Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Focusing on Golden Eagle behaviour...

The weather continues to produce some great spells up here, We seem so fortunate to have missed a lot of the rough stuff further south in the last few months. On my time off I have been mainly focusing on Golden Eagle behaviour as I am really keen to learn as much as possible about the inspirational species. I have put in a few shifts at a near by Goldie territory which is so far successful in their breeding attempts with one chick in the nest. I have seen the female feeding the eaglet which looked like Rabbit. Plenty of territorial behaviour seen as it is a coastal eyrie with a lot of Gulls around and also a good number of Ravens and Hooded Crows which don't get intensively controlled on the island. A number of sharp stoops at avian intruders has been seen along with shallow displays at two intruding Golden Eagles above. Also the male bird has been making sure that the neighbouring WT Eagles don't drift too close to their patch.

I am reading the superb newly published book 'Eagle Days' by Stuart Rae which covers his life experiences with Golden Eagles in the Scottish highlands. You can also read his blog here http://stuartrae.blogspot.co.uk/ . 

An incredible photo of A Goldie tackling a Red Fox - http://500px.com/photo/7767768

After reading this recent article on Prince Williams strong views on Rhino poaching and the threat of them becoming extinct in the next few decades it just made me think of one subject...Hen Harriers. The iconic bird is close to extinction as a breeding species in their native England but the royals always decide to turn their attention to threatened animals thousands of miles away instead and ignore Britains wildlife. Along with their track record with Toff Harry allegedly shooting Hen Harriers and Philip shooting a large number of iconic animals including Tigers before co-founding the WWF, they just completely embarrass themselves all the time regarding conservation. Stick to Horse Polo and Croquet...dear me. 

I have been busy with boat trips six days a week so the content of the blog is mostly marine life with some incredible encounters at that! Bow riding Minke whales, White-Beaked Dolphins again! and Bottlenose Dolphins up Loch Sunart. On the bird front we have had Storm petrels and Dark morph Arctic Skuas along with all our other stunning sea bird species. A few videos in this post to help viewers experience the encounters in the last fortnight.

Click on photos for a larger scale...

Male Golden Eagle collects stick and drops it to perform stoop display to female above...

A pair of Golden Eagles in flight and getting mobbed by a Hoodie

Minke whales surfacing close to Sula Beag on a whale watch explorer south of the Isle of Muck...sorry for the over excitement but there was two whales!

Lochdon at low tide, Sea Pink blossoming above the high tide mark
Looking west from Gribun just after watching a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins with Andy T
Bottlenose Dolphins up loch Sunart
Over eight socialising with the boat when we were stationary 
Here is skipper Lewys video of the Dolphins down Loch Sunart...http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7WZPnFZifVE&feature=youtu.be

White-beaked Dolphins again! still in our waters...
Common Dolphins breaching - Ben More, North Mull and Coll in the back drop...
Happy passengers and crew after another Whale watch
Ruth and I on Coll at lunchtime during a charter
SLS team - me, jayne, Lydia, Lippy, Andy and Ruth
A passanger emailed this into the office, has to go on the blog!
White-beaked Dolphins east of Coll!

Incredible footage using a GoPro camera of a kayaking experience with Blue whales! A must watch!...http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVtw94PJ8XA

More amazing footage of a breaching Minke Whale off Ardnamurchan point on a Sea Life Surveys trip a few years back, captured by the great Andy Tait!...http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MwLOIJ1FFEA

Thanks for looking, my next post will feature a trip to Lunga and Staffa to experience the amazing geology and the breeding sea birds and also more adventures and encounters with Sea Life Surveys. cheers

Saturday, 16 June 2012

White-beaked Dolphin encounters...

