RSPB Scotland has today issued an appeal for information following the disappearance of a satellite tagged golden eagle near Strathdon in Aberdeenshire.
The young male eagle was fitted with a transmitter by a licensed raptor study group member, before it fledged from a nest in Deeside in the summer of 2016. Data received from the tag allowed conservationists to study the movements of the bird, known as "338", as it explored north-east Scotland's countryside.
As with most young eagles, the bird spent the first few weeks after fledging in the area around its nest, before moving further away as it matured and was more able to fend for itself, spending much of its time on the eastern side of the Cairngorms National Park.
Overnight on Sunday 5th/Monday 6th March, the tag fitted to 338 inexplicably stopped working, having being functioning perfectly up to that point. The bird's last recorded position was in Glenbuchat just before nightfall on 5th March. No further data has been received.
Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland's Head of Investigations said: "As soon as we became aware of this bird's disappearance, we notified Police Scotland, in line with PAW Scotland protocols, who concurred that the circumstances were suspicious. These tags are very reliable, and the sudden cessation of transmissions strongly suggests the bird has died. Had the bird succumbed to natural causes, we would expect to continue to receive data and to be able to locate and recover the body of the eagle with ease".
Follow up enquiries on the North Glenbuchat Estate by police officers, assisted by RSPB staff, yielded no sign of the bird.
In 2011, a satellite-tagged golden eagle was found illegally poisoned on the same estate, with a shot short-eared owl and poisoned buzzard also discovered. Another satellite-tagged golden eagle disappeared here in September 2011, with further such tagged birds also vanishing in the same area, in February 2012 and May 2013. In April 2014, the first young white-tailed eagle to fledge from a nest in the east of Scotland in one hundred years also disappeared here.
Ian Thomson continued "The circumstances surrounding the disappearance of eagle 338 are similar to a number of previous cases currently being considered by an independent review of satellite-tagged birds of prey commissioned by the Scottish Government. If this review reveals a geographical pattern to disappearing golden eagles, we will be pressing the Scottish Government for firm action, including the introduction of a licensing system for driven grouse shooting, with sanctions for licence removal from land where there is evidence of illegal practices. In the meantime, we appeal for any information about the disappearance of this bird to contact the police".