White-tailed Eagles in Northamptonshire

Is White-tailed Eagle the ultimate local rarity? If not, then it must certainly be the most majestic. Few of today’s birders – possibly only four, in fact – have seen one in the county …

A spate of sightings across southern and eastern England during late March and early April relates in part to four wandering juveniles, ringed, radio-tagged and released on the Isle of Wight in the first stage of a new reintroduction program for this species. The recent movements of each of these individuals have been detailed by Roy Dennis here and one of these birds, ‘G318’, a female, was tracked as it entered Northamptonshire airspace, from the south, during the afternoon of 4th April. At approximately 14.00, it was logged east of Daventry, moving north at an altitude of 521 metres, before eventually roosting in a wood near Grimsby, Lincolnshire during the evening.

However, there have been other sightings of juveniles which are not attributable to any of the above four individuals and it is believed there could be as many as four or five continental birds wandering around the UK, including a metal-ringed bird which is thought to be from Sweden.

It’s been just under two weeks since one of these was seen at Kings Cliffe, in north-east Northants. It was initially thought to be a Golden Eagle, although the tail shape rules that species out and, set in the context of all the other recent sightings, White-tailed Eagle is clearly the species in the frame. Michael Bunting was the lucky observer.

The above bird was also reported as still being in the area on 31st March and may well have been the bird seen and photographed by Mark Hawkes as it moved south-east, mobbed by corvids, over Grafham Water and Perry, Cambridgeshire on the morning of 2nd April. Grafham is little more than 30 km south-east of Kings Cliffe … as the eagle flies.

Juvenile White-tailed Eagle, Grafham Water, Cambridgeshire, 2nd April 2020 (Mark Hawkes)

Prior to this, there has been only one recent record in Northants – one in flight over Wansford on 23rd January 2005, which had toured north-east Norfolk from late December 2004 before spending several days around the Ouse Washes in Cambridgeshire in January. Richard Patient was the lucky observer on this occasion and his narrative, below, forms part of the accounts published on the Cambridge Bird Club website by several birders who were fortunate enough to connect with it.

Juvenile White-tailed Eagle, Great Bircham, Norfolk, 15th January 2005 (Paul Bowyer www.birdlist.co.uk). This bird crossed from Cambridgeshire into Northamptonshire on 23rd January 2005.

And you have to go a long way back for the one prior to that – a site-faithful individual which spent successive winters at Blatherwycke Lake, from 1897-98 to 1901-02 and was last seen there on 16th January 1902.

According to BirdLife International (2020), the White-tailed Eagle population is increasing so, hopefully, we can expect more local records in the future.

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