Returning home

The satellite tracking work that we have undertaken during the first three years of the Isle of Wight project, which we run in partnership with Forestry England, has provided a fascinating insight into the dispersal of young White-tailed Eagles. This has shown that many of the young birds explore widely in their early years before returning to the South Coast as they approach breeding age.  One of the most notable examples last year was G466, a female that was released on the Isle of Wight in 2020. She flew to northern Scotland during spring 2021 and then spent six months in Caithness and Sutherland where she favoured Loch Naver and also Cape Wrath, the most north-westerly point in mainland Britain. She subsequently spent time in the Cairngorms, Loch Rannoch and the Kintyre peninsula before heading south on 4th February. 

She arrived back on the Isle of Wight on 22nd February having flown south through western England over the course of two-and-a-half weeks. 

Once back on the South Coast G466 remained on the Isle of Wight and neighbouring areas until 5th April, when she headed north once again. She arrived back in Caithness on 17th April; just two days later than the previous year. She remained into September, returning to all of the areas she had favoured during 2021 over the course of the next five months. The map below shows the similarity in her movements over the course of the two summers. At times she was joined by two other Isle of Wight birds, 2021 females G542 and G547. 

G466’s movements in northern Scotland during 2021 (white) and 2022 (yellow)

Having spent five months in northern Scotland, G466 began heading south again on 22nd September, and this time with real purpose, arriving on the South Coast on 28th September and the Isle of Wight the next morning, having flown 1003km in seven days. 

G466 flew 1003km back to the Isle of Wight between 22nd-28th September
G466 in the early morning mist on the Isle of Wight after her return from Scotland (photo by Steve Egerton-Read)

Having arrived back on the Isle of Wight G466 intruded at the now well-established territory of G274 and G324 who are resident on the Isle of Wight and rarely let other birds settle for any length of time. Project Officer Steve Egerton-Read photographed G466 in the company of male G274 for a short period, before she was seen off by resident female G324. Such encounters are important for young eagles as they settle in potential breeding areas because the presence of other eagles on territory is a real draw. 

G466 (left) perched briefly with three year-old male, G274, before being seen off by the resident female, G324 (photo by Steve Egerton-Read)

It will be fascinating to see what G466 does now. Will she remain on the South Coast and search for a mate, or return north once again? We will keep you updated. 

G466’s movements since her initial dispersal away from the Isle of Wight in March 2021

Ospreys and White-tailed Eagles at Poole Harbour – a sign of hope 

Over the course of the first three years of the White-tailed Eagle project based on the Isle of Wight, which we run in partnership with Forestry England, we have become accustomed to the young birds living a highly nomadic lifestyle in their early years, dispersing as far as northern Scotland and in one case, continental Europe. However, as they become older, and approach breeding age, we expect them to return to the South Coast and establish territories within 50 km of the release site. The early signs are certainly encouraging. As reported in our last update, three-year-olds G274 and G324 are well-established as a pair on the Isle of Wight, while G405 and G471, both released in 2020, have been showing early courtship behaviour in West Sussex. Meanwhile five different birds have become regular visitors to Poole Harbour in Dorset, with one-year-old female, G801, an almost permanent resident since the spring. 

Poole Harbour, as the name implies, is a huge natural harbour, covering some 36km2. The northern shore is urban, but most of the southern and western areas, as well as the Arne peninsular, and five islands, including the well-known Brownsea Island, are much quieter. The harbour is extremely shallow, with an average depth of less than half a metre. These factors, coupled with abundant populations of fish such as Grey Mullet, mean that we expect it to become a favoured locality for White-tailed Eagles, and, potentially, a future breeding site. 

Roy and I have got to know Poole Harbour well over the past few years because it is the site of the Foundation’s ongoing Osprey translocation project, which we are running in partnership with local charity, Birds of Poole Harbour. This year has been a significant one for the project because a pair of Ospreys – male, 022, which we translocated from northern Scotland in 2019, and Rutland-fledged female CJ7 – have bred successfully for the first time, rearing two chicks. Although one was killed by a Goshawk after fledging it seems likely that the remaining youngster, 5H1, has now set off on her first migration. This is the first time young Ospreys have fledged from a nest on the South Coast of England for two centuries and so is a real milestone for the project. The video below shows 5H1 landing on the edge of the nest soon after fledging on 23rd July.

Poole Harbour’s location on the South Coast means it is also a prime location for Ospreys on migration, and numbers reach a peak during late August and early September as birds from further north move southwards. With this in mind, Birds of Poole Harbour have been running twice daily boat trips in search of Ospreys as well as a range of other species – White-tailed Eagles included – since 19th August. Knowing this would also be an excellent opportunity to observe the behaviour of G801 and any other eagles that were present, myself and White-tailed Eagle project officer, Steve Egerton-Read, have joined the Birds of Poole Harbour team on a number of trips over the past three weeks.

Monitoring the diet of the released eagles has been a key part of the project since the outset, and we have now amassed over 320 feeding records. However, such observations are hard to come by because White-tailed Eagles favour the sit-and-wait strategy for hunting; usually spending more than 90% of every day perched, quite often on the same favoured tree. Nevertheless, thanks to the work of Steve and dedicated volunteers, we have found that fish become increasingly important for the eagles as they become older, constituting up to 50% of the diet. This, we feel sure, is why G801 has remained at Poole Harbour for such an extended period, but monitoring her is not easy at such a large site. 

G801 photographed from a Birds of Poole Harbour boat trip on 1st September (photo by Mark Wright)

Our suspicions have been borne out during the boat trips, and we have twice seen G801 feeding on fish when the tide has been low or just rising. The Ospreys haven’t disappointed either with multiple birds seen on most trips, some catching Grey Mullet very close to the boat. We have, on occasion, also been treated to some close fly-bys by G801. On one memorable morning when I was on the boat, she flew almost directly overhead, providing amazing views and drawings gasps of excitement from those lucky enough to be on board. 

On another occasion Alison Copland filmed G801 flying close to the boat.

It is important to remember that Ospreys and White-tailed Eagles were once both widespread along the South Coast, before being eradicated by historical persecution. Whilst it is still early days for both projects, the fact that the two species can now be seen together once more at Poole Harbour is, I think, a sign of hope for the future. We are living in a time of great concern for the natural world but the return of these species shows that with a proactive approach to the restoration of nature, it is possible to make positive change. We are very grateful to the Birds of Poole Harbour team for organising the fantastic boat trips and for enabling 1600 people to enjoy the spectacle of these two species – sometimes interacting with each other – over the past three weeks. For me, the excitement of people on board when an Osprey caught a fish or a White-tailed Eagle flew past were always a highlight of the trips. 

A juvenile Osprey photographed from a boat trip on 1st September (photo by Mark Wright)

There are still spaces available on the final two Osprey cruises, which take place at Poole Harbour tomorrow. Birds of Poole Harbour also have a comprehensive programme of events taking place this autumn – check out their website here for more. You won’t be disappointed!  Steve and I will again be joining the boat trips when we can, particularly if the eagles continue to linger in the area.

We are also very interested to hear your views on the White-tailed Eagle project.  If you have a few minutes to spare please click on this link and complete our short survey.

White-tailed Eagle G816 and an Osprey over Lytchett Fields, Poole Harbour, on 30th August (photo by Mark Wright)

Tim Mackrill, 1st September 2022

The difference made by one man

Not far from my home in Moray is a beautiful loch called Lochindorb, lying in a big hollow among the heather moors north of Strathspey. It is a recognised beauty spot because of the ancient castle in the loch.  Historically it is famous because the island castle was the lair of Alexander Stewart, named the Wolf of Badenoch. He was a troublesome neighbour and his bloody raids including the burning down Elgin Cathedral in 1390. In retribution the castle lost its fortification and it’s been deserted since.

