The signs were not good. No off duty bird perched nearby. By now, given the fine weather, I'd have expected to see an adult enjoing the sun a short distance away from the nest. I waited and watched but all was quiet. Under licence, I ventured closer, then closer still. There should have been a reaction by now. Sea eagles react strongly if disturbed at an active nest. If there are young they will call and fly close - one of the reasons they were so easy to shoot at and exterminate 100 years ago. But the closer I got, the quieter and more desolate it all seemed. Then a glimpse of white. Yes, a white tail. But then binoculars and brain engaged and I realised it was just one white tail feather fluttering at the back of the nest. The nest was lifeless and deserted when just before the weather last week, I'd suspected a hatch. Now much closer I could see the hatched egg shell on the nest rim and in the nest cup a cold, unhatched egg. It was all over for this pair for this year. The long courtship, the nest building, the 38 days of incubation, all for nothing. I suspect the cold and wet of last week will have taken its toll on the young eaglet just out of the protective egg. Then as the days passed and the weather worsened, the dutiful parents eventually realised there was no hope and eventually did not return to the nest. Hard to imagine what goes on in an eagle's head at this time. There was fresh prey nearby, clearly brought in with the expectation of a young one to feed. But all to no avail. We can only wish them better luck and better weather next year. Time for the long slog back to the landrover. I kicked the tyres harder than I should have.
But at the next site, the signs were good! The off duty bird was there, preening contentedly in the afternoon sun. On the nest sat the female, somehow to my eye looking like she was sitting higher than the last time I checked. An hour later the male took off and soared high into the brilliant blue skies and away to the north. A determined flight away for prey perhaps? Another hour later, the female almost jumped, startled by a movement beneath her. Constantly peering down she eventually raised her mighty form and stalked delicately around the nest rim. She began to pluck a gull corpse, white feathers flying all round like a pillow fight. Then she did what I hoped was coming but was still mightily relieved to see. She pulled off tiny, thin strips of food and bent low into the nest, just as the vaguest hint of a white downy head wobbled and stretched towards the huge, yellow beak offering a morsel of food. After just a few minutes, she re-positioned herself, rocking gently from side to side and quietly settled back down on her new chicks. With the incoming tide threatening to lap around my boots, it was time to pack up and head back to the landrover, this time with a spring in my step. The oystercatchers and common sandpipers called loudly as I mused what throw of the eagle dice decided why one nest should fail why another succeeded. While one pair sits forlornly together on the skerries, calling occasionally to each other, another pair work together to raise chicks. Two pairs of white-tailed eagles on Mull about to have very different summers.
Dave Sexton RSPB Scotland Mull Officer
Well, if we can do little about the weather in the short term, we CAN do something about man's inhumanity - by trying to change man's way of thinking. Have you all seen Claire's latest comments on the eastern sea-eagle re-introductions - and her request that we help to stop the poisoning of golden eagles in Ireland? See http://blogs.rspb.org.uk/eastscotlandeagles/archive/2009/05/12/Ups-and-downs.aspx Perhaps we could all play a part in this, by circulating her request that we sign the petition at www.goldeneagle.ie
Thanks Mex for highlighting this on Claire's blog and please help the Golden Eagle Trust continue their work with sea eagles and golden eagles. The poisoners must not be allowed to win, either here in the UK or in Ireland.
And you'll see Claire's comment about a young Mull sea eagle Yellow O one of Frisa and Skye's twins from 2006. Some of you may have heard of Haggis & Oatie, their chicks that year? This is Oatie, named by Lochdon Primary School and as featured with Kate Humble on 'The One Show'. Great to hear of him doing well. Look after him Claire!
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