Thursday, 31 May 2012

The Lone Dancer – Hopes washed away or the return of an Eagle Empire?

It is early spring in 2012 and I am watching an iconic lone male Golden Eagle performing spectacular sky diving displays in the valley of Riggingdale in the stunning remote location of Haweswater. The huge raptor can be seen patrolling his resident territory along with Red Deer grazing the hillsides and the first Meadow Pipits, Lapwing and Skylarks taking up their early breeding grounds, the area is teaming with life. It is peace and tranquility with the only sounds heard are gronking Ravens overhead and the odd screaming of a nearby Peregrine. With nothing but wilderness all around me I feel like I am the only person in the whole national park. Haweswater is surrounded by dramatic mountains and glacially gauged valleys and is regarded as one of the most picturesque locations in Lakeland. The neighboring valley of Mardale occupied residents less than a hundred years ago before a dramatic change in fortunes had a huge impact on all the surrounding area...

The iconic Golden Eagle

The year was 1919 and the sad news reaches the people of Mardale Green, they awoke to learn that the Manchester Water Corporation had just secured the long awaited Haweswater Act, a compulsory purchase agreement of the day, which granted them permission to build a dam and drown one of Lakelands jewels in its crown.  The act read that farmers must abandon their homes along with hundreds of acres of land. Once the dam was built in place the waters will rise to cover the houses, schools and church in the valley to provide added water supplies to the ever growing empires of the north west of England.

The construction of the dam

Ten years later in 1929 and work starts on building the large dam construction to the north end of the valley of Mardale. Today there is very few Mardalians, or any of the children remember the flooding back in the 30s. Mr John Henry and his sister Majorie remember it better than most for their father owned and farmed Chappel Hill before the flooding. The time for them to move loomed ever closer so the whole family decided to up sticks and move to their grandfathers farm in neighbouring Wet Sleddale. After comfortably settling in at their new home they later heard that included in the area of 110,000 acres bought from Lord Lonsdale for £130,000 was Wet Sleddale. A double blow as they would all have to relocate again to make way for a second dam to be built to provide Mardale with a backup water supply if needed.
During this time a local Mardalian farmer went missing without a trace. The story told by a relative tells how William Martindale, a well to do family man with an affectionate wife and four children mounted his horse and simply rode away one morning. His steed was found in a stable at Kendal a few days later but no other evidence could be found of Williams disappearance as he was never seen again.

The last farewell, 1935

The Mardale people watched on through the next couple of years as work on the dam continued and started to take shape as the locals were supposed to try and get on with their lives. Work was halted in 1931 because of the great depression for four years although I am sure there was some sense of hope for the local communities until work started again. The last farewell for the Mardale residents was on the 18th August 1935 and a service took place at the Holly Trinity church with 75 people present inside the building and over a thousand people gathered on the hillside outside listening to the moving service via loud hailers fastened to the church tower by a local radio expert from Penrith. Brickwork from the church and other major buildings was later used to contribute to the completion of the dam construction as water levels rose and covered all evidence of inhabited communities in 1940.
The building of the dam raised the water levels by 29 meters and created a reservoir 4 miles long and half a mile wide.  The dam wall measures 470 meters long and 27.5 meters high and at the time of construction it was considered to be cutting edge technology as it was the first hollow buttress dam in the world. An estimated 140,000 cubic yards of concrete, requiring 190,000 tons of stone and 30,000 tons of cement were used during the dam’s construction. An estimated capacity of 75 million gallons a day are used to supply Manchester. When the reservoir is full it holds 82 billion liters of water which is enough to give every person on the planet 3 baths!

