Lifetime achievement award for Roy Dennis

We are delighted to report that Roy’s inspirational work with birds of prey has been recognised with a lifetime achievement award from the Raptor Research Foundation (RRF).

The Partners for Raptors Lifetime Achievement Award honours outstanding individuals who have dedicated their lives to raptor research and conservation. These notable awardees are recognised for their significant contributions to the study and conservation of birds of prey, as well as their outstanding achievements gained through innovative field work, impactful collaborative partnerships, and a lifetime of inclusive interactions with their peers and the public focused on raptors.

Roy’s award was announced at the Raptor Research Foundation’s recent annual conference, held in Albuquerque in New Mexico. The Foundation’s Zoe Smith, who is the Director Outside North America for RFF, was there to talk about Roy’s work. Click play on the video below to see RRF President Rob Bierregaard and Zoe introduce Roy’s award, as well as Roy’s acceptance speech which he recorded at home in Moray.

Roy with his award from the Raptor Research Foundation

A tribute to John Love

Roy Dennis was at John Love’s funeral in Inverness yesterday, 6th November. There was a big turnout of family and friends, his colleagues in nature conservation and sea eagles, and many islanders from the Hebrides. His family asked Roy to give the tribute to his friend at the service. It is printed in full below.

We have lost a dear friend; we have lost a true Highlander – a genuinely lovely person – a naturalist, historian and story teller. And the Sea Eagles have lost their long-standing champion.

I first met John when I was in my 20’s at Loch Garten and he was a schoolboy birdwatcher in Inverness; ever since he’s been a friend, our meetings might miss a year but any new conversation we had was as if we had met the previous evening! He was kind and thoughtful and valued his friendships with people in nature, history, culture, music, and especially with islands.

John ran the sea eagle reintroduction project on the island of Rum from 1975 to 1986; a tremendously exciting venture but we must remember his day-to-day hard work of finding food for the birds, cutting it up and taking it to the remote cages, often in the worst of weathers. Of course there were the highlights of the year – of visiting his friends in Norway to collect the young eagles, flying with them on the RAF Nimrods back to Scotland, exploring the islands searching for the first breeding pair – I remember a week sailing around Skye, the small isles and the Shiants on a yacht (amazingly paid for by the government) with John and his colleagues Morton Boyd, Peter Tilbrook and Martin Ball of the Nature Conservancy.

His two superb books – The Return of the Sea Eagle and later A Saga of Sea Eagles – are  testament to his hard work, enthusiasm, research and his ability as an author. He wrote other books including about Rum and the Natural History of Lighthouses. He was often involved with tv, radio and newsprint on a subject they often knew little about and he helped them get good stories; I remember him telling me about a newspaper reporter who phoned ahead to ask if John ‘could be photographed with an eagle chick perched on his finger!’

We sorely miss John but for me, and I’m sure John’s other friends, when next and whenever we see sea eagles in the sky we will remember him – a lasting memorial above our heads. Thank you, John.

John Love (right) with Roy Dennis at a sea eagle nest at Bodo, Norway, June 1984

Podcast with John Love from 2019

You might also like to listen to our podcast, recorded in 2019, in which Roy Dennis and John Love discuss the early days of the Scottish reintroduction.

First white-tailed eagle in 240 years fledges in England 

In a landmark moment for conservationists, the first white-tailed eagle for over 240 years has fledged from a nest in the wild in England. The chick is the first successful breeding attempt of the white-tailed eagles released by Forestry England and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation’s project to return this lost species to England.

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. Human persecution caused their extinction with the last pair breeding in southern England in 1780. In 2019, Forestry England and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation began a reintroduction programme to restore these iconic birds to the English landscape.

Two of the birds released by the project in 2020 – female G405, originally translocated from the Outer Hebrides and male G471, from north-west Sutherland – reared the male chick earlier this summer. The location of the nest, on private land with no public access, is not being disclosed for the welfare of the birds and to prevent any disturbance to them or the landowner either this year or if the birds return to breed at the same location. 

The chick was ringed and fitted with a satellite tag by licensed ornithologists from the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation enabling the project team to track this historic bird’s daily progress through its life. 

