by Paul Cormacain
FOR golden eagle fans, the big news is that the Lisburn RSPB is having a meeting soon which will tell us something of the fall and rise of the eagle in Ireland.
Persecuted to extinction by Man, this wonderful creature is now making a comeback, courtesy of Man. Serious interest in the bird by the public, great help by Scottish authorities, voluntary work by Scots persons with a dedication to wildlife, and not least, by some Scottish golden eagles who are releasing one of their family members so that they may migrate!
The rules about the migrants are very strict, I feel I should say. Golden eagles usually lay two eggs, and it is only if there are two healthy chicks that one only is permitted to be migrated to Gleann Bheatha in the beautiful wilds of Donegal.
Since the 19th century the eagle has been fair game in the Scottish Highlands. Gamekeepers loosed off their guns at them with enthusiasm, for were not the eagles misbehaving by taking some gamebirds specially reared for killing by the rich landowners ?
Lisburn RSPB is excited at the prospect of a visit by Lorcan O'Toole on September 22, for he will tell group and visitors alike how the mighty bird is faring in the mountains of Donegal.
He should know, for he is the project co-ordinator, and knows more about golden eagles than most. Some eagles in England and Wales were driven out by persecution. Gamekeepers in Ireland also did their bit to make the eagle extinct, and records show they succeeded about a century ago.
Gamekeepers were aided and abetted by some sheep farmers who assumed the eagle was an enemy.
In spite of all this, we still get the very occasional eagle over visiting from Scotland. At Fair Head, in County Antrim, a pair of eagles bred for a few years in the mid 1950s. But no serious presence of the bird occurred until the re-introduction commenced a few years ago. England fares not much better, but a pair has established, and bred, in the Lake District.
So far, I have only seen one golden eagle at Strabane. It is believed to have been one of the Scottish birds released in Donegal and it went on a little trip to see what the neighbouring countryside was like.
As the birds mature they will want to set up home, with a partner and a large tract of land, and it is at that point that the golden eagles will start to move away from Gleann Bheatha.
Perhaps a pair will return to Fair Head.
The gamekeeper said the bird ate game birds like grouse. The truth of the matter is that very few grouse were eaten, but the very presence of an eagle was sufficient to keep the grouse from flying. If the grouse did not fly, the rich land owners could not see them to kill them. As for eagles taking lambs, that was only known to happen when a sickly lamb was about, and such lambs would usually die anyway. Nowadays folk are much more tolerant of golden eagles, recognise them as wonderful birds.
The public, as well as the law, will not have these magnificent birds killed. In Scotland it is illegal, as in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, to kill any raptor. I have been told, but am not completely certain, that the eagle is also protected across the border. I hope so.
Many nature-lovers consider the return of the golden eagle to be historic, ampified by the fact that it is happening as we live now.
So I suspect there will be very many interested folk going to the Lisburn RSPB 'Re-introduction of the Golden Eagle', on Monday, 22 September at 7.30 in Friends' Meeting House, Friends School, Magheralave Road, Lisburn.