I often drive that way and always love cresting the last little rise before the loch is laid out in front of me. Early-morning visits with the water surface like a mirror reflecting the blue skies on a May morning; or the steely grey churning waves of a November day. In cold winters it can be frozen, sometimes strong enough for skating;  not  unlike the January day when my wife and I were married among the ancient pine trees by the loch shore. 

For much of the last century, the loch was favoured by brown trout fisherman; just a couple of rowing boats idling across the surface.  Small brown trout were plentiful in the peaty waters; hunted by ospreys overhead and large ‘ferox’ trout in the depths. The 1930’s Irish author, Maurice Walsh, captures the magic so well in his famous novel ‘The Key above the Door.

A pair of black-throated divers at Lochindorb by Mike Crutch. Mike holds a Schedule 1 licence from NatureScot to monitor and photograph the divers.

It wasn’t ospreys that drew to me to the loch, but the breeding pair of black-throated divers. These rare breeders are more usually found in the north and west Highlands; with this pair being real outliers to the south and east of the nesting range and thus of conservation importance. The pair was special as well because they were so easily seen by birdwatchers, without disturbance, from the small local road running along the shore.

At the end of last century, times started to change for the divers. The new access legislation in Scotland resulted in the loch being subject to so many more human activities – canoes, windsurfers and paddle borders – one day  I even saw a floatplane land on the loch. And of course many people camping overnight beside the water.

Another dramatic change at the same time was that irresponsible anglers released live pike into the waters to create future fishing opportunities. Well, the pike prospered on the scores of small brown trout. Trout fishing collapsed but coarse fishing for pike boomed. It became common to see anglers with  two or three rods each, often camping and fishing during the night beside the loch. 

With the two threats, there was no doubt the pair of divers looked as though they were doomed, but Mike Crutch, a local birder, who is a regular at the loch decided he would do something about it.  He loved photographing the divers from his car window and like many of us he was horrified, in 2015, when the juvenile diver, nearly ready to fly, tried to swallow a live-fish-bait on a three hooked lure.  A horrible method of trying to catch large pike. The poor bird had to be euthanised by a vet – another sad failure for this special pair of rare birds.

There are no, in-the-field, wildlife guards in the wider countryside to protect rare and sensitive species in Britain so Mike decided to do something about it. He spoke with the landowners, the estate keeper and the police about the problem and explained that he wanted to protect the divers. In 2016, he designed special waterproof posters about the need for black-throated diver protection and clipped them on to the layby signs, along the loch side.  During his regular visits to monitor the divers he talked with regular birding visitors as well as anglers and campers, about the problems for the special birds.

One of the adult black-throated divers feeding its chick (photo by Mike Crutch)

Last evening he sent me a beautiful photograph (below) of one of the latest young divers; the pair has two young this summer and they are just about ready to leave. Since that appalling death in 2015, they have bred every year, four times successfully and have raised a total of seven young; which is excellent for this species. 

It’s a brilliant example of where one man decides that if the big conservation bodies cannot protect this pair of rare birds he will do it himself.  Sincere thanks from all of us for your efforts to make sure these beautiful birds continue to live on the dark waters of Lochindorb.  Their incredible wailing duets on calm spring evenings are an aural tribute to your successful efforts.

Roy Dennis   25 August 2022

Juvenile black-throated diver (photo by Mike Crutch)

White-tailed Eagle update – summer 2022

We are now in the fourth year of the project we run in partnership with Forestry England to reintroduce White-tailed Eagles to southern England, through the translocation of Scottish chicks to the Isle of Wight. Early signs have been encouraging with two pairs forming, and other young eagles learning to live successfully in the English landscape. 

Early pair bonding 

Two of the birds released in 2019, male G274 and female G324, are now well-established as a pair on the Isle of Wight, as project officer Steve Egerton-Read described in his latest Forestry England blog. Steve has dedicated a huge amount of time to monitoring the birds in the field and this has provided an extremely valuable insight into their daily foraging habits and diet. We have been particularly encouraged that they have been catching fish around the coasts of the Isle of Wight throughout the year, and that they readily catch cuttlefish in the seagrass beds of the Solent. This rich local food supply will be extremely valuable when the first pairs begin breeding. Elsewhere a second pair have become established in West Sussex. Male G471 and female G405, both released in 2020, have been favouring the Arun valley and surrounding areas, and the male also makes regular trips to the coast. 

We have also been extremely encouraged that one of the 2021 females, G801, has taken up almost permanent residence at Poole Harbour since her arrival there, in early March. Recently G801 has been joined by two different males: G816, who has been summering in Wiltshire, and G812 who spent much of the winter and spring in north Dorset. The proximity of Poole Harbour to the Isle of Wight, coupled with the rich food supply, including fish such as Grey Mullet and Bass, make this another potential early breeding site. Although most White-tailed Eagles do not breed until they are five years old, the satellite data demonstrates that pairs can form much earlier, and we are hopeful that one of these visiting males will settle at Poole Harbour with G801. 

G812 is the most recent White-tailed Eagle to visit Poole Harbour (photo by Jamie Randall)
G801 and G812 at Poole Harbour (photo by Paul Morton)

Returning to favoured sites 

Some of the younger birds dispersed widely in the spring and five individuals are currently in northern Scotland. 2021 females G818 and G487 are in the Cairngorms and two other females released last summer, have been spending time further north. G542 is currently in Caithness and G547 is living around Cape Wrath and other locations on the Sutherland coast. The fifth bird is 2020 female G466 who has returned to northern Scotland for a second summer. She spent much of 2021 in Caithness and Sutherland before flying south in February this year and then spending two months back on the Isle of Wight. She headed north again in mid-April and is now back in the Caithness having spent much of the past few weeks in and around Cape Wrath. The map below shows her 2021 (yellow) and 2022 movements (white). 

G466’s movements in northern Scotland during 2021 (yellow) and 2022 (white)

Another bird that has returned to an area that it visited last spring, is G463. This male released in 2020 crossed the English Channel in April 2021 and remained in mainland Europe until November, favouring the Wadden Sea coasts of the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. He visited several locations in southern England during the winter, before spending the early part of the spring in East Anglia, returning to sites he first visited 12 months earlier. Then on 3rd April he crossed the English Channel in the same location as 2021, but three days earlier. He has since returned to many of the sites he visited in 2021, with one notable exception: a short excursion to southern Sweden between 28th April and 1st May. The map below shows how faithful G463 has been to sites he first visited last year (2021 = yellow, 2022 = white). He is currently heading south-west through Germany, and so may return to the areas she previously visited in the Netherlands, or perhaps return across the English Channel once again. 

G463’s movements in mainland Europe during 2021 (yellow) and 2022 (white)

Like the two 2020 birds, G318 has also returned to a previous haunt. The 2019 female wintered in Dorset, but then flew north to the Peak District on 16th May and has returned to the moors in the Dark Peak that she frequented for more than two months last summer. This bird has been a lagomorph specialist since release and it seems that Mountain Hares could be the reason she has returned to this particular area. 

The fact that three birds have returned to sites that they first encountered on their initial explorations, illustrates the superb navigational capacity of the young eagles, and the value of the initial wanderings and the associated knowledge they assimilate about the landscape.  