Roy Dennis MBE, Founder of the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, said: 

“This is a very special moment for everyone who has worked on, supported and followed this ground-breaking project. Restoring a breeding population in southern England, where the species was once widespread, has been our ultimate goal. Many thought it was impossible but we knew food for eagles – fresh and salt water fish, cuttlefish, rabbits, hares and wild birds – was plentiful. I visited the Isle of Wight as a young birdwatcher in the 1950s, saw the last breeding location at Culver Cliff and knew they should be restored. It is early days, but this is a very significant milestone and we are heartened by the enthusiastic support shown by so many people and that the sight of these huge eagles in the sky inspires hope for restoring nature. We still have a long way to go, but the feeling of seeing the first pair reach this stage is truly incredible.” 

The birds are one of three territorial pairs that have now become established in southern England and the first to breed. 

Steve Egerton-Read, White-Tailed Eagle Project Officer for Forestry England, said: 

“We are thrilled that this moment has happened and at such an early stage in the project. At only three years old, it is remarkable that the pair have successfully bred, with most white-tailed eagles not attempting to do so until they are at least four or five. This pairs’ ability to breed and fledge their chick at this early age is extremely encouraging.”

“It is really hard to put into words just what an incredible moment this is for the return of these iconic birds to England. It is evidence of just how well the eagles are starting to fit back into this landscape and how, with a little help, nature can begin to return and thrive. Although it has not been possible to set up a public viewing site at this location, we are hopeful that one of the other pairs that has become established in southern England will choose to nest in a location that we can share with the public in future years.”  

To date, 25 white-tailed eagles have been released by the reintroduction project with 16 still surviving. A further release of young white-tailed eagles is planned for later this summer from the project team’s base on the Isle of Wight. 

The reintroduction of white-tailed eagles is 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.

The White-tailed Eagle chick in the nest prior to fledging (RDWF)
The chick was fitted with a satellite tag prior to fledging (Forestry England)

A Who’s Who of White-tailed Eagles at Poole Harbour 

Over the last year Poole Harbour has become a hotspot for White-tailed Eagle activity. The vast natural harbour provides rich forging opportunities throughout the year with abundant supplies of fish, including Grey Mullet, as well as waterbirds, and many quiet areas to perch. We have been particularly encouraged that three-year-olds G463 and G466 have become established as a pair, and up to six other birds have been regular visitors over the past twelve months. Here is a brief overview of each of the birds, and also where best to see them, by Tim Mackrill.

G463 and G466

Male G463 was originally translocated to the Isle of Wight from Sutherland in North-West Scotland in 2020. After spending his first winter near Chard in Somerset, G463 crossed the English Channel in early April 2021 and spent seven months exploring Netherlands, Germany and Denmark, favouring many areas with expanding White-tailed Eagle populations. G463 made the return journey across the English Channel in November that year and then spent the majority of the winter in East Anglia, favouring parts of North and West Norfolk and also the Suffolk Coast. During his time in Norfolk, G463 lost the lower part of his right leg, as reported in our blog in January. Despite this, G463 appears to have adapted well, and again crossed the Channel in early April before summering in mainland Europe; returning to many of the sites he had first visited the previous year, and also making a short flight into southern Sweden. 

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

Despite the fact that he would have encountered many White-tailed Eagles during his travels in mainland Europe, the draw of returning to the South Coast clearly proved very strong and G463 headed back across the English Channel on 22nd September last year.  He then spent time in favoured areas in East Anglia and Somerset, before finally returning to the Isle of Wight on 9th January, after more than two years away. He first visited Poole Harbour on Boxing Day, and has been present there almost continuously since late January, when he first encountered G466. 

Female G466, was also translocated to the Isle of Wight in 2020, from a nest near Uig on the Isle of Skye. After spending her first winter on the Isle of Wight, G466 flew north to Scotland the following spring, and then spent the rest of the year in Caithness in Sutherland. She eventually returned to the Isle of Wight in February 2022, but then flew north again on 5th April, and like G463, returned to many of the sites she had favoured the previous summer, including Cape Wrath, the most north-westerly point of mainland Britain. She flew south again in late September and after visiting various sites on the South Coast, she became a regular at Poole Harbour from 20th November, appearing to displace another female, G801, who has been resident over summer 2022 (see below). 