The main highlight in the last week or so was a couple of encounters with the scarce Dolphin species White-beaked. We came across a pair out near Coll and a few days later we found up to eight of the beautifully marked cetaceans. In 30 years of researching these waters, it was the first time that Popz ( the founder of SLS and Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust) had seen the species. They get reported more frequently further north in the outer isles and also off the east coast. 
We have been seeing two regular whales the last few weeks that have been newly named Ron and Don. Ron is named because of his Really Obvious Nic in his dorsal fin. Don is named simply because it rhymes with Ron and he has a wider ridge in his dorsal fin. Don or Donald as he prefers is my fave and I think he could rival the 10 year strong local visitor Knobble in the future. Speaking of Knobble we have seen a very small juvenile in Knobbles patch and could it be a calf of Knobble??......Knobblet!
My Haweswater article has been published on Raptor politics so click the link if you have not read it all ready.
I am also now an author for Focusing on Wildlife after completing my sixth article for the web site. Great to join the team along with the likes of Mark Avery and Cain Scrimgeour. 
Speaking of HB (Hollywell Birder) he has just arrived back from RSPBs Troup Head filming Gannets for the organisation. Look at his superb captures here. 
An interesting article on the plans to plant more trees in urban areas to benefit a number of things like peoples health and welfare, Carbon and water capture, more attractive towns and cities and also biodiversity. Link. 
A fascinating report on research done to discover Golden and WT Eagles range in Great Britain dating back to 500AD. Look at the map! both species breeding in the Geltsdale area! When Eagles Dared.

Click on photos for a larger scale...

Golden Eagle chick I have been following this season, Named it J-Milo after the great man, happy fathers day Dad!
Basking Shark hugging Coll's coastline...
White-Beaked Dolphins North of Mull, a pod of eight...
Bow riding from WBD
Very pale saddle of WBD
White-beaks with Isle of Rum in the back drop...
Puffins off our Bow...
Manxies skating over the pond mill sea state!
Eagle interest...great to see!
Looking south east above Scalastle forest
Balmeanach Farm...
South LNK stretch...
Minke whale with Rum and Muck behind...
Picking up passengers at our lunch stop...

Lochdon in glorious sunshine...
On route to the beach landing for lunch...
Lunch time on the Carins of Coll...
Another Dolphin encounter captured...

A rare game of golf on Craignure GC...

Just watching the last episode of Springwatch with Iolo Williams on Mull focusing on White-Tailed Eagles and the great news is announced that there is 14 WTE territories on Mull this season compared to 11 last year. Also there is now 60 breeding pairs in the country including a breeding pair consisting of an east coast and west coast bird! And as Iolo brilliantly quoted..."the birds will fill up Scotland and continue spreading south"...Might see them back on Gdale after all! Thanks for looking 8-)

Monday, 11 June 2012

Look what you could have won...

Eagle island is ticking with visitors, and the flora and fauna is getting richer as the season progresses. Seeing the abundance of wildlife makes you think of certain areas of the mainland and saying 'look what you could of won'.
I will start with a a few nice positive headlines to kick things off but don't worry I have plenty of depressing stories to follow so keep the oven simmering.
A continued great spell of weather in the Hebrides will be giving the birds of prey more chance of breeding success along with all the species as a whole. It is fantastic to see Butterflies and Dragonflies out again and I will be again trying to focus on them and take advantage while they are out for the next few months. Marsh Fritillary and Golden Ringed Dragonflies have been the early highlights.
Killer Whales have been photographed attacking a pod of White-Beaked Dolphins in the Pentland Firth off Scotlands north mainland coast. While Karen Munroe was watching the dolphins, 6 Orcas surfaced in unison attempting to prey on one of the White beaks. It would be a dream to see an Orca off the British coast...one day. Link.
Right now go and check if the ovens hot because 2012 seems to get worse for our raptors with Defra attempting to introduce a study to control our native Buzzards breeding in area where they could have an impact on the mass introduced alien pheasant numbers. The plans were later condemned and cancelled because of a large public outcry to stop the insanity. Link.
A greedy money driven estate owner on the isle of Lewis has said that the island will become a bird sanctuary with no people if the planned wind farm extension is opposed. He must be forgetting that the main drive and attraction for people visiting and living in the Hebrides is the remote, peaceful wild areas and the species on offer as well. As if he gives a dam about the communities on the island, he will be keen to make a quick buck and effect the experiences of hundreds of thousands of visitors a year as well as threatening our rare Golden Eagles. Link.

