Tracking the east coast sea eagles can be challenging at the best of times. Despite the equipment that we have able to detect a transmitter from up to 50km away, the “undulating” Scottish landscape provides topographical barriers that prevent signals from being detected....unless you’re above it!!
This cunning method of tracking the birds has been used before, and is extremely useful in covering large areas to look for the birds that’s not always achievable on the ground.
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to do this for the first time on Saturday, using a motorised glider to soar high above parts of the Cairngorms to scan for the birds. Being in a glider meant that every so often, we were able to turn off the engine and listen out carefully for any beeps from below.
The weather conditions were ideal and we had good visibility. The rising thermals meant that we able to get a lift as high as we wanted (within reason and not having oxygen on board!!). We clocked almost 11000ft at one point. Not many signals can be hidden from here!
We picked up a good signal for one of the birds released last summer – Grey X. She’s travelled a long way since her release, but this is normal for young sea eagles who are very nomadic. This explains why I and my hard working volunteers haven’t detected any of the juveniles in Fife recently!
Closer to home there are still a good few eagles in the area. The two 2009 birds – Turquoise 1 and Z are still being tracked and seen regularly around Tentsmuir, and we have recently picked up signals for another two 2009 birds which have returned to the area - Turquoise H and X. A 2010 male - Yellow O has also been roosting near Abernethy.
Sadly, a few of weeks ago, 2011 male Red 2 collided with a train near Auchtermuchty. Up until now, we have only known of juvenile birds to collide with trains on the east of Scotland, so it’s unusual for this to happen to a bird coming into his third year. However, this is a common cause of death for young sea eagles in Norway and Sweden where their population is much bigger.
The extended winter and snow cover we’ve been experiencing has meant that it has been quite difficult getting up into some high ground to radio track much further north. Hopefully now that spring has arrived, my attempts will be more successful!
This amazing photograph of a 2009 female (almost certainly Turquoise H) was taken at Loch Leven by Roy Balfour. She's looking very grown up!
On Boxing day, birders in Unst in Shetland reported seeing an immature white-tailed sea eagle with two colour rings. The rings looked very different from those used on the west coast of Scotland and certainly looked different from the single silver ring fitted to the east coast sea eagles. Colour rings were only used on the east coast in 2008 when licensing restrictions meant we couldn’t use wing tags to identify the birds.
Thanks to some great photography by Robbie Brooks and after photos and emails were exchanged throughout Scotland, Norway and Sweden, it was concluded that this bird had come from Norway! There have been very few Norwegian white-tailed eagles recorded in Scotland so this was definitely a notable event!
Unst in Shetland is where the last surviving white-tailed eagle in the UK (an albino female) was shot in 1918.
Here is a link to an eye witness account by Brydon Thomason;
2012 has been another interesting year for the project. We were lucky to have more funding from HLF and LEADER for this year’s translocation to go ahead and to fund two fantastic new posts on the project-Meriem Kayoueche Reeve as “SEEVIEWS Community Engagement Officer” and Heather Richards as “Sea Eagle Project Assistant”. They both worked incredibly hard and contributed enormously to the project. Meriem’s work made new connections in the local community and engaged the tourism industry in preparation for when white tailed eagles establish here on the east coast of Scotland and become a potential tourist draw. Just imagine a situation in Fife/Tayside like that on Mull and Skye with Mull’s eagle hide receiving a 5* tourist attraction certification! Something to aspire to!
Despite a poor breeding season in Norway with only six young eagles being collected, they all did well during their time in the aviaries in Fife and all “fledged” with great success in the presence of our hard working volunteers, major funders, and of course the media!
Three birds frequented the food dump left for them on the roof of the aviaries and we got some great photos of the interaction between them. Grey “H” made a rapid escape down to Inchkeith Island where he has been spending time since and being spotted near Kinghorn loch in south Fife. Grey “T” ventured north towards Stonehaven whilst “A” and “X” remained in the release wood until recently. One of them moved to Rossie bog this week and another one has been spotted near Auchtermuchty!