G318 has returned to the Peak District for a second successive summer (photo by Nick Corley)

2022 translocation cancelled 

During June we were intending to translocate the next cohort of chicks to the Isle of Wight. However, the worsening situation with Avian Influenza which has resulted in major mortality of breeding seabirds around eastern and northern coasts of the UK, and poses a considerable risk to White-tailed Eagles – which can contract the virus by eating infected carcasses – meant that we felt the most responsible approach was to not translocate any chicks this year, particularly as fieldwork indicates it is a poor breeding year for White-tailed Eagles. We have informed NatureScot and Natural England of this decision, and hope to extend the licence to account for the missed year. The original licence permits us to release a total of 60 White-tailed Eagles over the course of five years with the aim of establishing an initial population of six to eight breeding pairs on the Isle of Wight and surrounding areas of the South Coast. 

In the meantime, we will continue to closely monitor the birds released in previous years, particularly in relation to their foraging behaviour, daily movements and how they are living in the landscape. We have also constructed two artificial nests to encourage early breeding behaviour.  

Thank you

Sincere thanks to everyone who has been in touch to report sightings or sent photos of eagles in their local area. This information is of real value and adds to our understanding of how the birds are living in the landscape. You can report any sightings using our online form. We have been thrilled at the excitement the birds have generated in different parts of the country, and greatly appreciate the support the project has received.  

Very many thanks to everyone who has made donations to the Foundation and the White-tailed Eagle project in the past few months. Your support is greatly appreciated. If you would like to donate to our work, then you can do so via the link below.

The Start of new Osprey Dynasties

British migratory Ospreys have many challenges on their journeys to and from West Africa, so it was very encouraging, earlier this month, when the young male (colour ring blue 22) returned to Poole Harbour and paired up with his mate, blue CJ7. He had first returned last May as a two-year-old, too late to breed, but with plenty of time to establish a pair bond with CJ7. Blue 22 had already met this female when he was released from the hacking cages in 2019, as part of the translocation project we are running with Birds of Poole Harbour, under licence from NatureScot. That was CJ7’s third summer in the area, having been seen at Poole Harbour for the first time in August 2017. The two birds looked very settled once they were reunited this spring, and on Saturday we were delighted that CJ7 laid the first egg. You can watch the nest live via the Birds of Poole Harbour webcam.

022(left) and CJ7 looking down into the nest at the newly-laid egg on Saturday

We collected blue 22 from nest B01, not far from Roy’s home in Moray, on 11th July 2019. He was one of a brood of two and in excellent condition – 1500g is a good weight for a male nestling. Tim and Ian Perks drove south with the eleven young ospreys on 12th July. You can find out more by listening to one of the podcasts we made in 2019.

The team at Poole Harbour had built new hacking cages at a secluded location and all 11 young birds thrived on a diet of fresh trout.  Blue 22 was released on 4th August and after four weeks of feeding up on fresh fish, set off on his migration on 1st September.  Two others also started their migrations on the same day. 

That first migration is crucial, and so is the first winter when young Ospreys are often bullied away from the best feeding areas by the wintering adults. They usually remain in West Africa (or Iberia if they have only migrated that far) for the whole of their second calendar year and this gives them the opportunity to get established at a specific site, before the older birds return in the autumn.  If they prove to be winners in the Ospreys’ world then they could return to the same place each winter for two decades or more.

Blue 22 may have started with an advantage for he came from eyrie B01. The oldest and most used nest in Moray – first established in 1966 when there were only two other pairs – both in Strathspey. Most northern Ospreys know this clump of old trees – it’s a favoured eyrie – for them and for us. The female Logie bred here, the first Osprey we tracked with state-of-the-art GPS transmitters in 2007. Morven took over from her in 2008 and wintered in Mauritania; 15 years later she is still breeding in Moray although unlike most Ospreys she has moved nest four times. Satellite tagged males Nimrod and Yellow HA also bred here – it’s a special place. 

Blue 22’s father is unringed but distinctively very white breasted – he kicked out the resident male in 2016 and reared three young. Next summer there were three young, then two young for two years, but in 2020 the pair lost the brood when very small. Last year, he failed to attract a mate so instead he built an extra nest in the big pine next-door – the location on the original 1966 nest when the tree was alive. This year he’s attracted mate and a check and a check this morning showed the female incubating their first egg and her mate perched close by preening. So this year he’s just behind his son – yet 500 miles apart.

Meanwhile what about blue CJ7’s pedigree? She was one of two chicks to fledge from a nest known as Site K near Rutland Water in 2015. Her mother, 00(09) fledged from the Site B nest in Rutland in 2009 and is the daughter of a male osprey 03(97) who was the first transloctated Osprey to breed at Rutland Water and raised a total of 32 chicks between 2001 and 2015. Colin Crooke and Roy collected this young Osprey on 11th July 1997 from a regularly used eyrie near Dornoch in Sutherland. 03 was part of the second cohort of young Ospreys translocated to Rutland Water. CJ7’s father, 06(09), fledged from the Site O nest in Rutland in 2009 and was an offspring of a translocated male 06(00) that Roy and Bob Moncrieff collected from a nest in Strathspey on 10thJuly 2000. That bird’s father, and thus CJ7’s great-gradfather was orange/black SB – one of three young ringed by Roy at the RSPB’s famous Loch Garten nest in 1993. 

CJ7 is the granddaughter of translocated Osprey 03(97), who raised 32 chicks at Rutland Water between 2001-15 (photo by John Wright)

CJ7 has never been seen back in the Rutland Water area, but that is not surprising, because females often disperse to join other Osprey populations. CJ7 was first identified at Poole Harbour by Tim on 8th August 2017. That day she was seen interacting with the first cohort of translocated Ospreys who had just been released. She has continued to return each summer since, clearly encouraged by the presence of young Ospreys in the area.  In 2019 she paired up with a two year-old translocated male, but sadly he failed to return the following spring. Now, finally, she is breeding for the first time, with 022.

 As the years have passed we have got to know individual Ospreys for many years, while others are never seen again after they depart on their first autumn migration. Longevity and breeding success involves luck and being in the right place at the right time. Surviving the early years in Africa and on migration, then finding a good nest site and a successful partner. A female needs to be bold and strong to defend her eyrie from all intruders, to protect her young and to get as much fish as possible into her brood; and her mate needs to be dominant at the fishing grounds and a very skilled fisher. That’s the essence of a being an Osprey pair that lives long and creates a dynasty. Let’s hope CJ7 and 022 have that luck and those skills, and help to re-establish the ‘mullet hawk’ back on the South Coast of England for the first time in more the two centuries. We are proud to work with the Birds of Poole Harbour team, aiming to restore a new dynasty of Ospreys on the coasts of the English Channel.

Roy Dennis and Tim Mackrill

Death of White-tailed Eagle G461

One of the most pleasing aspects of the first three years of the White-tailed Eagle project has been the great excitement of people who have seen one of the birds. The far-ranging exploratory flights of the young eagles has meant that they have been enjoyed by birders and wildlife enthusiasts across much of the UK. People often ask us to give the eagles’ daily locations on the website but we need to prevent disturbance to the eagles and local people. We have made many friends in the farming, forestry and landowner communities who have welcomed the great birds on their land.

Encouragingly, we are now seeing some of the older birds – those released in 2019 and 2020 – returning to the Isle of Wight and the wider South Coast region where we hope an initial breeding population will become established. On the Isle of Wight two eagles released in 2019, G274 and G324 have paired up, and, although still too young to breed, they are showing territorial behaviour. Meanwhile two of the 2020 cohort – male G471 who recently returned to the South Coast after an extended stay in southern Scotland, and female G405, who spent much of last year in South West England – are showing the first signs of forming a second pair, and have spent much of the past week in the South Downs in West Sussex, which is another potential breeding area.

Another bird that returned to the South Coast after spending a prolonged period away was G461. This male eagle, released on the Isle of Wight in 2020, explored widely along the South Coast during spring 2021 and then spent much of last summer in West Norfolk. After returning south in September, and being chased away from the Isle of Wight by G274, the young male began favouring Poole Harbour in Dorset. This huge natural harbour, with its abundant populations of a favoured prey species, the Grey Mullet, is a likely breeding site for White-tailed Eagles in the future.

