29 April 2021

Beaky goes West


by Rick T.

29 April 2021

Eagle Officer John Wright shares his latest encounter with Beaky (C11) over in the south west of Scotland.

'Female Golden Eagle C11, the notorious Beaky, had spent the early part of 2021 exploring the western side of the south of Scotland. During March/early April the three-year-old female’s movements became a little more concentrated.'

After liaising with Dr Ruth Tingay it soon became apparent that Beaky was associating with a three-year-old male Golden Eagle called Keith who had hatched in Galloway in 2018 and was being satellite-tracked by Ruth and her colleagues Dave Anderson and Chris Packham.

The difficulties of telling golden eagles apart.

I joined local raptor workers Chris Rollie and George Christie in early April in the hope of seeing the birds but more than anything, to get a feel for the area in which Beaky had been spending some time. The first sightings were a little after midday when an immature GE was observed displaying some distance away. After performing the undulating display flight, the eagle then came towards us and attracted the attention of a nearby Raven. Both birds circled high overhead for a while before heading east. I would like to be able to say that I recognised the bird immediately as female C11 but honestly, I couldn’t, especially as I knew there was at least one other immature in the area. I scrutinised my photos once the eagle had departed and came to the conclusion that it could even have been an immature male. A short time later as we sat eating our lunch, the same young eagle flew no more than 30m behind us before gaining height and gliding north. It displayed over the same hilltop as earlier (see photo below) before drifting east, this being our last sighting of the day.

Before driving back east I logged onto the project’s website and compared photos of female C11 taken in September 2020 with today’s photos on my camera. After comparing the white primary patches and various dark marks that infiltrate the patches, I was confident we had been watching Beaky. The GPS data confirmed this later that evening.

We later found out from Ruth that the immature male GE, Keith, hadn’t been too far away during our visit and the tag data showed us that C11 re-joined him later that day.

Reflecting on the day’s experience, it reinforced just how difficult it is to sex a lone Golden Eagle. The heavier body and broader wings of a female are clearly apparent when seen in the company of a male (as with Goshawks) but are often difficult to judge on a lone bird.

A few days after my visit to the west, female C11 then returned east and joined up with male C09, Edward, the eagle she shared an aviary with as a chick in 2018.'

Words and Photos - John Wright