An amazing flight to Essex

Its now ten days since we released six juvenile White-tailed Eagles on the Isle of Wight. Each is equipped with a satellite transmitter that logs the bird’s location once every three minutes, and this has given us a fascinating and very detailed insight into their movements since release. Five of the birds have remained at or close to the release site on the Isle of Wight, but one – G3 22 – has surprised us by making an incredible flight over central London to Essex. Research in Scotland and elsewhere has shown that juvenile White-tailed Eagles often wander widely in their first two years – often venturing 200km from their nest site. What we weren’t expecting, was for one of the Isle of Wight birds to to do it within two weeks of release. It is testament to what good condition the bird is in.

G3 22 is a male from the North of the Island of Skye, and rather than refer to it by its ring number, we thought it good to choose an Isle of Wight/Solent name. So we’ll now be referring to G3 22 as ‘Culver’ – after Culver Cliff – the last place that White-tailed Eagles bred in southern England.

After release on 22nd August, Culver spent a week exploring the Isle of Wight, circumnavigating the Island before roosting in a small path of coastal woodland a few kilometres east of the Needles on the evening of 28th August. Next morning he left his overnight roost at around 10am and slowly headed north. Just over an hour later he was circling over Yarmouth and then, at 11:21 he set-off across the Solent. It took him 15 minutes to fly 6km to Lymington – following the route of the Wightlink ferry!

Culver crossed the Solent between Yarmouth and Lymington

By the time he reached the shore at Lymington he was flying at just 89 metres, but once over land he quickly gained altitude and set-off north across the New Forest. He passed to the east of Brockenhurst at an altitude of 955 metres and then continued on a north-west heading across the forest, reaching a maximum altitude of 1008 metres to the north-west of Bolderwood. At 12:57 he was 357 metres over Blashford Lakes near Ringwood and he spent the afternoon making short local movements in around woodland a few kilometres to the west.

Culver’s flight on 29th August

Culver spent much of the next morning exploring the Avon Valley between Fordingbridge and Blashford Lakes before heading off north at 13:30. By 14:45 he had flown more than 40 km and was just west of Stockbridge flying at an altitude of 505 metres. At this point he began heading south again and over the course of the afternoon flew a further 46 km, passing over Romsey at 16:26 at an altitude of 375 metres and then following the River Test south, before settling to roost in the New Forest 5 km north-west of Lyndhurst.

Culver flew more than 100 km on 30th August

Having flown over 100km the previous day, we wondered if Culver may remain in the New Forest on Saturday. In fact, he did quite the opposite. After a relatively slow start he crossed Southampton Water at 11:00, and then flew east across the city at an altitude of over 500 metres. He continued on the same easterly heading for the next hour, passing to the north of Portsmouth, before turning changing track to the north-east. Now aided by a fairly brisk south-westerly tailwind, he made fast progress through Surrey and at 13:40 passed over Queen Mark Reservoir near Staines at an altitude of 473 metres. As he approached Heathrow airport, Culver wisely turned to the east and headed for central London. Incredibly, at 14:23 he was directly above Big Ben at an altitude of 705 metres.

Culver flew over Westminster as he passed over London on Saturday afternoon

Culver followed the course of the River Thames as he flew over London

We wondered if anyone saw Culver as he passed over central London and, sure enough – they did. Ed Pack got in touch to say he and his son took a phone pic of it over Victoria Street as just as speck in the sky.

Having passed over London, Culver showed no signs of letting up and continued to follow the River Thames east, passing over Canvey Island at 15:20 and then Southend-on-Sea ten minutes later at an altitude of less than 200 metres. Eventually, at 15:44, he landed on the North Sea coast near Great Wakering, just north of the mouth of the Thames Estuary. After such an amazing flight it was no surprise that he remained in the same area for the rest of the afternoon. It is quite possible that he found a dead fish or bird to eat on the beach, before flying half a kilometre inland to roost in a small wood after an incredible day’s flight of 220 km.

It will be fascinating to see what Culver does next. Will he stay in Essex, or continue north up the East Anglian coast into Suffolk? Might he even cross the North Sea to the Netherlands? Or will he return back to the Isle of Wight? We will receive the next batch of data from the transmitter later today, so check back this evening to find out.

After arriving on the Essex Coast, Culver spent several hours perched on the shore, before moving inland to roost.

Culver flew over 200km to the Essex coast on 31st August

Culver’s explorations, 29-31 August

Update – we have just received this evening’s data. It shows that Culver flew east out to sea at 09:32, before turning to the south and heading for the Isle of Sheppey. He made landfall at 10:35 having flown 30 km in an arc across the sea. It must have been fairly tough going because he was flying just a few metres above the waves when he made landfall near Eastchurch.


Culver flew 30km in a wide arc from the Essex coast to the Isle of Sheppey

After resting for just under an hour he set off again across the east end of the Isle of Sheppey before crossing the estuary to Faversham. He continued south through the Kent countryside at high altitude – flying in excess of 1200m at times. At 12:50 he was 643 metres above Ashford, still heading south. He crossed into East Sussex at around 13:40 and then stopped 3 km north-east of Rye, a few kilometres from the coast and 14 km west of Dungeness. He was still there when we received the last data point in the batch, at 18:20, having flown just under 100 km during the course of the day.

Culver flew just under 100 km south through Kent today.

It’s going to be fascinating to see where Culver’s travels take him tomorrow, but it looks like he may follow the Sussex coast back towards the Isle of Wight. Watch out for another update on Monday evening or early Tuesday morning.

Culver’s flight, 29 Aug – 1 Sept

Please support us

This is a start of a journey for the young White-tailed Eagles and for the project team – the start of a five year project by Forestry England and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation to restore White-tailed Eagles as a breeding species on the Isle of Wight and along the Channel coasts. We will have regular updates, maps and photos on all six eagles although no maps for those that have stayed close to the release site. Please check in to find news of them here.

We would be delighted if you would like to join us on these journeys and very grateful if you wished to help by donating to contribute to the costs of satellite tracking the eagles and other elements of the project. For more information, click here, or simply click donate below and select White-tailed Eagle project when prompted.  With sincere thanks.