My new book Cottongrass Summer is published 16th July

This spring and summer has seen the most spectacular display of cottongrass sedge in the Scottish Highlands – whole vistas of snowy cottongrass heads blowing in the wind. Here near my home the moors, which suffered a severe fire and were blackened last spring were respledent in white, as though a late snowfall had covered the ground. In the forest bogs the scene was equally beautiful and one day in July I stopped to photograph acres and acres of white on the hill road from Altnaharra. Locals have all been talking about it and trying to recall early years of such beauty. My new book starts with a chapter about the importance of cottiongrass in northern Scotland and explains how the plant can be an indicator of ecological renewal or the opposite of over-grazed land. I am delighted with the production of the book by Sara Hunt of Saraband Books and also by the first reviews.

Specially signed copies can be purchased here and may be paid for by bank transfer, cheque or paypal. 

I hope you enjoy it and if you do please buy one for a friend.

Staying local

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

G393 and G318

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

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

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

G274 and G324

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Eagle explorations

The satellite data continues to provide a fascinating insight into the movements of the four juvenile White-tailed Eagles that we released on the Isle of Wight last August in partnership with Forestry England. While two of the birds, G318 and G324, have remained in their favoured areas in the North York Moors and the Isle of Wight respectively, the two male birds, G274 and G393, have continued to explore since our last update. Here is an account of these most recent travels by Tim Mackrill.

G274

In our last update we reported that G274 had flown 163 km (100 miles) west along the South Coast from the Isle of Wight during the afternoon of 15th April. That night he roosted in woodland near the Exe Estuary, and at first light the next morning he flew back along the coast to Sidmouth and spent an hour perched in trees at Sidmouth Golf Course, perhaps looking for rabbits, which we know constitutes a key part of the diet of the young eagles. At 09:00 he resumed his journey, flying north over Honiton at an altitude of 320 metres at 10:45 and then pausing for 50 minutes beside some small lakes near Rawridge. He crossed into Somerset at 13:00, and 40 minutes later was over the M5 approaching Taunton at an altitude of 559 metres. He skirted around the east side of the city and then continued on a north-easterly track, passing low over Avalon Marshes and then across the west side of Westhay Moor NNR in the Somerset Levels – undoubtedly a potential future breeding area for White-tailed Eagles.

G274 made a distinct turn to the east-south-east upon reaching Cheddar at 15:40, pausing for 25 minutes a short while later, and then crossing into Wiltshire at 17:45. He eventually settled to roost in Southleigh Wood to the south of Warminster at 19:15 after a day’s flight of 150 km (93 miles).

G274’s change of direction in Somerset indicating he was heading back to the Isle of Wight, and on the morning of 18th April he left his roost south of Warminster at 05:40 and again headed south-east along the Wylye valley. However, the weather was poor and G274 spent much of the day perched in two different arable fields between Warminster and Salisbury, perhaps having found some carrion. When he eventually settled to roost in woodland just to the north-west of Salisbury, he had only flown 18 km (12 miles). Remarkably he spent the night 1 km from a favoured roost site of G318 during her stay in Wiltshire in March.

Next morning G274 continued south-east towards Salisbury, passing to the west of the city at 07:50 at an altitude of 123 metres. He crossed into Hampshire and then spent two hours perched beside the River Avon at Fordingbridge from 09:50. When he resumed his journey, G274 zig-zagged his way across the New Forest, generally flying at altitudes of between 150 and 300 metres. He passed over Brockenhurst at 14:36 and then crossed the Solent from Lymington back to the Isle of Wight half an hour later. That night he roosted in one of his favourite woodlands after a day’s flight of 96 km (60 miles), having flown 427 km (265 miles) on his four-day exploration around the south-west. It is very significant that he again returned to the Isle of Wight after this long flight – indicating that he now regards the Island as home.

G274 flew 427 km (265 miles) around south-west England from 15th-18th April

G274 has remained on the Isle of Wight since, and both he and G324 have again been seen hunting mullet in one of the estuaries on the Island. Studies of White-tailed Eagle diet around Europe demonstrate that they preferentially take fish when they are available and it is encouraging to see G274 behaving in this way. There is no doubt that the estuaries around the coast of the Isle of Wight, and in the wider Solent region, will provide a valuable food source for the eagles in years to come.

G393

Unlike G274 who has returned to the Isle of Wight after his flights around south-east and south-west England, G393 has been much more nomadic, spending the winter in Oxfordshire and then wandering widely across England in recent weeks.

In our previous update we reported that the young male roosted near Needham Market in Suffolk on the evening of 15thApril. He remained in the local area until 11:00 the next morning and then headed north-west, passing over Bury St Edmunds at an altitude of 372 metres at 12:06. At 13:51 he was over the Ouse Washes at Manea – flying at an altitude of 124 metres – and half an hour later he returned to the Nene Washes, a superb RSPB wetland reserve that he had visited briefly two days earlier. He remained there for the rest of the afternoon, having flown 98 km during the course of the day.

