Thursday, 19 June 2014

An eagle-erly awaited twitch

Sorry about the appalling pun. For the last two weeks or so, a short-toed eagle has been on holiday in the south of England. Initially seen at Morden Bog in Dorset it then went on walkabout around Hampshire and the allied counties before finally settling down to a favoured area in Sussex. Although the late sunsets mean a long night watching crepuscular birds, it does afford the opportunity for after-work twitches. So, at 5.30 I found myself sitting in traffic on the A40/ M25 and fretting about the slowness of the pace of the journey.
The bird had been seen from two locations - Gills Lap where it has been hunting, and "Long car park" near Wych Cross, where it was roosting. Both are in Ashdown Forest. It was reported about mid afternoon at Long car park but nothing since.
It took till about 7 to get on site. The car park was reasonably full and I arrived at the same time as another who had driven down from Norfolk. Walking onto the heath it was strangely quiet with no birders in sight and about 5 tracks leading in different directions. Then an alert came through that the bird was still present "in a lone pine south of the car park". Well, a lone pine is difficult to spot in a forest. Luckily some local birders turned up and pointed us in the right direction. About 500 yards down was a group of around 50 birders, all with 'scopes pointing at a wood. They put us onto a taller pine, where the eagle was apparently sitting in.
Now I've had some poor views of birds before but this was ridiculous. It was in deep cover, behind branches and around half a mile away. The call was "look for a white patch" and that was all you could see. You could see movement, and feathers and tell it was a bird but not more than that.It has been here for about two hours but no way could you claim you identify it.
So, the long wait started. It hadn't roosted there before so we were hopeful of it moving on, and after, I guess, 45 minutes suddenly there was a "it's flying" call. This beautiful, very white raptor took to the air over the tree line. It was in view for around a minute before drifting out of sight, but without gaining any real height.

   Although the photos are taken at extreme range you can see the colours and the "short-toes".
The happy throngs hung about for a couple of minutes and gradually wended our way back. No sign of the bird in the air.
Cresting a small rise though I saw a small crowd with the 'scopes all pointing in the same direction. An increase in pace and I saw what they were looking it. It had only moved about half a mile and settled again, this time at the top of a tree, in perfect view. It was still a long way off, but with the setting sun behind me it gave stunning 'scope views. The crippler was when it looked straight at you, it's piercing golden eyes almost glowing in the evening light.
This photo shows you what it actually looked like, this through a 100mm lens.

These are as good as it gets at 400mm. Nowhere near does this give the bird justice. People just couldn't leave. One couple I had been talking to I met at three points along the path out, both of us stopping for "one more look". Finally, with the sun setting and the light fading I left to the joys of the M25. A superb bird and I'd like to go back to see it hunting where apparently it's being mobbed by a honey buzzard!!