Old building remains show signs of past inhabitance 

In 1969 with the reservoir in place and covering any evidence of the past residents in the area a pair of Golden Eagles moved in and took up territory in the neighboring valley of Riggingdale. These iconic birds are prone to any form of disturbance and need a vast remote wilderness area to survive in. Golden Eagles are very elusive and secretive as it was proved when a pair nested in the Wastwater area in the 1970s for 7 years without been made aware by the public. The RSPB provided a hide and view point looking into the valley of Riggingdale to give visitors the opportunity to admire these majestic birds and learn about them.  The Eagles holding a territory at Riggingdale produced 16 chicks since the first birds took up residence in the valley. Most of the fledged birds would move off into the pennines and over grouse moors where they would never be seen again. The latest pair lasted until 2004 when the female disappeared without a trace just like local Mardalian family man William Martindale did nearly a hundred years previous. In the last few decades when an eagle from the pair did go missing at Riggingdale a replacement moved in straight away to take up the territory as there was nearby pairs in Wastwater, Kielder and the Borders producing young birds through the years looking to take up breeding attempts, but by 2004 the surrounding pairs had decreased and there wasn’t any suitable birds around ready to take up the vacancy which has not been filled since. Another eagle did turn up in the valley in 2010 which must have gave the lone male hope, but when they came to interact it turned out to be a White-Tailed Eagle which had ventured south from Scotland. It was the same false hope the Mardalians got when work was halted on the dam construction before starting again a few years later leading to completion.

RSPB viewpoint looking into Riggingdale valley

Back to the present day and the lone male Eagle can still be seen displaying at the head of the valley over the famous old Roman road of High Street. The road was built to connect the forts at Brocavum near Penrith and Ambleside. The high street range had quite gentle slopes and a flat summit which encouraged the Romans to build the road on the higher ground rather than through the valleys which were densely wooded and marshy during that time making them susceptible to ambushes. The Roman Empire used an eagle as their emblem as the bird represented strength, courage, far-sightedness, immortality and was a symbol of the power of the Roman Legion. The birds were considered to be the kings of the air and the messenger of the highest gods. You could say that the lone eagle is one of the last living representations of the dominant reign of the Roman Empire in England.

The Eagle (Aquilia) was usually carried by an Aquilifer who had enormous prestige

The eagle was the ensign of the Roman Legion and a symbol of its power and was the most important possession of the empire

There is new hope for the future of the lone eagle at Haweswater as the RSPB has just taken over tenancy of two farms of 7200 acres of the total of 26,000 acres owned by the United Utilities. The change in management was undertaken because the water company had concerns of the water quality deteriorating, and the right management of the upland areas will provide cleaner water supplies. Over 7 million pounds was spent improving filtration at a small water treatment plant at Castle Carrock reservoir a few years ago, so add a few extra 0’s to the figure for Haweswater reservoir which provides over 75 million gallons of treated water a day to millions of people. The necessary management will mean taking grazing pressure off to promote natural growth, and new tree plantations to stop the erosion of soil into the reservoir. This will provide a healthy balance to the biodiversity of species in the long term, encouraging a range of habitats and giving more food source options to opportunist Eagles. 'Goldies' are regarded as the most successful predators on the planet as over 200 species of mammal and bird have been recorded on their prey list around the world. A large part of Golden Eagles diets in Britain is Sheep and Deer carrion. The condition of upland areas dictate our water quality and it just shows that upland land management is far more important for the majority of people and their health along with potentially saving £millions, not just for a small minority that want to shoot Red Grouse for a hobby.

Present day Haweswater looking north

So what does the future hold for England’s Golden Eagles? Will there hopes be washed away like those Mardalian residents nearly a century ago...or will the birds show their true strength, courage and immortality with the return of an Eagle Empire...

Ewan Miles

references -

Friday, 25 May 2012

Climb back into your time machine and come and join us in the 21st century...dear me

One article which has rattled me a bit and stuck in my mind the last few days was a report on RP that some islanders are saying the Eagles are wrecking havoc with Mull's wildlife and in particular there Rabbit population.....I mean it just gets more embarrassing all of the time, when has anyone ever focused on declining Rabbit numbers? Also someone spouted out that Puffins have declined because of the raptors and Dave Sexton was soon to put it to bed saying that the Puffin populations have increased since WT Eagles have bred on Mull again. If they are so bothered about sea bird numbers then they should fight the cause for over fishing which is having an effect on all marine life and not point the finger at the eagles which I am sure some people will blame for Madeleine Mccann going missing as well. Raptor Politics Link.

Stuart Housdon the director of RSPB Scotland asks where is the logic of wildlife crime sentences? An example is a charge against shooting manager Dean Barr of the Skibo Estate in Sutherland, for the possession of enough of the banned pesticide Carbofuran to kill every bird of prey in Scotland several times over, resulted in a £3,300 fine. Nobody was charged with the deaths of two golden eagles and a sparrowhawk poisoned with the same pesticide, or the laying out of a poisoned bait found on the same estate. 

