Public urged to keep away from sea eagles' nest


AFTER CONFIRMATION yesterday that a pair of young white-tailed sea eagles have finally nested and bred in Ireland – the first such occurrence in more than 100 years – the public were urged to respect an exclusion zone around a small island in Lough Derg on the river Shannon.

“A truly momentous event for Clare and Ireland,” is how Dr Allan Mee, the Golden Eagle Trust’s project manager for the Irish White-tailed Sea Eagle Reintroduction Programme, described the development yesterday.

It may take three weeks for the egg or eggs to hatch – Dr Mee says his team has not dared approach the nest to confirm the numbers – or they may not hatch at all, as first-time breeding isn’t always successful, he said.

“We knew that breeding might take place this year, but we didn’t expect it would happen at just three years of age,” he said.

Driven to extinction a century ago, the last white-tailed sea eagles to breed here did so in remote coastal areas of Kerry and Mayo back in 1898.

This new breeding pair – a four-year-old male and three-year-old female – were reintroduced here in 2008 and 2009 respectively from the island of Frøya off the west coast of Norway.

They were among 100 birds released in Killarney National Park, Co Kerry, as part of the reintroduction programme, which was developed and funded by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht with the Golden Eagle Trust.

Although some pairs hitched up in Kerry, this is the first known nesting since the reintroduction programme began.

The location is Bushy Island, a thickly vegetated outcrop on Lough Derg, close to Mountshannon, Co Clare, and the project is seeking a 250m exclusion zone via the National Parks and Wildlife Service to ensure incubation is undisturbed.

The pair settled in Mountshannon early last year, and began to build their nest in early April. “There was actually a regatta on the lake on the weekend that the nesting was detected,” Dr Mee noted.

Public viewing of the island will be facilitated with the location of a telescope at Mountshannon pier, Dr Mee said, and he appealed for public co-operation.

White-tailed sea eagles are a protected species, and it is an offence under the Wildlife Act to wilfully disturb birds at the nest during the breeding season.

Some 21 bodies of white-tailed sea eagles have been recovered since the release programme began, mainly due to poisoning. However, as the Lough Derg area is home to mainly dairy farming, Dr Mee hopes this risk is minimised.

Norumm Myklebust of the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, expressed delight at the development and said the institute was proud to have co-operated in the project.

Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan said the spread of the eagles “will benefit business as well as giving joy to anglers and naturalists around the Shannon”.

The reintroduced birds have dispersed widely over the past four years, with at least six flying to Scotland, one flying over 2,000km to the Orkney islands and then returning to Kerry, and many crossing the Border to the North.