G461 at Poole Harbour in October 2021 (photo by Mark Wright)

G461 spent much of the autumn and early winter at Poole Harbour where many excited birdwatchers and members of the public were able to enjoy watching it.  On one occasion a boat full of school children enjoyed a fly past during a trip organised by the local charity Birds of Poole Harbour.

When not at Poole Harbour, G461 also visited the nearby Purbeck coastline, and spent time in North Dorset, in an area that has been visited by several other White-tailed Eagles since the project began.

G461’s movements after release on the Isle of Wight in 2020

Sadly, in late January the data from G461’s satellite tag gave us cause for concern, and we subsequently recovered the bird’s body in North Dorset on 27th January, with Dorset Police and members of the RSPB Investigations team.

Post mortem and toxicology testing through the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme has subsequently identified brodifacoum poisoning as the cause of death. Brodifacoum is a highly toxic anticoagulant rodenticide that causes internal haemorrhaging. The bird’s liver contained approximately seven times the amount of brodifacoum required to kill a bird like a White-tailed Eagle. The satellite data indicates that the eagle, which was otherwise healthy, deteriorated and died over a period of several days.

Dorset police have today made a statement that no further police action will be taken.

Recent evidence indicates that brodifacoum poses a serious threat to birds of prey. It accumulates in the food chain and can cause secondary poisoning as a result. A number of cases where dead raptors have been found with very high levels of brodifacoum have suggested that it could also be illegally misused in some instances to target birds of prey. White-tailed Eagles are particularly at risk because carrion can form a significant part of the diet, especially of birds in their first year.  EU Environmental Risk Assessments have previously concluded that second generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs) such as brodifacoum should not be permitted for external use because the environmental risk is too great. However, regulations around their use in outdoor settings in the UK have been relaxed in recent years, and we believe this could pose a significant risk to birds of prey and other wildlife.

It is very disappointing that G461 has become the latest bird of prey to die of brodifacoum poisoning, and we hope that the death of this bird serves as a reminder of the toxicity of anticoagulant rodenticide poisons and the impacts they can have on wider wildlife.

More encouragingly, two female White-tailed Eagles, G318 and G801 are the latest birds to take up residence at Poole Harbour, and there have been numerous sightings in recent weeks. With G463 back in England after spending five months in continental Europe last year, we are hopeful that the young male may eventually join the birds at Poole Harbour, particularly as G318, released in 2019, is now approaching breeding age. Since arriving back in England last November G463 has spent much of its time in East Anglia, but also returned to Chard area in Somerset – where it had spent its first winter – and visited Knepp in East Sussex last week.

Despite the loss of G461 we very much hope that White-tailed Eagles will become an increasingly familiar sight at Poole Harbour and in other parts of southern England, and that many more people will be able to enjoy seeing them in years to come.

G461 perched on the Brownsea Lagoon, with Poole in the background (photo by Alison Copland)

Roy Dennis receives RSPB’s most prestigious award

Roy Dennis MBE – ‘the man who brought the white-tailed sea eagles back to England’ – received the RSPB’s most prestigious award at the charity’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Saturday 16 October.

Leading conservationist, Roy, 81, has devoted his whole life to protecting and enhancing wildlife. His love of birds began as a child in the 1940s exploring around his home in the New Forest. Little did he know then that one day, in his lifetime, the south coast of England would once again see white-tailed sea eagles soaring over the Solent. And that he would be the man that brought them back.

After school, Roy worked at Lundy and Fair Isle Bird Observatories (FIBO) where he met his mentor George Waterston who would go on to be the first Director of the RSPB in Scotland. In 1968, they pioneered the first trial reintroduction of sea eagles on Fair Isle. This paved the way for Roy to carry out many more translocation and ecological restoration projects which continue to this day. 

From 1963 to 1970 he directed FIBO before chairing the Trust and is now its President. Roy served the RSPB as its Highland Officer from 1970 to 1990 where he oversaw the management of iconic nature reserves like Loch Garten, protected nesting ospreys and golden eagles from egg thieves, and represented the charity in this key area for UK nature at a critical time in the RSPB’s history. 

Roy Dennis(left) and George Waterston (right) with a recently arrived juvenile White-tailed Eagle to be released as part of a reintroduction attempt, Fair Isle, Scotland, 1968

Roy became an independent wildlife consultant in 1990 and formed the ‘Highland Foundation for Wildlife’, now the ‘Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation’, in 1995. The success and range of projects undertaken by him since then has been phenomenal.

He received an MBE in 1992 for ‘services to nature conservation’; in 2004 he received the RSPB Scotland ‘Golden Eagle Award’ as the ‘person who has done most for nature conservation in Scotland in the last 100 years’. As a skilled communicator, he is the author of several landmark, inspirational books and is a regular on TV and radio.

Roy Dennis MBE expressed his great appreciation of the honour accorded to him. He said: “I am honoured to receive the RSPB Medal.  My lifetime in conservation has been wonderfully rewarding, from the first pair of ospreys with the RSPB at Loch Garten to the restoration of red kites to England and Scotland and sea eagles to the Isle of Wight.  In my middle years with the RSPB, we faced tough battles over agricultural intensification, blanket forestry, and North Sea oil, but I always refused to give up. Now, I’m encouraged to see great steps forward in ecological restoration but at this time of global crisis, it’s for the young to lead the way and be the ones who refuse to give up.”

Roy releasing an Osprey he had just satellite-tagged in 2017

Kevin Cox, RSPB Chair of Council, said: “We are delighted to honour Roy with the RSPB Medal. His partnership working, stamina and not letting obstacles stand in his way have achieved great things for UK wildlife and we’re pleased he can add the RSPB Medal to his already long list of awards and accolades.

“The boy from Hampshire who raised a brood of shelduck and collected newts and slow worms continues to drive forward for birds and wildlife at home and abroad. When we next see a red kite, osprey or sea eagle gracing our UK skies, we know who to thank.

“The nature and climate emergency is the biggest threat in our lifetime. If we do not act soon and fast some of the wildlife we see today could be lost for good. Roy and his amazing achievements should be an inspiration to us all.”

The RSPB Medal is the charity’s most prestigious award, presented at the AGM each year. It is awarded in recognition of major achievement in the cause of nature conservation.

RSPB Council, its Executive Board and people across the RSPB were asked to nominate recipients and the shortlist was compiled from these nominations.  

Previous RSPB Medal winners include Caroline Lucas MP (2018), Stanley Johnson (2015), HRH The Prince of Wales (2010) and Sir David Attenborough (2000).

In 2012 there was a very unusual winner; the entire community of Tristan da Cunha were awarded the Medal for their efforts when the ship MS Oliva ran aground at Nightingale Island, 30km from Tristan da Cunha, spilling 1,500 tonnes of oil into the sea and threatening globally endangered species, including two-thirds of the world’s population of rockhopper penguins.

Roy with (l-r) Steve Egerton-Read, Tim Mackrill and Ian Perks and one of the young White-tailed Eagles released on the Isle of Wight in 2019

Summer flights

It is now more than two years since we began the White-tailed Eagle reintroduction project on the Isle of Wight, in partnership with Forestry England. A total of 25 young eagles, all translocated from nests in Western Scotland, have now been released, including 12 this year. This year’s birds have yet to disperse away from the release site, but we have been monitoring the movements of the 2019 and 2020 cohorts closely throughout the summer via satellite tracking and field observations. 

