Taking ownership

The Isle of Wight Sea Eagles featured in two things that arrived on my laptop today. The first was a video that Steve, the sea eagle project officer, had been given by a fisherman fishing from his boat south of the Isle of Wight.  Looking towards Blackgang cliffs from the Channel it showed a big cloud of gulls milling around after fish over the glassy sea and then one of the eagles flying through them and diving down to snatch fish from the water. This wasn’t a case of perching on a cliff or tree and patiently waiting for a fish to swim in range. This was a conscious decision to fly out over the open sea to hunt fish, encouraged by the swarming gulls.

G274 regularly catches fish around the coast of the Isle of Wight (photo by Ainsley Bennett)

The tracks from the eagles’ satellite transmitters are also showing us their flights out to catch salt-water fish, especially in calmer weather. When they were younger they started to catch grey mullet in estuaries around the Island, but now the older ones, enjoying their second winter, are much bolder and capable of fishing in the open sea.  Even eating small ones while in flight. Last week one of them, G274, flew two-thirds the way across the Solent to fish and then returned to the Island. This behaviour is very important for the future because fresh fish is excellent food to feed any future ‘islander’ eaglets in their nests. 

The second was details of how to buy packs of a lovely Christmas card featuring one of the sea eagles in flight over the Isle of Wight with the distinctive Needles Lighthouse in the distance. It is the result of a competition for young artists organised by the Ventnor Exchange’s Brave Island programme. The winner is Charlotte Parr-Burman and her card design is beautiful as well as very evocative of one of eagles looking out into the Channel for fishing opportunities. And the proceeds from the Christmas cards raise money for the Ventnor Foodbank. Packs of cards can be purchased at their shop in Ventnor or online here.

Charlotte’s winning Christmas card design

For the reintroduction team it’s really great to see how the sea eagles are becoming part of the Island’s life and times. We have also been amazed at the enjoyment expressed by many on the Isle of Wight and across England who have seen one of the huge birds fly over them during lockdown. I love it that communities are taking such interest and ownership in having the sea eagles back home after two centuries of absence.

Happy Christmas and wishing all a better 2021

Waiting for news

In our last update we reported that the satellite-tagged juvenile female honey buzzard from Moray had reached the River Niger in Mali after an 11 day crossing of the Sahara. The last data transmission, at 10:20 on 11th October, showed that she had crossed the river and was perched on the south bank for 30 minutes.

The honey buzzard’s migration to Mali
She was perched on the south bank of the River Niger on the morning of 11th October

Unfortunately, we have received no further transmission from the satellite tag since, but there are reasons to remain optimistic. The satellite tag continually logs and stores data, and then transmits it at pre-determined intervals using the Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) network. This means that in order to transmit data that has been collected, the bird must be in an area with GSM coverage (i.e. within range of a mobile phone mast) at the time of the scheduled data transmission. If it is not, then the tag continues to log and store data and attempts to transmit again at the next scheduled time. It was for this reason that we did not received any scheduled updates as the bird crossed the Sahara between northern Algeria and the River Niger in Mali. It was only once the bird arrived in an area of GSM coverage close to the River Niger, that we finally received details of its Sahara crossing.

After reaching the River Niger in Mali on 10th October, we expected the bird to continue south the next day. We received the scheduled transmission at 10:20 that morning, but not the next one at 17:20 that evening. This suggests that the bird continued south sometime after 10:20 and then roosted in an area with no GSM coverage. Looking at a map of the sparse GSM coverage in Mali (see below), and taking into consideration that the tag was performing normally and battery voltage was high, this certainly seems a plausible explanation.

GSM coverage (purple shading) is very patchy in Mali, and probably explains the lack of recent data (source www.gsma.com)

The question is, where is she now? Based on her south-westerly trajectory between 6th and 10th October, it is likely that after leaving the River Niger on 11th, she continued on a south-westerly heading towards the tropical forests of Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liberia or Burkina Faso which she could conceivably have reached within three-four days, based on the average daily distance she had covered while crossing the Sahara (250 km per day). One of two English juveniles we tracked in 2003 wintered in the coastal forests of Liberia, while Vespa, a Scottish juvenile male we tracked in 2009, initially migrated to Nigeria, before heading west to Liberia. It is quite possible that she has remained out of GSM coverage during this time, and is now in the tropical forests favoured by honey buzzards during the winter, still out of GSM range at the scheduled transmission times.

The honey buzzard (white arrow) appeared to be heading towards the tropical forests in West Africa where other satellite tagged juveniles from Scotland and England have wintered (yellow arrows)

There is a precedent for these kind of data gaps from this region. A Finnish satellite tagged Osprey, Seija, wintered near Lac de Buyo in the southern part of the Ivory Coast during 2014/15, but the Finnish researchers received no data transmissions after 5th October 2014 when the bird was in the south of Burkina Faso, en route to the Ivory Coast. It was not until she flew back into GSM range on her northward migration the following spring that they finally received the missing data, covering the remainder of her autumn migration, and the whole of the winter. It is quite conceivable therefore that, assuming the honey buzzard is still alive – which we think she may well be – that we will not receive any data for some months yet, particularly as she is likely to spend the winter in dense forest. Our hope is that, unlike an adult osprey such as Seija, the young honey buzzard is unlikely to be sedentary for the whole winter, and so may move into an area of GSM coverage at some point. It is also possible, of course, that she has remained out of GSM coverage in Mali.

We will, of course, provide an update as soon as we receive news from the transmitter.

Autumn Explorations

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

2019 Birds

G324 and G274

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

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

G393

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

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

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

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

G318

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

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

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

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

G318 over the Lincolnshire Fens (photo by John Clarkson)

2020 Juveniles

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

G461

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

G471 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

G463

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you help us?

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

Traversing the Sahara

Having negotiated two long sea crossings, including a 28 hour flight across the Mediterranean from the south of France to Algeria, the next challenge for the young honey buzzard on her first migration south from Scotland, was to cross the Sahara. This is one of the hazardous elements of the journey and previous satellite tracking studies have shown that many young raptors perish as they attempt to cross the vast and unforgiving terrain.

