them yourself at the All-New Mull Eagle Hide 2012. Book a visit on 01680 812 556. Monday to Friday 10am and 1pm
Wow, these 2 must be super special to you Dave, like your first born :) When are they due to hatch? Hope to see them and you next week
Thanks Dave for the story of Fingal and Iona I was lucky enough to see them last year while on Mull. I look forward to the next installment.
I was on Mull in September of 2010 staying at Bunesssan... My three friends and I love Scotland and are always on the watch for wildlife. One day, I was in the car travelling as a rear passenger, all the while with my eyes watching two gangly birds flitting the coast line. They were dark, were white tipped and I realised they were birds of some size. I mentioned them and we all took note and watched them a while thinking they were anything but eagles. What are we like eh?!! Eagles to us four you see are of the 'Golden' type... We are not bad at spotting those on our yearly visits to Scotland.. We have got quite good distinguishing various raptors and here we were, watching a rare show from Mulls beautiful sea eagles blissfully unaware of what they were. It wasn't until we were sat having tea and a cake in a small cafe and I picked up a small printed local newsletter that was discussing Mulls eagles with pictures of same, that was when the penny dropped with a resonding clang! Who said 'ignorance is bliss'? It was a thrill to realise what we had seen and Mull gave up more of it's wonderful wildlife to us that week... Otters, seal and of course deer. It was a real priviledge and if I could relive one moment it would be the last evening we stayed and I was in the garden of the cottage looking out on open fields in golden sunset.. A stag in full flight passed by, halted about forty feet away, looked directly at me for a few seconds and then continued on his way. Pure bliss.
Wonderful, missed your blogs Dave keep them coming. Looking forward to seeing Fingal & Iona in just a few weeks time.
Oh, Dave's back to hi old tricks again. It may be that the osprey's are nopt as choosy because their instinct is to bread quickly before their migration whereas the eagles on Mull are together all year round. Look forward to hearing more about the new pair. Please let us know as soon as Frisa and Skye egss hatch as we are all so hopeful for them this year. Thanks-continue to enjoy the ospreys as well like me.
Great blog Dave. It sounds like it's been a fantastic start to the season at the new hide - fingers crossed I shall get to see Fingal & Iona in June.
Nice blog Dave and we always spend time when on Mull watching this pair and what I would imagine are that years youngster)s in September.
Great to read another blog from you Dave, you always describe your experiences so well and you must have so many wonderful memories. I wish we were able to come and visit you at the new hide, unfortunately that will not be possible, and I know that at the usual time of year when we have visited Mull I will be having withdrawal symptoms. However, being able to read your wonderful blogs and see any photos included will keep me in touch, for which I will be very grateful. Best wishes for the season to you, Debby and all wildlife on Mull, particularly the sea eagles and their chicks.
Dave, your description is so vivid, and brings everything to life so well! I had the great pleasure of meeting Debby last September on my very first visit to Mull, and her descriptions of the work you do for the Eagles, and indeed, within the community, made my visit so much more meaningful - seeing my first WTEs certainly helped too!! Debby may recall our conversation outside the hide, when she stopped me in mid-sentence with "EAGLE!!!" It had been such a misty, wet day that a sighting seemed unlikely, but we were duly rewarded when the mist cleared, and although it was at a great height, I was rooted to the spot for near 15 minutes, unable to take my eyes off this amazing Eagle, circling high above without a single wingbeat! A defining moment for me, on my first full day on Mull, and one which will stay with me!!
Good luck in the new hide, I look forward to my next visit, but its sadly unlikely to be this year, though I will be in Scotland in a few weeks, to visit my "first love" Lady of The Loch, at Loch of the Lowes!!