G393 flew from Needham Market in Suffolk to the Nene Washes near Peterborough on 16th April, a flight of 98 km (61 miles)

G393 remained at his roost site until 10:50 on the morning of 17th April, before flying a short distance to March Farmers on the Nene Washes, where large numbers of wintering wildfowl were still lingering. He spent an hour there before heading east along the washes. At 14:20 he was seen circling high and then drifting west by Charlie Kitchin, the RSPB Site Manager, and the satellite data shows he continued west across Peterborough, passing just to the north of Ferry Meadows Country Park at an altitude of 803 metres. He then settled for the night in Castor Hanglands – a large woodland a few kilometres to the west of Peterborough.

G393 has begun his first moult – with an obvious gap in his inner secondaries (photo by Tim Melling)

After a run of fine weather, rain on the morning of 18th April meant that G393 remained in the Castor Hanglands area all morning. He moved 4 km north-west as the weather cleared around midday and was perched in an arable field to the east of Wittering for just under two hours from 12:20, where he may have found some carrion. From there he flew a few kilometres north to a woodland near Stamford, and roosted there.

G393 was active soon after first light on 19th April and made a short flight to Burghley Park on the outskirts of Stamford. He then headed slowly west through Rutland, passing over the North Arm of Rutland Water (where he spent two nights in early April) between 11:00 and 11:20, before flying north-west over Melton Mowbray. Interestingly, we later learned from Josh Jones at Birdguides, that another White-tailed Eagle – which had been heading north from Peterborough – made a sudden change of course when it was over West Deeping. At this point it was less than 32 km (20 miles) east of G393, suggesting the sight of another eagle may have instigated its shift of flight track to the west. This second bird was likely one of the various immature White-tailed Eagles present in southern England during March and April.

At 13:18 G393 was flying a north at an altitude of 395 metres over Holme Pierrepont beside the River Trent on the east side of Nottingham. With a stiff easterly wind for encouragement, he continued north-west through Nottinghamshire and then Derbyshire, passing over Sutton-in-Ashfield at an altitude of 1051 metres at 14:30 and then skirting around the east of Chesterfield half an hour later at a lower altitude of 255 metres. He continued on across the Peak District, passing over Ladybower reservoir at 15:45, and then over Glossop 40 minutes later at an altitude of 421 metres. He continued flying until 18:50 when he eventually settled to roost on a wooded hillside in the north of the Peak District, having flown 188 km (117 miles). He has remained in the Peak District since, and his satellite data provides a fascinating insight into his minute-by-minute movements. It will be very interesting to see how long G393 remains there. If the past few weeks are anything to go by, it may not be that long.

G393 flew 188 km (117 miles) from Stamford in south Lincolnshire to the northern Peak District on 19th April

In addition to the movements of the Isle of Wight birds, there have been further sightings of other White-tailed Eagle that are likely birds from continental Europe. It seems probable that both G393 and G318 have recently encountered other eagles in Cambridgeshire and North Yorkshire respectively and another immature White-tailed Eagle was photographed near Preston yesterday. A key aim of the Isle of Wight project is to help link up the expanding White-tailed Eagle populations in continental Europe with those in the Isle of Wight as well as Scotland and Ireland, and it is very encouraging to see the upturn in sightings this spring. The satellite data is shedding new light on how young White-tailed Eagles learn the landscape and it is quite clear that the other eagles being seen across England are behaving in a very similar way to the Isle of Wight birds. If you are fortunate to see a White-tailed Eagle over your home or garden then please report it using our online form, but please do remember to stay at home at the present time.

G393 flew from Suffolk to the Peak District between 16th and 19th April

Eagle wanderlust

The country may be in coronavirus lockdown, but thanks to the vigilance of birders watching the sky from their gardens there have been numerous sightings of White-tailed Eagles in many parts of England in the last week. The latest satellite data shows that some, but by no means all, of these sightings relate to birds that we released on the Isle of Wight in August 2019, in partnership with Forestry England. Here, Tim Mackrill summarises the recent movements of the four translocated birds.

G393

In our last update we reported that G393 flew north to the North York Moors on 5th April. We now know that he remained in the area for six days. During this period, the young male spent most of his time in the north-east of the National Park, but on 7th April he and his compatriot from the Isle of Wight, G318, flew to the coast together. They spent four hours exploring a 12 mile stretch of coastline between Whitby and Saltburn-by-Sea and were perched together on arable fields near Skinningrove for approximately two hours from midday. When G393 few back inland to the moors the next day he was photographed by Emma Thurlow.

