Tracking the east coast sea eagles can be challenging at the best of times. Despite the equipment that we have able to detect a transmitter from up to 50km away, the “undulating” Scottish landscape provides topographical barriers that prevent signals from being detected....unless you’re above it!!
This cunning method of tracking the birds has been used before, and is extremely useful in covering large areas to look for the birds that’s not always achievable on the ground.
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to do this for the first time on Saturday, using a motorised glider to soar high above parts of the Cairngorms to scan for the birds. Being in a glider meant that every so often, we were able to turn off the engine and listen out carefully for any beeps from below.
The weather conditions were ideal and we had good visibility. The rising thermals meant that we able to get a lift as high as we wanted (within reason and not having oxygen on board!!). We clocked almost 11000ft at one point. Not many signals can be hidden from here!
We picked up a good signal for one of the birds released last summer – Grey X. She’s travelled a long way since her release, but this is normal for young sea eagles who are very nomadic. This explains why I and my hard working volunteers haven’t detected any of the juveniles in Fife recently!
Closer to home there are still a good few eagles in the area. The two 2009 birds – Turquoise 1 and Z are still being tracked and seen regularly around Tentsmuir, and we have recently picked up signals for another two 2009 birds which have returned to the area - Turquoise H and X. A 2010 male - Yellow O has also been roosting near Abernethy.
Sadly, a few of weeks ago, 2011 male Red 2 collided with a train near Auchtermuchty. Up until now, we have only known of juvenile birds to collide with trains on the east of Scotland, so it’s unusual for this to happen to a bird coming into his third year. However, this is a common cause of death for young sea eagles in Norway and Sweden where their population is much bigger.
The extended winter and snow cover we’ve been experiencing has meant that it has been quite difficult getting up into some high ground to radio track much further north. Hopefully now that spring has arrived, my attempts will be more successful!
This amazing photograph of a 2009 female (almost certainly Turquoise H) was taken at Loch Leven by Roy Balfour. She's looking very grown up!