The difference made by one man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roy Dennis   25 August 2022

Juvenile black-throated diver (photo by Mike Crutch)

White-tailed Eagle update – summer 2022

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

Early pair bonding 

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

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

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

Returning to favoured sites 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2022 translocation cancelled 

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

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

Thank you

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

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

The Start of new Osprey Dynasties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roy Dennis and Tim Mackrill

Death of White-tailed Eagle G461

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roy Dennis receives RSPB’s most prestigious award

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summer flights

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

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

2020 birds


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

G463’s core area on the Danish Wadden Sea coast

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

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

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

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

G463’s movements in Europe since 15th April

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019 birds

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

G274 and G324

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

G318 has continued to range widely since April

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

Can you help us?

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

White-tailed eagles successfully returning to the English landscape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poole Harbour Ospreys 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

White-tailed Eagles at Ken Hill

We are delighted that Natural England have granted a licence for the Foundation and Wild Ken Hill to reintroduce White-tailed Eagles to West Norfolk and the surrounding region. 

The go ahead has been given after the project team completed a detailed feasibility study, alongside a public consultation which took place during January and February. 91% of participants gave their support for the proposals, including 83% of people who were “strongly supportive”. 63% of farmers also indicated support for the proposals. The complete feasibility study, including results of the consultation can be downloaded from our website here

The West Norfolk project will become the next phase of national efforts to restore White-tailed Eagles to England, which began with the release of birds on the Isle of Wight in 2019. That project is a partnership between the Foundation and Forestry England, and you can read the latest updates on our website here.

The Natural England licence will allow up to 60 juvenile birds to be released at Wild Ken Hill over a ten year period, with the aim of establishing a small breeding population of 6-10 pairs in the region. White-tailed Eagles usually do not breed until they are five years of age, and so it will take some time for the population to become established. 

The juvenile birds will be translocated from Poland, where there are over 1,000 pairs of White- tailed Eagles. Current complications with international travel under Covid-19 restrictions mean that the first birds are likely to be released in 2022. 

Also known as the sea eagle, the White-tailed Eagle is a native bird of prey, and the UK’s largest, with a wingspan of 8ft (2.4m). It was persecuted to extinction in Britain in the early twentieth century. The species has subsequently been successfully reintroduced to Scotland, and more recently, Ireland. 

We are delighted to be working on the project with Wild Ken Hill, a conservation and sustainable farming project on the West coast of Norfolk. You can read more about their work on their website.

Dominic Buscall, manager at Wild Ken Hill, said, “We are delighted to have the go ahead to bring back White-tailed Eagles to Eastern England, and overwhelmed by the support we have received from all sectors. We have also carefully been listening to concerns where they have arisen, and we are now committed to delivering this important conservation project and working with all of our stakeholders to ensure its success.” 

G393, here seen with a Red Kite, spent five months in West Norfolk from 1st August 2020- 4th January 2021 before returning to the Isle of Wight (photo by Tim Smith)

Roy Dennis who has been instrumental in the recovery of the species in the UK, said, “This is the next logical step to restore this magnificent bird to England and compliments efforts across Europe to help the species. We have carefully considered the potential ecological and socio-economic impact of the project and initial results from the Isle of Wight, and evidence from across lowland Europe, shows that this is a bird that can live successfully alongside people and fit into the East Anglian landscape very well.” 

Dave Slater, director for wildlife licensing at Natural England, said: “After thorough consideration, we have granted a licence allowing the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation to release white-tailed eagles at Wild Ken Hill in Norfolk. Our experts have carefully assessed the project against guidelines for the reintroduction of species, as well as the potential environmental, social and economic impacts. And we are satisfied that there are no significant risks associated with it. We’re content that the applicant’s experience, as well as our expertise and licensing process, ensures the project will be carried out in a responsible, well-managed way that takes account of concerns and makes a positive contribution to both people and wildlife.” 

The project is now running a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for the initial costs. 

A viable population on the East coast centred around West Norfolk would help to connect existing White-tailed Eagle populations in Scotland, Ireland – also established through reintroduction projects – with those in the South of England, and mainland Europe, including the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany. 