The satellite tracking has provided a very detailed insight into how the young birds are learning to live in the landscape, and the extent to which they disperse and wander during their second calendar year, in particular. It has been noticeable over the past few months, how the behavour of the two age classes has varied. The 2019 birds have all gravitated back to the Isle of Wight, and with one exception, have remained local thereafter, whereas the 2020 birds are still in peak exploratory mode and are widely dispersed from northern Scotland, to the Netherlands. Here Tim Mackrill brings you up to date with their movements over the last few months. 

2020 birds

G405 

Earlier in the spring we reported that female G405 had made a return trip to southern Scotland, covering  2279 km (1416 miles) in four weeks. She returned to the Isle of Wight on 13th April and has since spent all of her time in southern England, favouring three key areas: the Isle of Wight, Exmoor and Longleat in Wiltshire.

Following her return to the Isle of Wight on 13th April, G405 headed north-west to Longleat the next day. She spent much of the next month favouring an area of some 20 km². This included the grounds of Longleat Safari Park, where she was seen taking carrion left out for the park’s wolves. She also made a two day return flight to south Devon on 17th and 18th April and three-day visit to the South Downs between 2nd and 5th May.

On 14th May G405 headed west through Wiltshire and Somerset to Exmoor where she remained between 17th May and 23rd June. During this time she ranged over a core area of 85km², favouring several areas where rabbits are numerous. Significantly, she was observed with a second White-tailed Eagle on a number of occasions, and interestingly, this was not one of the Isle of Wight birds. We very much hope that as a breeding population becomes established in southern England it will encourage wandering young birds from continental Europe to stay and breed, and so it is encouraging that G405 was interacting with another young eagle in this way. 

G405 photographed at Longleat earlier in the spring (photo by Phil Mumby)

After leaving Exmoor G405 spent another week near Longleat before heading back to the Isle of Wight on 2ndJuly where she remained until 18th July, spending most of her time in areas she had favoured during the winter, both inland and at the coast. She then crossed the Solent again and spent time in the South Downs before before completing a two day loop through Kent, and then skirting along the south side of London, passing over Dartford at 13:00 on 23rd July before heading south through Surrey and into East Sussex north of Brighton.  She lingered around Ashcombe Bottom just north-west of Lewes until 3rd August when she headed back west to Longleat and then Exmoor. She has remained in Exmoor since, favouring the same areas as before. A least one other eagle has been present during the same period.

G408 

G408 is the only member of the 2020 cohort to remain exclusively in southern England since release. With the exception of a two day return flight to the Quantock Hills in Somerset on 3rd and 4th April, G408 has been faithful to two main areas throughout the spring and summer: the Arun valley and a nearby area of the South Downs in West Sussex, and the Isle of Wight. The young male spent several weeks in the company of 2019 male, G393 in the Arun valley during the early spring, and has remained a regular visitor since, spending prolonged periods at Pulbrough Brooks RSPB Reserve and neighbouring Amberley Wildbrooks, as well as other locations along a five mile section of the valley. The satellite data shows that G408 was present in the Arun valley between 16th April – 7th May, 19th May – 16th June, 23rd June – 22nd July, 11th – 22nd August and 25th-31st August. He returned to the Isle of Wight during the intervening periods, favouring three main coastal locations where he was observed fishing, and also an inland area where rabbits are numerous. His visits to the Isle of Wight were often cut short by 2019 male G274 who became increasingly territorial during the spring and early summer, and chased the younger male across the Solent on a number of occasions. Like the other older birds, G408 also visited the release site once this year’s juveniles began flying.

Most recently G408 has spent time in the South Downs to the west of the Arun valley, where he was seen with G461 (see below).

G408 has returned to the Isle of Wight frequently this summer (photo by Ainsley Bennett)
G461 

During the spring G461 ranged extensively along the South Coast, wandering to Cornwall in the west and Kent in the east. On 22nd April the young male headed north from Kent, crossing the Thames just to the east of Greenwich before continuing north through Essex and Cambridgeshire to North Norfolk. He lingered south-east of Holt for a week and then moved to West Norfolk. 

G461 then spent the majority of May on the south side of the Wash in Lincolnshire and West Norfolk, moving between Frampton Marsh RSPB reserve, the Wash NNR near Guy’s Head, the mouth of the Great Ouse near Kings Lynn and inland sites in West Norfolk, including the Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve at Roydon Common, while also completing a two-day flight around the Lincolnshire Wolds on 16th and 17th May. 

G461 spent prolonged periods around the Wash through the spring and summer
G461 in West Norfolk (photo by Gary Rugless)

On 29th May G461 flew 150 km (93 miles) south-west, and was seen passing over Rutland Water before continuing through Leicestershire, Warwickshire and Gloucestershire and eventually roosting in the Cotswolds south-west of Cheltenham. He flew a further 80 km (50 miles) to the Mendip Hills in Somerset on 30th, and 71 km (44 miles) to south-east Devon on 1st June. He then spent time along the coast to the west of Lyme Regis, and inland near Axminster, before heading 70 km (44 miles) east to Poole Harbour on 8th June and roosting on Brownsea Island that night. Next day G461 flew over Bournemouth and back to the Isle of Wight for the first time since 15th April. 

Having returned to the Isle of Wight, G461 stayed for only three days before crossing the Solent again on 12th June and flying 102 km (64 miles) north to Berkshire. He lingered to the west of Reading for two days before travelling a further 206 km (128 miles) north through Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire, and Lincolnshire on 15th June, back to his favoured area on the south side of the Wash. 

Having arrived back on the Wash, G461 lingered in the area for the next 2.5 months, alternating between the same favoured areas as before. Interestingly G461 spent time in many of the same areas as 2019 male G393, who was present in West Norfolk and the Wash during the latter part of 2020. 

G461 finally headed south again on 6th September, spending a night in rural Essex near Great Bardfield before continuing south over Greater London next day, passing over Hyde Park at an altitude of 450 metres at 17:08, and the over the London Wetland Centre soon afterwards. He roosted in farmland near the M25 at Cobham that evening before continuing south-west through Surrey and into the South Downs in West Sussex where he met up  with G408 on 12th September. He subsequently returned to the Isle of Wight on 15th September.

G461 flew directly over Hyde Park in central London on 7th September
G463 

As we reported in the spring, G463 was the first and, to date, only, of the Isle of Wight birds to cross the English Channel.  The young male made a 47 km (29 mile) crossing from Dungeness to Boulogne-Sur-Mer on 5th April before heading north to Germany. He remained on the south side of the River Elbe until 18th April when he continued north into Schleswig-Holstein, a stronghold for White-tailed Eagles in Germany. From there he slowly made his way along the Wadden Sea coast over subsequent days and, on 25th April, crossed into Denmark. Three days later G461 was on the south side of Ringkøbing Fjord, which turned out to be the most northerly point of his explorations. 

G463 remained on the Danish coast until 29th May and during this period favoured an area of the mainland coast adjacent to Rømø, the southern most of Denmark’s Wadden Sea islands.  Whilst here G463 frequented the mudflats, tidal channels and salthmarsh, but also spent time in wooded areas inland. 

G463’s core area on the Danish Wadden Sea coast

G463 headed south back into Germany on 29th May, returning to the River Elbe and then continuing south into the Netherlands and then Belgium. On 13th June he crossed the border into France and that evening roosted in woodland just to the east of Boulogne-Sur-Mer, very close to where he made landfall after crossing the English Channel in April. He lingered in the area for the next few days and on 16th was at the coast south of Ambleteuse. Had the winds been from the east it seems likely he would have attempted to return to England that day, but the wind turned to a relatively strong southerly, and this appeared to dissuade the young male from venturing out to sea. Instead he lingered inland and then on 20th June headed back into Belgium and then the Netherlands. He flew 170km (106 miles) north-east through the Netherlands on 24th June, passing over the Biesbosch where several pairs of White-tailed Eagles breed and eventually roosting in a forested area in the Hoge Veluwe National Park. Next day he travelled even further, covering an amazing 303 km (188 miles) back to the River Elbe in northern Germany, and again demonstrating how quickly young White-tailed Eagles learn the landscape. Next morning G463 crossed the Elbe and flew 51 km (32 miles) north to the estuary of the River Eider. 