Sharp-eyed residents on a Scottish island National Nature Reserve (NNR) helped catch one of Britain’s most notorious egg thieves. Police arrested Matthew Gonshaw after receiving a tip-off from islanders on Rum. Most of the island is managed as an NNR by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). Just 35 inhabitants live amid the mountainous reserve of 10,000 hectares. Rum has one of the world’s largest Manx Shearwater colonies and also hosts breeding Golden Eagles and WT Eagles. Link.

Jenny Wren on Iona

It was an Open day on the Wednesday as SLS invited all local companies to come on a two hour eco cruise around the north coast of Mull. It was a big success with lovely weather along with nice food and drinks all throughout the trip. The highlight was a pair of Golden Eagles showing superbly over Bloody bay. 
After the trip my Dad met us at the top of the pontoon and it was great to have him on the island for a few days! We headed off in the evening to get the last few hours light and Goldies stole the show again as we watched a pair showing very well around their nest site and also bringing prey in. We checked the gulls at Knock but no stand out species. Two Mountain Hares on the way back and a few Red Deer.

Jonny Milo biking round Iona
The forecast was right and the following day was constant rain through out so we decided an inland safari car watching was the best idea so we did the round route around the north stretch of the island. We started with checking down the rut-central road down to Caliach point which dad insisted in doing but I thought otherwise but since he was the guest I thought we might as well do it and we ended up with a very close Male Hen Harrier encounter and two Golden Plover in the grazed fields. We made our way round and ended up getting 3 otters including a pair copulating at Laggan bay. A stunning GN Diver was seen on LNK as well. 

Iris beds on Iona looking towards the Ross of Mull

Corncrake showing well...
The following day as planned we headed down to Iona to explore the different habitats on the Ross of Mull and the famous island itself. A single SEO on the way down and when we arrived at Finnophort we got the bike ready to take across the ferry onto Iona. Some consistent feeding Gannets in the sound of Iona on the way across. We headed towards the abbey as there was some good Iris beds for Cornies there and got a tip off from a passing birder that there had been some near the hotel. We stopped for lunch and heard our first Corncrake a few meters off but nowhere to be seen. The exposed pink granite was lit up by the crisp sunshine but the north wind made it a bit chilly. We headed on the north road with dad on the bike and I got a single Twite on route. We came back on ourselves and headed towards the stretch of beach on the south west of the island where we got up to 15 White Wagtails and over 10 Whimbrels. More Twite were seen. On the way back we called past a few Iris beds where a couple of birders were watching a Cornie as it showed well in the less dense Iris beds. lovely birds and there colouration with the sun on their backs was superb.  
More feeding Gannets on the ferry back and you can see why the Bottlenose's like feeding down at the sound of Iona. We checked out Fidden where we got a Ringtail Harrier and 2 Mountain Hares along with more Whilmbrel. We took the wilderness scenic route back and took in the breathtaking landscapes especially when you come round to Gribbun and the south LNK road. We seen WT Eagles on a nest with at least one chick showing. A great day seeing the variety of Mull in all its glory.

Iona and the famous Abbey...

Abbey, birch place of Christianity in Western Europe
Saturday morning and John left at lunch time as the forecast was awful for the Sunday. It was great having such a superb passionate naturalist like dad on eagle island. Today was a seven hour whale watch with Jimbo, Ruth and Andy T on board. Superb feeding Shearwaters off Ardnamurchan point with the first Basking Sharks seen in among them! We headed west and got a single Minke whale.
Up at 5am on Sunday for a 6am departure to Coll with Jimbo, Ruth and Tom for a charter down to the Treshish isles and possible island landing. Big swells on the way over with everyone felling a bit dodgy but the arrival of 10 Common Dolphins soon cheered things up with their usual association and amazing behaviour. The conditions calmed down as we collected 12 Colluchs from Arinagour and headed south. We planned to land them on Lunga 'Puffin Island' even though the conditions would be challenging. We tried to anchor up but strong winds and swell made it tricky. We took passengers across to Lunga on the rib but the landing was tricky on a rocky shoreline and i took one for the team and got feet and trousers soaked. I hung them up to dry on the mast on the return journey. Dropped the lovely people of Coll back on their island and headed off east back towards Tob with very little action out at sea.   

