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

G405 

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 

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)
G461 

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
G463 

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

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
G471

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
G393 

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.
G318

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.

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.

G463

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

G405

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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Spring Explorations

After a prolonged spell of cold and wintry weather, spring is finally in the air. The first Sand Martins have appeared in southern England, and, like at this time last year, the White-tailed Eagles that we released on the Isle of Wight in July 2020 in partnership with Forestry England, are beginning to range widely. We are also building up detailed information on how the 2019 birds are learning to live successfully in the English landscape, as Tim Mackrill explains.

2019 birds

G393

Previous research on the dispersal of young White-tailed Eagles has shown that they often explore extensively during their first two years, before eventually returning to their natal site. This has been exemplified very well in recent months by the behaviour of G393. This immature male, one of the first birds to be released, headed north from the Isle of Wight in mid-September 2019 and subsequently spent the winter in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. It then ranged extensively during spring 2020 – from Suffolk in the east to Gloucestershire in the west – before spending several months in the North York Moors, favouring areas with good numbers of Rabbits. Later in the summer G393 moved south again, lingering for a short while in rural Leicestershire before heading east to West Norfolk on 1st August. The young male remained in West Norfolk for the next five months, catching Black-headed Gulls at a small reservoir  on the Westacre estate and then spending much of November and December around the Wash. During this period the satellite tracking data showed that the bird flew out onto the mudflats, in search of carrion, on 59% of days from 1st November. It also frequently visited the mouth of the Great Ouse in the south of the Wash.  

G393 finally left West Norfolk on 4th January and then, over the course of the next month, slowly made its way back to the Isle of Wight, spending time in rural Lincolnshire and Leicestershire and then arriving at Pitsford Reservoir in Northamptonshire on the evening of 29th January. It remained in the local area for the next two days, and was seen by a number of local birders exploring bays on the north side of reservoir’s causeway.   

G393 was still present at Pitsford during the morning of 1st February and was then watched heading south from the dam at 14:00. Remarkably G318, another of the 2019 cohort, which had been residing in the Lincolnshire Wolds for much of the winter was now also flying south and arrived in a wood just over two miles to the west, as G393 was circling south of the Pitsford dam. It seems very likely that good weather and the sight of another White-tailed Eagle had enticed the female south, because she subsequently retuned to Lincolnshire over the course of the next few days.  

G393 (white arrow) departed Pitsford Reservoir as G318 (yellow arrow) arrived in the area

 After leaving Pitsford, G393 passed through Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, passing over areas it had favoured during winter 2019/20, but now seemingly determined to return to the Isle of Wight. On the night of 7th February G393 roosted in woodland just to the north of Newbury and, with a brisk north-easterly wind providing a helpful tailwind, set off again at around 09:30 the next morning. At 11:12 it was skirting the west side of Andover at an altitude of 298 metres and an hour later was over Stoney Cross in the New Forest. The Isle of Wight was now in sight and G393 crossed the Solent from Hurst Castle before making landfall just to the west of Yarmouth at 13:13. It had returned to the Isle of Wight exactly 17 months after first departing. 

G393 returned to the Isle of Wight between 4th January and 8th February

 Once back on the Isle of Wight, G393 immediately located the other released birds and spent time at various sites around the Island. Interestingly local photographer, Ainsley Bennett, captured the first indications of territorial behaviour when he observed G274, who has remained on the Isle of Wight almost exclusively since release, chasing the rival male. 

On 28th February, G393 crossed the Solent once again and skirted around Bournemouth to Poole Harbour. It remained in the local area until 6th March, favouring an area to the south of the harbour where it was been observed feeding on rabbits. Poole Harbour is within the likely settlement area of the translocated birds, and could certainly support breeding White-tailed Eagles in the future; so we hope this is a sign of things to come. G393 subsequently flew west to Chesil Beach on 6th March and then spent a day inland, before heading across Poole Harbour and then Bournemouth back to the Solent on 8th. Next day it headed across Southampton Water and then north-east past Petersfield. At 13:20 it was circling near Selborne, before turning and heading south into West Sussex. The change of direction may well have been prompted by the sight of G408 heading north-east from the Isle of Wight because the two birds met up in the South Downs later in the afternoon (see below).