G393 was photographed in the North York Moors by Emma Thurlow on 8th April

On the morning of 12th April , G393 headed west across the northern moors, and then turned south-west aided by a strong north-easterly wind. He was photographed by Nathaniel Dargue as he passed to the west of Thirsk at midday and, at 13:45, he crossed the west part of Leeds at an altitude of 667 metres. An hour later he was over the northern Peak District near Holme at an altitude of 687 metres. He passed over Torside Reservoir and then Glossop at 15:00, where he was seen distantly. He continued south-south-west for another hour before arriving in Macclesfield Forest where he roosted having flown 174 km (108 miles) from the North York Moors.

G393 headed south next morning at 06:40, passing to the west of Leek at 08:05 and then over Stafford at 09:20, where he was seen in flight. He made fast progress south in a strong north-easterly wind, and at 10:50 he was just 5 km north-west of the centre of Birmingham at an altitude of 491 metres. However, rather than flying directly over the city, he double-backed and skirted around the east side, passing over Sutton Coldfield and then pausing for a break for half an hour in a small wood near the village of New Arley, west of Nuneaton. When he resumed his journey, G393 flew around the east side of Coventry and then over Draycote Water at an altitude of 576 metres at 15:05. He continued flying until 16:20 when he was perched in a small wood in farmland near the village of Maidford in the south of Northamptonshire after a day’s flight of 185 km (115 miles).

G393 skirted around the east side of Birmingham on 13th April

G393 was present around Maidford until 10:30 on 14th April, when he headed north-east along the Nene Valley. He was photographed by Steve Fisher over his Irthlingborough garden at 13:00, shortly before flying low over Stanwick Lakes, and then over Titchmarsh Nature Reserve at an altitude of 300 metres, half an hour later. After skirting around the southern part of Peterborough, G393 arrived in Nene Washes RSPB reserve at 15:50, and lingered there for an hour, perching on the marshes for at least half of that time. However, at 17:00 he took off again and headed east, passing to the north of Wisbech at 17:50 at an altitude of 241 metres. He continued flying until 19:05 when he settled to roost in a woodland near Marham in West Norfolk having covered 147 km (91 miles) during the course of the day.

On 15th April G393 set off at 10:10 and headed east. Two hours later he was just north of Dereham flying at an altitude of 252 metres, and then turned to a south-easterly heading, passing over Wymondham at 13:10 (413 metres altitude) and just south-west of Bungay (356 m) at 14:25 where he was seen being mobbed by four Buzzards. At this point G393 made a distinct turn to the south-west, following the course of the River Waveney almost as far as Diss, before heading south for another 29 km (18 miles) and roosting near Needham Market after a day’s flight of 127 km (79 miles). Interestingly, he is now following a very similar route to G324 when she flew south through East Anglia last week (see below). Will he follow suit and return to the Isle of Wight?

G393 has flown 633 km (393 miles), from North Yorkshire to Suffolk, in the past four days.

G318

G318 has remained in the North Yorkshire Moors since arriving on 5th April. She visited the coast with G393 on 7th April but then frequented a relatively small area in the northern part of the National Park for the next week, with a longer flight across the moors on 15th April. Her satellite tag is providing valuable data throughout the day on her movements.

G324

G324 has generally been the most sedentary of the four birds since release, but on the morning of 4th April she crossed the Solent and, with a brisk southerly wind at her back, she passed Winchester at 13:00. Two hours later she was flying north-east through Cambridgeshire at an altitude of 720 metres and that night she roosted in arable farmland just north of Lakenheath Fen RSPB reserve in south-west Norfolk after a flight of 245 km (152 miles). Next day she continued north-east for another 64 km (40 miles) and reached an area of private land close to Cley on the North Norfolk coast. She remained in that area on the morning of 6th April, but set off south soon after 13:00 and was photographed as she flew over Bungay on the Norfolk-Suffolk border three hours later by Peter Randall. She flew another 18 km (11 miles) south before roosting in a small wood near the village of Peasenhall in Suffolk, having flown 80 km (50 miles) during the course of the day.

G324 about to be dive-boded by a Buzzard over Bungay on 6th April (photo by Peter Randall)

On 7th April G324 recommenced her journey south just before 10:00 and was seen and photographed by Ellie and Justin Zantboer as she passed over their Ipswich garden at 12:15. She continued to make leisurely progress south and arrived at Abberton Reservoir at 15:00, before roosting just to the south-west after a day’s flight of 71 km (44 miles). Next morning G324 remained at Abberton until 10:00 when she continued south-west. Three hours later she was just south of Basildon at an altitude of 150 metres and approaching the River Thames. She crossed the Thames at Grays and then passed to the east of Dartford and Orpington before roosting in woodland to the west of Biggin Hill having flown another 79 km (49 miles) south-west.