The satellite tag, which has enabled us to follow her journey south in such precise detail, logs the bird’s location as regularly as once every minute, and then transmits the data at pre-determined intervals when within range of a mobile phone mast. This meant that as she headed across the Sahara – where mobile phone coverage is patchy at best – it was likely we would have to wait some time before receiving an update on her progress. That long-awaited update finally arrived over the weekend, and we were delighted to see that she had reached the River Niger in Mali, having flown 2678 km across the Sahara in 11 days.

In our last update we reported that the young bird had reached the northern edge of the Sahara on 29th September. She set-out across the desert the next morning and flew 205 km south-east to the Atlas Saharien Mountains, where she roosted at an altitude of 1675 metres.

The honey buzzard spent the night of 30th September roosting at an altitude of 1675 metres.

The next morning, 1st October, she resumed her journey south 1.5 hours after sunrise, at 07:30 GMT. Unlike the previous day she maintained a south-westerly heading all day, reaching a maximum altitude of 1766 metres (above ground level) as she flew across the desert during the afternoon. She eventually settled to roost on the ground at 17:30, having flown exactly 300 km during ten hours of non-stop-flight.

Whilst her course had been directly south-west on 1st October, it was very different the next day. She resumed her journey at 07:45, initially on the same south-westerly heading as the previous day. However at 09:40 she turned and flew 24 km north-west in 2.5 hours, before turning 180 degrees at 12:07 and then flying back in the opposite direction. There is no way of knowing what caused this sudden change of course, but perhaps she encountered other migrating honey buzzards, and joined them? Whatever the case, she maintained the south-easterly heading for the rest of the day before stopping to roost at 17:00. She had flown 183 km during the day, but thanks to two changes of direction, had actually only travelled 92 km south-east from her position overnight.

The honey buzzard flew 182 km on 2nd October, but actually only covered 92 km due to two changes of direction

On the morning of 3rd October, she left her roost site on the desert floor at 08:30 and flew 124 km south-west. At 14:00 she was circling over the remote village of Zaouiet Debagh and at that point changed course to the south-east, flying a further 56 km before stopping to roost at 17:00.

The honey buzzard made a later start the next day, remaining at the roost site until 09:35. When she did resume her journey it was on the same south-easterly heading as the previous evening. By 16:00 she had travelled 174km, and at that point she turned to an easterly course, and continued onwards for another 71km. She eventually settled to roost at 17:30, having flown 245 km during the course of the day, reaching a maximum altitude of 1952 metres during the afternoon.

Unlike the previous two days, the young honey buzzard maintained the same SSE heading throughout the day on 5th October, leaving her roost site at 08:45 and flying 269 km in just under nine hours. That night she roosted on a rocky hillside above what appeared to be an ephemeral river bed.

The honey buzzard roosted on a rocky hillside on 5th October

The next morning she landed beside the river bed for approximately 15 minutes, suggesting it may have contained some water. She then resumed her migration at 08:45.

Conditions must have been favourable for migration because she made excellent progress during the course of the day, flying 404 km on a south-westerly heading. The thermal updrafts were obviously very strong because during the afternoon she was circling up to more than 3000 metres on occasion. In fact as she passed over a mountainous region, she reached a maximum altitude of 3133 metres above ground level.

The honey buzzard flew at very high altitude over mountains during the afternoon of 6th October.
The honey buzzard’s flight from 30th September to 5th October, with overnight roosts shown by the white arrows

She left her roost site at 07:30 on 7th October and again flew strongly south-west, crossing the border into Mali at 12:02, and flying at an average speed of 54 km/h. She maintained the same heading all day, flying at altitudes of over 2000 metres, and eventually settled to roost on the desert floor just before 17:30 having flown 503 km in 11 hours of non-stop migration.

After two very good days of migration, conditions evidently became more difficult on 8th October. She left her roost site at 08:30 and initially flew 54 km south-west. However, she then changed course by 90 degrees, switching to a south-easterly heading at 11:30. She subsequently travelled a further 70 km before stopping much earlier than usual at 15:20. She had flown 124 km at an average speed of 18 km/h, but due to the change of direction, had actually only covered 87 km south from her overnight roost.

It appears from the Google Earth imagery that she may have roosted in a vegetated area – suggesting it may have been possible to find food.

After flying 503 km on 7th October, the honey buzzard managed just 124 km the next day and due to the nature of her flight, actually only covered 58 km south

The suspicion that she may have been able to feed around the roost site was given further credence by the fact that she left much later than usual the next morning, not setting off until 10:10. When she did resume her journey the honey buzzard flew WSW for 169 km before turning to a southerly heading at 16:22. She continued flying until 17:30, covering a further 49km, and thus a total of 169 km during the course of the day.

On the morning of 10th October she left her roost at 09:50, initially flying due south, and then turning to the south-west at 11:00. At 14:35 she was approaching the north shore of the vast River Niger and then, twenty minutes later, was perched on the ground nearby. She remained in the local area for the rest of the day.

After 11 days and 2678 km, she had successfully crossed the Sahara. Her daily distances on each day of the Saharan crossing are shown in the table below.

DateDistance flown (km)
30-Sep205
01-Oct300
02-Oct183
03-Oct180
04-Oct245
05-Oct269
06-Oct404
07-Oct503
08-Oct124
09-Oct169
10-Oct96

Yesterday the young honey buzzard flew across the River Niger just after 09:30 and then perched close to the south bank of the river for the next half an hour.

The honey buzzard remained around the River Niger during the afternoon of 10th October and then all day on 11th.

Having successfully crossed the desert, it will be fascinating to see where the young honey buzzard goes next. It is now a month since she left her nest site in Moray and she has made excellent progress so far. Will she continues south towards Burkina Faso and Ghana, or south-west towards Guinea? We’ll have another update soon.

