Wild White-tailed Eagle in Surrey

The first wild White-tailed Eagle to be seen in Surrey for 114 years was photographed yesterday [Monday 13 April] by Isaiah Rowe as it flew high south over his Worcester Park garden at 2.30 pm.

White-tailed Eagle, Worcester Park (I Rowe).
White-tailed Eagle, Worcester Park (I Rowe).

The extraordinary record comes following a reintroduction scheme on the Isle of Wight and this individual, an immature, was initially thought to be one of these birds – two have already flown through Surrey since 23 March, according to the data from their satellite tags. However, Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation – the organisation behind the project – have since confirmed the Worcester Park bird was not in fact from their released stock.

Strangely, the first major wanderings of the Isle of Wight birds have coincided with a small influx of wild White-tailed Eagles from the continent, following a run of strong easterly winds in March. Thus, it seems certain that the Surrey individual is of wild origin and, pending acceptance, will constitute the first vice-county record since a male was shot at Titsey Park, on the North Downs north of Limpsfield, on 12 November 1906. All of the six other Surrey records came before 1900.

Below is Isaiah’s account of this remarkable record: “Birding from the garden and my local patches is one of the great enjoyments of living in suburban Worcester Park. All sorts can turn up – not always scarce birds, but relative to the local area they may be exciting to find. Occasionally that heart-racing moment may come along.

Many of us are stuck at home at present and since I can’t visit sites where I enjoy birding and wildlife photography, like many I’ve focused on my garden. In the past I’ve had a juvenile Gannet fly over after a stormy period, as well as Yellowhammer, Snipe, Redstart and Hobby. For the past few weeks I’ve been watching and recording birds of prey as they pass over, logging well over 50 individual raptors (mostly Buzzards and Red Kites), which are unusual in my part of Surrey. Then came ‘eagle day’ …

White-tailed Eagle, Worcester Park (I Rowe).
White-tailed Eagle, Worcester Park (I Rowe).

Monday 13 April 2020 started different to recent days in terms of weather – there was a cold northerly wind. I wasn’t so keen on sitting outside as I wasn’t expecting anything to be moving, so I decided to watch now and then from the window, as sometimes I pick out stuff from there. And that’s how I spotted it! It was 2.30 pm and I noticed a large bird of prey drifting at quite a height, heading fast and firmly south. I grabbed my bins as I immediately noticed it wasn’t a Buzzard, before opening the window wide as I followed it drifting (with wings slightly folded) and heading away.

I chose to quickly draw my camera (which is always kept ready in case of a moment like this). I fired away a few record shots and finally it turned its wings as it began to catch a thermal and circle, revealing the unmistakable shape of a ‘flying barn door’! I’ve seen White-tailed Eagles several times on the continent, so this was something that was firmly stuck in my mind. I was completely shocked and shouted “eagle” to my family at home.

By then, it was already too far away and when my mum got to the window it had disappeared to the south. My heart was racing as I thought I’ve got to put the news out. I took a few back-of-camera shots on my phone and sent them to a few birders before the news went out. Sadly it wasn’t seen by anyone else.

During the rest of the day, and even now while writing, this I feel incredibly stoked to have actually seen a White-tailed Eagle in England, let alone from my suburban house. It just shows that anything can flyover, no matter where you are. It’s just a matter of checking everything you come across as, one day, it may be the real deal.”