Our white-tailed eagle chick at Glen Seilisdeir on the Isle of Mull was 11 weeks old yesterday and is very active on the nest indicating that it will be fledging very soon. It is already ‘branching out’: flapping and scrambling out onto the branches that radiate from the broken top of the sitka spruce tree where the birds have chosen to nest this year.
This can be the most dangerous time for the young eagle as its first flight is literally a leap of faith. Sometimes the chick will be exercising its huge wings, when a sudden gust of wind catches it and off it goes. Occasionally, it gets the hang of things immediately and flaps and glides in a beautiful arc, landing back on the nest with a flurry of feathers. Other times it crashes into a nearby tree, or comes to ground below the nest tree with a bump. Often, it will then spend the next few days calling plaintively for the adults to come and feed it.
When successfully airborne, the juvenile white-tailed eagle will shadow its parents as they head off over Loch Scridain, the nearby sea loch where Iona and Fingal do much of their hunting, watching their hunting technique. Last year I watched as Iona flew down and snatched a red-breasted merganser from the water. As she headed off toward her favourite rock to perch and eat her prize, last years juvenile, Orion, launched herself from the tree where she had been watching proceedings, and flew directly toward Iona, flipping over at the last moment and snatching away the carcase. Iona had to start the hunting process all over again.
Very sadly, many of our British birds of prey still face an uncertain future as persecution is still commonplace in some areas. In the past we have had one of the Mull-fledged white-tailed eagles poisoned on the Scottish mainland, but earlier this year there was an appalling poisoning incident in Ross-shire where the bodies of at least 16 red kites and 6 buzzards were found, highlighting the ongoing problem. A couple from the Black isle that visited Mull Eagle Watch earlier in the year told me that in Spring they had been watching from their garden over 30 red kites at a time flying. Following the incident, they were only seeing one. The perpetrators of this crime are yet to be found, despite the offer of a substantial reward for information about the crime.
Hen harriers are one of the main targets for persecution, especially on the grouse moors. Last year they think that these magnificent birds were extinct or near extinction as a breeding bird in England: an appalling situation. Show your support for our birds of prey by checking out information on the internet on how you can help. Start by investigating ‘Hen Harrier Day’ which takes place for the first time on 10th August.
The ranger-lead trips at Mull Eagle Watch, which last 2 hours and start at 10am and 1pm each weekday from the car park in Glen Seilisdeir, will continue through August and September. We will be walking through the forest to the seashore, watching for our local white-tailed eagles, golden eagles and the multitude of other wildlife that occurs in Tiroran Forest. We also have many historical sites within the woodland, including the remains of a ruined township, and we plan to have our local historical expert with us on some of the trips. To book ring 01680 812 556 or call in to the Visit Information Centre at Craignure, at the head of the pier where the ferry from Oban lands.
John Clare, Isle of Mull Community Information and Tourism Officer.
There has again been a great deal of good publicity for Mull as a wildlife tourism destination, mainly due to the white-tailed eagles. The BBC Springwatch crew were here filming a nest in the north of the island and covered the ringing of the offspring of one of our most famous birds ‘Itchy’, who is now nesting with its partner on the Scottish mainland. It has also been possible to watch one of the Mull white-tailed eagle nests via a new live webcam, and the exploits of the chick, when it was knocked out of the nest by an intruding eagle, and then returned to the nest unharmed, received national news coverage.
We are very close to the time when the white-tailed eagle chicks on Mull will be fledging. This can be the most dangerous time of the birds life and there have been youngsters killed or badly injured at this stage due to falling from the nest or crash landing after the initial flight. The first winter too can be very difficult: young eagles are learning to fly, search for food and interact, not only with other members of their own race, but also with golden eagles and other birds such as buzzards and ravens that can be very aggressive and which can cause serious damage if conflict occurs.
