Good news for raptors in Glenesk

A red kite nest

A red kite nest

Poisoned golden eagle Alma

Poisoned golden eagle Alma

Peregrine and chicks (courtesy of Neil McDonald)

Peregrine and chicks (courtesy of Neil McDonald)

I read some good news in the Courier today regarding birds of prey in Glenesk, Angus. Millden Estate in Glenesk is the scene of the recovery of poisoned birds of prey over the years, the most notable being the recovery of a satellite-tagged golden eagle, Alma, in 2009, however the Courier’s story is heartening. On Gannochy Estate at the bottom of the glen a red kite’s nest was recently found by a trainee keeper, who made the headkeeper aware. The headkeeper, Dave Clement, contacted RSPB to report the find and arrange for the two chicks to have wing tags fitted. When I was wildlife crime officer with Tayside Police I was on Gannochy Estate on several occasions by invitation and saw a variety of birds of prey, including a goshawk, which Dave said he had seen several times.

The other news in the article was that a young golden eagle on Invermark Estate, the estate at the top of Glenesk, had been ringed by members of the Angus Raptor Study Group. The ringers were driven to the nest site by headkeeper Garry MacLennan.  Invermark has two pairs of golden eagles, and Garry is quoted in the article as saying, “Last year we actually had three eaglets from one nest which is very rare. An abundance of white hares probably helped. There are always peregrine and merlin nests too.”  The proliferation of mountain hares is also really good news.

Invermark is an estate I have been invited to visit many times in my Tayside Police role by the late headkeeper Fred Taylor, who was pleased to show me one of the pairs of eagles and a peregrine nest site with the female on guard. While I have confidence in the running of Invermark Estate it is unfortunate that in January 2013 a tree containing a white-tailed eagle nest was deliberately felled. Regrettably  the crime remains undetected.

It is frustrating both for the public and law-abiding estates that raptor persecution continues, but there are still good-news stories such as the above. I’ll finish with another one, which is an excerpt from my book, A Lone Furrow:

There was an unusual situation one day in north Perthshire when a gamekeeper saw a peregrine sitting on a grassy mound amongst the heather on the hill. He wondered why it didn’t fly off and as he approached he saw that it had jesses attached to its legs. Realising it was a falconer’s bird that had failed to return to its handler he crept quietly closer and managed to catch it. He then put it in a run, which earlier in the season had been used to house partridges and had been left on the hill. His next move was to phone me to report that he had the bird in case its owner contacted the police.

There had been no report of a missing peregrine but in any case I let Constable Graham Jack, as the divisional wildlife crime officer for the area, know about the bird and he set off to collect it to take it to a local falconer to be looked after until it could be re-united with its owner.

I’d love to have seen the next stage of this moorland drama. Graham met the gamekeeper and the two set off to the run that was a temporary home to the peregrine. But the run was empty. They checked round the run in case there had been a hole through which the bird had escaped but the run was intact. No escape route and not a trace of the peregrine that he had put there not an hour before. It was a complete mystery and had the two scratching their heads in disbelief. It was not until later that all was revealed.

The peregrine had a radio transmitter fitted on its tail that had gone unnoticed by the keeper. The falconer, unaware of what was happening a few miles away over the hill, was tracking his peregrine; tracking that ultimately led to the partridge run and the recovery of the bird. Initially the falconer was as puzzled at his peregrine being inside a partridge run as the keeper and Graham were at its failure to be there. He soon realised that his bird had been caught and rescued and in due course made contact with the police. It was a comedy with a happy ending.

See A Lone Furrow and other books on this blog. If you would like a signed copy contact me on alanstewart164@btinternet.com

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