Stop press: 18 chicks found in nest at Glen Seilisdeir!
Well 18 pupils to be exact! This week we were delighted to welcome the P4-P7 pupils and teachers from Bunessan Primary School. The children (and teachers) were very excited and after a talk about the eagles, we set off very quietly to the very special viewing area where they would be able to see the chicks in the feathers so to speak!
We headed off down the track, stopping along the way at the remains of the township, Knockroy, and to watch the local buzzard out hunting. Once inside the viewing area, there were several muffled squeals as the children got their first glimpses of the chicks. It was wonderful to see such excited faces - for some it was their first view of a white tailed eagle - I hope it remains a very special time for them for many years. It was very difficult to drag them away as I think they would have been happy there all day watching the antics of our 2 chicks. But tummies rumbled and lunch was calling.
After lunch, the children then had a very important task to carry out - to build a life size eagle nest. They had great fun and were very well organised in deciding how to build it and what materials to use. After the nest was built, the nest needed to be tested - who better than our 18 chicks - I mean children!
Pupils trying out the nest for size and comfort (photo Debby Thorne)
Well as you can see, it was a perfect fit and all agreed it was very comfortable. It was great to have the children spend the day with us at Mull Eagle Watch and everyone had a fabulous time. Tomorrow all the schools on Mull and Iona break up for the summer holidays - just to wish all pupils moving upwards and onwards the very best of luck - a new chapter is beginning for you all.
Oh and I forgot to mention, the pupils had one very important task to complete - the naming of Fingal and Iona's 2 chicks - I am delighted to say, the names are ..............................................
sorry, cant tell you just yet - you will have to wait just a bit longer - but watch this space!
Happy Holidays, until next time
White Tailed Eagle Information Officer
Isle of Mull
Well - if anyone of you were driving home from work this evening listening to Drivetime with Simon Mayo on Radio 2, you will have heard Dave talking about eagles! Yesterday's guest on the show was Glenn Frey from the band The Eagles (our favourite group of course!) - so this evening Simon wanted to go one step further and talk about the feathered variety. If you missed it, here is a link to it - if you fast forward to 19.30 you can pick it up at the start. Radio 2 - Simon Mayo Drivetime
As many of you will recall, the BBC Springwatch team came to Mull and spent a wonderful few days filming basking sharks, goats and white tailed eagles. If you missed it, here is a link to the clip where you can get a sneak preview of the viewing area of Mull Eagle Watch at Glen Seilisdeir.
Dave was also invited to write a guest blog for the Springwatch website - here is the link BBC Nature - Mull Sea Eagles - The Young Generation
Dont forget to book your trip to Mull Eagle Watch - the chicks are 8 weeks old today and are doing really well. Trips are proving very popular so make sure you book ahead. Please call the Visitor Information Centre in Craignure on 01680 812556.
Keep up to date on Twitter - @skyeandfrisa
and Facebook - Mull Sea Eagles
Until next time,
courtesy Belinda Carlisle
Fingal and Iona's chicks are now coming up to 8 weeks old - where has the time gone? They have been fitted with their snazzy leg rings - so they now have a unique number. Let's hope no-one ever has to ring the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) phone number that is printed on the leg ring, in case found. This week, the pupils from Bunessan Primary School are visiting the hide and they have the very important task of naming the chicks. Watch this space!
Chicks at ringing time - carried out under special license
photo courtesy Justin Grant
The chicks will leave the nest (fledge) between 10 and 12 weeks at which time they will come down on to the lower branches eventually to the ground where Fingal and Iona will continue to feed them. After a week a so, the chicks will start to take short flights, following their parents, learning the finer skills of flying and very importantly, landing! Trips to the hide are proving very popular so to avoid disappointment, make sure you call to reserve a space on 01680 812556.