It was now clear G324 was heading back to the Isle of Wight and, after spending the morning around the woodlands to the west of Biggin Hill and Tatsfield she headed south-west and three hours later she was over Hambledon in Hampshire, around 13 km (8 miles) north of Portsmouth, flying at an altitude of 62 metres. She perched on the shore of the Solent at the mouth of the Beaulieu River for some time that evening, before crossing the Solent back to the Isle of Wight before dark, having flown 121 km (75 miles) from Biggin Hill.  This meant she had flown 660 km (410 miles) during the course of her six-day return flight to North Norfolk.

She has remained on the Isle of Wight since, often with another of the translocated birds, G274. These two birds also spent much of the winter together. Encouragingly the two birds have been seen hunting mullet in at least two of the estuaries around the coast of the Isle of Wight.

G324 flew 660 km (410 miles) in six days, to the Norfolk coast and back to the Isle of Wight.

G274

Having completed a 523 km (325 mile) tour of south-east England from 1st-4th April, G2-74 remained on the Isle of Wight until 15th April. During this period, he has generally favoured coastal areas and was seen hunting mullet in at least two of the estuaries. On 15th he crossed the Solent from Yarmouth to Lymington at 13:05, and then headed west along the south coast, passing over Poole Harbour at 14:05 at an altitude of 160 metres and then over Weymouth at 15:30 where Joe Stockwell filmed him flying past his house.

 

G274 flew across Poole Harbour and then continued west along the coast (GPS fixes – blue squares – are every five minutes)

G274 continued to follow the coast to the west of Weymouth, passing over Bridport at 15:10 at an altitude of 332 metres and then passing to the north of Lyme Regis and Sidmouth. At 17:12 he was perched beside the River Otter near Colaton Raleigh and he remained there for 25 minutes before continuing south-west and then settling to roost near the Exe estuary. He had flown 163 km (101 miles) along the coast in less than six hours. It will be very interesting to see whether he continues west, or returns back towards the Isle of Wight.

G274 flew 163 km (101 miles) west along the South Coast on 15th April

As we reported in our last eagle blog, these exploratory flights are a vital part of the way young White-tailed Eagles learn the landscape. Although it is well known that the young eagles can be very nomadic in the first two years of their life, the satellite data is providing a remarkable insight into their movements and navigational capabilities. It is no coincidence that the birds tend to choose the best days to make their big moves – preferring a tailwind and clear skies.  It is also revealing that four satellite-tagged birds of the same age in the Netherlands have been behaving in a very similar fashion in recent weeks. Continental White-tailed Eagles continue to be seen in England too. For example, a bird photographed over a Worcester Park garden in south-east London on 13th April, was definitely not a bird from the Isle of Wight – and most likely one that had wandered across the North Sea. Similarly, a bird seen in County Durham on 10th April and then in the Yorkshire Moors the next day could not be linked to the movements of the two Isle of Wight birds present in North Yorkshire at the time.

We are delighted at the interest shown in the satellite data, and we will continue to publish regular updates on the movements of the birds while there are interesting flights to report. We do, however, have to be mindful of not disclosing the location of birds when they are on private land or sensitive sites, and for that reason it is usually necessary for the data and maps we publish to be historic and low resolution. We are sure you appreciate the reasons for this. What the data does show is that the birds can turn up anywhere, so keep your eyes to the skies when you’re at home in the coming weeks. If you are lucky enough to see an eagle from home, please send us details of your sighting using our online form.

The recent flights of G393 (orange), G324 (pink) and G274 (yellow). G318 is still in the North York Moors.

 

My 60th Anniversary of Ospreys

Today, 8th April 2020, is the 60th anniversary of my first ever sighting of an osprey. I was a week into my new work as warden at the RSPB’s Operation Osprey at Loch Garten in the Scottish Highlands. Each day we waited for the pair’s arrival after their previous year’s successful rearing of three young. It was a very exciting time, but also an anxious one, for this was the only nesting pair.   8th April was cold and grey, and it was raining on my early visit to the still-empty nest. I returned to the forward hide in the early afternoon and checked the eyrie with my binoculars, then scanned the old trees dotted across the peat mosses. And there he was, perched on a branch of an ancient pine, preening his wet feathers. To me he was fantastic – he had just winged in from a 3,500-mile migration flight from Africa. I’ve just checked my diary – ‘after an hour of preening, he carried a dead stick to the nest at 3.35pm, and in quick succession five more, snapped in flight from nearby trees. He rearranged his old nest before leaving to fish at 3.50pm’. I hurried back to our camp to phone the news to George Waterston at the RSPB in Edinburgh.