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

G466 was joined by G463 on 20th January, and the two birds have been together on an almost daily basis since. Their favoured area, which covers approximately 125km², is centred on the Wareham Channel at Poole Harbour, and stretches south to the coast at Kimmeridge, where the satellite data indicates they catch fish off-shore, and also Wareham Forest to the north. The birds have made regular courtship flights in recent months, flying in tandem across much of this area. It is clear that they are now a pair, and we are hopeful that they may try and breed as early as next spring. 

G466(right) and G463 (with a Carrion Crow for size comparison) have paired at Poole Harbour. This brilliant photo, by Mark Wright, was taken from a boat trip run by Birds of Poole Harbour.


Female G801 was translocated to the Isle of Wight in 2021 from the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. She spent much of her first winter on the Isle of Wight, but also visited Hampshire and Dorset. As the days began to lengthen, she made longer exploratory flights into Surrey and Sussex during February and then west to Devon and Cornwall during March.  G801 returned east to Poole Harbour on 19th March, and became a regular in the Wareham Channel during April. On 4th May she set off on another longer exploratory flight, heading east to Kent where she was seen at Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory. She then followed the East Anglian coast north before continuing through Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, reaching Saltburn-by-Sea on the Cleveland coast, on 9th May. After a few days in the nearby North York Moors, she headed south again, stopping at Middleton Lakes near Tamworth from 15th-23rd May before returning to Poole Harbour on 27thMay. 

G801 spent the rest of the summer at Poole, again favouring the Wareham Channel, where she was regularly seen from the Birds of Poole Harbour’s excellent boat trips. She also visited the coast at Kimmeridge. However once G466 became resident at Poole Harbour, as described above, she seems to displace the younger female, who moved to Cranborne Chase, another area that is favoured by the young eagles. Nevertheless, G801 continues to make regular visits to Poole Harbour, most recently on 21st May. 

G801 spent most of summer 2022 at Poole Harbour, but now seems to have been displaced by G466 (photo by Mark Wright)

G812 and G486

Male G812 was translocated from the Isle of Lewis in 2021.  He has remained in southern England since release, favouring an area that extends from Poole Harbour in the south to Cranborne Chase in the north. He has formed a close association with female G486 who was translocated from the Isle of Mull the same year. The female has been more nomadic, visiting East Anglia during July 2022, Colliford Lake on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall from 11th December – 26th January, and then various South Devon estuaries in late January and early February this year. She returned to her favoured areas in North Dorset on 9th February and she and G812 continue to visit Poole Harbour, often together. 

G812 has favoured Dorset since release in summer 2021 (photo by Jamie Randall)
G486 has been a regular in Dorset, but has also spent time in East Anglia, Cornwall, and Devon (photo by Jamie Randall)


Another 2021 male, G816, who was translocated from the Isle of Lewis, has also remained in southern England since release. He is a regular visitor to Poole Harbour, and also spends time on the Purbeck coast at Kimmeridge, the Isle of Wight, in south Wiltshire and Cranborne Chase. During the early part of 2023 he began to associate with 2021 female G818, but the female, who was also translocated from the Isle of Lewis, has since flown north to the Cairngorms, where she spent much of summer 2022.  


Female G318 is one of three surviving birds from the first release in 2019. She remains unpaired and somewhat nomadic, but was a regular visitor to Poole Harbour in 2022 when wandering away from her favoured areas in Cranborne Chase and the Avon Valley. She has spent the past two summers in the Peak District and recently returned north to the same favoured area near Howden Reservoir on 24th May.  

Female G318 has spent most of the past year in Dorset, but has recently returned to the Peak District for the third successive summer (photo by Jamie Randall)

Where to view White-tailed Eagles at Poole Harbour?

White-tailed Eagles can be encountered just about anywhere in and around Poole Harbour but there are a few particularly good spots to try:

  • The new Ham Common Viewpoint offers panoramic views along the Wareham Channel and the areas often favoured by G463 and G466. More details here:
  • Arne RSPB reserve offers an excellent chance of seeing White-tailed Eagles, with the Hyde’s Heath trail and Coombe Heath viewpoint the best places to try. 
  • Birds of Poole Harbour run boat trips throughout the summer, and often get excellent views of White-tailed Eagles from on board. For more details check out the Birds of Poole harbour website:  

Thank you

Sincere thanks to everyone who has been in touch to report sightings or sent photos of eagles either from Poole Harbour or 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, 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.