G463 remained at the mouth of the Edier for the next month, usually roosting in woodland near Katinger Watt Nature Reserve and often perching on mudflats at the mouth of the Eider and also 15 km (9 miles) to the north. 

G463 remained in an area close to the River Eider during July

On 24th July G463 headed further south into Lower Saxony, before moving west into the Netherlands, where he again favoured areas on the Wadden Sea coast, initially at Ijsselmeer (4th-7th August) , a closed off inland bay, and then Lauwersmeer National Park (10th-16th August) on the north coast. He then moved a little further east and, since, 21st August has been frequenting the estuary of the Ems on the German border. It will be fascinating to see if and when the young male returns to England. He will have been encountering other young White-tailed Eagles throughout his travels, but the urge to return to the Isle of Wight is likely to prompt him back across the English Channel at some stage; although that may not be until next year.

G463’s movements in Europe since 15th April
G466

G466, a female, was the last of the 2020 cohort to leave the Isle of Wight in the spring, but quickly made up for lost time. She spent time in the South West and also East Anglia before heading north in mid-April. On 12thApril she flew 228 km (142 miles) from the Suffolk coast to North Lincolnshire and then a further 163 km (101 miles) to County Durham next day. She continued north into Scotland on 14th and at 14:30 that afternoon reached the Firth of Forth, east of Edinburgh. She headed west along the south side of the Firth before flying over the west side of Edinburgh and then into Perth and Kinross. That night G466 roosted in a forested area near Glensherup Reservoir after a day’s flight of 255 km (158 miles). She again headed north on 15th April, flying 200km (124 miles) through the Cairngorms and then across the Black Isle before roosting to the north of Bonar Bridge close to the Dornoch Firth. She then made shorter movements of 32 km on 16th April, and 19 km on 17th April, before arriving at Loch Naver in Sutherland. 

The young female has remained in northern Scotland since, ranging widely in Caithness and Sutherland, but favouring two key areas. Her core area during April, May and June was a 24 km² area centred on Loch Naver, although she also made regular flights into Caithness, venturing as far as Loch Calder to the south of Thurso and Helmsdale on the east coast of Sutherland. On 1st July she moved to the north-west and began favouring Cape Wrath, the most north-westerly point in Scotland, as well as a series of Lochs 10 km (6 miles) inland, including Loch Na Gainmhich. She also began visiting Loch Eriboll from 8th August, extending her core range in the north-west to some 340 km². Like G463 in Europe, G466 will be encountering other White-tailed Eagles during her explorations, but we still expect her to head south at some stage. It will be very interesting to see when she does so.   

G466 has remained in Northern Scotland since flying north in mid-April
G466’s movements in Northern Scotland
G471

After wintering near Bude in Cornwall, G471 headed north-east in early spring and spent time in north-west Norfolk and the Ouse Washes. Then, on 13th and 14th April the young male headed south-west, travelling 310 km (193 miles) to Herefordshire. Like G466, southerly winds encouraged G471 to fly north and on 15th April he flew 276 km (172 miles) north through Shropshire, Cheshire and then Merseyside and the North West to the Yorkshire Dales. He subsequently flew a further 73 km (45 miles) to the northern Pennines on 16th, and then 56 km (35 miles) on 17th, passing Kielder Water en route to a roost site just south of the Scottish border. He continued onto Kelso on 18th and spent much of the day along the River Tweed, before moving to the northern end of the Lammermuir Hills in East Lothian the next day.

On 20th April G471 crossed the Firth of Forth west of North Berwick and then the Firth of Tay into Angus. He then headed west and eventually roosted in woodland near King’s Seat, 13 km north-east of Perth after a day’s flight of 130 km (81 miles). G471 continued north-east into the Grampian Mountains and then the southern part of the Cairngorms National Park on 21st April. He then turned south at 15:00 and roosted on the south side of Loch Tay after flying a further 161 km (100 miles). G471 continued south the next day, travelling 162 km (101 miles) back across the Firth of Forth into East Lothian, before roosting in the south- east of the Lammermuir Hills. He then crossed back into England on 23rd, before settling in the Cheviot Hills, having flown another 107 km (66 miles) south. 

G471 remained in the Cheviot Hills for the next fortnight, favouring various locations, including Catcleaugh Reservoir. He then headed north again on 11th May and, other than a brief return to the Cheviots in early June, has spent the rest of the summer in southern Scotland, moving between various locations in the Southern Uplands. During this period he has favoured various water bodies in the area, including Hule Moss, Watch Water Reservoir and Hopes Reservoir, while also visiting the coast near Dunbar. Most recently, on 11thSeptember, G471 flew back south to Northumberland.  

G471 has remained in the Southern Uplands and Northumberland since 17th April
G471’s explorations since mid-April in the Southern Uplands and Northumberland
The six 2020 birds have dispersed widely since mid-April (G405 = red, G408 = cyan, G461 = green, G463 = magenta, G466 = white, G471 = yellow)

2019 birds

While the 2020 cohort are still in the peak of the dispersal phase, three of the four surviving birds from the 2019 releases are now very settled on the Isle of Wight and the wider Solent region. 

G274 and G324

Like G466 and G471, G324 spent the summer of her second calendar year in the Lammermuir Hills. She subsequently returned to the Isle of Wight in early September, and has been present ever since. During this period she has paired with 2019 male, G274, and the two birds have spent almost every day together since. It was notable that the two birds caught fish around the coasts of the Isle of Wight for much of last winter, and this preference for fish has continued through the spring and summer, with favoured species including Grey Mullet and Common Carp. Like last summer, G274 has again been seen catching Cuttlefish in the Solent, taking advantage of the seasonal abundance caused when Cuttlefish spawn in the seagrass beds off the coast of the Island. The two birds have also been seen catching Coot, gulls, corvids and injured or weak Canada Geese. They have also been observed stealing food from Marsh Harriers, Buzzards and even a Peregrine.      

G324 (left) and G274 (photo by Ainsley Bennett)

It has also been highly encouraging to observe G274 and G324 exhibiting territorial behaviour throughout the summer. They rarely tolerate other White-tailed Eagles in their favoured coastal locations, and have been observed chasing other birds, most notably 2019 male G393, and 2020 male G408, on a number of occasions. Although White-tailed Eagles usually do not breed until they are four-five years old, the signs are certainly encouraging. Interestingly this territorial behaviour did not extend to this year’s translocated juveniles, and both G274 and G324 have been observed at the release site regularly since the first of the 2021 cohort began flying.

G274 and G324 have been together as a pair since September 2020
G393 

Like the 2020 cohort, G393 ranged widely during his second calendar year, before finally returning to the Isle of Wight in February this year, after 17 months away. Since his return G393 has remained much more local, spending the majority of his time in and around the Solent. Like G274 he has become proficient at catching fish, and has taken advantage of the abundant Grey Mullet in estuaries, while also predating gosling Greylag and Canada Geese, which are a key prey item of White-tailed Eagles in the Netherlands.  

G393 has been in heavy moult over the summer (photo by Ainsley Bennett)

Interestingly, in June, G393 flew north to one of the sites in Oxfordshire where he spent the majority of his first winter. He remained there for over a month between 15th June and 17th July before returning to a favoured location on the Solent. 

