White-Tailed prepare for flight
Any day now two rather plump White-Tailed Eagle fledglings still with “feathers all stubby and brown” will take one last ungainly step to the furthest branch of an ash tree on an island on Lough Derg and take flight for the first time.
It will be a historic moment - the first White-Tailed Eagles hatched in Ireland in 110 years flying free - and tangible evidence that the ambitious conservation project to re-introduce the raptors to the Irish landscape has borne fruit.
And it will also be a triumph for the eagle chicks who have had to deal with a fly-away mother and a dad who has shown a marked reluctance to actually tend to his two offspring.
Mother left the nest and hasn’t returned since shortly after a CCTV camara designed to protect them was set up some distance away from the nest on the island not far from Mountshannon, Co Clare. The camera was enough to spook the bird and she hasn’t returned since but has been seen some distance away in good health.
Father is still hanging around swooping spectacularly on the waters of Lough Derg taking wild brown trout that stray too near the surface in his powerful talons.
But he has stopped going to the nest and instead drops the freshly caught fish nearby.
So it has been up to the people from the Golden Eagle Trust who have have been keeping the chicks fed - mostly with freshly caught mackerel.
Because there is no water available in the fork in the ash tree where the chicks were born, they are reliant on this fish not just for sustenance but also fluids, so the offerings have to be sea fresh.
Now there is a delicate balancing act to be achieved, according to Dr Allan Mee, the White-Tailed Eagle Project Manager ;keeping the birds sustained while at the same time ensuring they are hungry enough to actually take the big leap onto the unknown and fly off with Dad to find their own food. They also have to be light enough to take wing.
These last few days there has been a significant gathering of people at Mountshannon watching the birds exercising their flight muscles in preparation of flight but the warm spell hasn’t encouraged them. A bit more wind would help them get airborne on their maiden flight.
*Video footage by filmmaker Nigel Beers-Smith who is licensed to film the White Tailed Eagles.