A Transatlantic Flight

Ospreys have been colour-ringed in the UK since the early days of the Scottish recovery in the late sixties. This has provided a wealth of valuable data on natal and breeding dispersal, longevity and, perhaps most excitingly, migratory movements. As someone who is privileged to ring Osprey chicks every year, I know what a thrill it is when a bird you have known as a nestling is seen on its wintering grounds having completed its first migration. Each winter we receive numerous reports of UK Ospreys from wintering sites in West Africa and Iberia, and as the organisation responsible for coordinating the UK colour ringing project, it is always pleasing to be able to pass these sightings onto the relevant ringer. We have received some very interesting re-sightings over the years, from a bird that returns to winter on the Canary Islands each year, to others which have migrated as far south as the Ivory Coast and Ghana. However earlier this month we received what is undoubtedly the most remarkable record of all.

A few weeks ago Michael St John got in touch with photos that he had taken on 9th March of a first-winter female Osprey with a blue-colour ring on its left leg. Nothing unusual there until I noticed where he had seen it – Bawdens Irrigation Pond in the north of Barbados in the Caribbean! The ring number was clearly visible – KW0, which indicated it was a bird from Scotland. Michael had actually first observed the bird six miles away at Fosters private wetland on 25th October 2022, but on that occasion had not been able to read the colour ring. He did, however, take some excellent photos.

KW0 was photographed in Barbados on 9th March (photo by Michael St John)

With an increasing number of Ospreys colour-ringed in the UK each year, and an ever-growing number of Osprey ringers, it can sometimes take a while to track down who ringed a particular bird, but thanks to David Jardine and Hayley Douglas we now know that KW0 is definitely Scottish. It was one of two chicks ringed on 23rd June 2022 at a nest in Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park which lies in Renfrewshire, Inverclyde and North Ayrshire, by the Clyde Ringing Group (Iain and Madonna Livingstone, Kevin Sinclair and Paul Baker). They were assisted by staff from Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park who have supported Osprey conservation and monitoring efforts in the area, which are led by Clyde Ringing Group. Roy Dennis visited in 2010 to advise on the location of artificial nests and the first nesting attempt took place in 2017, and successfully in 2018. Last year the two chicks went on to fledge around 29th July, and likely departed on migration in late August/early September.

KW0 was ringed by members of Clyde Ringing Group on 22rd June 2022 (photo by Clyde Ringing Group)
The second chick in the nest, KW1, was also ringed on 23rd June (photo by Clyde Ringing Group)

As far as we are aware, this is the first time that a UK Osprey has been observed in the Americas. It is 4124 miles from Clyde Muirshiel to Barbados. This is the kind of distance that many Ospreys from northern Europe will migrate each year – some Finish Ospreys are known to winter in South Africa, which is considerably further – but of course what makes this record amazing is the fact that the vast majority of the journey is across the Atlantic Ocean.  We know from satellite tracking studies that Ospreys are able to make much longer sea crossings than most other raptors. Their long narrow wings reduce drag and make active flapping flight, which is usually necessary over the open ocean, less energetically costly compared to larger, heavier species. Juvenile Ospreys, which migrate alone, and rely on a process known as vector summation (an inherited programme of distance and direction) to migrate to distant wintering grounds, are particularly likely to make long ocean crossings because, unlike adult Ospreys, they are usually unable to correct for displacement by crosswinds. In other words, if a juvenile Osprey, which is instinctively migrating south-west, encounters strong easterly winds it will drift further to the south-west. This coupled with the UK’s position on the edge of Western Europe means that juvenile Ospreys often fly direct across the Bay of Biscay from southern Ireland or South-West England to northern Spain during their first autumn migration. Others also make long flights from South-West Portugal to North-West Africa. In one exceptional case a juvenile male Osprey, known as Stan, which was satellite-tagged by Roy Dennis in northern Scotland in 2012, completed an amazing eight-day migration to the Cape Verde Islands, situated in the Atlantic, approximately 400 miles off the West Africa coast.  Stan’s flight included a 620 mile crossing from Portugal to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, and then a non-stop 930 mile flight to the island of São Nicolau in Cape Verde. Unfortunately, Stan’s transmitter stopped working eight days later, and we speculated at the time that this may have been due to the fact that he tried to continue on the same south-westerly course and then drowned at sea.

