Have you spotted any golden eagles in Lancashire?

If you see a golden eagle in flight you will be amazed at its sheer size

If you see a golden eagle in flight you will be amazed at its sheer size - Credit: Archant

The golden eagle is one of our most iconic birds and there have even been rare sightings in Lancashire. Alan Wright, of The Lancashire Wildlife Trust, reports on the rise of the raptors

The golden eagle is an inhabitant of the highlands of Scotland

The golden eagle is an inhabitant of the highlands of Scotland - Credit: Archant

A couple of weeks before Phil Dykes told me about his ‘Nature Moment’ in Scotland I saw my first golden eagle in Dumfries and Galloway. At first, I doubted what I had seen because the Dalbeattie Forest is not a regular haunt for the UK’s iconic bird of prey – it’s a bit far south. However it was definitely a golden eagle – much bigger than a buzzard, with its long, finger-edge wings and a straight-edged tail.

It lifted itself out of the tree and those huge wings took a couple of flaps before it had vanished. But I had enough time to spot its golden head and neck on a huge brown body, and the distinctive yellow around its bill.

I spoke to a couple of people and apparently it wasn’t such a surprise to see a golden eagle in the south of Scotland. But then I heard of sightings in Lancashire.

According to the National Biodiversity Network, the go-to place for wildlife records, there have been five sightings of golden eagles in the past 50 years. Confirmed sightings were in Liverpool, Bolton, Garstang, Clitheroe and further up in the Forest of Bowland.

A buzzard feeds on a rabbit by Alan Price

A buzzard feeds on a rabbit by Alan Price - Credit: Archant

Some will still doubt these sightings and suggest the birds in question were buzzards and there have also been cases of birds escaping from collections into the wild.

However there have been reported cases of golden eagles spreading their wings and heading even as far as Essex, a long way away from their vast home territories. This would be a terrible shock to your average Essex rabbit.

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But, to be honest, we don’t really need golden eagles as Lancashire’s birds of prey are quite enough to sate the appetite of any birdwatcher.

For starters we have the buzzard, which has bounced back from persecution and pesticide poisoning in the early 20th century. Recently, there were plans to destroy nests in certain areas until Government experts remembered that the buzzard generally only feeds on carrion – that’s dead things to you and me.

Peregrine falcons are nesting in Lancashire by Darin Smith

Peregrine falcons are nesting in Lancashire by Darin Smith - Credit: Archant

Yes, the buzzard will eat small mammals and birds and will even go for large insects and earthworms, but it is mostly food that is already dead.

You will spot buzzards as you are walking through meadows or driving along the motorway. They are the birds that are soaring on thermals high in the air. You can also see them being chased by bullying crows.

I was stuck in a traffic jam, coming off the M602 into the M60 at Worsley, when I was entertained by a couple of crows badgering a buzzard in the woodland between the roads.

Buzzards have broad wings and relatively short tails. They vary in colour from dark brown to paler shades. Under their wings they are white, fringed by brown. They are most obvious by their sheer size compared to other local birds.

The obvious forked tail of the red kite by Alan Wright

The obvious forked tail of the red kite by Alan Wright - Credit: Archant

Heading our way, and expecting to colonise the region in the next couple of years, are red kites. Again this bird was persecuted and was extinct in many areas of the UK but, like the buzzard, the red kite is a scavenger only eating smaller live animals.

A reintroduction programme began 30 years ago and there are now healthy populations in Scotland, Yorkshire, Wales and off the M40 in the Chilterns.

We have reports of red kites on many of our reserves, probably the birds from Yorkshire extending their territory.

Red kites are easy to identify with a white head, red body and wings. In the air they have an obvious forked tail. Keep an eye out this summer, you may see one.

The most exciting bird of prey that we have in Lancashire is the peregrine falcon, this is the fastest creature on earth when it dives from great heights to pounce on prey. The dives have been recorded at up to 200mph.

The black mask, moustache and hood give them away, with their slate-grey body and white chest. We know that they nest in cliffs in many areas around north and eastern Lancashire.

When you add the kestrel, hobby, mars\h harrier, hen harrier and our many owls, there is a wide variety of wonderful raptors hunting in our patch.

Alan is the senior communications and campaigns officer for the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, dedicated to the protection and promotion of the wildlife north of the River Mersey. It manages around 40 nature reserves and 20 Local Nature Reserves covering acres of woodland, wetland, upland and meadow. The Trust has 28,000 members, and over 1,200 volunteers. To join go to the website at www.lancswt.org.uk or call 01772 324129.

My Nature Moment by Phil Dykes

‘My wife Rose and I were holidaying in Scotland and while we were there we took the opportunity to visit one of our favourite glens close to where we used to live back in the 1990s. We wanted to see if golden eagles were still living there and we were not disappointed.

‘As we walked up the track and the trees thinned out we had our first views of an eagle circling above the crags – there was no mistaking the scale of this magnificent bird. Locating its mate further up the glen was brilliant. It was the start of a fantastic day in that special place.’

Phil Dykes was Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s East Lancashire Reserves Officer from 2004 to 2015.’Since I “retired” I have kept myself busy in various ways with various organisations. With LWT I am a member of the conservation committee and also a member of their Speaker Team. I still give support to St James’ Primary School in Clitheroe with members of my former volunteer team – we look after their wildlife garden and I do bug hunts etc with the classes – for which they pay LWT.

‘With the Woodland Trust I am one of their “Woodland Champions” giving advice on new tree planting schemes and visiting potential planting sites to talk to landowners. I am also planning to start some management work at one of their woodlands in Grindleton just outside Clitheroe.

‘With Hanson’s Cement, I look after their Chatburn Nature Reserve and also have got a quarry restoration project in hand with the aim of establishing a new wildflower meadow. I run monthly work parties at Towneley Park on behalf of Burnley Borough Council. And when I am looking for something to do my wife normally collars me to do some work on behalf of “Whalley in Bloom” for whom she is an active volunteer.’

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