A national rewilding project working with the largest bird of prey native to the British Isles has confirmed another sighting of one of these spectacular birds in this part of south London. IAN JONES was in the right place to witness it
A white-tailed eagle, the largest bird of prey native to the British Isles, was sighted over Beddington Farmlands last week.
A captive eagle has in the past been used as a mascot by Crystal Palace FC ahead of their games at Selhurst Park. And last Thursday’s sighting of the huge raptor was made by keen bird-watcher – and Palace fan – Ian Jones and a friend, from one of the special hides installed at the south London nature reserve.
The birds of prey are part of a reintroduction programme based on the Isle of Wight.
The sighting at Beddington of this spectacular bird, which is also known as a sea eagle, follows that of another reintroduced bird species, the white stork, from a project being run in Sussex and which stayed at the Farmlands last autumn.
Like the stork project, the sea eagles reintroduction is being run in conjunction with the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation. Four of the young eagles were released in August 2019. The project managers say that they “have wandered widely, with the satellite tracking data providing a valuable insight into their movements and how they have learnt to live successfully in the English landscape”.
Sea eagles have a wingspan of up to eight feet wide. They feed mainly on fish and water birds. The project will see at least six birds released annually.
The last known breeding pair in England were recorded at Culver Cliff on the Isle of Wight in 1780.
It is hoped that the birds will eventually breed in the wild, mirroring the success of a reintroduction scheme in Scotland.
It took several decades after chicks from Norway were returned to Scotland in the 1970s before the birds bred and expanded their range. There are now 130 breeding pairs across Scotland, and the six young Isle of Wight birds were taken from Scotland under special licence.
The Scottish reintroduction, which centred on the Isle of Mull, was found to have bolstered the local economy by up to £5million a year.
According to the Foundation’s tracking devices, the bird sighted at Beddington last week was a female identified as G405, who in the previous week had flown nearly 700 miles. On the day of her Beddington sighting, the Foundation tweeted, “She completed a circuit of southern Scotland on [April 3] before heading south through England. Today she flew directly over London to Kent.”
Ian Jones takes up his story, “I was lucky enough to have a few days off work, so any spare time I have, I usually head for Beddington Farmlands. April is a good time of year as the spring migrants begin to arrive, swallows, sand martin chiffchaff and willow warbler among them.
“I was joined by Zach, another regular Beddington birder and we were walking around the site looking for any new arrivals, but due the the cold weather there wasn’t too many new birds about. Best of the morning were two little ringed plover, yellow wagtail, sparrowhawk, kestrel, buzzard and a peregrine.
“Shortly after leaving the wet grassland hide, heading for the North Lake hide, Zach and I noticed all the gulls and crows go up, normally a good sign there’s a raptor about.
“It wasn’t long before I looked straight up and immediately saw a huge bird of prey. I knew instantly it wasn’t the usual buzzard that had caused the mayhem and said to Zach, ‘white-tailed eagle!’
“We started to take a few photos of this huge bird.
“As I carried on watching the eagle, Zach was frantically on his phone ringing a close friend to tell him the white-tailed eagle was heading his way and to put the news on our birdwatchers’ WhatsApp group.
“Luckily, a couple of other Beddington birders saw the Bird from their houses after seeing the news.
“As there had been alot of reports of white-tailed eagles around the country, I had wondered how long it would be before we get one at Beddington. I didn’t think it would me me that found it a few days later!
“It was a very exciting moment, one I will not forget. Being a Crystal Palace fan, it wasn’t long before the other members on our WhatsApp group were saying it was apt that an eagle found the eagle.”
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