The nest at Loch Garten

The female arrived ten days later and they went on to rear two more young for the fledgling osprey population in Scotland. They were seen that year by thousands of visitors to Loch Garten – one of the world’s first public viewing sites of a rare breeding bird. It was also the start of my life’s involvement with these beautiful fish-eating raptors, which have contributed so greatly to my enjoyment and involvement in nature. This afternoon I had planned to visit Loch Garten and walk up that long familiar track to view the ancient nest tree – now long-dead but standing, with the present osprey eyrie in the tree next door. But Loch Garten is out-of-bounds in these worrying days of the pandemic. I’m fortunate that I will likely see an osprey passing our house today from one of the local eyries. Early this morning, on my laptop, courtesy of a webcam, I watched the female on a nest at Poole Harbour. Reminding me of the male at the Loch Garten nest in April 1960, she was staring up into the skies looking for her mate, hopefully the male which she met last summer, coming in en route from West Africa. He’s a bird we translocated from the Scottish population to Poole Harbour in 2017; she, in turn, is descended from ospreys moved to Rutland Water from nests in northern Scotland.

Once we get an all clear and are free again to travel, I’ll make a pilgrimage to that special Scots pine at Loch Garten.

Meanwhile, watch out for more osprey news on our first podcast of 2020 – coming soon! You can listen to all our previous podcasts here. 

Eagle wanderings

We may be living in very strange times, but it is reassuring that the natural world continues as normal. As I write four newly-arrived House Martins are zipping around over my back garden and I only have to log on to the web to watch a pair of Ospreys already incubating eggs at Rutland Water.

Thankfully technology is also allowing us to keep track of the movements of the four juvenile White-tailed Eagles that we released on the Isle of Wight last summer, in partnership with Forestry England. After a winter when all four birds were extremely sedentary, often living in very small areas and proving highly elusive, the recent longer days and warmer weather has prompted a clear shift in behaviour. All four of the birds have started wandering away from the places on the Isle of Wight, and Oxfordshire/Buckinghamshire that they favoured in the winter and their satellite transmitters have proved invaluable in monitoring these movements and understanding how young White-tailed Eagles learn the landscape.

G393

Perhaps unsurprisingly G393, the male eagle who spent the winter in Oxfordshire and Buckingham, was the first to make a significant move. On 20th March, six months after arriving in Oxfordshire, he flew 71 km west, aided by a stiff easterly breeze, into Wiltshire and roosted in an area of woodland between Swindon and Malmesbury. Next day he was on the move again and headed north-west, flying at altitudes of up to around 500 metres towards the Severn Estuary. He paused for over two hours at Slimbrdge WWT reserve and then headed across the estuary to the Forest of Dean where he was seen by a number of observers, including Ed Drewitt who photographed the bird passing over his garden. That night G393 roosted in a wood beside the River Wye in Herefordshire having flown another 80 km during the course of the day.

G393 flew from Oxfordshire through Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire on 20-22 March

The young eagle meandered 26 km north along the Wye and the Lugg valleys in Hereforshire on 22nd March, but then made a much more concerted move the next day, flying 97 km north-east to Staffordshire, flying at relatively low altitudes for much of the day, but apparently going unseen. He remained in Staffordshire until the morning of 2nd April, favouring an area of woodland near Keele and making only short local movements during the day, likely feeding on carrion and rabbits; behaviour much more reminiscent of how he had spent the winter.

After a week in Staffordshire G393 headed east on 2nd April, skirting around the north side of Derby and then the south-west of Nottingham, again flying at altitudes of less than 200 metres. At 15:50 he was at an altitude of 400 metres directly over Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire and half an hour later he arrived in the North Arm at Rutland Water.

Rutland Water is a place certainly capable of supporting breeding White-tailed Eagles in the future, and G393 spent all day there on 3rd April, favouring a small area in the North Arm near Barnsdale, where he was seen chasing Egyptian geese. In the Netherlands the goslings of feral geese are a favoured food item, and the birds are also capable of catching sick or injured adults.

After a day at Rutland Water, a stiff southerly wind encouraged G393 to head north again at 10:30 on the morning of 4th April. He headed north-east through south Lincolnshire, and at 13:40 was just west of Mablethorpe. He then followed the coast north and was photographed by Owen Beaumont from his garden near Louth at around 14:25. Eventually G393 stopped 10 km south of Grimsby in an area of scattered trees and woods, having flown 80 km since leaving Rutland Water.

After some short local movements, G393 resumed his flight north at 09:30 yesterday, crossing the Humber from Barton-on-Humber at 10:20. An hour later he was perched in a wood north of Beverley. From here it seems certain that he caught sight of another of the Isle of Wight birds, G318, who was passing to the west, because the two birds then flew north together for at least the next 17 kilometres. While G318 paused in an area of woodland, G393 continued north into the North Yorkshire Moors and eventually settled to roost in an area of woodland in the east of the National Park having flown 123 km.

After spending a week in Staffordshire, G393 (orange line) flew to Rutland Water on 2nd April and then north through Lincolnshire on 4th. That same day G318 (blue) followed a remarkably similar route north through Lincolnshire and both birds roosted just south of Grimsby.  The next day they flew north together for at least 17 km through Yorkshire.