G274 (left) chasing G393 after the latter had returned to the Isle of Wight (photo by Ainsley Bennett)
G393 was absent from the Isle of Wight for 17 months from 8th September 2019 – 8th February 2021
G393 is mobbed by a Buzzard over Titchfield (photo by Steve Payce)

G274 and G324 

In great contrast to G393, G274 has remained faithful to the Isle of Wight since release and it has been encouraging to see how this 2019 male has become increasingly adept at catching live prey during this period. G274, like other juveniles survived predominantly on carrion during its first winter, however from spring 2020 became adept at catching fish around the coasts of the Isle of Wight. In spring and summer 2020 Grey Mullet, which are abundant in shallow estuarine waters around the Island, became a favoured prey item, and the bird was also observed catching Black Bream in the Solent.  As autumn turned to winter we expected fish to constitute a smaller proportion of the diet, but G274 continued to catch fish throughout this period, particularly off the south coast of the Island at Blackgang. The satellite tracking data showed that between 1st November and 9th February G274 foraged off the south coast on 32% of days, flying up to a maximum of 4.5 km offshore. It was observed catching Bass on a number of occasions, including by two local crab fishermen from the boats. Bass are attracted to a shallow shelf off the coast at Blackgang by large numbers of smaller fish, and here they are relatively easy targets for hunting White-tailed Eagles. G324, another of the 2019 birds, was also observed catching fish in this locality throughout the winter.   

Satellite data showed that G274 fished off the IoW coast near Blackgang on 32% of days during the winter
G274 and a fishing boat off the Blackgang coast (photo by Andy Butler)

Since early February G274 has favoured another coastal site on the Isle Wight. Here it has been observed catching fish as well as Coot on a number of occasions and also an injured Canada Goose. Coot are a key prey item for White-tailed Eagles in the Netherlands and other parts of Europe and are likely to be important as a breeding population of White-tailed Eagles becomes established on the South Coast of England. Similarly, the goslings of feral geese are taken in substantial numbers in the Netherlands, but adult Greylag and Canadas are altogether more difficult due to their size. However, any sick or injured individuals may occasionally be taken as prey, as G274 demonstrated.

G324, meanwhile, has been observed catching Black-headed Gulls at another coastal site on a number of occasions, and is also regularly seen in the company of seals. In this case it seems to have learnt that seals often push fish close to the surface, and into White-tailed Eagle range. This clear switch from a dependence on carrion during winter 2019/20 to fish and other live caught-prey this winter is an extremely encouraging sign for the future, and illustrates the high prey availability for White-tailed Eagles in southern England throughout the year. 

G324 is regularly seen in the company of seals (photo by Steve Egerton-Read)

G318 

It is clear from previous research, and our initial findings, that White-tailed Eagles can be highly individual in their choice of prey. This is exemplified well by G318, who has become something of a lagomorph specialist since release. This 2019 female spent five months during spring and summer 2020 in the North York Moors, favouring areas with high Rabbit abundance. Then, in late September, when it headed south into Lincolnshire, G318 again gravitated towards areas where Rabbits and Brown Hares were numerous.

G318 remained in Lincolnshire throughout the winter, frequenting quiet areas of the Lincolnshire Wolds where it was frequently observed catching both Rabbits and Brown Hares. Although the bird remained relatively sedentary during this period and spent the majority of her time perched inconspicuously on the edge of quiet woodlands, G318 did wander more widely on occasions, and was seen in a number of different localities around the county, including Kirkby Moor and nearby Kirky Gravel Pits as well as Middlemarsh Farm, where it was photographed by Nige Lound. 

