Red K was seen near Glenveagh and Red F had returned to the north of the Donegal during the month. Blue 5 was again in its favoured haunts in early April. Red X was radio tracked near Dunlewey, adjacent to Glenveagh, on the 26th April. At the same time a very distant spec a couple of kilometers to the east was identified as a Golden Eagle as it soared effortlessly upward toward the tumulus clouds. A second eagle joined it and both birds soared together into the grey cloud and were lost from view. I checked and rechecked all the eagle radio signals and slight frequency variations but got no radio signals. Green A, H, T, N, X and O were all noted briefly visiting the Bluestacks during the month.
There was a very interesting report of a “grey tagged sub-adult Golden Eagle” from Loch Ba, the Isle of Mull, Scotland on the 7th April. The observer said the tags were much smaller than the tags used on the local White-tailed Eagles. Our tags are much smaller than the WTE tags. We have not used grey wing tags on the Glenveagh Golden Eagles but we believe nobody else is wing-tagging eagles in Scotland or Ireland. The observers may have seen sky-blue tags, as used on the 2002 cohort. There was a sighting of a Golden Eagle with sky blue tags on 20th April 2004 near Binevenagh, just across the mouth of Lough Foyle from Inishowen, Donegal and it is only a few short hops over to the North Antrim Coast and over to the Mull of Kintyre. Loch Ba is approx 203km from Glenveagh as compared to a dispersal of 412km down to the coast of Kerry. There have been reports of Golden Eagles in Wales over the last 18 months – but they could be falconry birds, Scottish young or Glenveagh birds.
The breeding female, Yellow Diagonal Bar, continued to sit during April. A quick clutch check three weeks into incubation confirmed the nest was secure and very dry. The one egg was measured and was an average size (59.5mm x 74.8mm). The male was seen regularly on site, incubating, loafing nearby or adding greenery to the nest. All was well for the first four weeks of the 6-week incubation. But on Friday the 22nd April the male did not attend the nest once during an entire 10-hour observation stint. The female was sitting on Saturday but there was still no sign of the male. By Sunday it was apparent the male was missing or dead. The female came off the eyrie and was calling and yelping for the male. She would normally be relieved of her incubation duties at least once a day. In an effort to keep her sitting I went back to the nest and placed in some deer venison on the edge of the nest. The egg was cold and when examined its contents were found to be watery. It was either an infertile egg or the egg failed early during incubation.
In early May, after many more visits, we assumed that the male bird was dead. But on the 9th May a yellow tagged male (with the same amount of white on the underwing and the same missing primary as Yellow Two Spots) landed near the nest for about 40 seconds. The tag markings were not visible and it could possibly have been Yellow Three Spots. A further 8 hours watching at the nest on the 9th and 10th May showed the female sitting constantly and no sign of the male. So at present there is uncertainty about the status of Yellow Two Spots.
Four years after the first releases, Golden Eagles are an Irish breeding species again, which has several positive implications. The breeding failure by two inexperienced 4-year-old birds is not surprising. As more eagles reach maturity and gain breeding experience in Ireland, over the coming years, we look forward to the first egg hatching and a Donegal bred eagle taking to the skies.
Both 4-year-old birds that bred were among the 6 birds imported in 2001 –the low numbers partly attributable to the Foot and Mouth outbreak. Like all other reintroduction programmes the number of birds released will be critical to the success of the project. Only 35 Golden Eagles have been released in Donegal over the last four years. We still intend releasing 60-75 birds in Donegal as per our original licence application to Scottish Natural Heritage. Therefore we have applied to SNH for a licence extension, from 5 to 8 years. We aim to collect our fifth cohort from Scotland in late June 2005. With your help we can ensure Golden Eagles are successfully reestablished in Ireland.