Saturday, 21 December 2013

Golden Eagle found poisoned in the Angus Glens

RSPB Scotland yesterday condemned those responsible for the killing of a satellite-tagged Golden Eagle, found poisoned on the hills above Glen Lethnot in Angus. The bird was discovered after Roy Dennis of the Highland Foundation for Wildlife, who was monitoring the eagle's movements, became suspicious when the satellite signal remained static for several days. He immediately alerted the police and RSPB Scotland investigations staff who later visited the area, which is intensively managed for grouse shooting, and a search of the moor allowed the recovery of the dead bird.

 The eagle's movement's prior to its discovery poisoned.

Tests carried out by the Scottish Government laboratory of Science and Advice for Scottish agriculture confirmed that the bird had been poisoned. The eagle, named "Fearnan", was ringed as a chick in a nest near Loch Tay in Perthshire in June 2011 and had spent much of its life in Badenoch, before moving to the Angus glens in early November. Just three weeks later, it had been poisoned.

The poisoned Golden Eagle © RSPB Investigations Team

Stuart Housden, Director of RSPB Scotland, said: "This appalling incident involving a species recently voted as the nation's favourite bird, marks a dreadful end to the Year of Natural Scotland. We have recently submitted a petition to the Scottish Government, asking for the Golden Eaggle to be officially designated as the national bird of Scotland. Incidents such as this show very clearly why this iconic bird needs not just our recognition, but also greater protection. We sincerely hope that those responsible are swiftly brought to justice and would encourage those with information to come forward."

In the past five and a half years, another four eagles, a Red Kite and seven Buzzards have been shot, poisoned or trapped on sporting estates situated in the Angus Glens. In January 2013, the nest tree of a pair of White-tailed Eagles was felled. No-one has been prosecuted for any of these offences.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, RSPB, fitting the satellite tag harness onto the eaglet prior to stitching and glueing the harness bands to establish a good fit (© Keith Brockie)

Mr Housden added: "I will be asking the environment spokesperson of all the parties in the Scottish Parliament to take cross-party action to stiffen the penalties for those convicted of such offences and to look again at the regulation of sport shooting. The current state of affairs is simply unacceptable."

A recent report by RSPB Scotland revealed that a significant number of incidents of illegal killing of birds of prey took place in areas managed for driven grouse shooting.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Thoughts on the Baikal Teal in Lancashire

Following the report of a drake Baikal Teal at Marshside RSPB, Lancashire yesterday an image subsequently emerged via social media. The digiscoped image from the finder appeared to show a drake with an unusual face pattern, lacking the black vertical line running from below the eye to the chin.

Initial internet searches failed to find any comparable images of drake Baikal Teal with this vertical line absent, and this aligned with news that a hybrid had been seen the previous week resulted in the incorrect conclusion that this individual was one and the same and of hybrid origin.

Later yesterday evening an image was circulated apparently showing a drake Baikal Teal from Japan that did not show the black vertical line (see here).  We did some further digging however and located the original image and additional images taken the same day of this presumed 1st-winter drake in Japan that clearly show it did have the black vertical line albeit a narrow one (see here). In addition communication with the observer of last week's hybrid pointed to a different second individual being involved.

In order to try and clarify the identification and establish whether drake Baikal Teal can ever lack this black line we emailed various individuals for comment. Our first response came this morning from Peter Kennerley, who has extensive experience of Asian duck. Peter made the following comments:

"In my personal experience drake Baikal Teal would always show this vertical line...However it is variable in width, on some narrow, others broad"

"...the lack of a black bar on the face isn't a hybrid character (but could be the result of inbreeding from a captive population?)"

Further comments from ex-BBRC chairman Colin Bradshaw provided a plausible suggestion that may explain the absence of the black line commenting thus

"It not only lacks the dark bridle but also the black triangular patch below the eye that this extends from. What I am not clear is whether the bridle feathers are grown in black tipped white and then the white tip abrades off [quite likely I would think].  In that case this white bridle would be a short-lived but common transient feature of all males. However if they grow in black straight away then it wouldn’t."

After further searching an image taken in Japan in December (see here) and another image of a captive bird here may provide further evidence in support of Colin's comments as both individuals have a faint dark line appearing, perhaps as the paler feather tips abrade.

This all points away from my original thoughts that the facial pattern was as a result of hybrid origin and it will be interesting to see, if this individual lingers, whether the face pattern changes in the coming weeks or the line remains absent. Proving its origin however is a whole different ball game!

A short video from Crossens Marsh was made available (via Youtube) by Pete Hines this evening.