Flight between 6th and 11th October
The honey buzzard has flown 2678 km across the Sahara in 11 days
The honey buzzard has travelled to southern Mali in a month since leaving its nest site in Moray on 11th September

Amazing flight across the Mediterranean

Wow. In our last update we reported that the juvenile honey buzzard had reached the Massif Central region of southern France, having got back on track after its initial flight east across the North Sea from Scotland to Denmark. We suspected it would continue on a south-westerly heading into Spain and then onwards towards the Strait of Gibraltar, where it would require only short sea crossing to North Africa. That’s exactly what an experienced adult would do, but previous satellite tracking studies have shown that the routes used by juveniles can be much more variable. And so it has proved in this case. The latest satellite tracking data shows the juvenile female has made an incredible 1001 km crossing of the Mediterranean from the south of France to Algeria.

In our previous update rain had halted her progress through France and she spent two days beside the Allier River near Clermont-Ferrand. The weather improved on afternoon of 27th and she resumed her journey south at 12:35, flying an impressive 254 km almost due south in just over four hours, to a wooded area 15 km west of Montpellier.

It seemed that the young honey buzzard was now keen to make up for lost time and she resumed her journey much earlier than usual, at 08:00 the next morning. Forty minutes later she reached the Mediterranean coast, but rather than follow the coastline south-west, as we expected her to do, a strong north-westerly wind of 27 km/h resulted in her heading out to sea.

The wind strengthened and turned more north-easterly as she headed south and, at 13:00, she was flying south over Menorca, having flown 393 km across the sea at a very fast average speed of 87 km/h, at altitudes of between 300 and 750 metres.

The young honey buzzard flew at speeds of up to 87 km/h as she set-off across the the Mediterranean from Montperllier

She did not make landfall in Menorca, and instead continued south-west with the wind now 43 km/h from the north-east. She flew 183 km south-west over the next 2.5 hours at an average speed of 73 km/h and a maximum altitude of 1068 metres.

The wind eventually dropped and turned to the east as the afternoon progressed, and this was reflected in the bird’s flight path. Rather than continuing south towards the Algeria coast, she drifted further and further to the west, flying parallel with the North African coast by evening, but still over 100 km out to sea.

By 20:30 her flight speed had dropped to 23 km/h and she was flying due west, having now flown 746 km across the Mediterranean in 12 hours of continuous flight.

As the wind dropped and turned more easterly the honey buzzard drifted further west, and may have landed on a boat for a short period during the night

She maintained the same westerly heading as darkness fell, and then almost certainly rested on a boat because she only flew 11 km in two hours between 00:32 and 02:33. By 06:32 she had flown 141 km in ten hours overnight.

As dawn broke she made a very definite turn to the south, and then south-east. Despite the fact she was now flying into a slight headwind, she maintained a definite course towards the Algerian coast, flying 115 km in just over six hours at altitudes of between 50 and 200 metres and eventually made landfall at 12:50. By the time reached the Algerian coast between Ouled Boughalem and Tenes, she had flown 1001 km over the sea in a little over 28 hours, a remarkable flight for a young bird on her first migration south.

She changed course at first light on 28th and eventually made landfall in Algeria
She flew 1001 km across the Mediterranean in just over 28 hours

Despite reaching land, the young honey buzzard showed no signs of letting up and she flew a further 160 km south-south-west, before roosting in mountains on the northern edge of the Sahara. She had covered 1180 km since leaving her roost site in France 35 hours earlier.

The honey buzzard flew 1180 km in 35 hours

Yesterday she remained in her roosting area all morning, and then, after an initial movement 10 km north, she flew 60 km south-west through the mountainous Saïda province of north-west Algeria, before roosting in one of the last remaining wooded areas on the north side of the Sahara.

After two very long sea crossings, the young honey buzzard now faces another daunting challenge – her first flight across the Sahara.

The young honey buzzard is now on the northern edge of the Sahara, after flying a further 60 km south-west yesterday
She has made two very long sea crossings, both strongly influenced by the wind, since leaving Scotland

A stop-over in the Massif Central

In our previous update the young honey buzzard was roosting in eastern Belgium, close to the Luxembourg border. She has continued on south-westerly track through France and is now in the Massif Central in central-southern France where rain has interrupted her journey. She has spent the past two days in woodland on the banks of the Allier River near Clemont-Ferrand.

On the morning of 21st September she made short local movements in woodlands close her roost site in eastern Belgium before setting off in earnest at 11:00. Forty-five minutes later she was passing over the town of Bastogne at an altitude of 876 metres and she continued south-west through the rolling hills and forests of the Ardennes over the course of the next few hours before crossing the border into France at 13:35.

Conditions for migration were good with a light northerly wind and warm sunny conditions perfect for the formation of thermal updrafts. At 16:00 the GSM transmitter logged her altitude as 1686 metres as she circled high in a thermal. She maintained an almost perfect south-westerly heading all afternoon and eventually settled to roost in a large area of forest in the south of the Champagne-Ardenne region of north-eastern France, having flown 246 km at an average speed of 33 km/h during the course of the day. Her textbook migration suggests that, by now, she may well have joined other migrating honey buzzards as she heads south.

A light tailwind helped the honey buzzard fly 246 km through the Ardennes and into France on 21st September

On the morning of 22nd September the young honey buzzard made short local movements in the forest soon after first light, and then resumed her journey south at 10:50. She initially flew due south but, after crossing into the Burgundy region at 11:45, she reverted to a more south-westerly heading.  Although she was flying into a light headwind, it was clear the conditions for soaring were again good, particularly during the afternoon when she reached a maximum altitude of 1715 metres.

Conditions for soaring flight were very good on 22nd September, allowing the honey buzzard to circle up to altitudes of over 1000 metres before gliding onwards (flight left to right)

By 15:46 she had flown 107 km and at that point she again turned due south and flew another 63 km before pausing in a forested area in the south of Burgundy for half an hour at 18:00. She then flew another 9 km before settling to roost at 19:00 in an area of forest south of Toulon-sur-Arroux after a day’s flight of 179 km, at an average speed of 24 km/h.    