Sadly as happens every year, not every bird survives and loosing one or two individuals is “normal”. However, as there were so few birds released this year, loosing two birds hit pretty hard. Within days of release, Grey “O” was electrocuted under power lines; a common cause of death amongst all cohorts released on the east coast and also in Norway. On the day I decided to take a few days off and visit family in Wales, Grey “R” was found dead on the shore on the south Fife coast...I should have known not to venture too far! Unfortunately the cause of death remains unknown but not suspicious.
With winter here now, as we all hoped, some special visitors arrived at RSPB Loch Leven. Turquoise “H” – a 2009 female was the first to appear. This is her third winter in a row at Loch Leven. This year instead of her usual partner in crime (Turquoise “X” who is currently on Loch Etive!!) she was joined this winter by Yellow “O” a 2010 male, and Red “E” a 2011 male! All of them have been seen moving between Reed Bower Island and Castle Island, and rumour has it that Douggie in the cafe has been making some “eagle buns” to celebrate!
Two (and at one point, three!) turquoise tagged birds (2009) are being seen regularly around Tentsmuir point and the Eden estuary. So there are plenty of places to go and enjoy east Scotland sea eagles over the Christmas holidays!
We recently received some very sad news regarding an Irish released white-tailed eagle that became a bit of a celebrity during his visit to east Scotland last year (see here).
Male tag “3”, affectionately nicknamed “Irish Brian” by his Scottish followers was released in County Kerry in August 2010 and spent is first winter in Kerry and along the coast of west Cork.
He then appeared on the Banffshire coast in October 2011 when a sea kayaker reported seeing an injured white-tailed eagle stranded in a cove. After rescue and a long rehabilitation by SSPCA (see here) he was successfully released from the east Scotland release site in Fife much to the delight of his Scottish fans and project staff!
(Karen Hartnell's artist interpretation of "Irish Brian's" visit.)
He then made his way to Drumpellier country park in Lanarkshire in February this year (see here) where he was photographed by rangers and seen by members of the public. Then suddenly, after disappearing off the radar for a while, project staff in Ireland were delighted to discover that he had made the journey all the way back to Ireland when his signal was detected in west Kerry in September!
Sadly, two months later in November, a mortality signal was detected from his transmitter, and male “3” was found dead on a hillside near Glencar in County Kerry. Unfortunately, the carcase was too decomposed to obtain adequate samples, and therefore the cause of his death will remain unknown. Three Irish released white-tailed eagles were found poisoned in this area in spring 2008 alone. Most poisoning incidents to date in Ireland have been during the lambing season (Feb-May) when poisons have been laid illegally for foxes and crows.
One hundred WTSEs have been released into the wild in Killarney Nat Park, Co. Kerry between 2007-2011, in an effort to re-establish the species in Ireland since its extinction in the early 20th century. In 2012 the project was boosted by the first nesting in the wild in over 100 years when a pair nested in Co. Clare. The Irish White-tailed Sea Eagle Reintroduction project is a collaboration between the Golden Eagle Trust and the National Parks & Wildlife Service of the Department of Arts, Heritage & the Gaeltacht. Visit the project website at www.goldeneagle.ie
Finally, as predicted by many, the snow has arrived and so have the white-tailed eagles on Loch Leven!! And not surprisingly, it’s the usual suspects that have turned up. Turquoise “H” (wing tag), a 2009 female appeared on Reed Bower Island on the 4th of December, soon to be followed by another bird yesterday.
Thanks to Karen Hartnell for reporting the sighting and for being quick with her camera to take some superb pictures!
We have yet to confirm the identity of the second bird, but we suspect it might be Turquoise “X”- a male who usually accompanies Turquoise "H" to Loch Leven at this time of year.
Loch Leven is an amazing place to watch the birds as there are telescopes set to look out over the loch from the cafe...which also has amazing food, coffee and cake!!