G318

G318 was undoubtedly the most sedentary of the three birds that spent the whole of the winter on the Isle of Wight. In February, for example, she lived in an area of less than 1km². However, that changed on 16th March when she crossed the Solent and flew north-west across the New Forest to north-east Dorset. She spent all of the next day in a wooded area near Sixpenny Hendley, and then made her way slowly north into Wiltshire on 18th.  After two days in an arable area west of Salisbury, G318 flew to the Wiltshire-Somerset border near Longleat on 21st March and next day she completed an amazing 101 km circuit of Somerset. She passed over Westhay Moor in the Somerset Levels at around 9:00 before continuing west, almost to the coast. After pausing in an arable field east of Burnham-on-Sea she headed north towards Weston-super-Mare and then east over Banwell and Sandford. At 14:40 she was just 3.5 km south of Chew Valley Lake, flying south-east at an altitude of 432 metres. Two hours later she was back on the Wiltshire border.

Female eagle G318 flew a 101 km circuit of Somerset on 22nd March

After her excursion around Somerset, G318 returned to the arable area west of Salisbury and remained there until 31st March, likely feeding on carrion with the local red kites and favouring a small area of less than 1 km². She made a return flight back to the Somerset border on 31st March and 1st April and then next day flew 56 km north-east to Berkshire. After spending all day in arable fields between Newbury and Hungerford on 3rdApril, a stiff southerly breeze encouraged G318 to head north at 11:00 on 4th.  By 14:00 she had already flown 104 km and was passing just to the east of Daventry at an altitude of 521 metres and at 14:20 she was a few kilometres west of Rutland Water at an altitude of 474 metres, the second White-tailed Eagle to be present in the county that day. By this stage G393 had already left Rutland and was three hours and 90 km ahead of G318, but she headed north on a similar track through Lincolnshire and then settled to roost just 10 km north-west of him, in a wood between Grimsby and Caistor having flown a remarkable 263 km during the course of the day.

Yesterday, like G393, G318 also continued north, crossing the Humber at Winteringham at midday and then joining up with her compatriot from the Isle of Wight just north of Beverley. She paused in a wood near North Grimston for an hour in the early afternoon, but then resumed her flight across Yorkshire and arrived in a Forestry England woodland in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park just before 16:00 having flown 108 km.

G274

Male G274 is another of the birds that remained on the Isle of Wight throughout the winter, other than for a six-day excursion into the South Downs and New Forest from 8th-13th February.

Like the other birds, G274’s behaviour began to change in mid-late March and on 27th he crossed the Solent and completed a 125 km circuit of the New Forest and River Stour valley before returning to the Isle of Wight. Then on 1st April he again headed across the Solent, from Culver Down to Hayling Island, and flew east along the Sussex coast, passing over Bognor Regis, Worthing and Brighton, at altitudes of 500-600 metres. Once east of Brighton G274 cut inland, passing to the north of Eastbourne at 14:45 and then heading north-east, just inland from the coast, crossing into Kent at 16:00 and eventually settling to roost in a Elhampark Wood, a Forestry England woodland near Stelling Minnis, after a day’s flight of 225 km.

Next morning, on 2nd April, G274 flew south-east to the coast at Dover and was perched on the shore for an hour from 8:30 to 9:30, perhaps eating. He then followed the Kent coast north and again paused on the shore at Sandwich and Pegwell Bay NNR for over two hours from 11:20. When he resumed his journey G274 headed west, skirting around the north side of Canterbury and the roosting in woodland 6 km south-west of Faversham having flown 103 km during the course of the day.

On 3rd April G274 reached a maximum altitude of over 100 metres as he resumed his journey west, passing to the south of Gillingham and then north of Sevenoaks and Reigate and then on across the woodlands of the North Downs in Surrey. When he settled to roost, he had flown 106 km during the day.

It was now apparent G274 was on his way back to the Isle of Wight, and sure enough, when he set off at 08:10 he headed purposefully south-west, despite a stiff headwind. Four hours later, he had covered 63 km and he was flying at an altitude of 37 metres over Hayling Island. He then headed back across the Solent and returned to one of his favoured areas of the Isle of Wight. He had flown 524 km.

G274 completed a 524 km loop around south-east England between 1 and 4 April

G324

As Project Officer, Steve Egerton-Read reported in his December blog, G324 spent all winter on the Isle of Wight, often in the company of G274. Her first flight away from the Island was a brief two-day excursion into Sussex and Surrey, but after roosting in woodland near Goodwood on the night of 25th March, she returned to the Island the next day. However, on the morning of 4th April she crossed the Solent and was photographed by Amy Robjohns from her garden near Fareham. A brisk southerly wind appeared to be encouraging G324, and she passed Winchester at 13:00. Two hours later she was flying north-east through Cambridgeshire at an altitude of 720 metres and that night she roosted in arable farmland just north of Lakenheath Fen RSPB reserve in south-west Norfolk after a flight of 245 km. Yesterday she continued north-east for another 65 km and reached an area of private land close to the North Norfolk coast.

