"Drinking in the morning sun, blinking in the morning sun"
Frisa felt stirrings beneath her. The first time had been in the middle of the night. If the moon had been full and bright she may even have stood up there and then to see what was happening but in the darkness of a moonless April night, she sat low and tight until dawn.
Skye was unusually keen to arrive at the nest at daybreak to take over his incubation duties. Or maybe he too sensed that the moment was approaching? Whilst he was ultra-keen, Frisa was unusually reluctant to shift. Ten minutes passed when normally a changeover happens in seconds. Skye stalked around the nest rim, round one way and back the other but she was not for moving. He finally jumped to one side and sat on a branch and then to preen as if he didn't really want to take over anyway.
But then Frisa felt that movement again. There was no mistaking it this time. She rocked gently to reposition herself a little higher. And then she couldn't resist a peek. She raised her mighty form and stood, peering beneath her. There in the nest cup beside an empty, cracked egg shell was a wet, wriggly, downy chick. She cleared the egg shell away, ate a little and then just stared for several minutes. The chick half sat up, its head and neck wobbling left and right and looked back at the piercing bright eyes and yellow beak of Frisa. Both blinked repeatedly in the morning sun.
Skye sensed the moment had indeed come. Not wishing to be left out, he could wait no longer and jumped back onto the nest. For a few moments both adults seemed to just drink in the wonderous sight before them. Then, instinct took over. Skye ruffled his feathers, stretched one wing, then the other and then was away to hunt. He now had a job to do.
Tugging at a tiny piece of prey on the side of the nest, Frisa bent lower to feed her precious offspring. She appeared to drool with delight as her saliva mixed the meaty morsels into a nutritious soup for the chick to swallow.
It might be hours before Skye returned with fresh prey. Frisa fed herself a little too and then settled back down to brood the first chick - and, who knows, perhaps a second hatching chick - and to keep everything warm, snug and protected. Woodpigeons called softly from the forest, the chaffinches were now well into their full spring dawn chorus and a great-spotted woodpecker drummed loudly on a dead Sitka. It was looking like a beautiful day.
It had been a long time since Frisa had seen or felt anything like this; over two years in fact. Up until 2010 Frisa and Skye had fledged chicks almost every year, almost like clockwork. It had come so easily, so naturally to them. But then it would, wouldn't it? They're so 'hard-wired', as the scientists will tell us, to breed, devoid of all emotion. Just an endless cycle of courtship, nest building, mating, egg laying, hatching, feeding, fledging, moulting and then it all starts again.
But that all changed for them and us in 2010 and again in 2011 when they failed to nest successfully. It just wasn't like them. Everyone had a theory: "too old", "not Frisa or Skye anymore", "intruding eagles", "golden eagles put them off..." In the final analysis, disturbance - possibly, sadly, intentional and reckless - is the most likely cause for their failure to breed. So in 2012, both they and we needed a new approach to get them back on track.
With the Mull Eagle Hide already set to move to Glen Seilisdeir to follow Fingal and Iona and with less general public access to Loch Frisa in the midst of ongoing timber harvesting and haulage, the time was right for Skye and Frisa to help themselves. In early spring, they slipped quietly away from their long-time favourite and once secure nest near a busy track and into some remote, hidden glade lost to view in the many square miles of the Glen Aros catchment. And we would, with a heavy heart, let them go. This was to be their time to regroup and to refocus on what was important in their lives. With just occasional sightings and distant checks, the field signs were often hopeful: one of them flying purposefully homeward at dusk over Salen Bay; another preening on a favourite mound in the morning sun. Never together. We knew they were safe, occupied and we held our breaths.
The plan had always been to wait until any successfully fledged chick (or chicks) would be up and about before looking in earnest for them. Judging by previous dates over their long breeding history since 1998 the time to watch, wait and listen would be early August. And so it was that on a sunny, midge-filled summer's morning, the large, dark form of Sunda, loomed into view over the ridge. Sunda (meaning special and precious in Gaelic), was calling loudly for food. Her flight was still a little unsteady but she'd clearly been on the wing for a week or more. She had spotted Skye and Frisa perched on their favourite rocky outcrop long before we had as she steamed towards them, the food begging calls getting ever louder. She paused briefly in the forest, landing with some degree of agility before launching off again and towards her proud, if already somewhat long-suffering parents. This time she landed less gracefully and almost did an Olympic-style double back somersault over the purple blooming heather before she came to a halt, amazingly upright!
