During December there were 3-6 records for each second year bird in the Derryveagh range, including Glenveagh National Park. There were also several days when these birds could not be located in the Derryveagh range. It seems as if the five second year eagles are following the same pattern; foraging in other nearby mountain ranges and returning to the Derryveagh Mountains and the release site regularly, possibly to see if there is a single territory holding eagle in place or to begin establishing themselves as territorial sub-adults. 3 or 4 of these eagles are usually located in and appear to favour particular sections of the National Park. Obviously we do not want to prejudice any potential future breeding attempts, in several years time, by identifying those areas. All eagle sightings and radio-tracking data up to the end of 2002 are currently being analysed.
The first year eagles were quite sedentary during December and all eight birds were often found in Glenveagh itself or the immediate vicinity. Supplementary feeding (deer and crows put out on platforms in small trees) and deer stalking (grealloch and an occasional carcass left on the hill) ensured there was a steady supply of food in this area.
The only known movements of any note were the presence of Blue 2 on Lehanmore and Blue 8 roosting near Lough Inshagh (3km away) on the 6th December and Blue 2 and Blue 5 on Lehanmore (only 2km away) on the 18th December.
However, some birds were absent from Glenveagh for varying periods during December. The following birds were not located in Glenveagh on the following dates; Blue 8 on the 4th and 6th, Blue 2 and Blue 8 on the 10th, Blue 2 and Blue 5 on the 13th, Blue 8 on the 16th and Blue 8 was elsewhere on the 24th, 30th and 31st December. Interestingly all the above movements and unknown movements (hence their absence from the Park) refer to first year males, Blue 2, Blue 5 and Blue 8.
The only other interesting observations during the month involve Blue 2. On the 16th December, whilst radio tracking, Blue 2 was flushed from a slopping grassy and gravel edge of a shallow stream. I could not see the bird as I honed in on the radio signal. The stream ran along the bottom of the glen and when I surprised the eagle, it took several seconds for it to laboriously take off and gain elevation. There were large boulders behind it on one side of the burn and a more open sloping bank on the far side. I believe it would have walked uphill and onto the boulders for takeoff, if I had not disturbed it. There was no carrion in the vicinity and it did not appear to be suitable for frogs, mice or other prey items. I believe the bird was drinking, as there was no available fresh carrion in the Park that week, which probably affected its liquid requirements. (See the Golden Eagle, by Jeff Watson and published by T &AD Poyser - page 54.)
On the 23rd December, two males, Blue 2 and Two Spots were seen talon grappling in Glenveagh. They locked talons in mid air and tumbled and spiraled earthward on two separate occasions, before disengaging and regaining normal flight control. The older Two Spots was the aggressor and dominant bird. Two Spots was in the same area the following day and at the end of the month. As a first-year male, on the 21st December 2001, Two Spots was seen talon grappling with a female, Horizontal Bar, in nearly the exact same spot. The changing length of daylight hours, around the solstice, may be one of the triggers for such aggression in young male eagles. On a personal note, it is very reassuring to see these occasional flickers of latent breeding behaviour.