G318 at Middlemarsh Farm in Lincolnshire, with Greylag Geese watching on (photo by Nige Lound)

Apart one brief return flight south to Northamptonshire (as described above), G318 remained in Lincolnshire until 27th February when it made a purposeful move to the south, passing to the east of Boston at 13:20 and then across the north side of Peterborough at 15:20. It eventually settled in woodland on the Cambridgeshire-Northants border having flown 107 km (67 miles) from the Lincolnshire Wolds. G318 continued to head slowly south over subsequent days, and spent a night at Linford Lakes on the outskirts of Milton Keynes, on 2nd March.

After two days in southern Northamptonshire, north-easterly winds encouraged G318 further south and it flew 66 km (41) miles to south-east Oxfordshire that day, passing over Farmoor Reservoir just after 11:00 and eventually roosting close to the Wiltshire and Buckinghamshire borders. The next day G318 continued for a further 84 km (52 miles) south-west through Wiltshire, passing Amesbury and then Salisbury before crossing into eastern Dorset and roosting to the west of Verwood.

G318 has remained in the local area since, but it seems only a matter of time before she returns to the Isle of Wight after almost a year away.

G318 flew south-west from Lincolnshire to Dorset between 27th February and 6th March
G318 has flown 3787 km since leaving the Isle of Wight on 16th March 2020

Diet of 2019 birds

After more than a year-and-a-half of careful monitoring we are building up detailed knowledge of the diet of the 2019 birds since release. This is summarised in the table below.

Prey itemWhen takenComments
Marine fish, particularly Grey Mullet, European Bass and Black BreamYear-round Grey Mullet frequently caught in estuaries around coast of Isle of Wight; Black Bream and European Bass around IoW coast
Common CuttlefishSummerCaught by G274 in seagrass beds in the Solent during summer 2020
Lagomorphs – Rabbit and Brown HareYear-round Movements of 2019 birds strongly influenced by lagomorph abundance, with birds only favouring inland areas away from water where Rabbits and Brown Hares present in good numbers 
Black-headed GullsYear-round Key prey item throughout year with adults and fledged juveniles taken, but no evidence of birds predating colonies of breeding gulls (which are also avoided in Netherlands/Denmark)  
Waterbirds, particularly Mallard and CootYear-round, particularly winter G393 wintered along Oxon/Bucks border where large numbers of Mallard and also Wigeon present. Mallard feathers/remains found at regular roost site. G274 observed catching Coot on IoW 
Carrion including scavenged waterbirds and gamebirds, dead fish and washed-up marine mammals, also kleptoparasitism of other speciesWinterHigh prevalence of dead/injured gamebirds provided abundant carrion for first-winter birds. Less important for older birds. 
CorvidsYear-round Corvid feathers/remains frequently located at regular roost sites 
Wood PigeonYear-round Wood pigeon feathers/remains frequently located at regular roost sites. May have been caught live or picked-up dead

Sit and wait

The satellite tracking data has also given us a valuable insight into how the birds live in the landscape. The GPS transmitters log the location of each bird as regularly as once every two-three minutes during the summer months (when battery voltage of the solar-powered transmitters is highest) and also record whether the bird is moving or stationary at the time. A recent analysis of these data show that the birds are perched for more than 90% of diurnal time. This is summarised in the table below for the three 2019 with the highest temporal resolution data. These findings corroborate previous research on White-tailed Eagles that demonstrate that they prefer the ‘sit and wait’ method of searching for food. For example a German study showed that they spent 93.2% of diurnal time perched. It is this habit of remaining stationary for long periods, often in quiet localities, that means the birds can be remarkably unobtrusive in the landscape.

G393 (m)G274 (m)G318 (f)Mean
Number of days 487487488
Total daytime GPS fixes737996056525763
Total GPS fixes perched674355441024187
Percentage perched91.4%89.8%93.9%91.7%
Total GPS fixes flying 636461551576
Percentage flying 8.8%10.2%6.1%8.3%
The 2019 birds have spent more than 90% of diurnal time perched (photo of G274 by Ainsley Bennett)

2020 birds   

Whereas the 2019 birds have reached a stage in their development when they are more likely to remain on and around the South Coast, the 2020 contingent are now in the peak of the exploratory phase. Three of the remaining six birds from the 2020 release (G454 was sadly killed after flying into a powerline on the Isle of Wight in September), had already made exploratory flights away from the Isle of Wight during autumn 2020. G471 and G463 both flew west to Land’s End during October, and each bird subsequently wintered in the South-West – G471 on the Cornwall-Devon border, and G463 near Chard in the south of Somerset. 