Up to 10 seen on the way to Coll...

incredible animals

Air time capture!
An evening trip south starting at Lochdon with no sign of the reported Osprey but nice views of SEO and Harriers. Moved onto LNK where I got a BT Diver in winter plume at the head of the loch and two Dunlin. Got a WT eagle fishing in the loch and the Bluebells are at their peak in the surrounding woodlands.

Mountain Hares near Knock taken by R Molloy

Sat 19th and a 7 hour WW in nice calm sunny conditions. More great consistent feeding by Manxies in a number of areas in the northern range of our research patch. The visibility was crisp and you could see the caps of Jura showing well to the south and the snowy tops of Skye to the north along with the higher ground of the outer isles. A minke whale out to the west and the Tern colony is building up at the Cairns of Coll. The usual sighting of Porpoise and WT Eagle added to the trip.

Manx Shearwater - superb sea birds
Bluebells near Knock
Sunset looking over Tobermory and Ardnamurchan behind...
four travelling Gannets
An early start on Sunday to prepare for the visit of the Springwatch team and their charter to look for basking Sharks. Iolo Williams was on board as the presenter and after hearing a lot of great things from my dad about him it was good to meet Iolo and share his enthusiasm for British wildlife and its current problems. He has a real natural drive and passion and he is another inspiration to me for the future. 
The springwatch team got a report from an RSPB warden on Tiree via Dave Sexton saying that up to 50 Basking Sharks were showing at the north end of the island the day previous so that was the destination for the day with all the gear on board Sula Beag we headed south with Jimbo, Ruth and the researcher Sam on the RIB to cover the grounds before we arrive. 
It took us three hours to get down to Gunna and north Tiree but the Sharks were there already and after getting the camera gear ready for action the bbc team realised they had left the main underwater body back in Tobermory so they sent the RIB all the way back to get it. It was quite exposed and choppy on the east side of Gunna so we headed for shelter round on the west hoping to pick up sharks there. The RIB arrived back with the gear and Iolo and the team got the dive gear ready as we picked up some sharks south west of Gunna. Up to 12 were seen through out the day as it was all a big success with the team getting all the footage they wanted with the Sharks been star performers. 
A three hour return leg trip back to Tob and I scanned hard to see any more marine life to add to the SLS data collection for the day but although the sea state was good I couldn't find any larger beasties. I tried to persuade the Springwatch producer and researcher to plug my blog on Twitter to there 300,000 followers but it didn't happen although I will keep trying! look out for the Mull Springwatch episode been broadcast in the coming weeks.

Springwatch cameraman filming Basking Shark

SLS team with presenter and naturalist Iolo Williams

Iolo in the water with near by Basking Shark
Thanks for looking, superb forecast for the days ahead, get out and enjoy our countries amazing wildlife 8-)

Friday, 11 May 2012

What is the future for Britains Eagle Owls?

I have experienced some fantastic British wildlife encounters the last few years including associating Minke whales, swimming with Basking sharks, being surrounded by 200 plus interacting Common Dolphins and White-Tailed Eagles fishing meters from me but one experience tops all of those and that is having the privilege of watching a breading pair of Eagle Owls through out the season a few miles from my house. Those birds were later removed as certain people weren't happy with their presence even though over 90% of their prey items were Rabbits. There was a worry that the birds would take a few precious Grouse and effect the welfare of a few dozen people practising their 'sport' on the nearby moors.

The Owls at Bowland are under huge threat as the usual greed, corruption and politics are involved. The video above shows two sides to the story with Tony Warburton promoting Eagle Owls quite rightly saying "how can you look at these birds and say you don't like them". Tim Melling who represents an organisation for the 'protection' of birds gives his views on the possible impact the birds could have if their range expanded.

Here is a link to John Miles article on Raptor Politics regarding the Possible Last Chapter for Britain's Eagle Owls. These personalities like John, Tony and Terry Pickford devote their lives to making a difference in the awareness and protection for their beloved bird Species without looking for publicity or financial gain, just in total commitment for the welfare of the animals they love. Their passion and dedication inspires me and encourages me to drive on all the time.

