A Small Patch of Sky
Sitting at my makeshift desk at home a few weeks ago, in the early days of the lockdown, I heard that a white-tailed eagle had been spotted nearby. Normally resident only in the west of Scotland, Britain’s largest bird isn’t something you’d expect to see in East Anglia. Apparently this was a juvenile from a small group that had been translocated to the Isle of Wight last summer. A number of the birds were making the most of the warmer weather to explore farther from their original release sites. One had roamed as far as the North York Moors. The one flying over Essex was probably on its way to the north Norfolk coast.
I went outside to look for it in the small patch of sky visible from my garden but it had already passed out of sight. Shortly before Easter, however, I heard that a white-tailed eagle had again been seen, moving south over Ipswich, heading my way. There were videos and photos of the bird in my Twitter feed, flying low and languorously over suburban gardens. I grabbed my binoculars from the windowsill and rushed out to try again.
At first, nothing. The sky was clear (the lack of vapour trails from planes flying into and out of Stansted has been one of the easier things to get used to). A few minutes later, though, I heard a cacophony of gulls, unseated from their resting place on the river. A column of birds rose high in the distance beyond the back fence. And at the top of the spiral, drifting on the thermals, was a white-tailed eagle. It was being mobbed not only by the gulls but by a red kite, too – an impressive bird of prey in its own right, but dwarfed by the eagle. The bird has been described as ‘flying barn door’ for its eight-foot wingspan. After five or ten minutes it drifted majestically away to the south, as nonchalantly as it had arrived.