The day dawned bright and clear and the sea surface of Loch Scridain was calm as I drove along the shore road to Tiroran Forest in Glen Seilisdeir, where our pair of white-tailed eagles nest. This was my last day of my second year of leading walks at Mull Eagle Watch for the RSPB. Iona and Fingal, as the female and male are named, have successfully raised another chick in 2014, their 12th year in this territory, and it has now been just 8 weeks since the young bird flew from the nest. ‘Thistle’, as the juvenile has been named by Ulva Ferry primary school children, is still in its parent’s territory being fed by the adults, and there have been numerous sightings of last years offspring ‘Orion’ too.
Having got everything ready, I walked down to the car park and met the visitors, and after a brief introduction, we headed up to the hide where for the last few weeks I have been giving a short talk about the eagles before we head off along the forest track in search of the birds. Outside the hide we spotted, in the distance, a juvenile white-tailed eagle soaring above the forest treetops before it continued on up above the moorland skyline. The eagle’s dark plumage clearly marked it out as this year’s juvenile, and it looked huge even though its wing silhouette still doesn’t appear as rectangular as the adults (their nickname of ‘flying barn doors’ is very appropriate).
Having walked further along the forest track we looked across to where the juvenile had been flying earlier and immediately spotted another large bird being mobbed by about a dozen hooded crows, ravens and buzzards. This bird had a markedly different outline with sculpted wings, a longer tail and small head, and it was also noticeable that its underwings had large pale markings indicating that this was a juvenile golden eagle. We watched for several minutes as the ravens repeatedly dive-bombed the eagle, forcing it to flip over on its back threatening them with its talons in an effort to fend them off. Eventually, it had had enough and flew off rapidly toward Ben More, leaving the other birds in its wake.
Another few hundred yards brought us to the area where our pair of white-tailed eagles often perch in tall trees that overlook the bay where they do some of their hunting. Sure enough, there was Iona, sat on a branch tucked into the top of one of the large conifers. She had spotted us too, but was unconcerned, perching on one leg and turning her head almost through 180o to stare out over the loch in case there was a passing gannet, who she could steal a fish from.
I quickly set up the telescope so that all our visitors got an excellent view of this majestic bird with her pale head plumage and brilliant white tail. I kept looking out for Fingal or one of the juveniles too, as we have often had close views of one or more of them flying low over the bay. After 15 minutes of watching her in the tree, during which time it appeared as though she might sit there all day, I decided it was time to take the visitors back to the hide. We hadn’t got more than a few yards back along the track, however, before Iona decided to launch herself from the branch, and we had magnificent views of her flying almost overhead in the direction of this year’s nest.
On the walk back a pair of buzzards also gave us a close fly-past, their mewing call ringing out over the forest. I think the eagles stole the buzzard’s preferred nesting site this year and we have witnessed numerous aerial contests between these two species. To cap it all, when we got back to the hide, I managed to sign up another new RSPB member, thus achieving my membership target for 2014.
What a brilliant year of eagle and wildlife watching it has been at Glen Seilisdeir with a wide variety of spectacular sightings on almost every day. We have received all sorts of accolades, including the top 5-stars from Visit Scotland again, and the highest Green Tourism gold rating. We have also been short-listed for the Nature of Scotland awards and regularly received 5-star ratings on Trip Advisor.
John Clare – RSPB Isle of Mull Community Information & Tourism Officer.
After a weeks holiday I had probably the most enjoyable trip of the year today at Mull Eagle Watch with a great group of 20 visitors. The weather was overcast this morning and rain was forecast this afternoon, but it held off until after the walk when I was on the way home.
After giving an introduction about white-tailed eagles at the hide, we walked all the way to the end of the forest track without seeing a single bird, but there, in one of the large conifers overlooking the bay was Iona, our adult female. We had great views of her sitting serenely with her pale head plumage and huge yellow feet, perching on a topmost branch looking out over Loch Scridain. Suddenly, a buzzard appeared and flew toward her, starting to mob her where she sat. After a few moments of ducking and wing flapping as the buzzard dived toward her head, she took off, pursued by the distinctly smaller bird of prey. Both birds flew low in front of us, the buzzard above and behind, mewing constantly.
I suspected Iona was heading off to roost on one of the trees near this years nest and sure enough, when we got back to the hide, there she was in the top of a spruce tree. After more good views through the scopes, of her regal self, she flew off along a ride between the trees, down to where their favourite pool for drinking and bathing stands below a waterfall.
We had overrun our alloted 2 hours, so the visitors gradually wended their way, happy having not only had great views of a white-tailed eagle, but also learnt a lot about the birds. i packed away the scopes and binoculars and as i drove away through the forest, there was Iona sat again in the top of a large spruce near the nest, watching me as I passed.
I haven't seen our juvenile white-tailed eagle for the past couple of weeks. It was a female chick for our pair again this year and has now been named 'Thistle' by the children from Ulva Ferry School on Mull. Good luck to Thislte over the next 4-5 years as it roams over a wide area searching for a mate. Hopefully it will then set up a territory with its new partner in the ongoing recolonisation of Britain to take up its rightful place as a breeding bird throughout these islands.
The ranger-led trips at Mull Eagle Watch will be happening each weekday until the 2nd October. Book on 01680 812556.
John Clare, RSPB Community Information and Tourism Officer at Mull Eagle Watch on the wonderful Isle of Mull.
The white-tailed eagle chick from the Glen Seilisdeir nest fledged safely back at the beginning of August and, after over a week spending much of its time on the ground in the clearing below the nest, is now to be seen soaring high above Tiroran Forest and the adjacent moorland.
Last week the visitors to each trip of Mull Eagle Watch had probably the most spectacular views of the year. We are now walking around 1 mile along the forest track to an area of most spectacular views over Kilfinichen Bay, out over Loch Scridain and up to Ben More. This is the place where the eagles are currently most often to be seen, perched on some of their favourite lookout spots, or soaring over the tops of the huge spruce, larch and pine trees. We are also regularly seeing a sub-adult white-tailed eagle, probably a chick raised by this pair several years ago and on one day this week we watched as this bird performed an aerial ballet with this years juvenile: a wheeling and tumbling duet, with one of the eagles flipping over and showing its talons, seemingly part in play, but also with the serious edge of practising for future territorial disputes and mating rituals.
Yesterday, the visiting RSPB Aberdeen Local Group watched as the eagles soared over the adjacent moorland, being mobbed by our local pair of buzzards. A large flock of hooded crows were also in attendance and three ring-tailed harriers, probably the mother and two juveniles, swooped and dived, mobbing both the crows and the eagles. In the afternoon, another group of visitors were even more privileged to have close views of Iona and the juvenile flying low overhead, heading off across the Glen to alight on the moorland. Iona had obviously dropped food for the youngster, because as soon as it landed, it mantled its wings, shielding the prey before starting to rip it up with its big powerful beak.
The chick will spend a few more weeks at least in its parent’s territory, mastering flight and hunting, but still being supported by Iona and Fingal. Then it will be off, ranging far and wide in its 4 or 5 year journey to maturity, finding a mate and establishing its own territory. Provided its survives the first year, often the most critical time of its life, it may return with its mate to establish a territory close to the parents range.
Mull Eagle Watch walks should be continuing until the end of September (2 hours starting at 10am and 1pm most weekdays). Booking is essential on 01689 812 556.
John Clare, Isle of Mull Community Information and Tourism Officer.