She flew 179 km on 22nd September

Next morning she moved between small woods in farmland a few kilometres south-west of the roost site, and also landed in fields on several occasions.  At midday she was perched in riverside trees just north of the town of Gueugnon, having only flown 10 km during the morning. She set off again soon afterwards and this time made a more purposeful move to the south-west, skirting around the north side of Gueugnon and then circling up to an altitude of 843 metres. She flew 85 km south-west over the next 3.5 hours, circling up to altitudes in excess of 1000 metres and at 15:30 was crossing the Allier River at Saint-Yorre.

It was clear from her flight altitude that conditions for migration were now deteriorating, and she flew at low altitude for the rest of the afternoon, travelling a further 40 km before settling to roost in woodland close to the Allier River, just north west of the town of Pont du Château and close to the capital of the region, Clemont-Ferrand. She had flown 135 km during the course of the day. 

The honey buzzard flew 153 km on 23rd September

Rain and low cloud meant that the young honey buzzard remained in the same area on 24th and 25th, perching in woodlands on the banks of the river. Better weather is forecast for today, so it will be interesting to see if she continues her journey south. 

The honey buzzard has spent the last two days in woodland on the banks of the Allier River
Flight between 21st and 25th September

We featured the migration of the honey buzzard in our latest podcast. You can listen online below.

Back on track

After a difficult start to her migration when she made a long overnight crossing of the North Sea from Scotland to Denmark, the juvenile female honey buzzard from Moray has made good progress south-west through Europe over the past three days and last night roosted in Belgium, a few miles from the Luxembourg border.

In our previous update the young honey buzzard was flying south over the islands of the Wadden Sea National Park on the Danish coast on the afternoon of 17th September. She crossed the border into northern Germany at 17:50 that evening and then settled to roost in a small wood between the villages of Büttjerbüll and Bordelum very close to the marshes of the Wadden Sea coast, having flown 237 km during the course of the day. 

Next morning she remained in the local area until 10:40, when she resumed her migration, once again following the coastline as she flew south. She made steady progress, and by the time she crossed the River Elbe at 15:10 she had flown 100 km from her overnight roost, flying at altitudes of up to 600 metres.

The young honey buzzard followed the Wadden Sea coastline as she headed south on 18th September

Half an hour later she was circling over the town of Bremerhaven where the River Weser reaches the Wadden Sea, and at this point, rather than following the coastline to the west, she continued south along the course of the river, before eventually settling to roost in a small wood in an agricultural area just north of the town of Brake at 17:37. She had flown 170 km during seven hours of migration, at an average speed of 24 km/h. 

The honey buzzard flew 170 km through north-west Germany on 18th September

On the following morning, 19th September, the honey buzzard left her roost site at 08:40. She crossed over Brake, before stopping again for just under an hour in an area of scattered trees and large gardens just to the south. She was flying again at 09:46 on a south-westerly heading, now diverting away from the course of the River Weser. An hour later she was approaching the city of Oldenburg. She skirted around the eastern side of the city, flying at an altitude of less than 100 metres, as she had done since leaving her roost.

Once past the city she maintained the same south-westerly course as before, likely influenced by an easterly wind of 19 km/h. At 12:37 she was flying at an altitude of 148 metres over the town of Cloppenburg and had now flown 70 km since leaving her roost. 

She continued south-west through Lower Saxony during the afternoon, soaring up to a maximum altitude of 634 metres. By 16:10 she was just five kilometres from the Netherlands border, and half an hour later she was circling over the town of Ahaus in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia in western Germany. She then settled to roost in a small wood a few kilometres south of the town after flying 188 km during the course of seven-and-a-half hours of migration, at an average speed of 25 km/h.

She maintained a south-westerly course throughout the day on 19th September, flying 188 km

Yesteday morning the young honey bizzard remained close to her overnight roost until 10:40 when she set-off south-west again. Her GSM transmitter was now sufficiently charged to enable us to collect 1 GPS fix every minute, which provides a very detailed insight into her altitudinal changes, as well as her route during the day. It showed that for the first 40 minutes she flew at low altitude, often less than 100 metres, but then as the temperature increased and thermal updrafts became available, she began soaring at higher altitudes, initially up to 200-250 metres and then from midday, up to 500 metres. At 12:40 she crossed the River Rhine and had by that stage flown 56 km in two hours since leaving her roost site, aided by a light north-easely tailwind of 14 km/h.

The GSM transmitter, which logged points every minute on 20th September, showed how the young honey buzzard exploited thermal updrafts during her flight south-west that afternoon (note she is flying right to left in the image).

She maintained the same south-westerly heading during the afternoon, and flew directly over the German city of Mönchengladbach between 14:20 and 14:40, flying at altitudes of between 200-400 metres. Then, as she crossed into Belgium at 16:20, the landscape would have begun to change as she approached the Ardennes mountains. She continued on the same south-westerly heading until just before 18:00 when she settled to roost in forested valley 5 km from the border with Luxembourg, having flown 232 km during the course of the day. Her faster average speed of 32 km/h almost certainly due to the north-easterly wind that provided tailwind assistance all day. 

A north-easterly wind enabled her to fly 232 at an average speed of 32 km/h on 20th September

It is now clear that after nine days of migration the juvenile honey buzzard has recovered from the difficult start to her journey, and, aided by helpful north-easterly winds, and perhaps having met other migrating honey buzzards en route, is now almost back on her expected path. She is likely to continue south into France and then Spain before, we hope, crossing the Strait of Gibraltar to Africa.

Returning home

Over recent decades ringing, wing-tagging and, most recently, satellite-tagging has revealed the extent to which young White-tailed Eagles wander during the first two years of their life. These early explorations, before young birds are old enough to breed, are a crucial part of the learning process. Research in Scotland has shown that immature birds frequently venture 200 km or more from their natal nest, but recent advances in satellite tracking have shed further light on the degree of wanderlust some young White-tailed Eagles seem to possess. This has been clear in the explorations of the young White-tailed Eagles from the Isle of Wight, as Tim Mackrill explains.