Indeed, six juvenile birds released on the Isle of Wight have spent periods of time in Norfolk over the last year in addition to others from the continent, demonstrating the suitability of the area for the species. One of the Isle of Wight birds subsequently crossed the English Channel and is now in Denmark. 

Roy Dennis said, “The breeding biology of White-tailed Eagles means that although young birds range extensively in their early years, they usually return to their natal area to breed. However, if, in the future, young birds from other populations encounter a small breeding population of White-tailed Eagles in East Anglia, they may be encouraged to stay.” 

White-tailed Eagles are opportunistic predators with a preference for fish, waterbirds, and for carrion. No issues with conservation sites or farming systems have been recorded with any of the 13 birds released on the Isle of Wight to date. 

Wild Ken Hill was chosen for the next phase of national efforts to bring back the bird because of its coastal location as well as its quiet woodlands, which together provide highly suitable loafing areas for young birds post-release, and in time, nesting locations.

G383 at the Ken Hill Estate in September 2020 (photo by Tim Mackrill)

Crossing the Channel

The key aim of the White-tailed Eagle project on the Isle of Wight, which we run in partnership with Forestry England, is to restore a breeding population to the South Coast for the first time since the late 1700s. This, we hope, will provide an important link between existing populations in Scotland and Ireland with those in continental Europe.  There has been a marked upturn in the number of sightings of wandering White-tailed Eagles from continental Europe in England during the last two springs, and while these young birds are likely to eventually return to their natal areas, some may stay if they encounter a breeding population on the South Coast.  Similarly, we expect young birds from the Isle of Wight to venture across the English Channel, particularly in their early years. While most are likely to return to the South Coast as they approach breeding age, it is possible that some will join the expanding populations in countries such as the Netherlands, France and Germany. With this all in mind, it was very significant that, on 6th April, G463, a 2020 male, was the first Isle of Wight bird to make it across the English Channel, as Tim Mackrill explains.


After wintering near Chard in Somerset, G463 was one of three Isle of Wight birds to spend time in East Anglia this spring. The young male arrived in early March and spent three weeks in the Brecks and West Norfolk. He was photographed at Thornham beach on 19th March before returning south to the Brecks that afternoon. Next morning he was on the move again, and flew south-east to the Suffolk coast near Southwold. The Suffolk estuaries are another superb area for White-tailed Eagles, and G463 spent time at the mouth of the River Blyth at Southwold on 21st March, before heading further south along the coast to the River Alde, between Aldeburgh and Orford Ness where he remained until the morning of 25th March.

G463 receiving unwanted attention from a Carrion Crow on Thornham Beach in Norfolk (photo by Richard Campey)
G463 being mobbed by a Common Buzzard in West Norfolk (photo by Andy Bloomfield)

On 25th March G463 flew north along the Suffolk coast, passing over Minsmere at 10:15 and then Lowestoft just before midday. He then headed into the Broads and spent four days in the Horsea area until 29th. G463 subsequently headed west along the North Norfolk coast and returned to his favoured areas in West Norfolk before moving south back to the Brecks on 1st April. The next morning he crossed back into Suffolk and then spent two days around Ampton Water north of Bury St Edmunds.

G463’s explorations in Norfolk and Suffolk during March and April

G463 was on the move again on 4th April, passing over Bury St Edmunds at 15:05 before heading south-east into Essex. He was over Colchester at 17:05 and then the Colne Estuary soon afterwards. The young male then headed north back into Suffolk and spent the night in woodland near Alton Water to the south of Ipswich. The next morning G463 initially flew north to Stowmarket, but strong north-westerly winds then encourage him south again. He crossed the mouth of the River Thames at 12:30 and the Isle of Sheppey soon afterwards. By 13:30 he had reached the south Kent coast at Dover and that afternoon flew 7 km out into the English Channel at an altitude of over 700 metres, before turning back again.