Last week, I joined the crew of Sealife Surveys on board Sula Beag for their 7 hour whale watch trip to spot seabirds. As you may have heard, Mull has been experiencing almost tropical weather with wall to wall blue sky and sunshine. I expected this to break the day we were due to go out but incredibly I awoke to see the Sound of Mull like a sheet of glass and the sky blue from start to finish. But knowing how quickly things can change, especially out at sea, I took all the waterproofs, extra jumpers and tempting fate, the suncream. I was welcomed aboard by Popz and his trusty companion Millie (the sea dog of course!) and Ewan our guide. We had hardly got out of the bay, when 6 gannets flew past in perfect formation. The gannets that come and feed from the waters around Mull come from one of the colonies as far out as St Kilda. I could stand for hours watching gannets as they dive like daggers through the sea to catch fish.
Immature Gannets in flight
Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
Soon we were spotting harbour porpoises - as the sea was so flat calm they were very easy to see. I started scanning the rocks and crags along the coast and, as if like a magnet, there it was - an adult white tailed eagle - basking in the sunshine, a magnificent sight. Further out to sea we spotted puffins, guillemots, razorbills, manx shearwaters, common gulls, fulmars, arctic terns, and shags.
Photo Debby Thorne
As we got further out to sea, Ewan shouted "dolphins" - and we could see in the distance, splashing and activity on the water ahead. As we got closer an excited Popz came up to tell us that they werent just bottlenose or common dolphins but white beaked dolphins. In 30 years, he had never come across this particular species in the waters around Mull. The engines on the boat were turned off and gradully the dolphins came closer to the boat - we hardly dare breath. It was as if time stood still as we all watched in awe at these gentle, serene creatures as they swam around and under the boat. A very special moment I will never forget.
white beaked dolphins -
photo Debby Thorne
White beaked dolphin - photo Debby Thorne
As we turned to leave, they joined us for a while bow riding - just magical. We ventured on and arrived at the stunning Cairns of Coll - small rocky islands whose only inhabitants are seals, terns, fulmars, pipits and shags. It was like a scene from the Caribbean - turquoise sea and white sand - I had to pinch myself to remember that I was in Scotland. If Heaven exists, then it was surely that moment in that place. After lunch, we all agreed to venture further out to sea as the conditions were just incredible - it wasnt long before we were watching a minke whale working the tide line. As one dived, we all waited for it to surface in front of the boat only to hear a huge splash behind us as we all missed one taking a deep dive to fish deeper down in the sea. We had 3 minke whales (or stinky minke as they are known locally). As we reluctantly headed back towards home, we were rewarded with the amazing sight of a golden eagle, circling along the cliffs, always magical to watch as it caught a thermal and rose ever higher into the clear blue sky. Close by, a couple of gannets were diving into the sea and surfacing with a large fish. I was amazed at the number of gannets we saw that day - hopefully a sign they are doing well in this part of the World.
All too soon, the trip had ended - I arrived back to dry land, with a grin from ear to ear - it was an amazing day out - thanks to Popz and Ewan from Sealife Surveys (based in Tobermory) for an unforgettable day out - keep up the good work.
By 2004, all the signs looked good for Fingal and Iona for their next breeding attempt. Their nest from the previous year had been added to significantly; huge sticks were carefully woven in or just plonked on top of each other and by mid March Fingal was carrying in great clumps of white hill grass - Molinia - to line the nest in preparation for egg laying. As he landed with yet another pile, Iona tugged it away and scattered it around the nest, pressing it deep into the sticks. Then she settled in as if incubating eggs, making a cup, pushing her legs out the back to form a safe place for her precious cargo which could now only be days away from being laid. Sure enough, right on cue in early April, we saw the first change-over in incubating duties when Iona lifted her great bulk off the eggs, stood protectively over them for a few minutes and then flew away, making room for Fingal to hop down from the branch above and settle himself in for the next few hours. He looked right at home; careful, dedicated, unwavering in his duties.
