Aonghus the white-tailed sea eagle has fans intrigued

Given the many setbacks an exciting, eagle reintroduction project has suffered, any smidgeon of positive news is welcome.

An Irish-bred, white-tailed sea eagle has become the first of its species to reach England, which is being celebrated by nature lovers here and the UK, all hoping it will be safe. 

Named Aonghus and fledged last year in Connemara, Co Galway, it’s not the first to leave the country as at least seven others had already ventured to Scotland.

After a trip around the south-east and east coast of Ireland, Aonghus headed north to Malin Head, in Donegal. 

On May 1, he went east to reach the north Antrim coast before making the shortest crossing (21km) to the Mull of Kintyre.

He headed north-east, on May 5, crossing over the isle of Arran before roosting near Gilston, south-east of Edinburgh. 

He then flew east towards Berwick-on-Tweed before eventually stopping in a small upland area 30km south of the Scotland/England border.

Since the programme to restore white-tailed eagles here began in 2007, around 100 birds — all sourced from Norway where there’s a thriving population — have been released in Killarney National Park.

So far, 25 Irish-bred chicks have fledged and most are still alive, according to Allan Mee. 

Some eagles were lost to bird flu, last year, while Storm Hannah also took its toll, last month, disturbing birds which had been sitting on eggs, with some even abandoning their nests during the storm. 

Up to eight pairs were laying eggs.

“The timing of storm during the breeding season was just terrible,’’ said Dr Mee. "The storm and the 2018 avian flu showed just how vulnerable these birds are to such unexpected events.’’ 

But not all is lost. A Killarney pair has hatched this year. Also, two pairs in Lough Derg, Co Clare, continue to attract a deal of public attention. In Lough Derg, the first Irish-bred female has teamed up a mate and she herself was hatched there. 

Many of the birds are satellite-tracked and there are now at least 10 pairs in the wild in Ireland, including Glengarriff. It is believed more than 10 other birds have not paired.

The eagles tend to travel a good deal, especially in their second year, but many of those which go to Scotland, where there’s a large eagle population, return. 

A Killarney female, for example, which spent a winter in Scotland, came back to Killarney to breed.

Poisoning has been a problem for the eagles, but there has been no confirmed poisoning in Ireland since April 2015, though there was an inconclusive case just before Christmas 2018.

Overall, it seems illegal poisoning has declined as a serious cause of eagle deaths.

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