Eagle soars to new heights at his home in the mountains
I LOVE the puzzles and identification problems that I am sent by readers, not least because I often learn something myself during the research.
This week was no exception when I was sent a short video of a large bird of prey in Donegal in the Republic of Ireland. The clip was also shared on Facebook, and several interested parties had already left comments including, ‘It’s definitely bigger than a buzzard’, and, ‘It’s too close to the road for an eagle’. The latter observation made me smile as, no eagle ever worried about a mere road.
The video was grainy but for me there was no doubt, the bird was a white-tailed sea eagle. The sheer size of its barn-door wings gave the game away, and then after my internal process of elimination kicked in, with the understanding that there has been a recent re-introduction programme of the bird in Ireland, and also, of course, that the west coast of Scotland, where they thrive, is just a few flaps away when you possess an eight foot wing-span.
The reader was delighted, and so was I, especially when I turned up further news of the sea eagle in Ireland. An individual named ‘Star’ has been tracked crossing Ireland from Galway to Wicklow. The golden Star was hatched in 2009 and has previously bred in Galway but lost his partner in 2015. He is now exploring the Wicklow Mountains and has roosted near Lough Dan.
The Golden Eagle Trust explain in their post: “He really is a wandering Star, and this time its back to one of his other favourite haunts, Co. Wicklow… via the Slieve Aughties in South Galway/N Clare on February 7, Slieve Bernagh in Clare on February 8, across Tipperary to Urlingford on February 9, across North Kilkenny into Laois and Kildare to reach Wicklow on February 16, to roost near Lough Dan’.
were once a familiar sight all over Ireland and many skeletal remains have been found in ancient sites throughout the country, from the Mesolithic (Mount Sandel, near Coleraine), some 9,000 years ago, to the medieval (Waterford), 13th-14th century. They have also been found at Lough Gur, County Limerick and Woodquay, Dublin. Their presence has been recorded in art and folklore alike from many of the earliest settlements.
Eagles have been an important symbolic image in early Christian art, their form being has been used in illuminated manuscripts, like the Book of Kells, where it is a common theme, to the eagle holding a fish as illustrated in the Book of Armagh.
Following the retreat of the glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago, sea eagles became established at sites from Greenland through Eurasia to Japan. However, persecution, loss of habitat and, more recently, pollution have led to a great decline in the numbers of sea eagles across the whole of their range. They have been lost entirely from several countries. Norway remains their stronghold with over 1,500 pairs and eastern Europe also being populated by many.
The white-tailed sea eagle is the fourth largest eagle in the world and our largest bird of prey. They are noticeably bulkier and heavier than the golden eagle. The birds have characteristic long, broad, fingered wings, heavy bill and short wedge-shaped tail. This species has a large head a large thick beaks and distinctive yellow talons. The adult is mainly greyish-brown except for the slightly paler head and neck, blackish flight feathers, and distinctive white tail. All bare parts are yellow in colour, including both the bill and the legs. It is very similar to its famous close relative, the Bald Eagle, national symbol of the USA. Another strong feature is its yellow eye from which it gains its poetic Scottish Gaelic name, Iolaire-suile-nagrein, ‘the eagle with the sunlit eye’.
White-tailed sea eagle
The Laughing Badger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Padfield, Glossop