2015 saw five chicks fledge from territories across the East of Scotland. Two pairs that had not been successful before fledged twins – one of these pairs was in the Angus glens. This pair attempted in 2014 but failed before the eggs hatched. On closer analysis it was found that the eggs were infertile - probably due to the inexperience of the male who at the time was just three years old. In 2015 however, the pair raised two strong chicks on a diet consisting mainly of lagomorphs!
Both chicks were wing tagged and fitted with satellite transmitters. It is important for us to be able to gauge the survival of the wild-fledged young from the East of Scotland. After losing both wild-fledged young from our Fife nest in 2013 and 2014, it seems all the more important to understand what’s happening to this new generation, and whether there are further issues that need to be addressed before determining the success of the project.
This new white-tailed eagle population core that is forming now across the east of Scotland are using the landscape in a different way than their counterparts on the west coast, with different land use here in the east, and different prey available to them. We have a lot to learn about what is important to them and how they disperse if we are to continue to protect them in the future.
"White K" and his sibling "White E" in their nest.
The satellite tagged youngster from Angus - “White K”(named after the colour and letter on his wing tag) and his recent travels have shown us all of these things. “White K” left his natal area around the 19th of September, but remained in the Angus glens until the 11th of October. From the 23rd of October, both “White K” and another satellite tagged youngster from a nest in Speyside started using the same roosts independently and occasionally simultaneously, and both spent a significant amount of time in Deeside and in the northern Angus glens during winter -probably making the most of deer the grallochs available on the higher slopes!
With daylight length increasing, weather improving and the bird becoming more confident on the wing, he started making some epic journeys across Scotland! This is typical of young white-tailed eagles as they spend the first few years of their lives exploring the landscape and visiting other birds before finding a territory for themselves at around 4-5 years old.
By the 20th of February, “White K” was spending time in Aberdeenshire – this is his most northerly haunt to date. However, on the 21st he had started to head south back to Deeside where he had been roosting previously, before heading south west through Glen Shee and roosting near Pitlochry in Perthshire. As if that wasn’t far enough, the following day, he passed Blair Atholl, and flew across Lochs Tay and Earn before settling to roost for the evening just east of Loch Lomond. Clearly not fazed by this, “White K” turned West, crossing Loch Lomond and Loch Goil before eventually reaching the eastern shores of Loch Fyne where he spend the next few days!
Google Earth map of "White K"'s journey to Loch Fyne from Aberdeenshire.
After spending a few days exploring this beautiful part of Argyll, “White K” retraced his route, and from Strachur, he headed East once again, crossing Loch Katrine through Strathyre to Lochearnhead where he soared over the ridge between Loch Tay and Loch Earn. On Saturday the 3rd of March he was spotted soaring above the Perthshire glens interacting with a young golden eagle. He sat and watched while the golden eagle ate a mountain hare.
We hope that “White K”’s spectacular and adventurous journeys will continue until he finds a mate in a few years’ time and raises chicks of his own.
It is with great sadness that we are finally able to announce that the young white-tailed eagle which fledged from the Fife nest in 2014 has come to grief. His carcase was recovered in April 2015 on farmland near Pitlochry, lying below an electricity distribution pole. “14White A” as he was known after the colour and letter on his wing tags, was fitted with a satellite transmitter which ceased to function, prompting a search of the wider area where he was last known to be spending time. A local farmer got in touch with project staff after finding the carcase on his land, and reading the contact information on the reverse of the wing tags. The carcase was recovered immediately by RSPB and Police Scotland staff who then submitted it for post mortem. Despite the circumstances suggesting electrocution as the obvious cause of death, the condition of the carcase made it difficult for this to be determined. As per protocol, the carcase was also tested for suspicious substances and for evidence of lead shot, but thankfully, all came back negative. Unfortunately, the nature of events that occurred around 14White A’s death will remain a mystery, but we are relieved and confident that there was no foul play to blame – simply a case of choosing the wrong place to perch!
