Autumn Explorations

Over the spring and summer the four White-tailed Eagles that we released on the Isle of Wight in August 2019 in partnership with Forestry England have wandered widely, with the satellite tracking data providing a valuable insight into their movements and how they have learnt to live successfully in the English landscape. Two of the four birds are now back on the Isle of Wight, while G393 and G318 remain further a field, as Tim Mackrill explains.

2019 Birds

G324 and G274

Last month we reported that G324 had returned to the Isle of Wight after two months in southern Scotland. She has remained on the Island since and has spent much of her time with G274, whom she often associated with last winter. The two birds joined this year’s juveniles at the release site on a regular basis through September and October, and often roosted there. They have also been observed at several sites around the coast where they have been seen catching Grey Mullet, Black Bream and Bass. In late October Andy Butler and Pete Campbell enjoyed spectacular views of the two birds near Blackgang where Andy took these fantastic photos of G324 eating a fish while on the wing, rather like an enormous Hobby eating a dragonfly.  Pete commented that he was amazed at how the birds were able to catch fish, even with a strong wind and a rough sea. It is clear from the behaviour of the two birds that the coast of the Isle of Wight provides rich fishing grounds, and this is one of the key reasons we considered the area suitable for the reintroduction. It is certainly very encouraging to see the birds behaving in this way, and they were seen fishing in the same location again last week.  

G324 (right) and G274have spent much of the past two months together (photo by Andy Butler)
G324 eating a fish while on the wing (photo by Andy Butler)
G274 (photo by Ainsley Bennett)

G393

Having spent much of the spring and early summer in the North York Moors, G393 arrived in West Norfolk on 1st August. He has remained there since, ranging between a number of different sites, both inland and on the coast. On 19th September local photographer Les Bunyan took these superb photographs at RSPB Snettisham on the Wash, an area the bird visited regularly during September.

After spending the majority of October inland, G393 returned to the Snettisham area again in early November, and was seen on the mudflats on Thursday last week. The satellite data shows he also visited the mouth of Great Ouse over this last weekend.

We have been closely monitoring G393’s diet during his time in West Norfolk by checking for pellets and prey remains at regularly-used roost sites. This has indicated that Black-headed Gulls have been the key prey item in recent months, supplemented with some Hares and Rabbits. The huge numbers of wintering birds that assemble around the Wash at this time of year should ensure a regular supply of carrion during the winter months if G393 remains in West Norfolk. Studies have shown that carrion can constitute 30% of White-tailed Eagle diet during winter.

G393 at Snettisham on 19th September (photo by Les Bunyan)

G318

In our previous update we reported that G318, who spent all summer in the North York Moors, had headed west into the Yorkshire Dales. She remained in an area to the north of the national park until 11thSeptember and then spent two days around woodland along the River Greta south of Barnard Castle. On 13thSeptember she headed 37 miles east and returned to a favoured area in the south-west of the North York Moors.

She remained in the North York Moors until 25th September, when she flew 22 miles south and roosted in woodland north-east of Castle Howard. Next morning she left her roost soon after first light and headed south. By 09:50 she had flown 30 miles, and crossed the River Humber soon afterwards, landing briefly at Alkborough flats before continuing unseen further south through north Lincolnshire.

G318 has remained in Lincolnshire since, favouring several areas with quiet woodlands on private land in the Lincolnshire Wolds, where rabbits are numerous. Then, on 4th November she flew further south into the Fens, flying to the coast near Friskney, between Gibraltar Point and Freiston Shore, on 5th November, and then heading back inland. She has remained in the Fens since.

Like G324 who returned to the Isle of Wight after two months in southern Scotland, we expect G318 to return to the South Coast at some point, but she is clearly in no hurry to continue south yet. In fact there is every chance that G393 and G318 will meet up again at some point over the coming weeks. The two birds were just 16 miles apart on the afternoon of 5th November, albeit on different sides of the Wash. On a clear day there is every chance they will be able to see each other.

G318 over the Lincolnshire Fens (photo by John Clarkson)

2020 Juveniles

It is now more than three months since this year’s cohort of juveniles were released on the Isle of Wight, and, to date, three have made exploratory flights away from the Island.

G461

The first of this year’s cohort to leave the Isle of Wight was juvenile male, G461. He crossed the Solent and Southampton Water on the morning of 30th September and then continued into the South Downs.

