We start our September blogging with an update from the Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve. Situated 35 miles west of Aberdeen this reserve has a lot to offer as Reserve Manager Catriona Reid explains. What’s more it recently had a spectacularly large visitor
Much to my delight we had a sea eagle over Loch Davan recently. They’ve been seen on the reserve before- usually when the toads are breeding, when they come and eat clawfuls in one go – but this is the first time I’ve seen one here.
I was out counting ducks on Loch Davan when I spotted the great crested grebes with their chicks. It’s been windy and I hadn’t seen them much before (they had been staying tucked into the reeds for shelter) so I pulled out the camera to try and get a couple of pictures. Great crested grebes have very cute, stripy babies, so I was feeling pretty chuffed at seeing them, even distantly.
And I was well tickled when one of the youngsters climbed onto mum’s back. Grebes often carry their babies on their backs but these are getting a bit big for this and mum looked in real danger of sinking!
When you’re taking a picture, you can only see down the camera – you’re not so aware of what’s happening around you. I was suddenly aware of the ducks all taking off and belting through the picture frame. Hullo, I thought, wonder what’s scared them? And looked up to see a big bird circling. My first, instant, thought was osprey- usually, here, loch+big bird= osprey.
But, cue classic double take, before it dawned on me that’s not an osprey! Way, way, waaaaaaaaay too big. Sea eagle!
Sea (or white-tailed) eagles are huge. They have an 8-foot wingspan and look almost rectangular in flight. “Over -specified” is the term that comes to mind – huge wings, massive feet and a frighteningly large hooked beak all make for a spectacular bird. This was a young bird, not quite adult, but not far off, probably about 3-4 years old. It was most definitely on the hunt and its first move was to have a go at a heron that was fishing by the mouth of the Logie Burn.
I’ve never seen a heron get airborne so quickly! They kind of lumber into flight but this one had to be pretty sharp about getting into the air. Herons are a favourite prey of both sea and golden eagles, especially on the west coast. The heron was frantically struggling to stay above the eagle, out of talon range. It managed to get away so the eagle turned its attention to the local ducks.
A lot of the ducks can’t fly just now; they have moulted out all of their flight feathers. However, the eagle picked a mallard that could fly and pursued it right across the loch, getting closer and closer all the time. Just as I was sure it was going to snatch the bird from the air, the mallard turned on a wingtip, crashed into the loch and dived. Mallard don’t normally dive, but can if they have to, like when they’re just about to be eaten. I think it surfaced in the reeds as the eagle hovered there for ages, trying to spot it. But it had to give up on that one and had another go at the rest of the ducks- coming much closer as it did so!
The bird came so close I could make out that it was ringed, but unfortunately, couldn’t tell any colours even from the photos. however, it does have a distinctive notch in the primary feathers on its right wing- so someone may have seen this bird elsewhere recently. We’d be interested in hearing if you have seen it.
It spent about 20 minutes harassing the ducks but to my huge surprise, didn’t have a go at the swans (they have nice, fat, juicy-looking cygnets) or the geese. When you have an 8-foot wingspan, you can easily eat something that size! I eventually lost in the trees to the south of the loch but it was a fantastic experience seeing a bird of this size close-up.
I’ve seen sea eagles before, but usually what seems like thousands of feet up or sitting looking vaguely untidy in a tree. To see the bird actively hunting, and at Dinnet, will be a treasured memory.
Postscript : unfortunately our pictures from Muir of Dinnet don’t reveal any wing-tags. An east-coast release bird should have wing-tags, so this bird could be a west coast bird, or possibly an east coast one that has lost its tags, but that’s less likely. You can read the RSPB ESSE blog at http://www.rspb.org.uk/community/ourwork/b/eastscotlandeagles/default.aspx . RSPB are always interested in reports of sea eagle sightings in the east.
Farewell to August :
Well, the damp summer continued to the very end of August. Rain washed out several parts of the Vat trail. I wish we’d taken before and after photos but we just piled in and fixed it! The trail isn’t quite as smooth as it was but thanks to lots of wheel-barrowing and shovelling, it doesn’t have foot deep holes in it any more. The pictures of the Vat burn in spate and the video clip here https://www.facebook.com/125227577507847/videos/vb.125227577507847/1039303886100207/?type=2&theater will give you an idea of how much water there was.
The dragonflies have been late this year. It’s been such a cool summer that some of them are just mating and breeding now, where they would normally do it in July. Some species are later emerging – like the black darters – but the common hawkers have been around for ages. A couple of visitors took lovely pictures of both male and female hawkers down at Parkin’s Moss…thanks to them for allowing me the use of their pictures.