That night G463 roosted 10 km (6 miles) inland, but was back on the coast at 08:30 the next morning. At 09:52 he was 7 km out to sea once again but, like the previous afternoon, subsequently returned to land. He then flew south-west along the Kent coast to Dungeness. At 13:02 he was circling 1382 metres above and with a strong north-westerly wind providing perfect tailwind assistance, he headed out across the Channel a few minutes later. The transmitter logged the bird’s location every five minutes as G463 crossed the sea and showed that by 13:22 his altitude had dropped to 404 metres, but at the point of the next GPS transmission he had succeeded in gaining altitude to 582 metres. G463 continued on the same south-easterly course before making landfall just to the north of Boulogne-sur-Mer at 13:45, having completed the 47 km (29 mile) crossing in just 40 minutes at an average speed of 70 kph (43 mph).

G463 circled up to an altitude of 1382 metres over Dungeness before heading across the English Channel
G463 took just 40 minutes to make the Channel crossing

After reaching French airspace, G463 continued to make good progress and flew a further 176 km (109 miles) south-east through France, eventually stopping to roost in a small wood near the village of Douilly in the Picardy region, at 19:40 local time.

G463’s flight between 6th and 8th April

Next morning the wind had changed to a south-westerly and this perhaps influenced a distinct change of course for G463. After leaving his roost site at 06:55 the young male headed north-west towards the Ardennes Forest. By 12:40 he was flying close to the Belgian border, and eventually crossed into Belgian airspace near the town of Givet an hour later. As the afternoon progressed G463 turned to a more northerly heading and eventually stopped to roost in a forested area just to the south of Liege having flown 237 km (147 miles) during the course of the day.

On 8th March G463 left his roost site at 08:00 and again headed north, skirting around the west side of Liege and then on towards the Netherlands border. He passed into Dutch airspace just after midday and headed NNE, following the course of the Meuse River for 30 km before crossing into Germany at 13:30. He continued flying north for less than an hour before stopping in woodland on the south side of the River Rhine having flown 158 km (98 miles) during the course of the day.

On 9th April G463 left his roost site at 07:30 but stopped again in farmland nearby soon afterwards. He eventually resumed his journey at 11:00, crossing the Rhine and then heading north-east through the German regions of Münster and then Lower Saxony until 14:30 when he stopped in an area of woodland and arable farmland near the town of Herzlake. G463 remained in the local area for the rest of the afternoon, but had still covered 154 km (95 miles) in just 3.5 hours of flying.

G463 remained in the local area for the whole of the next morning, but then headed north again at 13:00, flying 39 km (24 miles) north to Leegmoor, a wetland nature reserve. He roosted locally and then remained in the area all day on 11th .

On 12th April G463 was on the move again. He set off from Leegmoor in a north-easterly direction shortly after 10:00 and reached Jade Bight, a bay on the Wadden Sea coast at midday. He then skirted around the southern end of Bremerhaven before continuing north-east, pausing in a forested area south of Wingst, north-west of Hamburg, for four hours between 14:10 and 18:10, before continuing a little further north to a small wood on the south side of the mouth of the River Elbe. By the time he went to roost G463 had flown another 158 km (98 miles) during the course of the day, and was now just south of Schleswig-Holstein the most northerly of the 16 German states and a stronghold for White-tailed Eagles in Germany. G463 will now be encountering many other eagles on his travels.

G463’s flight through Germany, 8-12 April
G463’s travels since 1st March

G463 remained on the south side of the River Elbe all day on 13th April. This is an excellent place for the young male to spend some time, and it will be fascinating to see how long he lingers in the area, and if and when, he heads back towards the Isle of Wight.

G463 remained on the south side of the River Elbe all day on 13th April


G463 is not the only Isle of Wight bird to wander a considerable distance this spring. Female G405 has also ranged extensively, but unlike her compatriot from the 2020 cohort, she returned to the Island yesterday after a month of explorations that took her as far north as East Lothian in southern Scotland.