Back to the island of Mull but staying with a similar situation regarding unwanted species with the news that the first Pine Martens have produced kits on the island after somehow finding there way from the mainland. I personally think it can only be good news to have this fantastic mammal on an island that is driven by wildlife and the tourism it brings. Pineys get a hard time on the mainland with their range being cut back from many parts of Britian through illegal persecution and habitat loss. I have only been lucky enough to see them once but what an experience. They can be baited in as well to give some consistency to their sightings unlike the illusive very unpredictable Otters that are on high demand to see on Mull. Here is a link to the article and please ignore the comment made by one of the locals... 'It is beyond belief to let a dangerous killer onto an island with small birds on'...dear me...embarrassing.

News on a slightly different subject with the rare occurrence of a perigee moon which is a full moon on the same day that it is at its closest point to the earth in a year. It creates a moon that is up to 15% bigger in the sky and is an impressive sight that I managed to capture on camera (photos below).

Sunset from Bloody Bay
Ardmore woodland and Lochaline Quartz sand cargo vessel
I arrived back on Mull on the Tuesday with nice Goldie and WT eagle sightings going through the district of Morvern. On the evening I got rewarded with 2 female ring Ouzels by the Mishnish lochs and the usual Harriers and SEO on the open moorlands. On Wednesday morning I headed to Ardmore and enjoyed some good views of Cuckoos and a male Hen Harrier.

amazing sunset lasting hours...
On Thursday we had a 7 hour whale watch and we got rewarded with our first Minke whale of the season in tricky spotting conditions. One time it surfaced it caught a wave and produced a 2-3 meter high spray making me think it could of been another great whale species. Consistent sightings of Auks and Shearwaters all through the trip and a Great Skua along with Black back Gulls harrasing a Kitiwake to drop its catch making for a great spectacle.

Ben Hiant and Cal Mac passanger ferry 
First whale of 2012!
Juv Black Backed harrasing a Kittiwake for its Sandeel...
Kitiwake getting bombarded by predatory Gulls..
Common Sandpiper LNK
Saturday was another whale watch trip which started with a signing Wood Warbler heard in Aros park from the pontoon. On the way up the sound we got a dancing Skua heading north / west and after getting one photo record I could confirm it as a Pomerine Skua! The great run continued with a couple of Minke whale encounters and it got even better as we got a third whale further west and after photo identification again we confirmed the return of Knobble a whale that has been seen in our research patch since 2002! We seen it in the same area as it was seen for most of last season which is incredible. On the way in we got a group of 40 Arctic Terns heading north on migration.
Headed out on the evening down to Loch Na Keal and got a drake Long-Tailed duck at the head of the loch.  A Whimbrel and 2 GN Divers also on the loch. Another huge highlight was seeing the Perigee moon rise to the south after 9pm.

Ben More mountain range, full moon
LNK and Ben More
Pomarine Skua off Glengorm 
Common Guilimot
A four hour trip on the Sunday with Porpoise, WT Eagle, Goldie and Gannets feeding. On the evening I headed south to Loch Na Keal with Ruth and Andy Tait. We got the Drake Long-Tailed Duck at the head of the loch and also great views of a WT Eagle along with powerful calling. We walked up to the higher ground on Killiecronan and the woodland Bluebells were very impressive en route. Cuckoo calling at the top and the usual breathtaking views. We headed round to the Knock area and got rewarded with Mountain Hares, Fallow Deer and Red Deer with Andy getting some footage for his Youtube account. On the road north back to Tobermory we got a Tawny Owl sat on a roadwork sign to finish the night off.

Knobble our very own Minke Whale!
Knobble surfacing with Isle of Rum and Skye beyond
Full perigee moon 
Shag remains and Pellet all left by an Eagle species...
Bluebells in broad-leaf woodland at Killie
Two superstars....Andy and Ruth
Herring gull with sand eel getting hard pressed by a Great Skua...
Cairns of Coll with Isle of Eigg in the back drop...

