On Saturday 1 April 2017, we blogged about a satellite-tagged golden eagle (#338) that the RSPB reported had ‘disappeared’ after its last sat tag signal pinged in from the North Glenbuchat Estate in the Cairngorms National Park in early March (see here).
The estate, via PR company Media House, issued a robust statement in response and posted a video clip of a young eagle, purportedly filmed on the estate on 30 March, that the estate’s head gamekeeper “firmly believed” to be golden eagle #338.
We commented at the time that the video footage was very poor quality and it was difficult to see whether the eagle in the video was even carrying a satellite tag. We also pointed out that other sat-tagged golden eagles are currently flying around Scotland so even if this eagle in the video was carrying a tag, it would have been virtually impossible for the head gamekeeper to know whether it was eagle #338 or one of the others.
Since then, various expert field ornithologists both in the UK and the USA, all of whom specialise in golden eagles, have contacted us about the video. All of them said that although the video quality was poor, the plumage characteristics of the eagle in the video were not consistent with that of a nine-month old male golden eagle, but appeared to be consistent with what they’d expect of a second year female golden eagle.
On Sunday 2 April 2017, Media House issued another press statement on behalf of North Glenbuchat Estate and published a second video, purportedly of eagle #338, filmed on the estate on Saturday 1 April 2017. The quality of this second video is even worse than the first video (you could be looking at a flying cabbage) so it’s not much use as the supplementary evidence it was clearly intended to be.
The text of this second press release via Media House is well worth a read: North Glenbuchat Estate press release_2
In it, Media House states that the RSPB staff who were involved in the police search of the estate last week (at the invitation of Police Scotland – good, partnership working) “were hooded and kept their faces covered“.
This sentence has been widely abused by the nasty brigade on social media and has been turned into phrases such as ‘Masked intruders‘, ‘Masked RSPB thugs‘ and ‘RSPB representatives conducting themselves like hunt saboteurs wearing intimidating hoods and masks‘. Doubtless spurred on by the following inflammatory commentary from Bert Burnett (Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association) on his facebook page:
So yet again, the focus of attention is dragged away from the issue at hand (the disappearance of yet another satellite-tagged raptor on a grouse moor) and moved on to the usual anti-RSPB rhetoric in an attempt to discredit anybody or anything that might point to on-going concerns about the frequency with which satellite-tagged raptors seem to ‘disappear’ in areas where intensive grouse moor management takes place.
This abuse of the RSPB is nothing new, of course, but it’s interesting that the false claims about the efficiency of satellite tags, the false claims that the RSPB does not follow PAW raptor protocols, and the attempted denigration of raptor workers and those who fit these satellite tags, has been extremely prevalent since August last year when the Cabinet Secretary announced her decision to undertake an independent review of raptor satellite tag data. The abuse will no doubt have not gone unnoticed by the Scottish Government.
But back to the missing golden eagle #338. As we’ve been writing this blog, a very interesting map has appeared on Twitter (see @Ian_M_Thomson). It’s a map showing the recent movements of three other satellite-tagged golden eagles around Glenbuchat in March – April 2017:
Clear evidence that the eagle filmed by the head gamekeeper could have been any one of these other eagles so his “firm belief” that he was filming eagle #338 may have been his genuine belief but in fact is nothing more than hopeful optimism.
Nice try, but no cigar.
Meanwhile, the satellite tag signal from golden eagle #338 remains silent.
UPDATE 5 April 2017 14.38hrs: Ian Thomson (Head of RSPB Investigations Scotland) has just tweeted the following:
@Ian_M_Thomson: ‘Regarding missing eagle #338, Police Scotland has provided clarification to @PAWScotland partners that have contacted them that @RSPBScotland staff assisting them on a search in Glenbuchat last week did NOT have covered faces. We look forward to @PAWScotland partners disseminating this information to their memberships’
UPDATE 31 May 2017: North Glenbuchat Estate identified in Government-commissioned report as one of several hotspots where satellite-tagged golden eagles have regularly ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances (here).