G463

During the winter G463 lived in a relatively large core area of 140 km², predominantly to the north and south-west of Chard. This area included Chard reservoir where it was seen on a number of occasions.

G463’s movements between 10th November and 15th February

In early February the young male began to range further and flew to the north Somerset coast just to the south of Burnham-on-Sea on 4th February. G463 then lingered to the south of the village of Mark in the Somerset Levels until the afternoon of 7th February when it returned to the Chard area. Then, on 10th March, G463 headed south-east to the Devon coast near Bridport. It remained there all day on 11th February, but then flew north on the afternoon of 12th and spent all day on 14th February in and around Copley Wood to the north of Somerton in central Somerset.

South-westerly winds on 15th and 16thFebruary  encouraged G463 to continue north-east and over the course of the next two days it flew 120 km (74 miles) across Somerset, and Wiltshire to West Berkshire. It lingered between Newbury and Reading for two days on 17th and 18th before making a brief visit to Theale Lagoon just to the south-west of Reading during the morning of 19th.  G463 then skirted around the west side of the Reading, before spending the rest of the day in the Thames valley just to the north of the city. 

G463 spent all day on 19th February on the outskirts of Reading
G463 (yellow) and G471 (white) followed a very similar route north-east in late February/early March

G463 moved further north on 20th and lingered in the Chilterns in south-east Oxfordshire for three days before making another concerted move to the north-east on 23rd, flying 86 km (53 miles) through Buckinghamshire and then Hertfordshire before roosting in woodland two miles east of Baldock.  Next day it flew a further 49 km (31 miles) further north-east into Cambridgeshire before covering another 47 km (29 miles) on 26th, skirting to the east of  Newmarket and then crossing into north-west Suffolk. It lingered to the south-west of Thetford for two days before heading further north into the Brecks in Norfolk on 28th.

G463 headed north-east through Hertfordshire and then Cambridgeshire between 23rd – 26th February

After a week in the Brecks, G463 flew a 105 km (65 miles) circuit to the North Norfolk coast on 7th March, flying over Blakeney, Salthouse and Kelling between 12:40 and 13:10 before heading back south-west.

G471

Like its compatriot from 2020, G471 spent the winter in the South West, spending much of its time on the Cornwall-Devon border. Its core area encompassed approximately 22 km² between Bude and Holsworthy, but on occasions the bird did make longer exploratory flights into other parts of Cornwall and Devon.

G471’s core area on the Cornwall-Devon border

The most significant explorations occurred from 17th January, when G471 initially flew east to Toniton in Devon, at which point it was just seven miles to the west of G463. It then crossed the border into Somerset on 18th before heading further south, skirting the east side of Dartmoor National Park and reaching the south Devon coast near Dartmouth at 12:30 on 22nd January. It subsequently returned north and eventually returned to its favourite area on 1st February.    

G471 flew to the north Devon coast near Clovelly on 14th February and then, after a brief return to the Bude/Holsworth area on 16th, headed east. It roosted in Stoke Woods just north of Exeter on  22nd February, before flying 53 km (33 miles) north-east the next day to the Quantock Hills. It spent the day a mile north of Hawkridge Reservoir on 24th and then flew north to the coast the next morning, passing just to the south of Bridgwater Bay and then heading purposefully east. By 2pm G471 was over Salisbury Plain and that night it roosted in a small woodland near Tilshead after flying 97 km (60 miles) during the day. 

G471 circling with Red Kites over Chilton Foliot in Wiltshire (photo by Martin Drew)

We wondered if G471 would linger on Salisbury Plain, as other White-tailed Eagles have done in the past,  but instead the young male followed the lead of G463 and continued to head north-east over subsequent days. It roosted just to the south of Burbage in Wiltshire on 26th and was seen attempting to catch a Brown Hare the next morning. It headed off soon afterwards and flew a further 58 km (36 mils) to the Chilterns in south-east Oxfordshire, just as G463 had done. In fact that night G471 roosted 2 km south of where his compatriot had spent the night six days previously.   

