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A white-tailed sea eagle chick sitting on its perch on Cribby Island, Lough Derg in 2014. Photograph by Arthur Ellis

Mountshannon’s eaglet takes to the skies

THE only White-tailed Sea Eagle to be born and survive in the wild this year in Ireland has taken her first flight, much to the delight of the locals and visitors to Mountshannon.

A week or two later than expected, the chick fledged for the first time on Saturday last.

Although she is approximately three months old, the eaglet is fully grown and not what the average person would expect when you hear the work ‘chick’.

The Golden Eagle Trust, which is running the reintroduction programme, has identified the chick as female.
Speaking about the latest addition to the Mountshannon eagle clan, Dr Allan Mee of the Golden Eagle Trust said, “She’s fully grown now. The chick is a female and they are bigger than males; they are 10% bigger than males. The female has a wingspan of around 2.4 metres, so you’re talking a 7.5 to eight-foot wingspan.”

Dr Mee said they were able to place a satellite transmitter on the chick, which allows them to track and monitor the bird’s movements remotely, something that wasn’t possible to do last year, with the previous eaglets.

“We’ll be able to follow that [transmitter] throughout the next few years to see where it goes. It allows us to track the bird remotely and the information comes in by satellite to a computer.

“It means if the bird disappears, like the two did last year, we might be able to talk to the local community about the bird being there and let them know we are monitoring the bird. The more eyes that are on the bird, the better, so it will be safer into the future. We certainly don’t want a bird to be shot again,” he said.

He explained that the female chick has an orange and black tag and is now wearing the transmitter, much like a back pack.

“It straps under and over the wing and sits on the back. It only weighs about 70 grams. Compared to the weight of an eagle, it’s pretty small,” he said.

Dr Mee said he expects the chick to stay in and around the Mountshannon area for the next couple of months before it moves but he said it is hard to estimate when it might spread its wings.

“She might stay for the whole winter but it depends. Last time, the chicks left in September. The fact that she is on her own would suggest she might be more likely to stay around but it’s a very individual thing,” he said.

The Mountshannon chick was the only one to survive this year’s breeding season within the reintroduction project, although seven pairs laid eggs. Chicks were born in West Cork but they died when they were very small. Dr Mee said it is expected more breeding pairs will produce viable chicks next year. He added that the local sea eagle pair would be expected to continue breeding every year for the next 15 years.

Denis Minogue of the Mountshannon Eagles Group said, “This is terrific news for everybody involved with the project. The eaglet is progressing rapidly since leaving the nest and, to everyone’s surprise, was observed on Tuesday, perched on the tallest pine on the nest island. The juvenile, although smaller than the adults, is still an impressive bird and visitors are always surprised by her size.”

The newly-installed viewing and information point on Mountshannon Pier is offering visitors a clear view of the nest island. Members of the group and other local volunteers are manning this from early afternoon during the week and from midday on Saturday and Sundays. Telescopes are available for viewing the birds, with the help of the group’s volunteers.

“This is a new stage in the development of the story as, up to now, we had been assisting with observations of the adults attending the nest.”

“The reaction of the public to the eagles and the facilities has been very encouraging. The growing visitor numbers to the new viewing and information at Mountshannon Harbour, which was officially opened on July 4, has exceeded all our expectations. Hopefully, many more people will join with us in this fantastic opportunity to observe Ireland’s only White-tailed Sea Eaglet to fledge in the wild for 2014. We would ask people to respect the birds and not to approach the young eagle when she leaves the island,” Denis Minogue concluded.

Another familiar face at Mountshannon since the eagles first nested there in 2012 has been Mayo native, Nigel Beers Smith. The photographer, author and videographer has been chronicling every moment since then and is equally delighted to see the latest female chick take flight.

“I’ve always been a huge fan of birds of prey, ever since I can remember; there’s just something about them. The fact that I filmed and photographed these magnificent birds, every single day for over seven months, has given me an experience that very few people can say they have had with these birds and I like to share my experience with everyone who is interested. My favourite moments have are from when the female starts sitting on eggs, right up to days like today when the chick has fledged and is flying around; it’s fantastic to watch. I hope that this chick stays healthy and that she is given the best chance possible to fly the skies of Clare and beyond for many many years to come and that she returns one day to have her own little family on this fabulous lake,” he said.

 

Carol Byrne

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