We have been seeing lots of this behaviour on our trips in the last couple of weeks: on one occasion, a pair of non-breeding golden eagles that were soaring above our viewing area at Glen Seilisdeir started mobbing one of our adult white-tailed eagles after it left the nest. The larger golden eagle, the female, swooped down as Iona, our female bird, headed back off toward Loch Scridain (this is our local sea loch, where most of the fishing by our pair takes place). As it approached from above and behind, Iona rolled over in flight and stretched out her legs, warding it off with her huge talons. After several similar encounters, the golden eagles headed back up into the blue sky, eventually disappearing behind Ben More, the largest mountain on Mull.
All around Mull, large numbers of smaller birds are fledging their young, and in the last week I have seen baby oystercatchers, curlew, greylag geese, pied wagtails, swallows, house martins and siskins. Our bird feeders at Mull Eagle Watch have also been visited by a family of young coal tits, one of which decided to investigate the inside of the hide. Unfortunately, it flew into one of the windows, but luckily was only slightly stunned. Ironically, it decided to sit just above the head of the stuffed golden eagle, resting their until it had recovered sufficiently to be released outside.
If you would like to view the live webcam pictures, the link is http://scotland.forestry.gov.uk/visit/mull/mull-eagle-watch
John Clare, RSPB Community Information & Tourism Officer
Our new white-tailed eagle chick will be seven weeks old on Wednesday (25th June). We can see it moving around the nest, feeding and exercising its wings. The overall plumage has darkened to the mottled brown colour it will remain for the first couple of years, very different from the pale head and breast feathers and white tail of the adults, which stand out from the dark green background of the spruce trees where the nest is located. The chick doesn’t have the bright yellow beak yet either but like the rest of the body it is just about full adult size. It will be another five weeks (on average), however, before this bird fledges. It still has lots of flight feather and muscle development to do before it is able to take to the skies and soar majestically over Tiroran Forest like its parents.
Unusually, last years offspring has been in the territory all spring. Again today it was perched in a tree relatively close to the nest site. ‘Orion’, as it was named by Tobermory schoolchildren, is much more difficult to spot when it roosting amongst the shadows in the imposing trees along the edge of the forest. When it flies and is silhouetted against the pale sky, however, it has the same ‘rectangular’ wing shape of the parents, which give white-tailed eagles the nickname ‘flying barn door’.
We have witnessed some spectacular interaction between our adult pair and the non-breeding pair of golden eagles that have been in the vicinity most of the spring. The manoeuvrability of such large birds is staggering. Last week we saw Iona, our female white-tailed eagle, leave the nest and, finding a thermal, soar skyward. Suddenly, in the distance the golden eagle pair appeared, quickly descending to start mobbing her. Each time, as they swooped down from above, Iona would flip over and show her talons to the attacking birds. This continued for 20 seconds until the goldies decided that discretion was the better part of valour and began soaring higher and higher until they disappeared into the cloud.
We have suffered some disruption to eagle nests this year by people trying to get too close. There have also been reports from other parts of the country of birds such as nightjars having their courtship disturbed by watchers and photographers playing recordings of bird calls to attract them closer. This is not only unethical, it is also illegal when disturbance to nesting is caused. There have also been several appalling incidents of birds of prey being poisoned this year, and any action such as this should be immediately reported to the police.
Not only are we seeing eagles each day at Mull Eagle Watch, we are also visited by a range of other birds and invertebrates. We frequently spot red deer on the moorland above the forest. Unfortunately, there are far too many red deer for the habitats to support on Mull as there are no natural predators here apart from humans. Not only do they cause a problem to farmers, but also damage deciduous trees by stripping the bark, and over-browse moorland vegetation, especially heather. This has a detrimental effect on all the many species such as mountain hare and emperor moth that depend on heather for food and shelter.
Don’t forget that we now have a live webcam on one of the Isle of Mull white-tailed eagle nests at http://scotland.forestry.gov.uk/visit/mull/mull-eagle-watch