YOUNG WILDCATS -“Canisp” the Golden Eagle returns home to breed

November 2nd 2018

Do you remember “Suilven” the young golden eagle chick that was chosen for a project to help understand what happens to young eagles when they leave their nests? “Suilven” had a satellite tag put on him in 2011 when he was still a young bird in a nest in a secret location in Assynt. He was named by the children of Lochinver and Stoer Primary Schools (Yes, Stoer was still open then!).

At the same time, another eagle chick, in another Assynt nest had a satellite tag placed on her. She was named “Canisp”. I still remember that day on the 30th June 2011, when Roy Dennis, Derek Spenser and myself climbed up to the nest and, under license, put a satellite tag on the single youngster.

Satellite tags allow the position and movements of birds to be recorded for as long as the battery pack survives. The tags are designed to fall off naturally after about five to seven years by which time we expected ‘our’ eagles to be mature and at breeding age.

In May 2018 the satellite tag from “Canisp” fell off. Using the ten figure grid reference provided by the satellite, Derek went and recovered the tiny tag. It turns out that not only has “Canisp” survived the last seven years but she has successfully claimed a territory and a mate just north of Assynt. We also know she had laid her first egg this March. Unfortunately she failed to successfully produce any fledged chicks. We do not know why, but sometimes this happens with young and inexperienced birds. We hope 2019 season will be better for her.

It seems “Canisp” unlike some of the other satellite tagged birds has been somewhat of a home bird and has spent much of her life in NW Highlands. One noticeable trip was on 4thOctober 2012 at around 3pm when she made a trip out to sea. The satellite picked her up 41 miles north of Strathy out in the Atlantic and a good 20 miles west of Orkney. Luckily she decided to turn round and two hours later she was back near Tongue – no doubt rather tired after her maritime excursion. By 2013 she was spending so much time in the far north we thought she was going to settle in Durness. She wandered widely from Cape Wrath to Ben Hope but 18 months ago she seemed to settle down to one particular site living in an area of 55 km².

Meanwhile what about “ Suilven”? In September 2015 his satellite fell off somewhere in a large patch of bracken near the Ledmore junction. Although it was never found the battery did burst into life briefly when we think deer trampled the bracken and let the winter sun onto the battery’s solar panel. But despite intensive search the tiny transmitter was never found. However Roy Dennis is certain that after five years of study “Suilven” was trying to find a place to breed near his natal area. We hope he is doing well by now and has a nest of his own because both he and Canisp have taught us a lot about immature golden eagle behaviour.

Andy Summers

Highlife Highland Senior Countryside Ranger



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