Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Short-toed Eagle - by the skin of my teeth

A great set of images courtesy of Nick Croft, but where might you ask are my photographs of this simply amazing Snake Eagle?

Well to be honest I was lucky to even see the bird.

Snake Eagle

With yet another busy weekend already planned I had a small window of opportunity on Saturday morning to drive to East Sussex and be back home again for 9.30am (parental duties called). The alarm went off at 3.30am and I was on site and parked at Gills Lap car park at 5.00am, a dozen or so cars were already there and a small line of birders were in position with scopes aimed in the direction of valley clearing below in Ashdown Forest.

I'm not always the biggest fan of twitching, especially when this means impatiently standing in one place and waiting with a group of mostly middle-aged men politely making small talk, so I was pleased to see a familiar face in the form of Stuart Fisher who had made the journey south through the night on both foot and public transport with Nick Croft. From our raised vantage point the three of us stood, waited and watched the horizon, as the minutes ticked away, a Turtle Dove called, several Stonechats passed by, and a distant Common Redstart kept us entertained but still no sign of the Eagle - I continued to play it cool but knew I had to realistically leave site by 8.00am to be safely home for my 9.30am deadline.

As the sun gained height in the sky I continued to clock watch and at 7.55am with no sign of the bird I reluctantly said my goodbyes and made the short walk back to the car park - feeling somewhat disappointed but ultimately thinking about when could I next return for another go. I had just reached the car when the silence was broken with the sweet sound of "there it is!" The number of cars and people had significantly swelled since I first arrived, so I hastened towards the nearest birder and interrupted him with "Can I have a quick look through your scope?" - and there it was sat in the top of a pine tree. I quickly extended the legs on my tripod and found the bird in my scope, I enjoyed a further five minutes of views, phoned Nick to ensure they too were on it and left site just after 8.00am and I was back home by 9.25am - job done.

I was pleased and a little relieved to have seen the bird, but only wished I had had more time to enjoy the experience of witnessing a hunting Short-toed Eagle in the UK - If it does stick around I'm sure I'll go back for a slightly longer look next time.

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