Even Stan’s remarkable migration pales into insignificance compared to that of KW0 who is likely to have flown 3800 miles (6114km) across the Atlantic from South-West Ireland to Barbados. It is highly unlikely that even an Osprey could have completed this in a single flight, even with strong tailwinds, and so it is probable that she took the opportunity to rest on boats, which may themselves have been travelling to the Caribbean from the UK. Other satellite-tagged Ospreys are known to have interrupted their journey in this way in the past. In fact, a satellite-tagged juvenile known as Chip almost made it to the Azores from New Hampshire in this way.  It could be that KW0 stopped-off on the Azores en route to Barbados. One thing we can be certain of is that KW0 must have departed on migration in exceptional condition in order to have survived this remarkable transatlantic crossing.

Having spent at least four-and-a-half months in Barbados, KW0 is clearly very settled at present, and, in fact, may well remain there for the foreseeable future. Young Ospreys usually remain on the wintering grounds for the whole of their second calendar year, meaning that KW0 could linger in Barbados until spring 2024. Quite what happens then remains to be seen. Most Ospreys fly north back towards their natal area during their third calendar year, but clearly that is unlikely to be an option for KW0, who may instead choose to remain on the other side of the Atlantic. Let’s hope we receive further sightings of this remarkable young Osprey in the months ahead.

Tim Mackrill, 24th March 2023

KW0 (above and below) was first observed in Barbados on 22nd October 2022 (all photos by Michael St John)

The Art of the Impossible – White-tailed Eagle and Lynx

I’m sitting in one of my favourite places in our home; a large upstairs window that looks out over the woods and fields. Below me is a small burn running from the hills on its way to the Moray Firth. It’s twisty and there’s a flooded pool where a clear freshwater spring comes out from under the bank, green with watercress planted long ago by the children of my next-door neighbours. It’s a place where the frogs spawn in the spring, and I’ve noticed over the last few days a grey heron has come to stab away. Earlier this evening it was nice to see three pairs of mallard sail in and start dabbling; a sure sign of approaching spring.

The burn takes a turn on the right under the big bank below a grazing field. Along the bank is a big thicket of bird cherry trees, for when bird cherries are crashed down by heavy snowfall they root and spring upwards in a tangled mass. Today’s fresh fall of snow – although only two inches in depth – has whitened the ground below a solitary beech tree growing in the flat area where I know that soon the daffodils will flower.

A local blackbird flies across the clearing to its night time roost in the dense Douglas firs on the other bank, and the dense thicket, the snowy slope and the eeriness of the evening light suddenly makes me think of lynx. I can imagine one slinking out of the thicket to start its night patrol, placing its paws carefully as it descends the bank before jumping the burn into the Douglas firs. She would already know that sometimes there’s a roe deer hiding there or maybe a couple of brown hares from a grazing field behind the wood. From there she can track up through the fields, into the big larch forest and into a wild country of woods, burns and moorland, with no sign of habitation for six or seven miles. Ideal lynx country despite being so close to the town of Forres in Moray.

Thanks to Stephane Regazzoni – trail camera shot French Jura

Maybe a thousand years ago lynx would have travelled the same road at night before they were all exterminated by man. Now when we talk about having them back people say ‘You’re mad’, ‘There’s no room for them now’, ‘They don’t belong’ and ‘We don’t want you messing about with nature’.

Yet as I watch dusk take over the scene my mind is whizzing south to the Isle of Wight where four years ago my Foundation and the government agency Forestry England started a project to restore the white-tailed eagle to the Isle of Wight, where the species last bred in 1780. People said we were mad, that they would chase away all the wildfowl and waders in the Solent, they would kill the red squirrels, that there’s just no room for them now and then anyway they would kill lambs, in fact they’d be a menace.  And, to top it all large eagles will be unable to thrive among the large numbers of people now living in southern England, close to the big cities of Portsmouth and Southampton

How wrong they were. Those eagles which we first released on the Isle of Wight in 2019 followed by more in 2020 and 21 have settled into England as though they had never been away. Most of the time, about 90%, they sit in trees watching what’s going on, and at other times sail on their great wings.  I’ll never forget during the Covid lockdowns the number of times that we received a message from someone imprisoned in their garden, unable to go birdwatching in their local gravel pits or along the shore, who had suddenly looked up and seen a huge eagle flying over on its eight-foot wingspan. They had been so excited and staggered, and they said how marvelous to know, despite living in highly populated areas in England, that they could see such wildness return.

