This page features current news and views from Skye and elsewhere. It will also provide an opportunity for others working locally to report research and results.
We had a poor start to our 2012 Golden Eagle monitoring in Lochalsh, but in the end were relatively relieved to have a year of around “average” breeding success for our area. We detected only 6 pairs on eggs out of 18 occupied ranges in 2012. The wet preceding winter, cold weather during the egg stage (March and April) and scarcity of prey as a result of the severe winters of 2009-10 and 2010-11, may all have contributed to this low number of pairs nesting. The incredibly dry and sunny weather during the chick stage (May-August) seems to have been a saving grace however; although the chicks may have battled with overheating and dehydration on the nest, this weather would have allowed the adults unrestricted hunting opportunity.
In the end 5 pairs fledged one young each; although we were disappointed as one of these pairs had twins, the younger of which died only a couple of weeks before it was due to fledge. As with on Skye, it seems that the Lochalsh Golden Eagles generally struggled to find enough food for their young this year. Prey items recorded included Grey Heron, Buzzard, fox cub and red deer calves (the adult pictured was actually flying with this towards its nest, unusually for a Golden Eagle its wings flapping at a rate of “ten to the dozen”!).
John Smith (Highland Raptor Study Group) and Rule Anderson (National Trust for Scotland)
Basking Sharks being tracked by satellite in Scottish waters have begun to reveal some secrets. The last of twenty sharks was tagged last week by scientists from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the University of Exeter, as part of a project to find out more about their life-cycle. The results of the project will help inform decisions about Marine Protected Areas and the future management of Scotland’s marine environment. The tags, which allow the public to track the movements of eight of the sharks online, show that in the last three or four weeks many have stayed around the Inner Hebrides where they were tagged, while one has made its way southeast to Colonsay and Jura and two have headed west to the open sea beyond the Outer Hebrides. To track the Basking Sharks online, go to http://www.wildlifetracking.org/?project_id=753. Incidentally one of the sharks has been called 'Elgol' - the image shown is of a basking shark by Stuart MacKinnon of Misty Isle Boat Trips out of Elgol.
2012 continued the downward trend of recent years with the poorest breeding season for Skye's Golden Eagles since 1984. Only 7 young have fledged from 6 successful nests. Whilst the number of range holding pairs remains fairly constant, the numbers of pairs attempting to breed has fallen markedly. The long very wet winter was probably a major factor in birds starting the season in poor condition. However, the weather having been dry throughout the breeding season, could not account for the high number of failed breeding attempts. Live prey could have been part of the problem as at several notable locations, rabbits were at very low numbers.
The competition with White-tailed Eagles for nest sites and prey has to be considered a significant factor. At the start of the White-tailed eagle reintroduction programme it was genuinely accepted that it would lead to a decline in Golden Eagle numbers in the west. No figures were put on this at the time. It would therefore be informative to see a chart similar to the one below for White-tailed Eagles on Skye. It would also be interesting to see similar charts for Mull where good data is collected for both species, and where White-tailed Eagle productivity now significantly outstrips Golden Eagle.
Ken Crane & Kate Nellist