Since the first birds were released in Fife in 2007, eight young white-tailed eagles (of 85 released) have succumbed to the same fate, which is also not uncommon on the continent - in Norway electrocutions and collisions with power lines are known to be the main cause of death for young white-tailed, especially juveniles and second year immatures. In Germany it accounts for 10% of white-tailed eagle deaths, and is a big contributor to white-tailed eagle mortality in Hungary. Historically, white-tailed eagles have coexisted closely with humans and in a modern landscape, it’s almost inevitable that threats such as electricity poles, wires and even train lines will have some effect on their survival.
In the early years of the East Scotland Sea Eagle project, Scottish Power very kindly adapted some electricity distribution poles and transformers in the immediate vicinity of the release site in order to help reduce such incidents in an area with a high number of young inexperienced birds.
We are extremely grateful to the farmer for getting in contact with us so quickly after finding the carcase, and we encourage anybody who comes across a carcase to get in touch as quickly as possible so that we are able to determine cause of death and better understand survival in our population.
Turquoise 1 and Z have done it again. The six year old pair of white-tailed eagles that bred for the first time in 2013 in a Forestry Commission wood in Fife have fledged their third chick this year. The recently fledged youngster was tagged with a white wing tag with the letter “T”, and thanks to Forestry Commission Scotland, was fitted with a GSM transmitter so that it’s dispersal can be monitored closely. This chick was one of two chicks that hatched in this nest in Fife this year – see article in Fife today here, and the Courier here from earlier in the summer. Unfortunately, “White T”’s sibling didn’t survive and is thought to have died of natural causes in the nest at around 4 weeks old. Thanks to careful observation our amazing nest watch volunteers, the events at the nest were documented thoroughly throughout the season.
Below is a guest blog written by Forestry Commission’s Environment manager for Tay district - Graeme Findlay which formed part of a recent press release about the successful pair:
The National Forest Estate is home to many treasured species of wildlife – from colourful dragonflies to majestic red deer to rare white-tailed sea eagles. Forests are great places for wildlife providing lots of different habitats, from the airy canopy to sheltered forest floors.
Our forestry work is planned to make sure the woods provide the best possible conditions for wildlife. We take special measures to look after some species, such as protecting exclusion zones around osprey and golden eagle nesting sites. We even make sure that the trees along salmon rivers cast the right sort of dappled shade: fish are part of the forests' wildlife too.
One of our biggest success stories is the white-tailed sea eagle. These birds became extinct but are now living here again after a re-introduction programme that brought chicks over from Norway to Fife.
We're working closely with partners like Scottish Natural Heritage and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to protect forest areas that are part of the sea eagles' territory, and make sure their nesting sites aren't disturbed.
There are now 100 pairs of white-tailed sea eagles living across Scotland. One of the latest eaglets to hatch in a Fife woodland has been tagged and ringed in advance of its first flight away from the nest.
This is the third successful nesting attempt for this pair, who have fledged a single chick each year since 2013.
Graeme Findlay, for Forestry Enterprise Scotland's team in Tayside, said: "These magnificent birds are known to travel far and wide as they hunt for food and look for a suitable place to claim as their own. Now that this chick has been fitted with a GSM transmitter, its movements and its health can be monitored, giving researchers a wealth of valuable information."
Rhian Evans, RSPB's East Scotland Sea Eagle Officer, said: "Thanks to the dedication of more than 30 RSPB Scotland volunteers, the progress of this nest has been thoroughly documented throughout the season, and the nest protected from disturbance. We are delighted that the chick has made it through to fledging despite a challenging season for many other species.
"This chick is one of five to fledge across the East of Scotland this year in what is a milestone year for white-tailed eagles - the 100th Scottish pair was announced this year in Orkney, and in a year when we celebrate 40 years since the reintroduction program began."
We look forward to following the progress of this newly fledged youngster as it disperses away from its natal area over the coming months, and takes up a territory of its own in a few years time.
To mark this special anniversary year and the successes of the reintroduction in Fife, a Sea Eagle Celebration Day will be held at the Burgh Chambers and Gardens in Tayport from 12 pm on Saturday 22 August. Everyone is invited to come along, take part in some fun activities, crafts and a BBQ.