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French flight


Staff member
Mar 19, 2024
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Since the start of the White-tailed Eagle project, which we run in partnership with Forestry England, satellite tracking has shown how nomadic the young eagles can be prior to settling on a breeding territory. For example, one of the birds now established at Poole Harbour, male G463, spent two successive summers in continental Europe, before returning to the South Coast and pairing up with female G466. Up until a few weeks ago G463 was the only one of the Isle of Wight eagles to cross the English Channel, but at the end of last month G818, a female that was released in 2021, followed suit, spending just over a fortnight wandering extensively in northern France, as Tim Mackrill explains.

Flight to France

Although so far unpaired, G818 has been favouring the Avon valley in east Dorset in recent months and has been regularly seen catching grey mullet in Christchurch Harbour. On the morning of 22nd March she left a favoured area and then flew south across the Isle of Wight, before spending the afternoon at RSPB Brading Marshes. It is not uncommon for the young eagles to visit the Island, but they are usually seen off by the resident pair, G274 and G324, quite quickly and so it was no surprise when G818 crossed the Solent at 9am next morning. Once over the mainland G818 tracked east along the South Coast, passing over Brighton at 10am, Eastbourne half an hour later, and Hastings just before 11:00.

At 12:13 she was over the sea at St Margarets Bay, just to the east of Dover, and while circling at 665 metres, would have been able to see the French coast at Calais. She flew 35 km (21 miles) across the English Channel in 30 minutes, with her altitude dropping from a high of 804 metres off the English coast to 255 metres as she made landfall west of Calais.

Once she reached France she headed south through des caps et Marais d’Opale Regional Natural Park and eventually roosted to the east of the market town of Desvres having flown 301 km (187 miles) since leaving Brading Marshes that morning.


G818 flew 301 km to northern France on 23rd March

French Explorations

G818 continued south at first light next morning, before crossing into Normandy at 12:55. She continued to track the Normandy coast for the next three days, passing Rouen at lunchtime on 25th, and Caen the next day. Eventually she then reached the wetlands of Parc des Marais du Cotentin in the Cherbourg Peninsular during the afternoon of 28th, having flown a total of 454 km (282 miles) in four days.

On the morning of 30th March G818 flew north towards the northern tip of the Cherbourg peninsular. However, she turned around as she approached Cherbourg and then headed south along the west coast. She roosted that night near Mont Saint-Michel in the south-west of Normandy having flown 189 km (117 miles).

G818 moved a few kilomteres south into Brittany on 31st March and spent the day at the wetlands of Réserve Naturelle Régionale du Marais de Sougéal. She was still there next morning and was photographed hunting wildfowl by Maude Bachet.


G818 was observed hunting wildfowl at du Marais de Sougéal (photo by Maude Bachet)

G818 at du Marais de Sougéal (photo by Maude Bachet)

Heading for home?

G818 left the wetlands at 10:45 on 1st April and initially heading south-east towards Le Mans, before turning to the north-east during the afternoon. She flew 224km (139 miles) before roosting in woodland near Longny-les-Villages in the Perche Regional Natural Park. It appeared from this significant flight and change of direction, that she might be beginning to head for home.

She moved a little further north on 2nd and then remained near Verneuil d’Avre et d’lton on 3rd. However, on 4th she made a more purposeful flight north, travelling 77 km (48 miles) to the River Seine just to the west of Rouen in Normady. She lingered beside the Seine all day on 5th and then during the morning of 6th, before moving 32 km (20 miles) north that afternoon and roosting in the grounds of Château de Cany.

Next morning G818 left the Château at 9:30 and then followed the Normandy coast north-east, passing over Dieppe at 10:30 and eventually reaching Wissant just to the west of Calais at 13:10. Conditions obviously weren’t conducive to a Channel crossing because she headed back inland, before roosting in an area she had first visited on 23rd March, after a day’s flight of 227 km (141 miles).


G818’s explorations in France, with roost sites (and dates) shown by yellow icons.

Next morning, on 8th April, G818 flew back to the coast and then time headed out across the English Channel – 11 km south-west of where she had made landfall on 23rd March – taking 27 minutes to make the crossing, arriving over Dover at an altitude of 109 metres at 12:40.


G818’s English Channel crossings on 23rd March (easterly route) and return on 8th April.

She then continued north, stopping briefly on the Isle of Sheppey at 14:15 before heading west and skirting around the south side of London before roosting south of Oxted in Kent, having flown 196 km (122 miles) from northern France. Over the course of the next three days she continued west through the South Downs, and then the New Forest, before arriving at a favoured location in the Avon valley at 08:30 on 12th. She had flown a total of 2062 km (1281 miles) in 22 days. A remarkable flight for a young eagle learning her place in the world.


G818 returned to England on 8th April, flying 196 km that day.

G818 flew 2062 km in 22 days.

The post French flight appeared first on Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation.
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