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North Uist eagle chick fitted with satellite-tracking device

Hi-tech equipment will give experts new knowledge

THE CHICK at the centre of the UK’s only Golden Eagle Watch has flown the nest, and is carrying some unusual baggage.

The antics of the baby eagle and its parents have been watched over the past few weeks by more than 500 people on North Uist at a special viewing site organised by the RSPB, complete with high-powered telescopes.

As part of a project to find out more about the movements of juvenile golden eagles, the chick has been fitted with a satellite-tracking device in the form of a tiny backpack with four straps fitting around the animal.

The battery-powered device has a 6in aerial protruding from the top. The stitching will deteriorate over five years and the tag will finally drop off.

The chick has already reached its adult size and will only grow muscles and feather from now on, so it will not outgrow the backpack.

North Uist RSPB officer Jamie Boyle said the chick appeared completely unconcerned by its new accessory, and its parents showed no curiosity about it at all.

Mr Boyle said: “Very little is known about the movements of juvenile golden eagles after they fledge and for around the following five years until they become adult.

“So far, this chick has hardly moved from the nest area since fledging and we expect it might hang about there for the next three or four months until it gets chased out by its parents in time for the next breeding season.

“Unsuccessful attempts have been made to tag golden eagles before, but the technology has now improved so much and is getting smaller all the time, so soon we will be able to find out the secrets of many different birds.”

Nine golden eagle chicks across Scotland have been satellite-tagged this year, in the Western Isles, Wester Ross, the north-east, Argyll and Perthshire.

Banchory-based Natural Research is the company behind the project, working since 2004 on tracking golden eagle juveniles to see where they go and what habitats are important for them in those years, to sustain a healthy population.

The cost of fitting a satellite tag and tracking a golden eagle for up to five years is about £7,000.

Project researcher Ewan Weston said: “Information on the North Uist chick will be transmitted every 48 hours to the satellite for a six-hour period.

“We will be able to see where it is to within 360 yards, and will learn a lot about the decisions the bird makes for its survival until adulthood.

“It has to look for food and safety by seeking out unoccupied territory, and it also has to look for its own territory.”

The project findings will be submitted to part-funder SNH and the British Trust for Ornithology, among others.

Published: 21/07/2009

Bird’s eye view of North Uist golden eagle eyrie is massive hit

Telescope trained on nest shows chick and parents’ activities

The North Uist eagle chick

Scotland’s only golden eagle watch is proving a massive hit on North Uist.

Since RSPB arrangements were put in place three weeks ago to allow the public to view a golden eagle eyrie in the north-west of the island, more than 300 people, including 100 children, have turned up to view the progress of the chick in the nest.

RSPB telescopes are stationed in a disused small quarry, and trained on the eyrie on a hillside a mile away.

The parent eagles’ comings and goings from the nest are clearly visible, along with the activities of the downy white chick.

The chick is now six weeks old and was successfully ringed this week by RSPB staff.

Local RSPB officer Jamie Boyle said he was delighted at the success of the viewings.

He said: “It’s the one event here which really brings in locals, as well as visitors.

“It’s good for people to see that their natural heritage belongs to them, not just to experts.”

Alan Fawcett, 64, from Sheffield, has been watching the nest from his camper van since the chick hatched and will continue to watch it until it fledges in about eight weeks.

He said: “I’ve been coming to North Uist bird-watching for the past 12 years. It’s the satisfaction of seeing wildlife as it should be. Where I come from everything’s been persecuted.”

The eyrie is one of two in the area, used over the past 19 years by possibly the same pair of eagles.

Mr Boyle said DNA-testing from feathers had shown that the golden eagles in the Western Isles are different from those on the mainland.

He said: “It seems likely that golden eagles on the Uists were almost extinct 100 years ago, and that the nine breeding pairs we have here now are possibly all from one pair that managed to survive.”

Viewings are available on Thursday evenings, with a specially-extended session available on Thursday, from 2pm to 9pm.

Meanwhile, the staff at the RSPB reserve at Forsinard Flows in Sutherland are anxiously awaiting the arrival of five new hen harrier chicks.

CCTV was installed earlier this week so that visitors could watch the impending hatching, and for the next few weeks the chicks and their parents will be screened live in the centre.

The RSPB warden in charge of the visitor centre, Katy Malone, 32, of Forsinard said: “At the moment all we know is the female is sitting on five eggs, and they are due to hatch any day now. We are waiting expectantly to find how the story will unfold.

“Visitors coming in to the centre have been entranced by the images from the nest.

“The harrier cameras were first used on the reserve in 1997 but the ageing equipment was replaced last year.

“It’s exciting to have reliable images coming in again from such an iconic bird.”

The project was made possible thanks to funding from Scottish Natural Heritage, allowing the purchase of a radio link, new camera and large monitor screens.

They also renewed all the displays in the visitor centre.

Published: 13/06/2009 – Press and Journal

Snowy owls set up home in isles
The Outer Hebrides has had its biggest influx of snowy owls for more than 30 years, according to experts.

The RSPB said that up to six of the birds, more normally found in the Arctic and Scandinavia, spent last summer in the Western Isles.

Officials believe the owls are living on rabbits as an alternative to the lemmings they would usually eat.

A spokesman said that it would be "fantastic" if a pair began breeding in the Outer Hebrides.

Brief period

At almost 2ft in height and with a wingspan of over five feet, the snowy is one of the largest owl species in Europe.

The species has recently been made famous in JK Rowling's Harry Potter books, in which Harry's pet snowy owl Hedgwig delivered his post.

Up until 1975, snowy owls did breed for a number of years near Fetlar on the Shetland Islands.

But so far, nobody has seen two owls together in the Hebrides.

Two owls were recorded within 10 kilometres of each other for a brief period on North Uist last year.

Jamie Boyle, RSPB Scotland's reserves officer on the Uists, said: "This fantastic species adds to Uist's already incredible wildlife spectacle and makes the islands an area that all bird watchers must come to.

"Almost all the owls seem to prefer setting up home on the isolated 'machair' areas that are rich in rabbits, their main food item in the absence of lemmings, although some have favoured small islands on tidal strands."

Last year there were also sightings from Shetland, Wester Ross and Aberdeenshire.   22.2.06 BBC


Birds seen from Uists 2001

Most of the birds were seen within a few miles of Struan Cottage. We didn't bird watch very intensively and enjoyed what came our way. The whole area of Vallay Strand was wonderful for birds and we also greatly enjoyed 2 visits to Balranald. We were just too late for Terns and for hearing Corncrake and somehow we managed to miss out on a North Uist Golden Eagle, as well as one or two commoner species. The highlight was the massed waders just down from the Arctic, many still in

breeding plumage. For example a high tide gathering on a small section of the strand at Malacleit held 70 Bar-tailed Godwit, 30 Knot, 60+ Ringed plover, 21 Grey Plover, 1 Golden Plover, 1 Sanderling, 30 Dunlin, 8 Redshank, 2 Greenshank. I've rarely seen anything as lovely as the 2 Greenshank all flighty, nervous and highly-strung dashing amongst the plodding Godwits. But throughout the holiday we had memorable views of many other species showing wonderfully in the Hebridean light and landscape, (we were blessed with superb weather).


Species List (64)


Red-throated Diver close views of a pair on roadside loch viewed from passing place at 760748(OS)

Little Grebe


Manx Shearwater                    many off Ard Runair (Balranald)

Gannet                                    so common, but we could watch them all day!


Grey Heron


Tufted Duck


Red-breasted Merganser

Shelduck                                 on last night a flock of 24 made a sunset landing on the strand in front of the cottage

Greylag goose                         numbers increasing during the week

Mute Swan                              200 + at Loch Portain were spectacular

Whooper Swan                       just 1 at Griminis - had it summered here?


Hen Harrier                             superb view of ringtail with prey on moor at 740748(OS)

Peregrine                                 one at Balranald

Merlin                                      several sightings... best a really close view hunting pipits on Solas golf course


Quail                                       a surprise! calling in cornfield at Balranald




Ringed Plover

Grey Plover                             mostly adults in stunning breed plumage - a "passage" - 6,42,21,2 on successive days

Golden Plover                         up to 150 on Solas golf course



Bar-tailed Godwit                   some in breeding plumage: numbers noticeably increasing during our week


Greenshank                             always 2-3 in front of the cottage, feeding in the channels

Knot                                        some in breeding plumage

Dunlin                                     amazingly tame!  walked on the strand with them at my feet!

Sanderling                               small numbers, just beginning to arrive

Great Skua                              one flying across the strand near beginning of our week

Arctic Skua                             once only (weather was too settled most of week for much skua passage)

Grt Black-backed Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Herring Gull

Common Gull

Black-headed Gull



Rock Dove                              lovely to see these really "pure" Rock Doves

Collared Dove                         group near cottage

Short-eared Owl                     several sightings near cottage


Swallow                                  a group just once near Hosta (presumably passing through)


Hooded crow                          not very common?? (though was so on Harris)





Meadow Pipit

Rock Pipit

Pied Wagtail


Greenfinch                              a surprise!  Young being fed at Malacleit

Twite                                       lots of family parties

Corn Bunting                          what a delight to hear and see them! No longer with us back home.  

House Sparrow


2001 Malcolm and Lesley Lindsay - Galashiels