Friday, 19 March 2010

Keeping in Touch with Old Friends

Our walk today gave us the chance to catch up with some old friends, the Isle of Mull’s most famous birds, the White-tailed Eagles at Loch Frisa. It is a fractious time of year for the island’s celebrity eagles, as well as for the mini-army of personnel, both professional and voluntary, that help to ensure their continued well-being. We dropped in to see how the most famous pair of White-tailed Eagles on the planet are getting on and were pleased to learn that they have settled down to nest after what has been an exceptionally cold Winter.

As we watched, the head of the incubating bird rose above the nest turret. It was obviously aware of something that we weren’t. Some way distant of the nest, we spotted another White-tailed Eagle, high in the sky. Soaring effortlessly on its huge, flat wings, it appeared to be showing no intention of coming anywhere near the nest site. Perhaps it was an adult bird from a nearby territory or simply one of several immature eagles that are occasionally seen in the area?

In what seemed seconds, the distant bird dropped from its lofty position in the clouds and glided towards the direction of the nest. Surely, this was the partner of the bird that was on nest duty?

The flight path to the nest was not without obstacles and a further few languid flaps of those enormous wings brought the eagle into the territory of a prospecting pair of Buzzards. Unannounced, the male Buzzard exploded from its perch and, with talons outstretched, clattered an almighty thump on the back of the passing eagle. Ouch! The hawk, tiny by comparison, rose quickly and made good to repeat its offensive. This time, the White-tailed Eagle had its wits about it and, with a deft shrug of its shoulder, managed to avoid being stung a second time. Talk about once bitten, twice shy!

The Buzzard, realising that the element of surprise had passed, retreated to its perch. The White-tailed Eagle continued on its way towards the nest tree but, instead of initiating a possible change-over with its mate, flew to a tall Spruce tree, where it was able to compose itself after its ordeal with its anti-social neighbour.

Birds of prey are continually being mobbed by smaller birds during their everyday lives. To most, it is a mere inconvenience, being little more than nuisance value. It has been likened to a human being bothered by midges on a warm, damp Summer evening on Mull. However, knowing the strength of a bird the size of a Buzzard and just how sharp its talons are, we don’t doubt for a second that, on this occasion, the White-tailed Eagle will have genuinely felt the presence of its smaller relative!

Mull Magic never fail to be impressed by these magnificent raptors and are fully supportive of all the effort that is made to ensure the continued well-being of the White-tailed Eagles at Loch Frisa and elsewhere on the Isle of Mull. Good luck to everyone involved with this year’s ‘Eaglewatch’ and not least to the great birds themselves!

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