G471 continued to follow the Chilterns ridge north-east over the next few days, passing directly over Tring at 13:46 on 1st March and crossing into Bedforshire later that afternoon. It subsequently roosted in a small wood between Dunstable and Leighton Buzzard that night before slowly making its way north through Bedfordshire over subsequent days, finding quiet woodlands to roost in each night. The similarity of the flights of G463 and G471 through the Chilterns is striking and demonstrates the importance of both wind direction and geographical features in shaping the exploratory flights of the young eagles (see above).  

G471 flew north through Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire to Grafham Water between 1st – 5th March

On 5th March G471 crossed the border into Cambridgeshire and arrived at Graham Water shortly after 09:00. The young male was subsequently observed catching a trout later that day, and it has remained at the reservoir until the morning of 9th March, providing great views for local birders and members of the public. It was seen attempting to catch fish again on Saturday and then feeding on a Black-headed Gull on Sunday.

G471 arrived at Grafham Water in Cambridgeshire on 5th March and has remained there since (photo by Ian Dawson).

G461

G461 was the first of the 2020 cohort to the leave the Isle of Wight, completing a two-week round trip to East Sussex in early October. The young male then remained on the Isle of Wight until 5th February when it crossed the Solent from the Needles and then spent two days in the Avon valley midway between Christchurch and Ringwood. It crossed Bournemouth and Poole Harbour on 7th February and roosted that night close to Abbotsury Swannery in west Dorset. It continued to head west the next day, passing Bridport at 09:00 and then the Exe estuary at 11:00. It then followed the coastline south-west and was close to Prawle Point at 12:00. It eventually settled in a wooded area near Mothercombe at the mouth of the River Erme having flown an impressive 138 km (86 miles) in just over five hours of flying.

G461 flew 220 km (137 miles) west along the South Coast on 7th and 8th February

G461 remained in Devon until 7th March, favouring an area of 25 km² centred around the Erme and Yealm estuaries. Encouragingly it was observed catching a fish on at least one occasion, indicting the young male is following the lead of G274 and G324 on the Isle of Wight by learning to exploit the rich food availability in South Coast estuaries.   

G461 spent a month around the Erme and Yealm estuaries in Devon
G461 perched at the Yealm estuary (photo by Katy Gibb)

After just under a month in Devon G461 was on the move again on 7th March, initially flying south-east to Prawle Point and then 50 km north to a small wood 7 km south-west of Exeter. Next morning the young male set off north again at first light, skirting around the west side of Exeter, before heading north-east into Somerset. It passed to the south of Taunton at 13:00 and then spent the afternoon at West Sedgemoor RSPB reserve having flown 68 km (42 miles). G405 remained at West Sedgemoor until 13:30 next day when it headed north-east. It was subsequently seen at Ham Wall and then to the west of Frome, before roosting within a mile of G405’s roost the previous night (see below).

G461’s flight through the South West, 7th – 9th March

G405

G405 remained on the Isle of Wight throughout the winter, and then crossed the Solent for the first time on 10th February. The young female crossed the eastern New Forest, before turning west and roosting in woodland near Ashmore in east Dorset, having flown 88 km (54 miles) from the Isle of Wight. Next day G405 headed 26 km (16 miles) further north into Wiltshire and subsequently settled at Longleat Safari Park where it remained for the next two weeks, favouring an area of 6 km² and roosting in the park most nights.

On 26th February G405 set off wandering again and next day flew purposefully south-east, passing over Winchester at 13:45 and then to the north of Chichester at 15:30. It eventually settled to roost in woodland to the east of Arundel in West Sussex, having flown 128 km (80 miles). Next morning G405 continued east along the coast and at 11:25 was photographed over Lewes by Brian Cox. Just over an hour later it was circling 10 km to the north-east, but then turned and headed back west along the coast, passing just to the north of Brighton, Worthing and Bognor Regis. It then skirted north past Chichester Harbour before roosting in Singleton Forest in the South Downs after a day’s flight of 137 km (85 miles).