G324 was photographed by Amy Robjohns over her garden on 4th April

 

As this report shows, the data we receive from the satellite transmitters provides a fascinating insight into the movements of the young eagles during a period that is key in them learning the landscape. Interestingly, the recent explorations of the Isle of Wight birds mirror the behaviour of four satellite tracked juveniles in the Netherlands, who have dispersed into Belgium, France and Germany in recent weeks. You can view that data on a fantastic interactive map, here. Young White-tailed Eagles are known to explore widely in their first two years, before usually returning to their natal area (or in the case of the Isle of Wight birds, the release site) as they approach breeding age. This is exemplified by the fact that, at present, there could be as many as four or five continental birds wandering around the UK, including a metal-ringed bird that is thought to be from Sweden. It is possible that this particular individual has been present since winter 2018/19 when it was seen in the New Forest and other sites in Hampshire. What our satellite data can’t show us is whether the Isle of Wight birds have encountered any of these individuals on their travels – but it certainly seems likely.

The young eagles have wandered widely since late March

It Is going to be very interesting to follow the young eagles progress over the coming weeks, and we will be providing regular updates on their movements. We are also working to collate sightings of continental birds to try and determine exactly how many of these birds there may be around southern and central England at present. With this in mind, if you are lucky enough to see a White-tailed Eagle over your garden, please send us the details using our new online reporting form. Given the way these birds readily travel over towns, villages and even cities, there is a chance of seeing one wherever you live – so keep looking up, but please do stay at home and stay safe.

New Year in Senegal

The latest satellite data shows that juvenile osprey, Deshar, is still settled on the Senegal coast. Over the past month she has favoured the same 10 km section of coastline, spending the vast majority of time on two peninsulas, some 5 km apart. This is an area favoured by many wintering ospreys, but the fact that Deshar is still there shows that she is holding her own amongst adult birds; some of whom will have been returning to the same area for many winters.

Deshar has spent the past month living on a 10 km section of the Casamance coastline in Senegal.

One interesting feature of this latest satellite data is how far she is travelling out to sea. During the winter ospreys will generally catch one or two fish every day, and the satellite data indicates that Deshar normally catches her fish close to the shore. However she has flown between 5 and 10 km out to sea on at least eight occasions during the last month. Ospreys tend to prefer to fish in shallow water, so perhaps she is visiting shallow off-shore reefs? It will be interesting to see if this behaviour continues over the coming weeks.

Don’t forget you can follow all of Deshar’s movements on our interactive map.

Catching-up before Christmas

I’m sorry I haven’t written a blog for three months, but this past autumn saw me very busy at my desk and I’m delighted to say that I’ve finished writing two books. Collins is publishing the first next summer and it’s a big, exciting book about all the reintroductions, translocations and species recovery projects that I’ve been involved in over the last six decades: sea eagles, red kites, ospreys, red squirrels and a range of other birds and mammals. It’s been fun to rake through my diaries, field notebooks, papers and photos to tell an intriguing story of successes and, sometimes, failures. The shorter book is called Cottongrass Summer and is being published by Saraband. It’s fifty-two essays about nature conservation seen from the inside in an uncertain world. Much of the time, as I wrote, I also watched the antics of the local red squirrels collecting nuts in the hazel trees below me, often burying some in the garden. From the same window, I now see a beautiful ermine (white stoat) nosing around the woodpile. More often she raids the bird table for scraps, in fact she’s surprisingly vegetarian for a stoat. We also hear her footsteps, for she lives in the roof space of our front room.

Looking back on the summer it was really exciting that we could start the reintroduction of white-tailed eagles to the Isle of Wight and also have a really successful third-year with the osprey translocation to Poole Harbour. Of course it’s the birds themselves which are markers of success. I’ve just looked at the satellite data and seen that three of the sea eagles are living on the Isle of Wight and one is in Oxfordshire. Two of the eagles on the island, a male and female from different locations, are always together and acting like a young pair. If they survive they could easily stay together to breed, but it’ll be a four-year wait – fingers crossed. It’s been great to watch people in southern England learn about sea eagles in their midst; despite their massive size, they are so unobtrusive. Perching in trees after a meal is what they do most of the day, but sometimes they soar and fly in view. It’s been great to see the beautiful photographs that some photographers have sent in – especially the pair flying over the Solent with the female carrying a small branch. They’ve also been making life more interesting for the local buzzards, crows and jackdaws, and in Oxfordshire the sight of a sea eagle followed by a gang of red kites is something special. Let’s hope the eagles are as successful as the kites we reintroduced.