Sunda - Skye and Frisa's chick 2012 - sorry its not brilliant but taken from a distance (photo Debby Thorne)
She lumbered towards Skye who took off and landed again a short distance away; then she changed direction and marched towards Frisa who finally relinquished the remains of some prey from her talons. Sunda had got what she came for. She will do well I'm sure, if given a chance in this uncertain world. Watching from afar, the sight of the three of them together was a dream come true for all of us. There have been dark times in the past two years when we wondered if we'd ever see them like this again. We should have had more faith. With Frisa now aged 20 and Skye just 18, they have many more productive years ahead of them.
The first forestry trucks of the day were beginning to roll and were kicking up some dust. It was time to leave. Frisa, Skye and Sunda - the dynasty continues.
One day like this a year would see me right. It's looking like a beautiful day!
Dave Sexton RSPB Scotland Mull Officer
With grateful thanks to the Mull Eagle Watch partnership of Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, Mull & Iona Community Trust, Strathclyde Police, volunteers and RSPB. And special thanks to Debby Thorne.
The Mull Eagle Hide in Glen Seilisdeir is still running trips. Please book on 01680 812 556
Thanks for that wonderful blog, Dave. So pleased it was a successful year for Skye & Frisa. Sunda's a lovely name, just perfect!
After watching the brilliant 'Elbow' on the Olympics closing ceremony last night, it just seemed the right moment for a blog and to borrow a few lines from their brilliant song 'One day like this'. And what's more one of the men who pioneered Mull Eagle Watch and protected Skye & Frisa for many years is Gareth Potter who's sons Craig and Mark play keyboard and guitar in 'Elbow'. Gareth once sent me a DVD he'd made of Skye & Frisa's famous Springwatch chick 'Itchy' as he flew from his nest for the first time, set to this song. Unforgettable moments. I'm sure Gareth and 'Elbow' and all Watchers past and present will be pleased Skye and Frisa have been successful this year.
Elbow were great last night at the closing ceremony - I didn't know there was an actual 'Elbow' connection to the eagles. Will think of Skye & Frisa whenever I hear that song!
Brilliant blog Dave , I am so pleased
For Skye and frisa , thanks
Hi Dave,what a wonderful story and so nice that the pair that most of us have followed have got back to being successful.The way you tell the story is fabulous,made me feel so much better,just back from hos.
Thank you Dave for the wonderful update on Skye and Frisa....so lovely to hear that this season has had a happy ending for them.
Hi all-well I didn't know who Elbow were but never mind.
Message for Dave and Debby hope you enjoyed the sweets I left for you not long ago when I visted Debby at the new hide and had a wonderful time during 4 warm days on Mull.
We saw Iona perched on a tall tree down nearer the Loch and the female chick flying around low over the trees on the far side of the valley where their nest was and also spotted the nest whilst waiting to go to the hide. During my vist watched the reluctant to fly male chick receive food from dad, eat and then rest again. I would love to know if he has fledged yet?
I was so pleased it was Debby as I had come along way to see her as well as the eagles.
I also spent alot of time on another two days watching Kellan's mum and one chick in trees, but on my second visit spotted both chicks together on the same tree, saw mum and dad flying around, dad bringing in a fish from the loch and was able to be amazed at the size of them as dad flew over me and back to the nest-just wonderful, I was so happy.
Soooooooooooo pleased that Frisa and Skye have had a successful year, do we know if there was a second egg Dave?
I can also recommend a small book about wildlife and bird watching on Mull written by someone called Dave which I bought in the Information centre at Craignure, if anyone is interested I am sure Dave will tell you how to get it.
Look forward to reading the next blog-must carry on unpacking now, kind regards to all you both do on our favouite British Island which we have fallen in love with and now visited 3 times.
Thanks. I'm looking forward to the day Debby finally remembers to hand over a few of the sweets - if there are any left? And thanks for the book plug! Yes 'Birdwatching on Mull & Iona' with artwork and maps by Philip Snow is available from the publishers Brown & Whittaker of Tobermory, on Amazon and all good book sellers! And the best news of all, the second chick, a male called Gorm (Gaelic pronounced Gorum) has now fledged successfully and is flying around with his big sis Buidhe (Booya). They were named by children from Bunessan Primary School after their school colours : blue & yellow. Now get on to Youtube and check out Elbow 'One day like this'! Thanks for visiting and supporting. D
Hi Dave and Debby, another brilliant blog, have you ever written any poetry Dave, if not and you have any time to spare, perhaps you should. Good wishes to all on Mull, human, feathered or furry.
Wonderful poetic blog Dave and brilliant news of Skye & Frisa, I bet they are really chuffed to have success as well this year with a youngster to be proud off. Sunda is a beautiful name.
Hope to get my Mull fix topped up again this Autumn once my wrist has healed. I have been away too long!
Dave what a beautiful blog, had tears in my eyes reading it. What a lovely name as well. You really should write a book (if you had time of course) it would make wonderul reading.