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

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.

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.

Staying local

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

G393 and G318

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

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

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

G274 and G324

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.




Eagle explorations

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

G274

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

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

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

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

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

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

G393

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eagle wanderlust

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

G393

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

G318

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

G324

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

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

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

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

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

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

G274

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Eagle wanderings

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

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

G393

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

G318

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

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

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

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

G274

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

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

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

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

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

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

G324

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

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

 

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

The young eagles have wandered widely since late March

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