G324

All four of the White-tailed Eagles that we released on the Isle of Wight in partnership with Forestry England in 2019 have ranged widely during their first year, and none more so than G324. At the beginning of June the young female, who had remained on the Isle of Wight for the whole of her first winter, flew first to Northumberland and then to the southern shore of the Firth of Forth near North Berwich, some 370 miles north of the Isle of Wight. She subsequently spent two months in and around the Lammermuir Hills in East Lothian, favouring the lower slopes of the hills where rabbits are numerous. We wondered how long she would remain in southern Scotland and even whether she might continue further north and encounter other White-tailed Eagles from the Scottish population. Our hope, of course, was that at some point she would return south to the Isle of Wight. Prior to her flight to Northumerland she had only made one six-day excursion away from the Island – to North Norfolk and back – and so we felt it likely she would return at some stage. And that is exactly what has now happened. Earlier today she was seen back at the release site on the Isle of Wight, having flown just under 400 miles south back to the Isle of Wight over the course of the last fortnight.

Having been present in and around the Lammermuir Hills since 28th June, G324 began moving south on 26thAugust. She spent two days six miles south-east of Jedburgh before crossing the English border on 29thAugust and spending much of the day a few miles east of Kielder Water.  Next day she flew another 30 miles south before roosting beside Westernhope Burn in Weardale, County Durham.

It was now clear that the young female was making a determined move to the south and on 31st August she passed Barnard Castle at 1pm and then Thirsk two hours after that, at an altitude of 1200 metres. That night she roosted in a small wood north-east of Boroughbridge in North Yorkshire, having flown 54 miles. Interestingly another of the Isle of Wight birds, G318, who had been present in the North York Moors since 5th April headed west to the Yorkshire Dales that day and passed just to the south of the area where G324 roosted, earlier in the morning (see below).   

G324 flight 26th August – 2nd September

G324 lingered in farmland north-east of Boroughbridge close to the River Swale for the next two days, but then made another concerted move to the south on 3rd September. She was south-west of York at 1pm, flying at just 60 metres and then passed over the River Ouse at Goole shortly after 2pm. That night she roosted in farmland west of Kirton in Lindsey, south of Scunthorpe in North Lincolnshire, having flown 54 miles from North Yorkshire.   

G324 2nd – 5th September

On 4th September G324 flew another 15 miles further south and roosted in a small wood on the north-west side of Lincoln. She continued south the next morning passing through Rutland and then into Northamptonshire, before roosting in Wakerley Great Wood, five miles north-east of Corby. Next morning she was seen soon after leaving her roost – the first confirmed sighting since she had flown south from Scotland – and then she continued south through Northamptonshire and into Bedfordshire. At 12:30 she was seen circling close to Brogborough Lake by Neil Wright and his bother, Paul. They watched her for around 25 minutes soaring in thermals before they lost her from view, heading south. Paul kindly sent us the photo below.

G324 was photographed by Neil Wright in Bedfordshire on 6th September

She then passed over Leighton Buzzard at an altitude of 640 metres at 1:50pm, before continuing south-west through Buckinghamshire and then into Berkshire. She passed to the east of Henley on Thames and eventually settled to roost in woodland in Stanlake Park just to the east of Reading, having flown 80 miles during the course of the day.   

On 7th September she flew another 34 miles further south and then roosted in woodland at Midhurst Common in the South Downs. She remained in the local area all day, and then yesterday was photographed over Meonstoke in Hampshire by Thomas Mills, and was also seen over nearby Lovedean near Waterlooville by Alan Key, as she made her way back to the Isle of Wight.

G324 and three Red Kites over Meonstoke on 9th September (photo by Thomas Mills)
G324 5th -7th September

We wondered whether G324 would visit the release site once she was back on the Isle of Wight, and sure enough, she has been seen there with this year’s released juveniles and G274, this morning by Lucy Allen who has provided some valuable assistance to Project Officer Steve Egerton-Read in recent weeks.

G324 took advantage of a free meal at the release site this morning

It is going to be fascinating to see how G324 behaves over the coming days now she is back on the Isle of Wight. Will she go back to her favourite haunts from last winter, or remain close to the release site with G274 and the 2020 juveniles? Whatever the case, the fact she has returned shows that she regards the Island as home.

G324’s movements since 31st May when she headed north from the Isle of Wight

G274

We reported in our last update that G274 joined this year’s juveniles at the release site as soon as they began flying, and the young male has continued in the same vein in recent weeks. He has visited the release site on an almost daily basis and during this period has been seen catching cuttlefish in the Solent and also black-headed gulls at one of the nearby estuaries. He’s also taken fish put out for this year’s juveniles and often perches with them. Having this more experienced bird with them will provide an excellent learning opportunity for the youngsters, and it will be fascinating to see if they are now also joined by G324. G274 and G324 spent nine months together on the Isle of Wight before the female headed north to Scotland on 31st May.

G274 is an excellent role model for this year’s translocated birds (photo by Pete Box)

G393 

Having spent much of the spring and summer in the North York Moors, G393 flew south to Leicestershire and Rutland in July and then to Norfolk on 1st August. The young male has remained in Norfolk since, ranging fairly widely in the north, and most recently, west of the county. During this period he spent one eight day period at the West Acre estate where a large rewilding project is underway. During a visit to the estate on 1st September in the company of Fraser Bradbury, we found the remains of three Black-headed Gulls and numerous plucked gull feathers underneath a favoured perching location in a group of Scots Pines, close to a small water storage reservoir. Large numbers of gulls congregate on the reservoir on a daily basis and analysis of the satellite tracking data showed G393 spent long periods at the reservoir each day and also in the Scots Pines. It therefore seems very likely that he was catching the gulls – or finding them dead – at the reservoir.

After leaving West Acre, G393 visited the Ken Hill Estate near Heacham. Ken Hill is the site of another fantastic rewilding project and it was excellent to see the bird with Harry and Dominic Buscall and other members of the Wild Ken Hill team during the evening of 1st September. G393 has remained in West Norfolk since, favouring quiet wooded areas, although he made one flight out onto the saltmarshes of the Wash on 6th September and another earlier today. 