He spent the next five days exploring several wooded areas in the Meon Valley in Hampshire, before roosting in woodland just north of Alton on 5th October. He was seen nearby by Hampshire county bird recorder, Keith Betton next morning but then headed north-east, passing over Farnborough at 11:50. At 12:40 he was perched in a wood a mile north-west of the M25/M3 junction and then crossed the busy motorway and skirted across the south-west of London, passing over Queen Elizabeth II reservoir at 14:05 and then Island Barn Reservoir soon afterwards at an altitude of 438 metres.  Half an hour later he was over Coulsdon and then at 15:40 he was perched in a wood 2.5 miles south of Oxted. He roosted nearby having flown 52 miles during the course of the day. 

G461 skirted across the south-west of London during the afternoon of 6th October

G461 was active soon after first light on 7th October and headed south-east. At 13:36 that afternoon he was over Eastbourne on the South Coast and then headed north-east over the Pevensey Levels. He continued flying for a further ten miles before settling in an area of woodland 1.5 miles north of Darwell Reservoir having flown a further 51 miles that day. 

Next morning G461 flew to Darwell Reservoir and remained there all day, favouring the wooded south-west corner.  He returned to the coast at Pevensey Bay on the morning of 9th October before heading north, passing half a mile to the north of Arlington Reservoir at 13:10 and then onwards to Buckhurst Park near Crowborough, having travelled 38 miles through the Sussex countryside .

G461’s movements in East Sussex, 7th-11th October

G461 remained in the local area on 10th October, but then flew south-west during the afternoon of 11th. At 14:45 that afternoon he was flying west over Portslade just to the west of Brighton at an altitude of 210 metres, and half an hour later he passed just to the north of Worthing. He then settled in an area of scattered copses north-west of Findon, having flown 35 miles. He remained in the local area all of the next day, but then resumed his journey on the morning of 13th October, passing over Bognor Regis, Pagham Harbour and then Selsey Bill at 11:45. The Isle of Wight was now within sight and he flew 19 miles direct across the sea, making landfall between Luccombe and Ventnor and then roosting in a favoured area of woodland on the Island having flown another 49 miles.

The young male has remained on the Island since, having completed a perfect exploratory flight of 276 miles over the course of two weeks.   

G461’s 14 day flight through south-east England, 30th September-13th October

G461’s initial flight east from the Isle of Wight was made during a period of westerly winds. When the wind turned to the east during October, it resulted in two of this year’s juveniles heading west.    

G471 

G471 was the second of this year’s cohort to leave the Isle of Wight, on 11th October. Rather than making the short crossing over the Solent, the young male headed west from the Needles and flew 18 miles across the sea to Swanage where he was seen passing through Durlston Country Park. From there he headed west along the Dorset coast, passing just north of Weymouth at 13:00 and then stopping for the night in farmland north of Bridport having flown 60 miles from the Isle of Wight.

G471 flew 60 miles along the Dorset coast on 11th October

He remained in the local area on 12thOctober, but then flew to Lyme Regis on the morning of 13th before following the Devon coastline west, passing to the north of Seaton at 13:00, before cutting inland and eventually settling in farmland north of Clyst St Lawrence, 8 miles north-east of Exeter.

Next morning G471 resumed his flight at 10:30 and headed west through central Devon, flying at altitudes of less than 250 metres. At 12:30 he had stopped in farmland north of Holdsworthy, having flown 45 miles. He remained in the local area all afternoon and then flew 10 miles west to woodland along the Coombe valley on the Cornish coast north of Bude on 15th October. 

On 16th October G471 flew north up the coast, back into Devon. He paused for over an hour on coastal cliffs at Hatland Quay where he was seen by David Pearman and two friends.  Then, at 10:20, he headed out across the sea towards the island of Lundy, completing the 12 mile crossing in just under 25 minutes. Once he was over the island he was seen at close quarters by Tim Davis and Tim Jones, and then flew north to the northern most point of the island, where he perched on rocks for 20 minutes at midday. He then headed back south, and was watched again as he circled over the sea and then drifted back towards the North Devon coast. This was the first White-tailed Eagle sighting on Lundy for 140 years and you can read a fantastic account on the Lundy birds blog, written by Tim Jones.  

The return crossing took G471 35 minutes and, once back on the mainland he followed the coast 3 miles east, before settling in woodland north-west of Clovelly. Next day, G471 headed further south, and then remained in an area close to the River Tamar north-east of Bude for over a fortnight.

