Ea­gle soars to new heights at his home in the moun­tains

Macclesfield Express - - THE LAUGHING BADGER - SEAN WOOD

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’.

White-tails (

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

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