Where to see white-tailed eagles in Dorset

Large brown eagle on the ground by a marshy lagoon

White-tailed eagle G461 on the Brownsea Lagoon in November - Credit: Stuart Pentland 

The presence of a white-tailed eagle in Poole Harbour is sure to get pulses racing on any birdwatching expedition. Paul Morton from Birds of Poole Harbour reveals the Dorset locations for a possible sighting of this magnificent eagle which is currently resident in the area

Most people will be familiar with the majestic golden eagle, a species that’s sadly still as rare in the UK as it was 20 years ago. However, there is a second eagle that frequents our UK shores, one so large that it’s hard to see how they can go undetected in such a populated landscape.

In 2019, the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation in partnership with Forestry England began a white-tailed eagle reintroduction on the Isle of Wight; the purpose was to re-establish a breeding English population, something that had been missing for nearly 300 years. White-tailed eagles were once native to Southern Britain, but were persecuted to extinction and their population never recovered. They are the fourth largest eagle in the world, and have the largest wingspan of all the eagles, measuring in at an incredible eight-foot. 

I always hoped that despite the reintroduction taking place on the Isle of Wight, the eagles would visit Poole Harbour as they explored their new surroundings… and explore they did! To date, five white-tailed eagles from the project have visited or passed through Poole Harbour. Even more exciting news is that we now have a semi-resident individual, a young male called G461.  

Collected under licence from a wild nest in Scotland in June 2020, as part of the reintroduction project, he was released on the Isle of Wight later that summer. After spending a while on the island, he headed off to Norfolk where he spent time on the Ouse Washes for much of that winter. Then in summer 2021 he cruised back south again, appearing in Poole Harbour on September 16th where he’s been a regular visitor ever since. Having observed him over many weeks, we know that he has a very set routine. This includes favoured feeding and hunting sites such as Middlebere, Brands Bay, Brownsea Island and the Wareham Channel where his presence has left many a birder and nature lover speechless.

Huge brown eagle being chased by a raven in the sky

White-tailed eagle G461 over Middlebere being chased by a raven, this shot was captured over the Christmas period - Credit: Pennhillman 

 

In fact, I was on Poole Quay one afternoon with colleagues and saw G461 flying over Brownsea. I couldn’t quite believe I was watching a wild eagle flying over Poole Harbour, it was a childhood dream come true!  

Since September G461 has been watched, photographed and admired many times, but for a bird that’s so large he’s incredibly hard to find as white-tailed eagles spend up to 90% of their day sat in large trees, making them almost invisible for most of the day. 

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People have absolutely no cause to fear or feel threatened by these incredible birds. They’d much prefer to find a dead deer or catch a rabbit or wild goose and then hide away and eat it for the rest of the day. White-tailed eagles and humans have lived harmoniously side by side for many years in countries like Holland, Germany and Denmark. So much so that a pair recently began nesting in Helsinki city centre! 

Whether G461 decides to stay and make a home here in Poole Harbour, only time will tell. But his presence is enough to have a positive focus on local conservation efforts. And, the sheer fact that we all now have the chance of seeing wild eagles in Poole Harbour after an absence of nearly three centuries is something to celebrate.  

For latest sightings of birds around Poole Harbour including the white-tailed eagle click here. Book a birdwatching cruise around the area the eagle has been sighted at  birdsofpooleharbourbookings.co.uk