It’s now four years since we started the project. In the early years the young ones explored much of England, some going back to Scotland and one even venturing into mainland Europe, as far north as Sweden. As they matured, they came back home. There are now three pairs of the oldest birds setting up home ranges and thinking of breeding.  They have seen carrying out their spring display of tandem flying, the two huge birds flying a few metres apart, round and round over their favourite place. Some people have been even luckier to hear them duetting in the early morning with their shrill calls. Will the first pair breed this year? We’ll have to wait and see.

It seems only the other day that people said it was impossible. And yet it’s happened, and there’s great enthusiasm for the return of the sea eagle. People say it encourages optimism for the future and hope that we can keep planet Earth inhabitable.

How easily the same could happen to the lynx. In fact, even more easy because they cannot fly away. The view from my window reminds me of places I’ve been in Norway and Slovakia, in Romania and Switzerland where lynx live in similar places hunting roe deer, just as close to farms and rural houses. They are not seen nor heard by people; the only evidence is in winter when their pad marks show up in the snow. They simply fit in with local communities and their ways of life. My local town, Forres, is twinned with a town in Germany called Viennenberg, in the Harz Mountains where lynx have been successfully reintroduced. We should emulate our twin town.  

Once they are back – and I hope that happens in my lifetime – people will ask what was all the fuss about and will, again, appreciate that it is possible to restore wild nature.  Although, unlike the eagles, the lynx will be difficult to see in Britain, people will just find their footprints in the snow and know that the ecosystem has become more whole.

The explorer returns

During the course of the first four years of the Isle of Wight White-tailed Eagle project, which we run in partnership with Forestry England, the young eagles have followed a fairly predictable pattern. They disperse widely during their early years, but then move back towards the Isle of Wight and the South Coast as they approach breeding age. This is demonstrated by the fact that the first two territorial pairs have become established on the Isle of Wight and in the Arun valley in West Sussex, despite the fact that three of the four birds involved spent time in Scotland during their second calendar year. 

The latest bird to return to the Isle of Wight after a prolonged period away is 2020 male, G463. He was the first Isle of Wight bird to cross the English Channel and spent seven months in Continental Europe between April and November of his second calendar year, favouring the Wadden Sea coasts of Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. When he returned he spent the majority of the winter in East Anglia, mainly in north and west Norfolk, but also visiting the Suffolk coast. Later he also re-visited a favoured area near Chard in south Somerset, where he had spent his first winter, but made no attempt to return to the Isle of Wight. 

On 3rd April last year he made a second crossing of the Channel, and returned to many of the locations he had visited the previous summer, and also made a short excursion into Sweden. It was notable that like many of the other young eagles, he was returning to favoured locations first encountered during his initial explorations. 

G463’s movements from 13th October 2020-31st December 2021 (red) and 1st January 2022-9th January 2023 (white)

One of the places G463 re-visited during his second visit to mainland Europe, was the Biesbosch, a large wetland in the Netherlands which supports breeding White-tailed Eagle and Osprey. Whilst G463 was there we received images taken by a local photographer, kindly sent to us by Dirk van Straalen who monitors White-tailed Eagles in the Netherlands. We were very concerned that the photos clearly showed the bird was missing his right leg below the knee. We initially suspected that this was a recent injury, but when we analysed the satellite data it was clear that G463 had been behaving apparently normally for several months; indicating it probably occurred earlier.

The tag’s in-built accelerometer, which provides data on the eagle’s movement, indicates that G463 probably sustained the injury in December 2021 when he was in North Norfolk. White-tailed Eagles favour the sit-and-wait strategy when searching for food, and consequently are are often static for prolonged periods. However, in this case, the data indicated G463 was more sedentary than usual, and so the Foundation’s Associate Ornithologist, Zoe Smith, a highly experienced raptor fieldworker, made a specific visit to try and locate him. The eagles can be very difficult to track down depending on their location, but with the permission of the landowner, Zoe was able to locate G463 perched inconspicuously, and not easily viewed, in a quiet area of woodland. A few days later we were encouraged that he became more mobile again.

