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
We now have a live webcam up and running on one of the white-tailed eagle nests on the Isle of Mull: http://scotland.forestry.gov.uk/visit/mull/mull-eagle-watch . This is the nest of ‘Sula’ and ‘Cuin’ a pair comprising a Mull-fledged bird and one of the Norwegian birds that was reintroduced to the East coast of Scotland. This pair have been featured regularly on BBC Springwatch this year along with some of the our otters and other wildlife.
Our Mull Eagle Watch white-tailed eagle chick is 5 weeks old this week and its parents, Iona and Fingal, have been doing a great job of rearing it: regularly bringing prey to the nest in the form of sea fish, birds, rabbits and hares. Greylag geese numbers on Mull have increased enormously in recent years and now their goslings feature high on the white-tailed eagle menu.Ringing (the fitting of a BTO leg-ring and another colour-coded leg-ring) has been carried out this week with two climbers scaling the dizzy heights of a large spruce tree to reach the nest.
Our pair have also been forced to defend their nest and the area around it from other birds of prey (especially a pair of buzzards that have been nesting close by) and corvids: ravens and hooded crows. These birds don’t appear to be interested in the chick particularly (although they could certainly injure or kill it), but seem intent on trying to steal some of the prey remains that litter the edge of the nest. This has all lead to some spectacular views of aerial battles, soaring eagles and dramatic flights of our adult birds carrying prey too and from the nest.
Visitors to Mull Eagle Watch have also been delighted with other fascinating sightings, including regular views of a non-breeding pair of golden eagles, the antics of siskins, coal tits, chaffinches and other birds on the feeders, and a wide range of invertebrates appearing close to the hide with such notable species as marsh fritillary butterfly, red-necked footman moth and gold-ringed dragonfly.
John Clare – Community Information & Tourism Officer