Two of the Isle of Wight eagles earlier this autumn – male G2-74, and female G3-24, have spent much of the past three months together (photo by Nick Edwards)

With the Dorset ospreys, I was thrilled to bits when the guys from Birds of Poole Harbour reported the return of one of the young males translocated in 2017. At just two years old he was an early returner and he was in luck, because a young female osprey was summering at Poole Harbour and had been visiting osprey nests built in the area by the team. They stayed together for the rest of the summer and also took a great interest in the eleven young ospreys, translocated from the Scottish Highlands, once they had been released. This female had behaved in the same way with the previous years’ young and I’m sure these interactions are important for establishing new populations. The 2019 cohort were released in great condition, which should have helped them migrate all the way to West Africa. It was sad that a fox killed one a few days before it was due to leave, but that’s nature. Unlike the sea eagles, the ospreys disappear for the winter, and it’ll be very exciting to see if the pair survive their migrations and return next spring. That would be a landmark, and we should see other translocated young return to Dorset.

LS7 and CJ7 on an artificial nest at Poole Harbour this summer. We hope they will return to breed in 2020.

Both projects are aimed at restoring iconic species to the lands where they once lived but, as ever, I love the way these projects bring together great teams of people. The yearly sea eagle project starts with those who monitor nests in Scotland and let me know of suitable young. Then it’s collecting time, with Tim, Ian and Fraser climbing trees and cliffs, followed by the safe transport of the eaglets to the Isle of Wight, where our colleagues in Forestry England, Steve and Leanne, take over, helped by a group of enthusiastic volunteers. With the ospreys the southern part of the project is carried out by Paul and Brittany of Birds of Poole Harbour, again helped by a local dedicated team of helpers. This year my wife, Moira, has produced twelve podcasts of our fieldwork – it’s great listening. You can listen on our website here, or subscribe/download on all major podcast platforms.

Our Foundation receives some very superb support from donors to carry out these exciting projects but to maintain our vision we need donations – large and small. As a starter in 2020 we aim to translocate 12 young sea eagles to the Isle of Wight and 12 young ospreys to Dorset. Please help if you can, either by writing to us direct or by donating on our website.

This week we can help you if you are still thinking what to buy a friend for Christmas. Why not send us a charitable donation in their name? We’ll do the rest. Click here to make a gift donation and order your card.

Wishing you a Happy Christmas and an excellent New Year

Roy

Deshar still in Senegal

Over recent weeks, our satellite-tagged juvenile female osprey, Deshar, has remained on the coast of Senegal. In fact between 19th October and 23rd November she was extremely sedentary, spending the vast majority of her time on the same peninsular in the norther part of the Casamance River Delta, that she had favoured since early October. Google Earth imagery indicates that the peninsular is fairly well vegetated, meaning that Deshar was able to roost there each night and then spend much of the day perched on the sandy shore with one or two flights out to sea each day to catch fish.

Deshar was extremely sedentary during October and much of November

On 23rd November she flew just under 20 kilometres south to the mouth of the Casamance River and spent several days exploring the northern and southern shore. These exploratory flights are an important part of a young osprey’s first winter in West Africa – helping them to learn the landscape and decide where is best to settle for the winter.

In late November Deshar spent just over a week at the mouth of the Casamance River, moving between the north and south shore

On 2nd December Deshar flew back north and returned to her favourite spot on the peninsular and the latest data shows she’s still there. It is encouraging she’s gone back there – and indicates that she is not being chased away by adult ospreys, which is one of the key challenges juvenile ospreys face after arriving in West Africa for the first time.

Deshar’s GPS fixes over the past six weeks

You can also check out Deshar’s movements on our interactive map.

Deshar settled in Casamance

One of the challenges for young Ospreys when they first arrive in Africa, is finding somewhere safe to spend the winter, and, crucially, where they are accepted by the wintering adult birds. The most recent satellite data show that Deshar appears to have done just that. She has spent the vast majority of the past fortnight living along a sandy spit in the Northern part of the Casamance River Delta. In fact she is just three miles south of an area that we know was frequented by another of the Ospreys we satellite-tagged in Scotland – Jules.  We know that  is a superb place for wintering Ospreys.

The satellite data indicates that the young female is spending most of each day perched on the sand, fishing in the sea at least once daily and then roosting in vegetation on the spit.  Last winter Joanna Dailey, from the Kielder Osprey Project, visited this part of Senegal and sent us some photos which show the spit just to the north. Joanna saw a large number of Ospreys in the area, demonstrating that it is an excellent location for Deshar to have settled. Let’s hope she stays there.

Deshar has been living on a sandy spit in the Casamance River Delta.

A photo of two Ospreys on a spit immediately to the north of Deshar’s favoured area. This was taken by Joanna Dailey during a visit to Senegal last winter.

Deshar has been spending most of her day perched on the sand – just the link the bird in this photo, taken by Joanna Dailey last winer, which is perched on a stump.

Don’t forget you can also check out Deshar’s latest movements on our interactive map.