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Haliaeetus albicilla

Oulton Broad 1984

by Richard Smith

WAY BACK IN 1984, WITH only a pushbike and public transport to rely on, I didn't travel many miles for my birding. Consequently, as April 14 dawned a fine spring morning with a light south east breeze, my father and I decided we'd cycle over to Oulton Marshes to look for newly arrived warblers around Fisher Row.

A couple of hours later and with a good variety of species under our belts, including Bullfinch Phyrrhula pyrrhula , Redpoll Carduelis cabaret and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos minor (how times change!) we were walking along the bank of Oulton Dyke when a large bird appeared over Whitecast Marsh on the Carlton Colville side of the dyke. The bird was flying low over the reedbed and directly towards us; my first reaction was that it might be a Bittern Botaurus stellaris a bird, which at that time, was a distinct possibility in this area. However, as the bird began to turn and gain height, its vast size became apparent, as did it's short head extension and it's broad short tail; all of which pointed to a White-tailed Eagle. As the bird continued to gain height some plumage details were noted, suggesting a 1st/2nd year bird, before it circled away to the north.

As we made our way homewards, doubts began to creep into my mind - had I really struck lucky with a White-tailed Eagle in April, or had I been watching an exotic fence-hopper from Kessingland. A call to the Wildlife Park brought good news - all their raptors were accounted for. I then telephoned Brian Brown who, at that stage, was known only to me by reputation. Unfortunately he'd heard of no reports of a White-tailed Eagle in recent days. However, late that evening Brian rang me back - I can still remember his first words "I've got some good news for you ...". Apparently that day the bird had been well tracked as it moved up the coast of north-east Suffolk, with sightings at Walberswick, Easton and Covehithe. I slept the sleep of a contented man that night and indeed, I shall look back on April 14th 1984 as one of my most memorable experiences.

Sadly, my euphoria at finding such a magnificent bird was somewhat tempered when, the following month, one was picked up moribund in North Norfolk. Presumably this was "my bird" which had been scandalously shot, and despite being taken into care it died shortly afterwards. The bird had been ringed as a nestling on June 5, 1983 at Warder See, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. A tragically short life.

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