This should have been their pattern for the next 38 days, come rain or shine. Each adult taking near equal terms incubating the two white eggs. Iona would always incubate overnight, usually landing next to Fingal to resume her night shift as the late winter sun set behind the shadowy ridge. Sometimes Fingal was reluctant to relinquish his position and Iona would have to give him a sharp nudge to move him off. We crossed off the days on the calender: 28, 29, 30...just a week or so to go. Gordon Buchanan was filming them for his BBC Natural World production 'Eagle Island' and we were all gearing up for the big day. Then it started to rain; heavy and persistent rain, day and night for almost 72 hours. It was a deluge; swollen rivers crashed down the hillsides into the bay, big branches with new leaves broke under their own weight, deer and sheep were washed off river banks and down into the sea loch. On the morning the rain began to finally ease, Gordon and I returned to Glen Seilisdeir to check on Fingal and Iona. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised by what we found. Both birds were sitting together in another Scots pine, dark, drenched and disconsolate. After watching for a while we ventured closer to confirm the worst and looked up. We could see daylight through the nest; the rain-sodden grass lining had been pulled through the base of the waterlogged structure dragging the fragile eggs with it. We looked down. There scattered and broken amongst the branches on the ground were the shattered pieces of eagle egg shell. I picked bits up; Gordon filmed them. It was not what he wanted to film. For Fingal and Iona, it was all over - again - for another year.
After all their set backs, the following year they moved well away from their doomed nest and built a new one in a Lodgepole pine near the top of a beautiful river gully. That year, 2005, it all worked out right for them: calm, dry conditions throughout incubation. I left it a few days beyond their presumed hatch date before climbing high into the hills to a safe watch point. Iona was sitting higher. Two hours passed with barely a movement from her, then a sudden fidget. She stood at last and revealed her single chick to the warming May sunshine. It looked strong and healthy, already stretching up to be fed. With luck and fine weather, this could just be their year. All the signs looked good. For the first critical 10 days of life, Mull's weather-god was kind to Fingal and Iona and their chick. Soon he grew into an even stronger eaglet, day by day, bigger and more feathered. At 8 weeks old we paid him a brief visit for a close-up health check, a few measurements and wing tags. He was 'Red V' or 'Valiant' as he was christened by local children. At 10 weeks he was fully grown but not yet ready to take the biggest jump of his life. After another two weeks of strengthening his flight muscles, he flapped hard one more time and launched off the top of his pine tree home and into a world of amazing adventures and terrible dangers he could never begin to imagine - but we could. It's always a bitter-sweet moment for us watching from afar. We're thrilled and relieved an eaglet has fledged successfully at last but we also know deep down that we've done all we can, our role in protecting them here is largely over and they must now fend for themselves in an often less-than-friendly environment for our stunning birds of prey. On Mull, Valiant should be safe but soon he would fly further and longer distances away from the protection of Fingal and Iona and then he would really be on his own.
By the late autumn, that day had come. Valiant had gone. Here one day, gone the next. Amazingly within just a few days we had a call from birdwatchers and then a radio station in Northern Ireland to say a young white-tailed eagle with red wing tags and the letter 'V' was being seen regularly on the Antrim Plateau. Valiant really had spread his wings and gone for it, helped aloft by strong northerly fall breezes, carrying him south down the Argyllshire coast, through the Mull of Kintyre and over the Irish sea. Even more amazingly, two weeks later he was back on Mull, seen by a wildlife tour operator on Loch na Keal! He was by now of course completely independent of Fingal and Iona. Their first successful fledgling had proven himself to be a real survivor, able to navigate the twists and turns of coast, hill, glen and loch. There would be more chicks for Fingal and Iona in the years to come but for them Valiant was their turning point from failure to success. He was special...and five years later he was to prove just how special.
On a remote stretch of coast near the Isle of Skye, an RSPB field worker followed up reports of a new pair of adult white-tailed eagles settling into an area. The male had red wing tags with the letter 'V'. Valiant had made it through. He has since gone on to raise and fledge chicks of his own. The Fingal and Iona dynasty has a bright future. Long live Valiant!
Watch Fingal and Iona with their two chicks from this year on Springwatch 2012 BBC Two 8pm week beginning June 11th. And then come and see them for yourself at the Mull Eagle Hide. Booking essential on 01680 812 556. 2hr trips Monday to Friday 10am and 1pm. Adults £6, children £3. Gordon Buchanan's BBC Natural World film 'Eagle Island' is for sale from all good stockists on Mull, on the MV Isle of Mull CalMac shop, VisitScotland in Craignure and on Amazon.
Iolo Williams & the BBC Springwatch crew on board Mull Charters - photo copyright Richard Clutterbuck
Dave Sexton RSPB Scotland Mull Officer