Staying local

After their springtime explorations – when they regularly flew 50-100 miles per day – the juvenile White-tailed Ealges that we released on the Isle of Wight last August, in partnership with Forestry England, became much more sedentary during May.

G393 and G318

G393, who wintered in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, explored most widely of all the birds this spring, travelling over 1000 miles in a six-week period between 20th March and 30th April. However, even he has been much more sedentary for the past month, spending the whole of May in the North York Moors, an area he first visited between 5th and 12th April. The young male returned to North Yorkshire on 30th April, following a ten day stay in the northern Peak District. That morning he passed to the east of Huddersfield at 10:15 at an altitude of 172 metres and then continued north-east, crossing over Leeds between 10:45 and 11:00 at around 300 metres. At 11:45 he was north of York -flying lower at an altitude of just 66 metres – and an hour later he was back in the North York Moors, having flown 72 miles in less than three hours. He subsequently made one longer flight to the coast near Loftus on 6th, but otherwise has made only short local movements each day.

G393 flew over 1000 miles between 20th March and 30th April, but remained in the North York Moors for the whole of May

G393’s favoured area lies to the south of where another of the Isle of Wight birds has been present since early April. Female G318, spent the winter on the Isle of Wight and, after spending several weeks in Wiltshire, she flew north to the North York Moors on 5th April.  The two birds met briefly on the morning of 1st May, but it wasn’t until 27th May that they began spending more prolonged periods together. Rabbits were abundant at the locations favoured by the two birds during May, and it seems that this was the principle reason they did not range far each day. White-tailed Eagles often spend prolonged periods perched and the satellite data indicated that this was how G393 and G318 behaved for most of the month.

G274 and G324

The other two birds, male G274 and female G324 remained on the Isle of Wight throughout May. During this time they have regularly visited the estuaries around the coast of the Island and both have become adept at catching Grey Mullet, which are abundant in the shallow tidal waters. The two birds often perch on marker posts in the estuaries, and are not concerned by boats passing nearby. The availability of Grey Mullet is one of the reasons we considered the South Coast suitable for the reintroduction project, and we are pleased that the two birds have quickly learnt to take advantage of this excellent food supply. It is also encouraging that the two birds continue to spent much of their time together. Although they are too young to breed, they are clearly forming a bond, and have been observed mutual preening when perched together.

G274 being pursued by a Raven on the Isle of Wight (photo by Ainsley Bennett)

There can be no doubt that the two birds now regard the Isle of Wight as home, and this was demonstrated by a superb afternoon flight made by G274 on 16th May. After spending the morning at one of the estuaries on the Island the young male headed across the Solent at 13:45 and then passed over Hayling Island and Emsworth before continuing north-east towards the South Downs. Once he reached the downs he climbed to an altitude of 1431 metres and then glided off to the north-east. At 15:11 he was climbing in another thermal to the north-west of Butser Hill, gaining  608 metres (1995 feet) in 10 minutes.

We later found out that G274 was joined in the thermal by several Buzzards and Red Kites, and also a paraglider, RJ Macaulay who sent us this exciting email:

“I was flying my paraglider and got low, 250 meters just north of Butser Hill and East of East Meon. I looked behind me and a sea eagle was approaching me from about 30 feet. It proceeded to close the gap to no more than 15 feet. It was super inquisitive and seemed to just be checking me out. A Buzzard was next to it. It left me flying NE and entered a thermal. On the way, it was dive-bombed by another Buzzard/Red Kite. They found a thermal and I flew over and joined them and climbed for 9 minutes with 6 birds. The Sea Eagle and the Buzzards and Red Kites flying around it and checking it out. We topped off at 2400ft. The Sea Eagle shot off to the West, I tried to follow it but it was far too fast. I could not see it’s feet as we were completely level when close – it was right behind me! Then in the thermal (when I took the pictures using my phone – I had no camera sadly), all the birds were a few hundred feet above me.”

This really most have been a memorable experience for RJ and we’re very grateful to him for getting in touch.

This three-dimensional view shows how G274 gained altitude in a thermal near Butser Hill in Hampshire

RJ’s photo with his mobile phone shows G274 climbing in the thermal above him

After leaving the paraglider behind, G274 headed west towards Winchester before turning to the south. He was over Southampton Water at 17:36 and crossed the Solent back to the Isle of Wight soon afterwards. He had flown 145 km (90 miles) in a little over four hours, and it seems very likely that he kept the Isle of Wight in sight for the duration of the flight.

G274 flew 90 miles through the South Downs and back to the Isle of Wight on the afternoon of 16th May

The satellite transmitters provide valuable data on the movements of all four birds, and we are very grateful to Keith Metcalf and the  Milford Conservation Volunteers who have generously donated £1200 to cover the cost of one of the transmitters. This money was raised at two well-attended talks on the project given by Steve Egerton-Read and Leanne Sargeant from Forestry England in autumn last year, and we are very grateful to everyone who contributed.

We are grateful to Milford Conservation Volunteers who donated £1200 to cover the cost of G3-24’s satellite transmitter (photo by Ainsley Bennett)

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