In January G463 moved further south and was seen and photographed at various locations in Suffolk, including at RSPB Minsmere at the end of the month. Close inspection of photos taken at the time indicate that the right foot was missing, even though it again went unnoticed. This supports our hypothesis that G463’s period of inactivity the previous month was due to the injury. 

Having sought advice from the project’s vet and raptor expert, John Chitty, it seems that the injury could have been sustained in one of two ways. The first is through loss of blood due to entrapment or entanglement, and the second is through electric-shock, which is known to cause raptors to loose legs in the manner of G463 (see here for some examples).

G463 at Minsmere on 31st Januay 2022 (photo by Rachel Harvey)

Regardless of the exact cause, it appears that G463 has learnt to adapt to living with only one foot. He returned across the English Channel on 20th September 2022 and initially returned to favoured areas in West Norfolk, where he remained until the end of October.  He then made his way slowly south-west to Somerset and spent six weeks in south Somerset, before heading east to Poole Harbour on Boxing Day. Finally, on 9thJanuary he returned to the Isle of Wight for the first time since 13th October 2020. During his 27-month period away – the longest of any of the released eagles so far – he flew over 17,000km and visited seven different countries. 

On his first night back on the Isle of Wight, G463 roosted close to the release area, but like other returning eagles, he had the Island’s resident birds, G274 and G324 to contend with. The satellite data showed they roosted very close to each other that night, and then G463 remained in the local area for most of the next day. However, on the morning of 11th, the tracking data indicates that G463 was seen off by G274 and, after spending two further nights on the Isle of Wight, albeit in areas away from the resident male’s core territory, G463 headed back across the Solent during the afternoon of 13th. He flew north across the New Forest and spent several days near Amesbury in Wiltshire, before heading south-west and returning to Poole Harbour. 

G463 at Chard Junction Gravel Pits on 27th November 2022 (photo by Dave Helliar)

Poole Harbour has become something of an eagle hotspot over the past twelve months and on the morning of 21st January G463 was photographed by John Thorpe, Pete Scott having an aerial tussle younger male G812, who has been a regular visitor to Poole Harbour in recent months. He then spent the rest of the day with 2020 female G466, who returned to the South Coast in early October after spending last summer in northern Scotland, and has been another regular in the area. With both birds now in their fourth calendar year they are reaching the age where we might expect them to pair up and establish a territory, and so it be interesting to see what happens over the coming weeks. We will be paying particular attention to G463 to understand better how he has adapted to living with only one foot. Birds can be remarkably adaptable and there are examples of Bald Eales living with only one foot in North America (see here). The fact that G463 has survived for more than a year, is certainly encouraging. We will be sure to keep you updated over the coming months. 

G463 (below) tussling with younger male, G812 at Poole Harbour. The missing right foot is evident in this photo (photo by John Thorpe)

G463 (below) with G812 (photo by John Thorpe)
G463 at Poole Harbour on 21st January (photo by Pete Scott)

Happy New Year

New Year is a good opportunity to reflect on the last twelve months. Working in conservation inevitably involves highs and lows and 2022 was true to form in that regard. However, we think it is import to focus on the positives, and to consider what can be achieved with our proactive approach to the restoration of nature. 

It is very encouraging to report that two territorial pairs of White-tailed Eagles are now established. G274 and G324 were part of the first cohort of six young eagles released by us and Forestry England, our project partner, on the Isle of Wight in August 2019. They paired up very early, in autumn 2020, and have remained together since. They have become fiercely territorial of two coastal sites on the Isle of Wight and as they approach their fifth calendar year, the two birds look resplendent in near full adult plumage. Project Officer, Steve Egerton-Read, who is based on the Island, has been monitoring the two birds closely, particularly in relation to their diet. Steve’s important work has shown that the two birds readily catch both marine and freshwater fish throughout the year and are also proficient at predating any weak or injured Canada Geese, as well as a range of other bird species, particularly corvids and gulls.  They are also expert at stealing food from other species, including Grey Herons, and Marsh Harriers. We are hopeful that the two birds may show the first signs of breeding behaviour in the spring, and will be monitored closely. 

