Staff and volunteers who have spent the summer greeting visitors to Eaglewatch in the Dwarfie Stone car park in Hoy have been very fortunate this year. It’s been full of surprises, some ups and downs, but ultimately ended in success and with thousands of visitors (including one very famous wizard) getting great views of the white-tailed eagles. Catch up on all the action below.
The Hoy eagles
The white-tailed eagles that nest in Hoy made the news, and history, last year when they successfully raised two chicks – the first in Orkney in 145 years!
This year, the birds nested again but in a position which offered much greater views in to their nest. We started Eaglewatch on 10 April to help locals and visitors to Hoy see the birds and learn more about them and white-tailed eagles generally.
Eaglewatch in the Dwarfie Stone (Stane) car park
In May this year, all was going well when the eagles hatched two chicks. Sadly, one did not survive the extended period of cold wet weather in late May. However, we eagerly observed the remaining chick in the nest for the following three months along with the many visitors that came to Eaglewatch every day to observe the nest and learn more about these majestic birds.
Pupils from the North Walls Community School have taken a keen interest in the eagle family too, helping at an open day event to give visitors more information about the eagles and to raise awareness of the conservation efforts. The school pupils were given the task of choosing a name for the chick, believed to be female. They settled on Grizela, a Scottish name meaning ‘Battle Maiden’, which they hope will serve her well!
Having named her, the pupils joined Eaglewatch visitors in the anxious wait for Grizela to leave the nest. We observed lots of wing-flapping and stretching, but the days ticked by…. Finally, she was spotted by Eaglewatch volunteer Megan Taylor on Saturday 10 August at the bottom of Red Glen, having not been seen in and around the nest since the Thursday evening. Megan was delighted to report that Grizela had safely fledged the nest, and later on Saturday became the first person to observe Grizela taking flight – seeing off a pair of bonxies in the process!
Grizela on one of her early flights
Since fledging, Grizela has continued to be observed by visitors to Eaglewatch. From 10 April to 1 September, we recorded an impressive 6264 visits. This included a surprise visit from Sir Ian Mckellen when he was in Orkney for the final leg of his 80th birthday celebration solo show.
Ian McKellen and Lee Shields (RSPB Scotland's Hoy warden) at Eaglewatch. Photo by volunteer Gerry Cannon
He stopped by our Eaglewatch stand on 26 August and was treated to Grizela showing off her flying skills, and an extremely close view of the female parent flying right overhead! We were really pleased he found time to stop by and watch a stunning performance from the Hoy eagles. And it seemed rather fitting given the scene in that famous film where his character is carried by an eagle.
Female eagle doing a flyby
Young eagles typically will continue to be fed by their parents until the autumn, when they start fending for themselves. When this happens, some eagles can travel large distances.
Last year’s chicks, Bakko and Craggie, were also named by the pupils of North Walls and, after staying close to their parents until last winter, are now journeying off finding their own territories. Both were last spotted during the Easter holidays earlier this year, when Bakko was photographed flying over Evie while Craggie was seen amongst a group of other young eagles in Handa, Sutherland.
There is a long association between white-tailed eagles, otherwise known as sea eagles, and the people of Orkney. The bones and talons of approximately 14 white tailed eagles were discovered in close association with human burials at the Neolithic Isbister Chambered Cairn in South Ronaldsay, otherwise known as ‘Tomb of the Eagles’, and a Pictish symbol stone found at the Knowe of Burrian in Harray features a carving of an eagle.
An example of an eagle on a Pictish stone
The birds would have been present for thousands of years before loss of habitat and human persecution caused their extinction in the UK. Thankfully, following a series of successful reintroductions on the West and East coasts of Scotland from the 1970s onwards, the UK’s largest bird of prey returned to the skies, and there are now more than 100 breeding pairs in Scotland.
A pair were first seen over Orkney in 2013. It is not known whether these birds originated from the newly established populations on the Scottish mainland, or if they travelled from Scandinavia. A few years of unsuccessful breeding attempts followed in 2015 and 2016, before the pair abandoned their territory in 2017. The female of the pair then formed a new partnership with a younger male in 2018, resulting in the first successful breeding in Orkney since 1873 with Bakko and Craggie fledging last year, now followed by their younger sister Grizela.
Let’s hope this marks the start of the birds being present in Orkney for many years to come.
White-tailed eagle on a crag in Hoy
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