In our previous update we reported that G405 had spent much of February and early part of March at Longleat in Wiltshire. She subsequently returned to the Isle of Wight via Dorchester and Poole Harbour on 16th March, but only remained on the Island for three days before heading north again back to Longleat on 19th March. She completed a short circuit of Warminster and Westbury on 21st, but then made a more determined movement to the north-east on 22nd, flying 132 km (84 miles) to south Northamptonshire. Interestingly that night she roosted in the same wood near Silverstone as 2019 female, G318, had a few weeks earlier.

A brisk south-westerly wind encouraged G405 to continue north-east the next day and by 10:40 she was over Tallington in south Lincolnshire, flying at an altitude of 583 metres. She continued on the same heading through the Lincolnshire Fens towards Mablethorpe before turning north-west to head into the Lincolnshire Wolds. That night she roosted in a small wood near the village of Burgh on Bain having flown 193 km (120 miles). The next day G405 made a shorter movement of 40 km (25 miles) to the north-west and roosted in Laughton Woods in north-west Lincolnshire.

G405 left her roost site soon after first light on 25th March and headed north-west into South Yorkshire and then north towards York. At 11:30 she was 12 km (7 miles) east of the city, flying purposefully north at an altitude of 717 metres, and an hour later she was photographed circling over Appleton-le-Moors. She subsequently headed north-west into the North York Moors having flown 118 km (73 miles) from Lincolnshire.

G405’s flight to the North York Moors

G405 remained in the south-west of the North York Moors for six days, and in that time favoured an area frequented by G318 last year, tending to remain on the lower slopes rather than the open moors.

On 31st March she flew 123 km (73 miles) west to the Yorkshire Dales and roosted in woodland south-west of Cowgill in Cumbria. The next morning she flew north the western part of the Yorkshire Dales and then into the Lake District. She was perched just to the north of Haweswater, between 12:22-12:37, close to the area where Golden Eagles used to breed, but then continued north again, passing the east end of Ullswater at 13:15 and then to the east of Carlisle at 14:25. She then crossed the border into Scotland at 16:00 before stopping in woodland 10 km (6 miles) north-west of Kielder Water, having flown 170 km (105 miles) from the Yorkshire Dales.

G405 passed Haweswater and Ullswater in the Lake District on 1st April
G405’s flight north through the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District, 31st March – 1st April

G405 remained in the local area on 2nd April, but then headed further north on 3rd April, passing Jedburgh at 11:45 and then completing a circuit of the Lammermuir Hills, where G324, a 2019 female had summered last year. At 14:45 G405 was at the most northerly point of her journey, 587 km (367 miles) north of the release site on the Isle of Wight. At this point she began heading south again, and eventually stopped in woodland 4 km (2.5 miles) south-east of Selkirk having flown 147 km (91 miles).

The next morning G405 headed slowly south-east and crossed the border back into England at 12:20. She then continued south-east through Northumberland before roosting in woodland just north of Rayburn Lake after a flight of 70 km (43 miles).

G405’s movements in Scotland and northern England 2-4 April

Having initially been encouraged north by southerly winds, a distinct change in the weather to cold northerly winds appeared to prompt G405 to head south again. She left her roost site at first light on 5th April and flew purposefully south, passing directly over Newcastle at an altitude of 601 metres at 09:47 and then to west of Middlesborough at 10:30. By 11:00 she was back in the North York Moors, and she flew a wide arc around the east side of the moors before stopping in Dalby Forest soon after midday, having already flown 170 km (105 miles). She remained in the local area for the rest of the afternoon and then next morning flew 7 km (4.5 miles) south before spending the day beside the River Derwent west of Yedingham.

G405 flew south through the North-East on 4th April

On 7th April G405, again encouraged by northerly winds, was on the move again. At 11:40 she was 21 km (12 miles) south-west and now back on the exact track that she had used to fly north. She followed an identical route for 48 km (30 miles) and then continued on the same SSW heading over Worksop in Nottinghamshire at 13:36 (997 m altitude) and then Nottingham between 14:10-14:26. She subsequently skirted around the east side of Leicester and then directly over Market Harborough between 15:13-15:18 at an altitude of 469-499 m. At 15:43 she was just to the east of Northampton (840 metres) and then over Milton Keynes at 16:13 (630 m). She continued south, aided by the strong wind and skirted around the west side of Tring between 16:43 and 16:48 (207-338 m) before finally stopping in woodland to the west of Amersham at 17:25 having flown an impressive 323 km (201 miles) from North Yorkshire.