Thanks for Looking, Here is a treat of a link to a web cam of a Goshawk nest site in the New Forest. Its all go in the next couple of weeks with dad coming up for a few days and Springwatch film crew coming on board to do some filming for the latest series. cheers 8-)

Friday, 4 May 2012

Let Osprey for our Raptors...

After a week back home in Cumbria the main talking point still has to be the spectacular Northern Lights display from Geltsdale. Here is the link to the article that made the mornings paper...News and Star

The future looks so grim for Englands Hen Harriers with more negative news about the majestic sad...Hen Harriers in Bowland...a lament!

And disturbing news about Bowlands Eagle Owls and people possibly interfering with their nesting attempts, The truth, nothing but the truth. Please join the Facebook group Help save and protect the Bowland Eagle Owls.

A great article in the spiffing Daily Mail regarding urban fox's and mythical attacks on Humans, well said Chris I said it was a load of nonsense from day one, Link. Another article in RP regarding a report of a Red Kite attacking someones little dog, all I can say is go and put your rubbish little £1000 dog in your handbag and get out of my sight...dear me... embarrassment. Red Kite attacks dog?

A bit of positive news on Scotlands Wildcat populations as thanks to the superb intervention of camera traps a new population of the highland tigers was discovered in the Cairngorms. Link.

Aurora over Carlisle...

More dancing lights over Geltsdale...

Sea Pink...Balcary
Back in Cumbria and I had a day over on the Scots side with Gary, Danny and Andy covering a couple of my favourite sites in Threave and Balcary. The weather was pretty grim but with the option of hides it made it less of a problem. We settled in the Castle hide looking over the river Dee towards the Osprey nest site the last few years and we got nice views of the male bird but reports were confirmed that it has been by itself for a month with no sign of a female bird. A brief view of an Otter was another bonus but the major highlight was an elderly couple coming into the hide and after failing to see Osprey in Calender they got views of the male bird here at Threave and were made up and quoted to saying 'it made their holiday'...That was special to see when people get such joys and rewards from seeing birds of prey.
Onto Balcary and with the easterly wind it was quietish with the usual Auks on show, A small raft of Common Scoters, RT Diver, Rock Pipits, Fulmers, 2 Ravens and some weird looking sheep in the nearby fields.

Razorbill focusing on pear shaped egg at Balcary

Male Osprey over nest on Threave...

Sea Campion at Balcary...

High up Gdale valley looking back to the west...

Looking up the old water valley...
On the Friday I headed up the valley with Dad to spend a few hours in beautiful upland Gdale. We started with checking for Adders at Binnie banks but no joy so we headed further up the New Water. 2 B Grouse on the way up along with a single SEO and plenty of Curlews. Settled on a hillside to scan the surrounding area and got another 7 SEO, 2 Merlin, 2 Kes, 4 Buzzards! on the way down we got 10 B Grouse on a Birch and another 3 SEO interacting. Good old Gdale it was just like moorland Mull except for one thing...Harriers.

young Stonechat chick...
7am start on Saturday morning to check on the Pied Flycatchers with Danny and Cain. walked around the fell first of all before descenting down to the Birch woodland. 5 Ring Ouzels brought in with the Strong easterly, 2 Black Grouse cocks, Stonechat, Wheatear and Curlews. Down to the Birch woodland where we got 3 male and 1 female Pied Fly. A possible pair entering a box was promising and we watched interactions between two dominant male birds near by. A pair of Sparrowhawks showed well flying low through the woodland. Blackcap signing was other point of interest. We headed further into the woodland and checked out a Badger Set which hasn't been very active in years gone by and when we approached it a Badger appeared meters from us swapping from one hole to the other, crazy!

Male Pied Flycatcher on nest box...
Stunning birds...
Branching out...
An evening walk on a stretch of the Eden near Hornsby with dad on Sunday. Grey Wagtail and Dippers showed well along with Common Sandpiper. On the beaten track roadside we found evidence of Otters and also dug out areas from Badgers. A Cormoront roost of upto 15 was also present later on as well.  

River Eden near Hornsby...Life's a Beech!

Our crazy full of personality Cat, Chris Packham would love him!
Thanks for Looking, I am back on sunny Mull now and our Sea Life Survey trips are getting going so there will be plenty of marine life and sea bird action to come in the next few weeks along with updates on the very important raptors breeding success on the island. 8-)