G393 at Ken Hill (photo by Tim Mackrill)

G318 

G318 arrived in the North York Moors on the 5th April and during this period she was relatively sedentary, living in quiet valleys and feeding mainly on rabbits. However, she began to range more widely during August and then, on 31st she south towards Wetherby. By 1:30pm she had flown 26 miles south, and at that point she turned to the north-west and headed towards the Yorkshire Dales. Just over an hour later she was over the moors near Lofthouse and that night she roosted in woodland at the north end of Gouthwaite Reservoir having flown 55 miles during the course of the day. Next morning, she headed north-west and flew almost as far as the Cumbria border near Kirkby Stephen. She remained in the local area on 2nd, but then on 3rd September headed east back across the Dales towards Richmond. She has remained in an area just beyond the north-east boundary of the National Park since. Now that G324 has returned to the Isle of Wight, and G393 is in Norfolk, G318 is the most northerly of the four birds released in 2019. It will be interesting to see how much longer she remains in Yorkshire. 

G318 (yellow) and G324 (white) almost crossed paths on 31st August

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A Year on the Wing

Today marks a notable day for the White-tailed Eagle project – it is exactly a year since we released the first six birds on the Isle of Wight in partnership with Forestry England. Four of the young eagles have survived their first twelve months and their satellite transmitters have provided a very detailed insight into their movements. These data, coupled with our own field observations, and those of others around the country, have shown how the young birds are living successfully in the English landscape. Over the last few weeks we have been pleased that one of these birds, G274, has joined the newly-released juveniles at the release site. This is an extremely encouraging sign because this older bird will act as an excellent role model for the youngsters. Here Tim Mackrill describes the recent movements of the four birds. You might also like to listen to our latest podcast in which we look back at the first year of the project.

G274 has only made one six day trip away from the Isle of Wight in recent months (photo by Ainsley Bennett)

G274 

Over the last few months G274 has been very settled on the Isle of Wight, regularly catching Grey Mullet in the estuaries and Rabbits on the downs. He has also been seen catching Cuttlefish just off the coast of the Island twice this week. There has been little incentive for the young male to leave the Isle of Wight as a result, but as the satellite tracking data is showing us, young White-tailed Eagles can be very nomadic and the explorations in their first two years are a key way for them to learn the landscape. 

G274 has made only one prolonged flight away from the Isle of Wight since the end of May. On 20th June the young male spent the morning at Brading Marsh RSPB reserve, and then headed across the Solent at 14:00. He flew 62 miles (100 km) during the course of the afternoon, passing over Chichester and Arundel before roosting for the night in woodland east of Spithurst. Interestingly we received a report of a White-tailed Eagle near Brighton at 13:00 – so it is possible that G274 saw this second bird and flew across the Solent in response.  

Next morning G274 headed south over Barcombe Reservoir at 10:15 and then Arlington Reservoir at 11:30. He reached the coast west of Beachy Head an hour later, and the satellite data indicates he landed on the shore for a few minutes, just west of Birling Gap, before heading north again. He then spent over an hour perched on the Pevensey Levels, east of Hailsham between 13:10 and 14:30. He then headed north to roost in Jarvis’s Wood after a day’s flight of 58 km (36 miles).      

On the morning of 22nd June, G274 flew to the coast just east of Eastbourne and then continued east, skirting to the north of Hastings at 10:45. He was flying low over Rye Harbour Nature Reserve at 11:20 and then stopped just north of the reserve on East Guldeford Level, where he lingered for over four hours. Later in the afternoon G274 meandered further north, passing over Hemsted Forest east of Cranford at 16:50 and then heading east before roosting in woodland in Eastwell Park, just north of Ashford having flown 115 km (71 miles) during the course of the day.  

Next morning G274 headed south-west back to East Guldeford Level where he lingered the previous day. He set-off again at 11:45 and headed north-west along the Kent-Sussex border, almost as far as Bewl Water. He then paused in woodland just west of Stonegate for two-and-a-half hours before continuing further west before settling to roost in Great Home Wood to the east of Burgess Hill having flown 116 km (72 miles) through Kent and East Sussex. 

G274 was on the move again before 10:00 the next morning and flew directly over Burgess Hill between 10:20 and 10:30, flying at an altitude of 223 metres. He then spent the rest of the day in woodlands and fields just to the east of nearby Woodmancote. On 25th June G274 left Woodmancote shortly after 09:00 and headed purposefully south-west. He passed to the north of Worthing and Bognor Regis, generally flying at altitudes of between 200 and 400 metres, and by 11:10 was over the east part of Hayling Island at an altitude of 114 metres. He crossed the Solent soon afterwards and returned to his favoured haunts on the Isle of Wight having flown 85 km (53 miles) in two-and-a-half hours. He had covered a total of 490 km (305 miles) in six days. This was G274’s first major flight away from the Island since April, and it was quite reminiscent of another exploratory flight that he made around south-east England over four days between 1st and 4th April. Like his previous flights to the mainland, the young male’s return to the Isle of Wight, shows that he regards it as home. 

G274 flew 490 km (305) miles between 20-25 June

After his return to the Island G274 returned to many of his favourite haunts, but a notable change in his behaviour occurred in late July and early August. As soon as the first of this year’s cohort of young eagles were released G274 began to make daily visits to the release site, often perching with the young birds and occasionally taking fish left out for them. Young White-tailed Eagles are known to be communal early in their life, and that is evident in G274’s behaviour. This is extremely encouraging behaviour because this older bird will be an excellent role model for the juveniles. For example he has been seen catching and eating Cuttlefish within sight of several of the released juveniles on two occasions this week, and he catches Grey Mullet on an almost daily basis. It is going to be fascinating to see how G274 continues to interact with the released birds over the coming weeks and months. 

