All's going well for Orkney's nesting sea eagles, according to the RSPB Scotland team watching over the birds on Hoy.
After a late start - the pair only appeared to settle on the nest around mid April - the young birds are now a little over halfway into the expected incubation period of five to six weeks. Success would mean Orkney's first sea eagle chicks in nearly 150 years.
Meanwhile since Easter over 600 people have visited the informal viewpoint at the Dwarfie Stone car park, where RSPB Scotland staff and volunteers have been busy pointing out the sea eagles and explaining the story of the birds' reintroduction following their national extinction in 1918.
Since starting to incubate, the pair on Hoy have been seen almost daily, usually swapping over on the nest two or three times during the day. Visitors have also been delighted by regular views of the off-duty adult flying in with prey, preening on the crags and chasing off ravens.
Laura Shelbourn, who has just finished a six-week stint as a residential volunteer for the RSPB on Hoy, said, "The last few weeks have been amazing. It's been a privilege to spend time watching the sea eagles but the biggest pleasure has been helping people spot them and seeing their reactions. One of the most impressive things we have to show people are some sea eagle feathers collected from other nests in East Scotland, which are as long as a child's arm - as measured by a seven-year-old visitor we had recently!"
RSPB Scotland's Community Learning Officer, Lindsey Taylor, has also delivered the first of her newly planned sea eagle sessions for schools. P3/4 at Firth Primary enjoyed learning about the lives of sea eagles, playing a 'nest detectives' game to work out what they eat and finding out how many of their class could fit in a sea eagle nest. The sea eagle session will now become one of the regular programmes offered through RSPB Scotland's local outdoor education service, which is free to schools and part-funded by Orkney Islands Council.
The Orkney Nature Festival, which takes place 16-22 May, will include another chance to celebrate the sea eagles' return to Orkney, with a special event scheduled for Thursday 19 May at Tomb of the Eagles, South Ronaldsay. The drop-in day will bring together sea eagles past and present, from 5,000-year-old bones and talons to the radio technology used to track the latest generation of Scottish sea eagle chicks. Visit orkneynaturefestival.org or ring 01856 850176 for more details.
1. The best place to view Hoy's sea eagles is the small car park for the Dwarfie Stone, in the valley between Moaness and Rackwick. It is manned by RSPB Scotland staff and volunteers each day between 11 am and 4 pm with a telescope and binoculars available to use.
2. A three-phase reintroduction programme for white-tailed eagles began in 1975. The east coast phase (the most recent) was a partnership between RSPB Scotland, Forestry Commission Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage with funding from Leader (2011-2013) and the Heritage Lottery Fund (2011-2014). Between 2007 and 2012, 85 birds were released on the east coast of Scotland, with the first successful nesting attempt made in 2013.
3. More information on sea eagles can be found here.
4. The RSPB is the UK's largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations.