Just back from collection in Norway. Unlike 2009, when temps reached 30 degrees, this year was cool and wet but thanks to the great work of our Norwegian friends we managed to collect a total of 22 chicks over three days. All this years birds came from the islands west and north of Trondheim: 12 from Hitra and Frøya in Sør Trondelag region, 8 from Vikna-Næroya in Nord-Trondelag, and 2 from Leka in Nordland. This was the first year that no birds were collected on the Norwegian mainland. Overall it appears to have been an above average year with more 2 chick broods available than in previous years. However, in the last few weeks chicks died in some nests and few nests visited during collection had any spare food lying about. It seems likely that the unseasonal stormy weather prevented the adults from fishing as much as they might have and led to some losses due to starvation.
We began the collection on Vikna on 17-18 June. Bertil Nyheim, Frithjof Pederson and I collected 8 chicks over the two days while Steiner Garstad collected two birds on Leka. This was my first visit to this group of islands although in 2007-2009 a total of 19 of the 55 young eagles collected and subsequently released in Kerry came from the Vikna-Leka area. Although it had been wet and windy we were lucky to get a good days collecting done on 18 June when the wind dropped and the rain stayed off till the afternoon. Thanks to the use of the police boat by Frithjof, a policeman on Vikna, we were able to visit several breeding sites located on skerries, small low-lying islands, around Vikna. All the nests were very accessible on small cliffs or on sloping ground. With no predators on the islands eagles can nest on the ground. It was amazing to moor the boat at times just 50 metres from an eagle nest. The adults usually flew out to "greet" us on approach to the island. One or both parents flew overhead calling while we hiked to the nest. Seeing the stunning adults so close and hearing their calls remains for me one of the iconic images of Norway. Among the islands and fjords its clear why this really is sea eagle country as there is more water than land everywhere you look!
After the trip back to the holding site at Stjørdal with the Vikna-Leka birds, we headed for the islands of Hitra and Frøya along with Torgeir Nygård of the Norwegian Institute of Nature Research (NINA). Over the past few months Martin Pearson, Inge Dahlø and Asgeir Østvik had located and monitored 69 sea eagle nests on these islands. Martin, Inge and Asgeir have a superb knowledge of the eagle population on the islands and without the great effort they put in locating two chick broods it would have been very difficult to find the birds we needed. Although six chicks had already been collected by the time we arrived on 19 June, we managed to visit one island site that evening in the company of Torgeir, Inge and Asgeir. We collected a beautiful big female here. Next day we split up into two groups. Together with Duncan Halley (NINA) and Asgeir we visited four sites, three on offshore skerries and one at the end of a lake on Frøya that we reached by rowing boat. One of the sites had lost one of its chicks since it was last checked so we had to look elsewhere as our licence only allows us to take chicks from broods of two or three. Martin, Inge and Torgeir collected a further two chicks from tree nests on Hitra.
All the chicks were driven to Stjørdal where they were given over to the expert care of Tom Roger Østeras, our eagle carer for the past four years. Here they are housed in cages in a barn where they are fed and kept in peace and isolation until the trip to Ireland. On 24 June we took biometrics and blood samples from all the birds to determine their sex. Although we had also measured birds at the nest in an effort to choose the sex we wanted to balance the sex ratio, in many cases both birds in a brood may be of the same sex. Although we were aiming for 50:50 males and females, based on biometrics it looks like we ended up with 16 males and 6 females! Females are significantly larger and heavier than males. However, sexing chicks at 6-8 weeks old isn't foolproof as eagle eggs do not hatch synchronously and first hatched male chicks may overlap in size with later hatched females. Whatever, we will need to scour Norway for female chicks in 2011, the last year of the reintroduction, to balance the sex ratio. As eagles do not generally breed until they are 5 years old and may live to 30 or more years gender imbalance in one year is not too critical. However, a strongly biased sex ratio within the overall population would be detrimental.
Thanks to the expertise of our Norwegian friends and a very smooth flight with the Spanish carrier (LADA), the young sea eagles arrived safely in Kerry on 26 June and are now well settled in to their new home in Killarney National Park. NPWS staff and several volunteers helped greatly on the day to make sure everything ran smoothly. During the next 5-6 weeks the chicks will remain isolated from human contact in spacious flight pens until release in early August. We hope they will do well on a diet of fish, crows and venison. Before they are released we will attach tags and transmitters including 3 or 4 satellite transmitters that will allow the public to follow their movements on our website.
The 2010 collection was not only a success but a really memorable experience. Thanks to Asgeir, Bertil, Duncan, Frithjof, Inge, Livar, Martin, Steiner and Torgeir, for the great effort they put in earlier in the season and during collection. Tom Roger looked after the birds and ourselves as did Arne and Aud Moxnes at Stjordal. Aud was mother to all keeping us fed while Arne looked after the liquid entertainment thanks to his traditional home brewed beer! Martin on Hitra cooked us the best venison steaks I've ever tasted. Bertil's parents put us up and fed us well. We even had time to go to Sweden for 2 days and catch up with stunning birds like Bluethroat, Red-necked Phalarope, Crane, Black-throated Diver, Whimbrel, Pied Flycatcher, Tengmalm's Owl, Gyrfalcon, and singing Brambling, Redwing and Fieldfare. Unfortunately I missed out on Long-tailed Skua. The forests, lakes and mountains were endless and alive with birds. So many birds, so little time!