G324

G324 was the most sedentary of the birds over the winter and spring. She made one six-day return flight to north Norfolk, but otherwise remained on the Isle of Wight throughout, spending much of her time with G274. Like the young male she was seen catching Grey Mullet in the estuaries around the coast of the Island. She seemed very settled, but then, quite unexpectedly given her previous behaviour, she made a 356-mile two-day flight to Northumberland at the beginning of June. She actually left the Island on 31st May, crossing the Solent to Lymington just before midday and then made fast progress north in a brisk south-easterly wind, passing to the west of Gloucester at 14:30 and then onwards through the West Midlands. She reached Cheshire just before 18:00, having flown 175 miles north from the Isle of Wight in seven hours of continuous flight. Next morning, she was on the move again soon after first light and by midday was already 78 miles north of her position the previous evening, passing just to the east of Morecambe Bay. She then turned to a more north-easterly heading and then crossed the Pennines into Northumberland. She continued flying north-east until around 19:00 when she settled to roost in woodland near the village of Akeld in the north-east of Northumberland National Park having flown a further 182 miles.  On 2nd June she made the short flight to the coast and spent the day around Fenham Flats. Next morning she remained in the local area until early afternoon, when she flew 23 miles south along the coast before settling for the night in woodland beside the River Coquet near Guyzance. On 4th June G324 left Guyzance just before 13:00 and flew 11 miles north-west to an area of scattered woodland near Callay. This is very reminiscent of areas she favoured on the Isle of Wight, and so it was perhaps no surprise that she remained in this area for the week, almost certainly feeding on rabbits. 

G324 flew 357 miles in two days to Northumberland, arriving on 1st June

On 11th June the young female flew a further 6 miles west and then spent the next two weeks in the Cheviot Hills. Interestingly this is close to an area where an Irish White-tailed Eagle summered last year, before returning to Ireland in the autumn. 

After a fortnight in the Cheviots, G324 headed 55 miles further north on 26th June and roosted in woodland close to the south shore of the Firth of Forth, just to the east of North Berwick. Next day she was seen near Dirleton by Andy Bevan and his family with a second bird that Andy thought may have been a second White-tailed Eagle. That night she roosted in farmland just south of the coast, before heading further south next day.  

She has remained in the Lammermuir Hills area since and even spent at least one day in the company of one of the young eagles released by the South of Scotland Golden Eagle project. It is clear that, like the birds in the North York Moors, G324 has been predominantly feeding on rabbits during her stay in northern England and southern Scotland – preferring to spend her time in valleys on the edge of woods, rather than on the open moors.  It will be fascinating to see how long she remains there before heading back south.

G393 

In our last update we reported that having spent most of May at different sites in the North York Moors, male G393 and female G318 began spending time together from 27th. That pattern continued throughout June and early July, and apart from occasional days apart, the two birds were together for six weeks. They favoured one particular valley where rabbits are abundant and this excellent food supply probably explains why the two birds were so sedentary during this period.  

G318 (above) and G393 spent six weeks together in the North York Moors (photo by Simon Elliott)

From 8th July G393’s behaviour began to change, and he started to range more widely in the North York Moors, flying almost to the coast at East Row just north of Whitby on 11th. On 19th he made another flight to the coast, this time at Runswick Bay, before heading purposefully south. By 4:35pm he had flown 65 miles and stopped beside the River Derwent near Ellerton, 10 miles south-east of York. 

Next morning the young male continued south just before 10am, passing to the east of Doncaster an hour later. By 1pm he had flown 60 miles and was skirting around the east side of Newark-upon-Trent in Nottinghamshire, flying at an altitude of just under 500 metres. He continued flying for another half an hour and then stopped in woodland just south of Belvoir Castle in north-east Leicestershire. He then spent the afternoon in woodlands between Belvoir Castle and Knipton Reservoir.    

G393 flew south from the North York Moors to Belvoir in Leicestershire on 19th and 20th July

On the morning of 21st July G393 slowly made his way south through Leicestershire before roosting near Burrough on the Hill. He remained in east Leicestershire, close to the border with Rutland, for the next week, and during this period it was notable that he frequently landed on recently-harvested fields, where no doubt he was picking up carrion in much the same way as the local Red Kites.  

On 29th July G393 headed further south, passing Eyebrook Reservoir at 1pm and then continuing into Northamptonshire. He spent the afternoon around woodlands to the north-east of Kettering  and then, next day, completed a 50 mile circuit north-east as far as the east side of Peterborough, before returning south-west along the Nene Valley and roosting in woodland north of Thrapston. On 31st July G393 headed north back into Leicestershire.

G393 remained in the East Midlands from 21st July until the end of the month, during this period he regularly visited newly harvested fields, and roosted in quiet woods

After roosting in Owston Wood on the Leicestershire/Rutland border, G393 made the short flight east to Rutland Water on the morning of 1st August where he was seen by Tim Appleton, Penny Robinson and Chris Park. He lingered in the North Arm of the reservoir for an hour, a place he has visited twice before, before continuing east along the Hambleton Peninsula and then through the Rutland countryside into Northamptonshire and then Lincolnshire, passing over Tallington Lakes and then Baston and Langtoft Pits. He continued east through the fens and at 2pm reached the Wash at Guy’s Head. Twenty minutes later he was over Kings Lynn at an altitude of 300 metres. He then spent the rest of the afternoon at Roydon Common having flown 82 miles from Leicestershire.

G393 flew 82 miles to Roydon Common in west Norfolk on 1st August

On 2nd August G393 headed north-east to the North Norfolk coast, passing over Wells-next-the-Sea at 2:30pm and then spending the afternoon and all next day in the local area. On 4th August the young male spent the morning and the early afternoon on the marshes at Holkham NNR where he was seen by Jake Fiennes, Andy Bloomfield and the conservation team.  He was also photographed over Holkham beach by Charlie Murphy. G393 remained in the local area for the next few days and was photographed carrying a Wood Pigeon by Tim Smith near Burnham Thorpe on 5th August. It was clear the newly-harvested fields were again providing a good food source, just as had been the case during his stay in Leicestershire.  