Like G274 and G324, G393 has spent prolonged periods at the release site with the 2021 juveniles. He appeared as soon as the first young birds were flying and was present for an initial week-long period before being seen off by G274. He then returned again on 28th August, and remained until 3rd September, which again coincided with another visit by G274 to the release site. The satellite data clearly demonstrates that the two males have become territorial and that G274 appears dominant over his compatriot from 2019. Nevertheless the time G393 spent at the release site should have provided plenty of stimulation for him. Seeing newly fledged juveniles, especially as they often directed food-begging calls towards him, will have been a valuable experience for G393.

G393 (front) at the release site with a food-begging juvenile. Notice his yellow bill, which is typical of older birds.
G318

Unlike the other 2019 birds, G318, a female, has remained rather nomadic over the summer. After returning to the Isle of Wight for the first time in almost a year during March, she ranged widely in Dorset, Wiltshire and Hampshire. She spent time with G393 on several occasions during April, but unlike G274 and G324 has not formed a bond with the male; potentially because the two birds shared a pen together, and thus consider each other siblings. Despite a few visits to the Solent shoreline and another excursion to the Isle of Wight, she continued to favour inland areas where rabbits were her main prey item.

G318 continued to range between south Wiltshire and the Isle of Wight until 23rd April, when she made a 256 km (159 mile) flight to North Wales. That night she roosted in woodland 4.5 km south-west of Mold. Next day she continued to the north coast near Prestatyn before heading west, and then south, into Snowdonia. She passed to the east of Snowdon before settling in a large plantation to the north of Llyn Tryweryn after a day’s flight of 113km. She remained in the local area all day on 25th April, and roosted in the same location that night.

On 26th April she headed east to western Staffordshire where she remained for two days before crossing into Derbyshire on 29th and then north Nottinghamshire on 30th.  Later that day she arrived in the northern part of the Lincolnshire Wolds; an area she had frequented during the winter. 

G318 remained in the Lincolnshire Wolds until 9th May when she headed across the Humber and then north over Hull. Two days later she was back in the northern part of the North York Moors; again an area she knew from previous explorations. In fact, she returned to exactly the same locations as spring 2020. She remained in the North York Moors for over a month, again favouring areas where rabbits are common, before flying 142 km (88 miles) south to the Lincolnshire Wolds on 15th June. She lingered in the Wolds until 23rd June and then flew 232 km (144 miles) south through Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire before roosting just north of Newbury. She remained in the same area all day on 24th before continuing south on 25th and returning to favoured haunts in north Dorset and Wiltshire, where she remained until 8th July.  

G318 in Berkshire on 24th June. Like all White-tailed Eagles she is adept at perching inconspicuously in trees (photo by Tim Mackrill)

On 8th July G318 was on the move again, flying north through Wiltshire, before skirting around the east side of Swindon and continuing north into Gloucestershire the next day. She then spent three days around woodland in north-east Gloucestershire near Longborough, before flying 154 km (96 miles) north through the West Midlands on 18th July. That night she roosted in eastern Staffordshire, before continuing north through the Peak District the next day. She subsequently settled close to the Upper Derwent Valley, living in an area of approximately 8km² for almost two months.

The latest satellite data indicates that she has now begun moving south again, and so it will be interesting to see if she heads back to the Isle of Wight, or continues her nomadic existence for a while longer.

G318 has continued to range widely since April

 It has been a very encouraging few months for the project, and it will be fascinating to see how events unfold this autumn. Last year’s juveniles began dispersing in late September and early October, and so we expect to see this year’s birds making flights away from the Isle of Wight before long. We are always delighted to hear of the excitement birders and members of the public gain from seeing the birds, and we will report the movements of the eagles as much as possible as they disperse. However, please remember that it is not possible to disclose the location of individual birds if they are on private land or other sensitive sites. This is not only to prevent disturbance to the birds themselves, but also to the site and local people. Please keep an eye on the website and our social media, and don’t forget to submit any sightings via our online form. Very many thanks to everyone who has submitted sightings so far, and to everyone who has expressed interest and support for the project – we greatly appreciate it.

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.

White-tailed eagles successfully returning to the English landscape

A further 12 white-tailed eagles have been released on the Isle of Wight in the next stage of one of England’s landmark conservation projects. Begun in 2019 the project, led by Forestry England and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, is closely monitoring these iconic birds as they successfully return to the English landscape. 

The project, based on the Isle of Wight, released six birds in 2019 followed by a further seven last year. Evidence from similar reintroductions suggests that the rate of survival to breeding age is around 40%. Ten of the 13 birds previously released have survived and are doing well. 

White-tailed eagles are Britain’s largest birds of prey with a wingspan of up to 2.5 meters and were once widespread across England until human persecution wiped them out. The reintroduction project is bringing them back after an absence of over 240 years by releasing up to 60 birds over five years. It aims to establish an initial population of six to eight pairs with breeding activity not expected to start until 2024 at the earliest. 

Two of the young White-tailed Eagles contemplate their first flight, while another bird looks on (Forestry England/RDWF)

Each bird is fitted with a satellite tracker to enable the team to monitor and track their progress. Three years into the project, this data and considerable field observations are showing encouraging signs of the birds developing key skills and improving their understanding of the landscape around them. 

As expected, the previously released birds have explored widely, taking many journeys across Britain as they build up their knowledge of the landscape. One bird released in 2020 crossed the English Channel earlier this year and has since spent time in France, The Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. There have also been several sightings in southern England of white-tailed eagles from Europe, raising hopes that some of these wandering birds will pair up with those released on the Isle of Wight in years to come. Connecting white-tailed eagle populations in this way, is a key long-term aim of the project. 

However far the birds travel, the tracking data clearly shows that the birds consistently return to the Isle of Wight, their release point. This means they see the Island and the surrounding coastline as their home and is an encouraging indicator for potential successful breeding conditions in the future. 

Two of the young eagles preparing for their first flight (Forestry England/RDWF)

Two birds in particular, G324 and G274 have already formed a close and lasting pairing and are showing some signs of territorial behaviours with other eagles. Whilst it too early to predict, the team are hopeful that these early signs may lead to breeding activity over the next few years.  

Between their explorations, the data and field observations have also shown how the birds have honed their hunting skills as they learn more about their surroundings and the availability of prey. Last winter fish remained a key prey item, with the eagles catching bass off the south-west coast, as well as pirating fish from gulls and cormorants.  Grey mullet is plentiful during the spring and summer in the estuaries around the south coast and has been an important prey item through the past two years. These abundant food supplies around the coasts of the Isle of Wight were one of the key reasons the area was selected for the reintroduction project. 

With each year’s releases there is an opportunity for the youngest birds to observe and learn from those who are more mature. Whilst the older birds will gradually become more territorial, there are still many chances for the younger birds to identify key feeding locations and skills from their older cohort. Over time it is expected that the birds will establish more formal territories and disperse across the south coast of England. 

Birders and members of the public across the country have supported the project by reporting sightings of the eagles and sharing these via @seaeagleengland on social media or via the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation website

Roy Dennis, MBE, Founder of the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation said: “We are now three years into this reintroduction project, and it is extremely encouraging to see just how successfully white-tailed eagles are settling into the English landscape. Highlights for me have included watching the birds learn how to successfully fish all year round and the growing interactions between the birds. I am also always fascinated in tracking some of their huge exploratory flights across England and Europe and their ultimate return back to the Isle of Wight.” 

“We have seen from other reintroduction programmes that returning lost species offers real benefits for the health of our environment, and to people and local economies. None of this would be possible without the support of many people and I would like to thank everyone who has helped us again with this year’s release and ongoing monitoring of the birds.” 

