29th May 2017
Our Tiroran Community Forest eagle pair, Fingal and Iona, have hatched two chicks this season.
Iona laid her eggs on 1st April and, with a 38-day incubation period, we expected them to hatch around the 8th May. When I arrived in the forest on 9th May to set the scopes up on the nest for the day’s tours, I witnessed, for the first time, Iona feeding something in the nest!
The eggs are laid 2-5 days apart so it is likely that she only had one chick to feed at that time. White-tailed eagles lay between 1-3 eggs but two is the most common number here in Scotland. We were keeping our fingers crossed that, like the West Ardhu pair, the Tiroran twosome would hatch two young.
As the chicks were small enough to sit in your hand when newly-hatched, they remained well-tucked down in the nest, hidden from prying eyes for the first few days of their lives. I gave visitors the challenge of trying to determine how many mouths Fingal and Iona were feeding. Often, a visitor would call me over to the scope, excitedly exclaiming that they saw two heads but one would always inconveniently disappear whenever I looked.
Only on 23rd May, fifteen days after hatching began, did I see two fluffy heads pop up at the same time enabling me to excitedly confirm that we had two eaglets! I was starting to think that there was only one so this was fantastic news.
The chicks are around three weeks old today but we’ve not yet managed to get any photos of them. But here’s a scope photo of the West Ardhu eagle family for you to get your chick fix.
West Ardhu female, Hope, and her two chicks (28th May 2017) (image: Rachel French)
On occasion, we’ve been seeing a parent bringing food in to the nest, grasped tightly in their 4.6cm talons, followed by them feeding the chicks. One bird even soared right over our heads clutching what looked like a fish in one foot. Eagles can eat prey on the wing but this bird had more important mouths to feed and took this unfortunate fish straight to the eyrie. This pair are often seen around Loch Na Keal and Loch Scridain but will be hunting for anything from rabbits to puffins to geese even!
Scope photo of Iona feeding the chicks
Our visitors are getting great views of the birds on the nest now they are on chicks and are becoming more active. And the chicks are becoming increasingly visible too as they pop their little heads up to see what’s going on in this exciting new world of theirs. We have also been seeing the on-duty bird nipping to a nearby perch to give the chicks some space and allowing them to cool down in this warm weather.
On-duty Iona perched in a nearby tree, keeping a watch on her chicks in the nest
Other wildlife we’ve been seeing in the forest include common lizards basking by the burn, frequent buzzards and sparrowhawks, great-spotted woodpeckers, the occasional hen harrier and red deer. An interesting array of insects are appearing too including peacock and orange-tip butterflies, the delightfully hairy caterpillars of the elaborate garden tiger moth and this elegant two-banded longhorn beetle which is attracted to the felled pine in the forest.
Two common lizards basking by the eagle hide
A two-banded longhorn beetle (Rhagium bifasciatum)
Thanks for reading, I’ll be keeping you updated on the eagle family and the other wildlife within Tiroran Community Forest. Remember to catch up with Rachel and the West Ardhu eagles with her blog.
RSPB Community Information and Tourism Officer
Mull Eagle Watch