On 6th August G393 followed the coast east to Holme-next-the-Sea and then south to Roydon Common. He then ranged between several wooded sites in West Norfolk until the morning of 18th, when he headed north-east back towards the north coast again. It will be interesting to see how long he remains in Norfolk. 

G393 and a Red Kite in North Norfolk on 5th August (photo by Tim Smith)

G318 

Female G318 first arrived in the North York Moors on 5th April and she has remained there since, despite G393’s departure in mid-July. Like her compatriot, G318 was extremely sedentary during June and the early part of July when the two birds spent most days in a favourite valley. During this period she was seen and photographed by a number of local residents and birdwatchers. The birds were observed catching and feeding on rabbits on a number of occasions.   

G318 has been present in the North York Moors since 5th April (photo by Bob Howe)

On 17th July it appeared that G318 may be returning south. At 12:45 that day she was almost 30 miles south of her favourite haunts in the North York Moors, but she returned north soon afterwards. Since then G318 has ranged more widely than previously and, on 6th August, she flew to the coast and spent two nights roosting in woodland along the course of Easington Beck near Loftus. Then, on the morning of 8th August, she was seen at Scaling Dam Reservoir by Martin Blick. She subsequently returned to a favourite valley in the North York Moors, but has again ranged more widely in recent days.     

It has been extremely exciting to follow the progress of the four young eagles over the course of the last year, and we are extremely grateful to everyone who has shared their sightings and photographs with us. These observations have helped us to build up a picture of how the young eagles live in the landscape. Fish, rabbit and carrion have been the main food items and the birds have favoured quiet wooded areas for perching. Although quite capable of flying in excess of 100 miles in a single day, the satellite data has shown they are often extremely sedentary for long periods, preferring to perch on the edge of woods where they sometimes go unnoticed for days on end. Although the four birds remain widely dispersed, this is quite normal for White-tailed Eagles at this young age, and we expect them all to follow the lead of G274 and head back towards the Isle of Wight and the South Coast as they approach breeding age. It will be fascinating to follow their progress over the next 12 months. 

Can you help us?

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

Successful second release of white-tailed eagles takes place in landmark English reintroduction project

The return of white-tailed eagles to England has reached its next key milestone with the successful release of a further 7 birds on the Isle of Wight. The five-year reintroduction programme now in its second year is led by Forestry England and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, and aims to restore this lost species after an absence of 240 years.  

Over five years, up to 60 white-tailed eagles will be released with the aim of establishing an initial population of 6- 8 breeding pairs on the Isle of Wight and along the mainland coast. The first six birds were released last year. It will take several years for the young birds to become established and breeding is not expected to start until at least 2024. 

Each bird is fitted with a satellite tracker to enable the team to monitor and track their progress. Evidence from similar reintroductions suggests that the rate of survival to breeding age is around 40%, and four of the six birds released last year have survived and are doing well. 

As they mature the released white-tailed eagles have, as expected, begun to explore widely. Their journeys have taken them across much of England as they explore and learn about the landscape for the first time. Between these explorations, the birds have regularly been seen fishing for Grey Mullet in the estuaries of the Solent and observed in the skies over the Isle of Wight. 

Bird enthusiasts and members of the public across the country have supported the project by reporting sightings of the eagles and sharing these via @seaeagleengland on social media and via our online sightings form.

Roy Dennis, Founder of the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation said: “We are delighted that we have been able to release this next group of birds this year as planned. We have seen from other reintroduction programmes that returning lost species offers real benefits for the health of our environment, and to people and local economies. This is particularly important at these difficult times as people rediscover nature and its benefits.”

“It has been very exciting to follow the exploratory flights of the birds we released last year and to see how they are learning to live successfully in the English landscape. We have been particularly encouraged that the birds have been catching Grey Mullet in the estuaries of the Isle of Wight because we believe this will become an important food source as the population develops, and is one of the key reasons we considered the Isle of Wight and the South Coast suitable for a reintroduction.” 

“A project like this relies upon the involvement and support of many, many people. I would like to thank everyone who has helped us again this year including the local organisations and individuals on our steering group. We look forward to the day when these amazing birds become a regular feature in the skies above us.” 

G2-74, one of the birds released last year, being pursued by a Raven on the Isle of Wight (photo by Ainsley Bennett)

Steve Egerton-Read, White-Tailed Eagle Project Officer, Forestry England, said: “We are now a year on from the release of the first white-tailed eagles and it’s very encouraging to see them doing well. We have been following their movements closely using the satellite monitoring, field visits and reports from members of the public.”

“It will be fascinating to see how the young birds released this summer explore and how they interact with the slightly older birds released in 2019. Thank you to everyone who continues to support us by reporting observations and photos of the birds as they travel around the country, we are always keen to hear about your amazing sightings.” 

The reintroduction of Britain’s largest bird of prey is being conducted under licence from Natural England, the Government’s wildlife licensing authority. All of the young birds involved in the project are collected under a Scottish Natural Heritage licence from the wild in Scotland and brought to the Isle of Wight.  

One of the young eagles prepares for lift-off…
…and then takes to the air for the first time

Natural England Chair, Tony Juniper, said: “Today is an important landmark for the conservation of these spectacular birds, and I am delighted that we have played our part by licensing this trailblazing project. A key condition of our licence was the involvement of stakeholders and ongoing monitoring, and Roy Dennis and his team have worked hard to involve local groups which has been critical to the success of this project.”

“It’s been thrilling to see last year’s birds travel across England. I hope this project sets a blueprint for further successful species re-introductions in England, which are a vital part of achieving our overarching goal for nature conservation and recovery.”

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

The project is also expected to make a significant contribution to the local economy. A similar scheme on The Isle of Mull was found to have boosted its local economy by up to £5 million a year, demonstrating the interest in this iconic bird. 

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

The young eagles have remained closed to the release site since their first flights

Watch out for further updates on the progress of the birds, and those released last year, over the coming weeks. You can read previous updates here.