G471 flew to Lundy and back to the Devon coast on 16th October
G471’s flight across Lundy on 16th October

On 4th November G471 flew south-west, covering 59 miles in three hours, before stopping near Stithians Reservoir at 14:40 and roosting nearby. Next morning the young male continued south-west, passing over Penzance at 10:40 and then continuing towards Land’s End. An hour later he was circling two miles east of Land’s End, and just as G463 had done before (see below), he then turned around and headed back north-west. He passed over Camborne at 13:45 and then roosted in an area of scattered woods south-west of Truro. Since then G471 has headed further north-east through Cornwall. It will be interesting to see if he lingers in the South West, or heads back to the Isle of Wight.

G463

G463 was the third of this year’s cohort to cross the Solent. The young male set off from the Needles to Barton on Sea at 14:00 on 13th October, and then headed west, skirting the north side of Bournemouth before roosting in woodland near Kingston Lacy, six miles north of Poole Harbour. Next morning, encouraged by a strong easterly wind, G463 left his roost site soon after 07:00 and again headed west. He paused for an hour in fields to the west of Axminster, and then continued through Devon, passing to the north of Exeter at 12:30. He eventually stopped for the night at 16:00 in a wooded area between the Devon villages of Hathleigh and Highampton after flying 93 miles.  Interestingly he was now just 12 miles west of G471 who had followed a very similar course west through Devon earlier the same day. 

On the morning of 15th October G463 remained around the local area until 10:30 when he again headed west. An hour later he had flown 23 miles and was circling just off Cornish coast north of Crackington Haven. He then followed the coastline south-west and was photographed by Pau Ash and Graeme Willetts over Hawker’s Cover near Padstow around midday. By 14:05 he was just to the north-east of Penzance and continued to the coast just to the south of Land’s End. Clearly not wanting to fly out to sea, he turned around, and then headed east to the south of Penzance and eventually stopped to roost in woodland near Relubbus, 6 miles to the north-east. He had flown 106 miles from his roost in Devon. 

G363 was photographed by Paul Ash as he flew over Hawker’s Cover near Padstow in Cornwall on 15th October

Next morning G463 headed south-west again and passed over Mousehole and then west to The Brisons, a rocky islet just under a mile off the coast near St Just, where he perched for three hours from 12:00-15:00. He then headed north-east along the coast to St Ives, flying low across St Ives Bay soon afterwards before settling to roost in nearby woodland.  

G463 remained around the woodland close to St Ives Bay all day on 17th before slowly heading 16 miles east on 18th, passing to the north of Camborne and then spending the afternoon beside the Truro River, just to the south of the city. 

Next morning the young male headed 6 miles north-east to woodland between Tregony and Grampound, but then made a more concerted movement to the east on 20th October, crossing St Austell Bay and the following the coast east to Plymouth. At 13:45 he was flying 86 metres above Plymouth docks and soon afterwards was perched near Crownhill Down, 7 miles to the north-east. 

G463’s flight around the Cornish coast 14th – 20th October

G463 remained in the local area for the next two days, and then flew south-east to the Devon coast just north of Start Point on the morning of 23rd October, before continuing north along the coast, and crossing Tor Bay at low altitude to Torquay. That night he roosted in woodland just to the north of Meadford beach, having flown 35 miles from Plymouth. Next day he left the roost site at 07:30 and spent several hours in woodland south of Watcombe Head, before flying 6 mils north and spending the remainder of the day in farmland north of Newton Abbott. On 25th he continued north-east, crossing the Exe estuary at 09:00 before lingering in arable farmland just to the east of Exeter and roosting in woodland nearby. He then flew a further 19 miles north-east to an area close to the Devon-Somerset border on 26th.

G463 has remained in the local area since and, like G471, it will be interesting to see whether he remains in the South West, or returns to the Isle of Wight. Whatever the case, like his compatriot from the Isle of Wight, the young male will be building up valuable knowledge and experience on these fascinating explorations.

G463 (yellow) and G471 followed similar tracks towards Land’s End, albeit several weeks apart
G463 (yellow) and G471 (white) have both been exploring the South West since mid-October

Can you help us?

Satellite tracking is a key element of the project, and as such, a core cost that we have to cover. Donations of any amount make a big difference, and so if you are able to make a contribution, please click the donate button below and select White-tailed Eagle project when prompted. Any donations, no matter how small, are very gratefully received. The Foundation relies on the generosity of our supporters to carry out our various projects. If you like what we can do, please click here to find out how your support can help us.