Steve Egerton-Read, White-Tailed Eagle Project Officer, Forestry England, said: “Over the last three years we have closely tracked the progress of these incredible birds. It’s been brilliant to see how well they are fitting into the landscape and we are hopeful that before too long they will breed in England again.” 

“It’s been particularly rewarding to hear from people across the country who are delighted to have seen the birds in their local area. It’s still a real thrill for me to see these incredible birds in the skies above the Isle of Wight and I look forward to the day that they are re-established right across southern England.” 

The reintroduction of white-tailed eagles is being conducted under licence from Natural England, the Government’s wildlife licensing authority. All of the young birds involved in the project are collected under a NatureScot licence from the wild in Scotland and brought to the Isle of Wight.  

Natural England Chair, Tony Juniper, said: “Today’s release marks another important milestone on the road toward the restoration of these magnificent birds as a breeding species in England. I’m so encouraged to see this project go from strength to strength, with this third release enabling white-tailed eagles to strengthen their foothold on the Isle of Wight.” 

“We will continue to work closely with Roy Dennis and his team, Forestry England and various stakeholders to ensure this project serves as a guide for further successful species reintroductions in England, which are a vital part of achieving our overarching goal for nature recovery.”

This year the project again received valuable support from pilot Graham Mountford, and his daughter, Helen, who flew a cohort of birds south from the Outer Hebrides in his plane, thereby greatly reducing the transit time for the birds. 

The Isle of Wight was chosen as the location to reintroduce the white-tailed eagles, also known as sea eagles, as it offers an ideal habitat for these coastal loving birds with plentiful sources of food in the surrounding waters. It also offers a central position on the south coast allowing the birds to disperse and link with other populations in Scotland, Ireland and on the continent.

A comprehensive feasibility study and public surveys were conducted prior to reintroduction and a steering group made up of local organisations and members of the community are helping to guide the project. 

Watch out for a comprehensive update on the recent movements of the birds released in 2019 and 2020 on our website in the coming days.

Poole Harbour Ospreys 2021

2021 is proving to be an encouraging year for the Poole Harbour Osprey Project, which we run in partnership with Birds of Poole Harbour and Wildlife Windows.

The long term aim of the project is to restore a population of Ospreys on the South Coast of England, where they have been absent for 200 years. This involves the translocation of young from nests in Northern Scotland. You can learn more about the project in our podcasts here.

Young Ospreys usually return to the UK for the first time in their third calendar year, and so this spring we were hopeful we would see some of the birds released in 2019 back in Dorset for the first time. Satellite tracking studies have shown that young Ospreys wander widely when they first return, but they usually visit their natal site (which in the case of the translocated birds is the release site) at some point during their first summer back in the UK. A key part of this behaviour is to prospect potential breeding sites, and, as a result, young birds often intrude at active nests. The movements of satellite-tagged male Rothiemurchus when he first returned to Scotland in 2011, is a good example of just how far young birds wander before they establish their own nest site.

In the early years of colonisation, it is usually males who establish territories, before attempting to attract a mate, but the difference for any returning male to Poole Harbour this year, was the presence of an unpaired female. CJ7 fledged from a nest in Rutland in 2015 and has returned to the Poole Harbour area each summer since 2017. It seems that the presence of translocated juveniles in the area has been a key factor in her settling in Dorset. She paired with a translocated bird, LS7, in 2019 but sadly the young male failed to return from migration last spring. Unperturbed, CJ7 has remained faithful to the same artificial nest for the past two summers and has laid unfertilised eggs on each occasion, demonstrating her eagerness to breed.

As those of you who have watched the Birds of Poole Harbour live stream this summer will know, there was great excitement on 18th May when CJ7 was joined at the nest by 022, a male that we had translocated from a nest in Strathspey in 2019. The two birds paired up immediately, and were seen mating regularly. It is highly unusual for two year-old Ospreys to breed, but we were hopeful that CJ7 may lay eggs in late May. That did not happen, but the two birds have remained together since, and, assuming they both return from migration, we are hopeful that they will attempt to breed next spring. What is not so certain is with nest they will choose – in recent weeks they have been seen at various artificial nests around Poole Harbour, and have been interacting with this year’s newly-released juveniles, even perching on nests with them.

022 (left) and CJ7 on the nest
The two birds began mating almost immediately

Whilst the key long-term aim of the project is to restore breeding Ospreys to the South Coast of England, early evidence is showing that this new population will also help to link different populations of Ospreys. The presence of translocated birds in and around Poole Harbour has led to CJ7 taking up residence in Dorset, while a female that we translocated to Poole has bred successfully in Wales for the first time this summer. 014, a female released in 2018 has bred for the first time this year at a nest at Pont Croesor in the Glaslyn Valley near Porthmadog in North Wales. She raised a single male chick (ring number 494), with a four-year-old male, Z2 or Aeron, from the Cors Dyfi nest in mid-Wales. Meanwhile a second female, 019, released at Poole Harbour in 2019, was also seen in Wales earlier this summer. She was captured on camera when she visited the nests in the Glaslyn Valley on 5th June. This was the first sighting of her back in the UK, although she was seen on a number of occasions at Gunjur Quarry in The Gambia during her first winter and again in March this year. She was subsequently seen at Cors Dyfi further south in Wales on 30th June and possibly again on 5th July. This demonstrates how widely young birds wander when they first return; helping them to develop important knowledge of where other Ospreys are breeding. It will be very interesting to see if and where the young female appears next spring. Research has shown that male Ospreys typically breed close to their natal site, but females often disperse further, and so it is possible that 019 may follow 014’s lead and also return to Wales in future years to breed. Or should another translocated male return and set-up territory at Poole Harbour, we may yet see her back in Dorset.

019 at Gunjur Quarry in The Gambia in January 2020 (photo by Chris Wood)

A key element of the project at this early stage is the continued release of young birds, and during July we translocated a further ten juvenile Ospreys from nests in Moray and Highland. The young Ospreys are collected under a special licence issued by NatureScot from broods of two or three and then held temporarily at Roy Dennis’s home near Forres, before being transported by road to Dorset. You can hear more about our work collecting Ospreys by listening to one of our podcasts from 2019 here.

Once the birds had arrived at Poole Harbour on 15th July they were immediately moved into holding pens and monitored by the Birds of Poole Harbour team. CCTV cameras enable the birds to monitored closely during this period and released when appropriate. The first five birds were released on 2nd August with the remaining younger birds making their first flights ten days later.

Two of the translocated juveniles feeding after release. Magpies often take advantage of a free meal at the release site too.

The post-release period is critical in the imprinting process because it is when the young Osprey learn that Dorset is home. They generally remain close to the release pens for the first ten days, before venturing further a field and exploring the wider landscape. Fresh fish is provided by the team on a daily basis in order to replicate what happens at natural nests, and so even when the young birds make longer exploratory flights, they usually return in the evening to feed. Most young Ospreys do not catch their own fish until they depart on their first migration, and so the fish provided by the project team is essential in helping the birds to get into the best possible condition for the long flight south.

In the last few days the juveniles have been seen in the presence of CJ7 and 022. At Rutland Water there were instances of non-breeding adults feeding translocated juveniles, and we wonder if that may be repeated in Dorset this summer. Both 022 and CJ7 tolerate food-begging juveniles perching on artificial nests with them, and it will be interesting to see if they respond to the incessant food-begging, by providing fish. Regardless, the presence of the young birds will further strengthen the very strong bond that both CJ7 and 022 already have to the area.

Translocated juvenile 375 food begging to 022 (left) and CJ7 on an artificial nest at Poole Harbour

This year’s juveniles are likely to remain at Poole Harbour until early September before setting off on their first migration. An excellent way of seeing them before they depart is to join one of the Birds of Poole Harbour Osprey cruises. You can find out more here.