G405 was photographed over Lewes in East Sussex by Brian Cox

On the morning of 1st March G405 headed off north-west, passing to the north of Winchester at 12:45 and then across the southern part of Salisbury Plain, before returning to Longleat. G405 had flown another 112 km (69 miles), meaning its three day flight totalled 377 km (234 miles); another good example of one of the young eagles starting to learn the landscape of southern England. 

G405’s explorations along the South Coast, 28th February – 2nd March

G405’s explorations did not stop there because on 8th March it flew north, passing over the west side of Bath just after 13:00 before reaching the Severn estuary just after 14:30 when it was circling just to the north-east of Slimbridge WWT. It subsequently returned south again and eventually roosted in a wood in north-east Somerset having flown 134 km (84 miles). It then returned to Longleat the next morning.

G405 flew 134 km (84 miles) on 8th March and then returned to Longleat the next morning
G405 being tailed by Jackdaws at Longleat (photo by Phil Mumby)

G466

G466, another female, also remained on the Isle of Wight throughout the winter, often in the company of other juveniles and the three 2019 birds. On one notable occasion it was photographed by Owen Cass while perched in a tree with G408 and G274.

Spot the eagle! G466 perched with G408 and G274 on the Isle of Wight (photo by Owen Cass)

On 1st March G466 crossed the Solent for the first time in the company of 2019 male, G274. The two birds roosted together in the New Forest near Furzey Lodge. While G274 returned to the Isle of Wight next morning, G466 continued north across the New Forest and then into the Test valley. It spent several days to the south of Stockbridge and then, on the morning of 6th March, headed east, passing to the north of Winchester at 09:30, and then south through the western South Downs. By 11:38 it was over Lee-on-Solent at an altitude of 518 metres and then crossed the Solent back to the Isle of Wight having flown 68 km (42 miles). It has since been seen back in the company of G274, G324 and G408.

G466 spent six days between 1st – 6th March travelling through Hampshire, before returning to the Isle of Wight

G408

G408 was the last of the 2020 cohort to venture away from the Isle of Wight. In recent weeks this young male had been a frequent visitor to the wetland sites favoured by the 2019 birds, and Project Officer Steve Egerton-Read also saw it catch a Rabbit in an area often visited by G274.

G408 finally ventured across the Solent on 9th March, crossing from the Isle of Wight coast just north of Bembridge to Southsea, between 12:24 and 12:39. It then crossed Farlington Marshes before heading north-east into the South Downs where it met up with G393 who had spent the night on the north shore of the Solent before moving into the South Downs.

G408 headed across the Solent on 9th March

Other White-tailed Eagles

We are very grateful to everyone who has reported sightings of White-tailed Eagles over recent months, many of which relate to birds from the Isle of Wight. However, at least three-four of the birds seen recently are likely to have originated from Continental Europe, or Scotland. An immature White-tailed Eagle seen at the Blyth Estuary in Suffolk on 27th and 28th February was definitely not one from the Isle of Wight, and probably a wandering individual from the increasing population in the Netherlands. Similarly one seen over London on 6th March, and probably the same individual over Lewes in East Sussex the next day, is also likely to have been a wandering bird from the Continent. Another immature over Knaresborough in North Yorkshire on 2nd February, and one at Flamborough on 6th and then nearby Fraisthorpe on 8th and 9th March were also birds that originated from either Continental Europe, or Scotland.

While these wandering birds are likely to return to their natal areas, our hope is that as a breeding population becomes established on the South Coast, some will eventually remain to breed if they encounter unpaired birds from the Isle of Wight.

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.

Autumn Explorations

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

2019 Birds

G324 and G274

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

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

G393

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

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

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

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

G318

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

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

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

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

G318 over the Lincolnshire Fens (photo by John Clarkson)

2020 Juveniles

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

G461

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

G471 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

G463

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you help us?

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

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)

Please support 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.




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