Thursday, 9 May 2013

White-tailed Eagle - White/Black J

There are various methods for uniquely colour-marking birds to identify and track movements of individuals, and using coded colour-rings such as those used on the Black-headed Gulls is just one.

Another method, and one which is used widely for raptors, is wing-tagging.  Fitting coloured tags to the patagium of the bird with a code printed on them allows observers to tell where a bird has come from, the year it was born and if close enough to read the code, identify the invidual bird.

At the start of last week I was out one evening at Capanagh near Larne in County Antrim with my 16-month old son watching the Ravens going into roost.  As we were heading home I saw a bird in the distance being mobbed by what I assumed was a Hooded Crow. 

I quickly realised that the bird mobbing was actually a Raven and the bird it was mobbing was a White-tailed Eagle (WTE)!  The bird flew across a clearing and landed at the edge of the wood.  Unfortunately the sun was setting directly behind the trees and it was very difficult to see the bird properly.

Mobile phone reception at Capanagh is non-existent, so I shot to the top of Glenarm Glen and called Neal Warnock, a friend and colleague who lives in Larne.

A short while later, Neal appeared and I showed him where the bird had gone in and I headed home to put Ruben to bed. Neal hung around for another hour or so until the sun set and managed to not only see the bird, he also got this photo.

Photo by Neal Warnock

You can clearly make out the wing-tag, White J (although it looks light blue in the photo!).

I called Allan Mee, the WTE Project Officer in Co. Kerry and reported the sighting and he was able to tell me that this bird was a female brought over from Norway and released in Killarney National Park in 2011 by the Golden Eagle Trust as part of the reintroduction project.

The next day, Neal was conducting wader surveys near Capanagh and was lucky enough to see and photograph the eagle again as it flew overhead!

Photo by Neal Warnock

This is the second WTE I've seen in Northern Ireland, after seeing a bird near Lough Neagh in 2009 and the sighting is made even sweeter by the news which broke yesterday that two pairs of WTE have hatched chicks in Counties Kerry and Clare.  This is the first time wild WTE have hatched chicks on the island of Ireland in 110 years and is a fantastic milestone for this wonderful project.

You can find out more about the WTE project by visiting their website and you can see a video and photos of the nesting WTE by going to their Facebook page.

Photo by Kevin Mawhinney

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