G405 used an almost identical route south through Yorkshire as her northward journey in March
G405 flew 323 km (201 miles) south on 7th April

Next morning, G405 headed south-east towards London, and was flying at an altitude of 466 metres to the west of Wembley. At 11:15 she was directly over the River Thames to the east of Richmond at a low altitude of just 154 metres and she was then photographed by Ian Jones as she passed over Beddington Farmlands in south London at 11:50. Once past the capital she continued south-east into Surrey, Kent and then East Sussex. At 14:05 she was just 12 km (7.5 miles) north of the South Coast but at that point she turned to the east and flew back into Kent before settling to roost in Park Wood, north-west of Elham and east of Ashford, having flown another 188 km (117 miles).

G405 flew over London on 8th April

Next morning, 9th April, G405 flew 22 km (14 miles) to the East Kent coast at Pegwell Bay and remained there for three hours before returning to the same area as the previous night to roost. She then lingered in the local area for all of the next day, before heading west on the morning of 11th April, passing just to the north of Rye Harbour at 10:15 and then north of Lewes at 11:40. She spent two hours near Plumpton during the middle of the day before continuing west and eventually stopping in Westdean Woods the South Downs north of Chichester.

G405 remained around Westdean Woods all day on 12th April but then headed south on the morning of 13th. She crossed Thorney Island at 10:30 and then headed west to the north of Portsmouth and then across Southampton Water. At 12:30 she was close to Lyndhurst in the New Forest and she then headed south to Lymington before crossing the Solent back to the Isle of Wight after just under four weeks away, have flown 2279 km (1416 miles) in that time.

G405’s flight back to the Isle of Wight on 13th April
G405 flew 2279 km (1416 miles) between 19th March and 13th April

G405’s return to the Isle of Wight is another demonstration that the translocated birds regard the Island and the South Coast as home. This is also evident in the differing behaviour of the 2019 and 2020 cohorts during the past month. After wandering extensively last year, the four 2019 birds are now spending all of their time either on the Isle of Wight or neighbouring areas of the South Coast. It is particularly encouraging that male G274 and female G324 seem to be forming a pair, and are spending most days together in coastal locations around the Isle of Wight. They have been observed catching both marine and freshwater fish on a frequent basis as well as Coot, Black-headed Gulls and even an injured Canada Goose. They also appear to be keeping the other two 2019 birds, G393 and G318, away from the Island wherever possible. This is the first indications of territorial behaviour, and is another encouraging sign for the future.

G274 and G324 have spent most of the past month together on the Isle of Wight (photo by Ainsley Bennett)

In contrast all of the 2020 birds continue to explore extensively. G461 has ranged along the whole of the South Coast from Kent to Cornwall in the past month, while female G466 has travelled west to Cornwall, completed a circuit of East Anglia and, most recently, was flying north through County Durham this morning. G471, meanwhile, has spent the majority of the past month in East Anglia, favouring the North Norfolk coast and also the Ouse Washes in Cambridgeshire, but then flew south-west today and was heading into Herefordshire at 17:00. G408 has generally remained more local, but visited the Somerset coast near Burnham-on-Sea on 4th April and has also spent prolonged periods in the Arun valley in West Sussex where he has been joined, on occasions, by 2019 male G393. These movements are typical of young White-tailed Eagles during their second calendar year, but the satellite transmitters are providing a fascinating insight into their daily explorations. It has also been excellent to hear about sighings of the birds on their travels – very many thanks to everyone who has been in touch and sent photos.

G471 has spent much of the past month in East Anglia (photo by Andy Bloomfield)
All of the 2020 birds have ranged extensively during the past month
(G405 = blue; G408 = white; G461 = purple, G463 = green; G466 = yellow; G471 = orange).
G274 and G318 at dawn on the Isle of Wight (photo by Ainsley Bennett)

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