To my own recent happenings now and after a hot sunny whale watch at the start of the week, the sls crew along with Cat and Craig headed to the black beach round to the the west of the island for a bbq. Craig brought the kayak as well and we enjoyed riding the surf with not much elegance. Not much happening on the wildlife front with just Rock Pipits and Mergansers. We spotted a rope swing up the hill inland and after the bbq we headed on up to have a closer look. A few of us had a go which was good fun and next I decided to have a go starting from higher up the slope which took me what felt like vertical to a 90 degree angle and when momentum swung me further round I ended up getting stuck 7-8 feet high up wedged in a branch. I hung there for 5-10 min as everyone took photos of me before Craig found some extra line washed up which he used to pull me free! I thank my lucky stars that I was wearing my St Peters (the doorman at heaven) necklace that I found on the boat and clearly saved my life. 

Cairns of Coll, our lunch spot on WW trips
As the weather continued in good vane so did the wildlife as a Whale watch trip the following day produced over a hundred Common Dolphins followed by a cloud of Gannets. 2 Basking Sharks and a WT Eagle added to a superb trip.

Salen Bay at sunset

On the evening after the trip we arranged a spot of camping with me, Dunc, Craig, Ruth and Jayne. We chose to pitch up on the south Loch na Keal stretch at the bottom of Ben More. We got a fire going and had a nice bbq in the retreating sunshine. Craig brought the kayak again but before taking it off the Landy he took it for a spin off road and ended up getting it stuck in a bog. He phoned his dad to come down and try and winch it out but was unsuccessful. We hit some golf balls into the loch and I tried to teach Ruth but she ended up out driving me anyway as I topped two in a row short of the loch! A good night and up at 6am in the morning to head off for another Whale watch with two Minkes on the day. 

Common Dolphins associating with Sula Beag
Amazing animals
They just look like real show off's with their behaviour 
Air time!
Basking Shark with Eigg in the back drop

A close up of its dorsal fin
Minke whale surfacing with a nice glint on its back
On the Monday it was another seven hour trip and it started with a bang as we had WT eagle, Porpoise and a Minke whale all up the sound of Mull in the first half hour of the trip! I got a photo of one surfacing off Kilchoan and provided the pic for the popular blog based in the village. A lovely lunch at the usual spot at the Carins of Coll in hot conditions. I checked a photo of the White-Tailed Eagle which flew over the boat  and I noticed a small hole in its wing which stood out so I sent it too Dave Sexton and he said it wasn't a gunshot hole and the bird had had the hole for years. It appeared to be carrying a Shag in its talons as well with the birds been easy targets nestled down on their scrape at this time of the year. 

Minke surfacing off Kilchoan
WT Eagle with shag in talons, notice hole in right wing as well...
Always a pleasure...manx shearwater
Cairns lighthouse
 The whale watch the following day produced Common Dolphins and a pair of Golden Eagles with a Minke whale on the way in. There is a video at the bottom of the post of the associating Dolphins.

Fulmar flyby...ask Ruth to do her impression of one
Off on the Wednesday and during the day I completed the Haweswater article which I had put a lot of work into and enjoyed doing so much. Visiting Haweswater helped to inspire me about wild areas and eagles as a teenager and will always be a very special place to me along with Geltsdale of course. On the evening I parked up in my little secret upland view point and scanned the heather along with reading my sea bird book. The heathland was quiet with Cuckoo, Curlew and Stonechat.  

Common Seal hauled out
A WW on Thursday and it was miserable and overcast on the way out west before clearing at lunch time. Storm Petrel and 4 Whimbrels before tracking 30 plus Common Dolphins by seeing congregating Gannets from a distance. We found a Minke on the way back and also some good feeding hurries consisting of Manxies and Kitiwakes. 

Shags with the north end of Coll in the back drop...

Associating Common Dolphin on a Sea Life Surveys trip on board Sula Beag...

Thanks for looking everyone, As I finish typing up this post the climax of Lord of the Rings was on in the background with the giant Eagles saving the day the second time in the film. The image of a giant eagle flying around New Zealand was not so far fetched as it might appear say scientists as a giant eagle once ruled the skies in New Zealand. Before human settlement around 700 years ago a giant Haasts Eagle was present at the top of the food chain with a three meter wingspan and weighing 30-40 percent heavier than our present day heaviest the Harpy eagle. The modern day fear of birds called Ornithophobia comes from past instincts when larger bird of prey species used to exist and be a natural predator for human beings. Have a look at the youtube video and imagine if Haasts Eagles still survived to this day...and what would the landowners think of them! 8-)