Elsewhere a second pair of eagles has also become established. G405 and G471, were both released in 2020 and, as we have come to expect, explored widely during their second calendar year. G471 summered in the Southern Uplands in the south of Scotland, while G405 spent time in Exmoor and, later, Bodmin Moor. Both returned to the Isle of Wight and surrounding areas last spring, and met each other in the Arun valley in West Sussex during March. They have been together since, and are a regular sight at Pulborough Brooks and Amberley Wildbrooks. During the cold spell before Christmas the two birds were photographed by Mike Jerome catching carp through a hole in the ice at Pulborough. Our diet studies have shown that fish becomes an increasingly important component of the diet as the eagles become older. 

G405 catching a carp through the ice at Pulborough Brooks (photo by Mike Jerome)
G471 coming in to land next to G405 (photo by Mike Jerome)
The two eagles caught four carp with seemingly very little effort, while Mike Jerome was watching (photo by Mike Jerome)

Although a year younger than the pair on the Isle of Wight, G405 and G471 have become territorial and are showing encouraging courtship behaviour. Indeed, on one occasion they were observed seeing off a compatriot from the 2020 release, female G466, who visited the Arun valley having been chased off from the Isle of Wight by G274 and G324.  Having recently returned from a summer in northern Scotland, the fact that this young female had encountered two eagle territories in southern England would have been a significant experience for her, and it is encouraging that she is now spending much of her time at Poole Harbour. She appears to have displaced a younger female G801, released in 2021, who had become a near permanent resident at Poole Harbour, and has recently been spending time with a 2021 male, G812. 

Poole Harbour has become something of an eagle hotspot over the course of the last year and it has been wonderful that so many people have been able to enjoy seeing the eagles from the fantastic Birds of Poole Harbour boat trips. If you haven’t been on one of these trips, then we thoroughly recommend booking onto one in 2023. You can find more details on the Birds of Poole Harbour website here. We are so encouraged by the enthusiastic responses we receive about the eagles. 

Male G812, photographed from a Birds of Poole Harbour boat trip (photo by Mark Wright)

It is not just White-tailed Eagles that Poole Harbour has become important for in recent years. This summer a pair of Ospreys bred successfully. Male 022, who we translocated to Poole Harbour from the famous B01 nest near Roy’s home in Moray, which has been occupied by successive generations of Ospreys since 1966, reared two chicks with female CJ7 who fledged from a nest near Rutland Water in 2015; the first breeding Ospreys on the South Coast of England for two centuries. It was tragic that one of the young was killed by a Goshawk a few days after fledging, but these are the hurdles in restoring nature – it’s not easy. The remaining juvenile 5H1 departed on her first migration in early September; a very significant milestone for the project we run in partnership with Birds of Poole Harbour. Hopefully, now wintering in West Africa, she will be the first of the new South Coast Osprey clan. The ancient local name ‘mullet hawks’ can be reclaimed.

A close-up view of 5H1 soon after fledging at Poole Harbour (from Birds of Poole Harbour webcam)

Projects to restore lost species like White-tailed Eagles and Ospreys are not a fast process, but events this year give us real optimism for the future. We are very grateful for all the support we have received from many people; from members of the public to farmers who have been excited to see White-tailed Eagles on their land. We have been extremely heartened by messages from people who have been thrilled to see these species back in southern England.

Recently Forestry England repeated the public questionnaire that we ran when we first proposed the project and this showed that the public’s attitude towards the reintroduction of White-tailed Eagles is overwhelmingly supportive, even more so than when our idea was first suggested five years ago (watch out for the full results soon). It was also valuable to know that people are really keen that more reintroductions of lost species are undertaken. In some ways it is clear that the conservation bodies, government and NGOs, are behind the curve and people want us to move ahead more quickly. This makes us even more determined than ever to continue and widen our work and to play our part in the restoration of nature at a time when it is urgently required. We are working on several other ideas for 2023.

A big thank you to everyone who has followed our projects during 2022, reported sightings, shared photos, made donations or sent messages of support. May we wish you all the very best for 2023.

 Roy, Tim, Steve and Zoe

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.

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