Wednesday, 28 April 2010

The Unnatural Side of Nature

The news that the Isle of Mull’s ‘celebrity’ White-tailed Eagles, ‘Skye’ and ‘Frisa’, have failed with their breeding attempt this year is very sad news for the island. The Loch Frisa birds’ first egg hatched during particularly cold and damp weather and the young eaglet wasn’t able to withstand the low temperatures it experienced during the first hours of it’s life. Mother Nature can be cruel, but nests, eggs and young are lost to the elements every year. So much time, effort and expertise are invested in our Sea Eagles, making it much more difficult for people to comprehend when things don’t turn out as planned. To many, ‘Skye’ and ‘Frisa’ have become ‘part of the family’ and their misfortune will be sorely felt, given that 2010 marks the 25th anniversary since these majestic raptors returned to breed on Mull.

A pair of Blackbirds chose to nest in the ‘Mull Magic’ garden this Spring. Throughout March and April, the mellifluous tones of ‘Bertie’(the male) has greeted the dawning of each new day and acted as our alarm clock. We watched with tremendous respect and no little admiration as his mate, ‘Bessie’, laid the foundations necessary for their first breeding attempt of the season. Just where did she get all that energy from? Whenever we looked, ‘Bessie’ could be seen rooting about in the garden, collecting a beakful of moss, mud, leaves and grasses that she would weave in to her unique feat of avian architecture. ‘Bessie’ put her all into making a house and home fit to cradle her eggs and chicks, while ‘Bertie’ serenaded the love of his life from a lofty perch in a cherry tree.

Within a day of putting the finishing touches to her nest, ‘Bessie’ had laid the first of her beautiful blue-green, speckled with warm brown, eggs. Every morning for the next two days, she would sit tight on her nest and add to her clutch. That ‘Bessie’ completed her egg-laying after the third egg was unusual, as Blackbirds usually lay four or five eggs in their first clutch of the season. The likelihood is that ‘Bertie’ and ‘Bessie’ were first-time buyers and inexperienced at the mating game.

We sat back in anticipation of young Blackbirds parading around the ‘Mull Magic’ garden in late May. For once, the thought of being ‘parents’ again (at our age) didn’t fill us with dread! However, as ‘Bessie’ settled down to brood her eggs disaster struck. ‘Bessie’ was off-the-nest and nowhere to be seen. On closer inspection, we found that the nest had been toppled and the eggs lay smashed on the ground. Peering guiltily up at us from the base of the ornamental conifer was the culprit…a marauding domestic cat!

Around 8 million cats live in Britain. Not every cat hunts wild birds or likes to bring home ‘gifts’ of mice or voles to its owner. However, pet cats account for a minimum of 100,000,000 bird deaths in Britain each year. ‘Mull Magic’ likes cats, but realise that they often represent the unnatural side of nature. ‘Bertie’ and ‘Bessie’, like ‘Skye’ and ‘Frisa’, will get another chance at success!

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