Disbelief as video suggests Eryri's lost golden eagles are back after 170 years

It’s been more than 170 years since eagles soared above Eryri, its mountains once synonymous with the majestic bird of prey. A video clip posted online has raised hopes that golden eagles may have now returned to their cultural home.

A photographer brewing a cup of tea by the Afon Glaslyn spotted a large bird flying high above Gelert’s Grave in the village of Beddgelert. His footage, taken at some distance, has divided opinion but some experts believe it shows a golden eagle. The spectacular bird has a wingspan of up to 2.3 metres.

Osprey and red kite were ruled out, with a buzzard the most likely alternative. Widespread across North Wales, they are commonly mistaken for eagles.

READ MORE: Officers searching for Jay Slater focus on buildings near where phone last pinged

READ MORE: New farm gym wants to get everyone in North Wales flipping tyres and rolling bales

But sharp-eyed viewers claim to have picked out tell-tale wing tip “finger” feathers that identify the bird as a golden eagle. That was the majority opinion when photographer Tony Harnett shared the clip on social media. “I asked people what they thought and quite a few said it looked like a juvenile golden eagle,” he said.

“At the time, I was sat taking photos of a pair of female goosander ducks by the river Glaslyn – the first time I’d seen those too. While making a cup of tea, I glanced up and saw the bird flying just above Gelert’s Grave.

“At first I thought I might be a buzzard – but it looked way too big. I couldn’t believe my luck at seeing such a huge predator flying through the sky.”

Tony, who divides his time between Beddgelert and Warrington, was on his own at the time – around 5pm on Thursday, June 20. He suspects no one else saw it. After circling the area, the bird eventually flew off towards the Nantlle ridge. Hoping for confirmation of his sighting, Tony showed the video clip to raptor handlers from Cheshire. Sign up for the latest news on the North Wales Live Whatsapp community

Tony's footage suggests the bird he saw had the 'finger' wing tip feathers of a golden eagle
Tony's footage suggests the bird he saw had the 'finger' wing tip feathers of a golden eagle -Credit:Tony Harnett

“They were at my nephew’s wedding on Saturday – they had an eagle as a ring bearer, which was pretty cool. I spoke to them briefly and they thought it was a golden eagle as well.”

Historically, golden eagles were native to Wales and were widespread across the country. Mentioned in the poem Mab Darogan, in Welsh mythology they were said to protect Wales.

Eryri was commonly supposed to translate as “Land of the Eagles” but linguists now suspect it means “Highlands”. Nevertheless, Eryri was the birds’ final refuge in Wales, with a pair breeding in its remote mountains before dying in 1850.

Golden eagles have been seen in Wales in recent years, most recently in a Cardiff suburb when an escaped pet was pictured peering into a window. Another was found dead by a walker in the Abergwesyn Valley, Powys, in August 2020.

Toxicology tests suggest this bird may have died from rat poison, having been spotted flying over the remote Cambrian Mountains for a couple of years. This too was probably an escapee – Scotland is the UK’s only remaining stronghold.

The Dundreggan Estate in Scotland has been rewilded by the Trees for Life charity in the hope of attracting more golden eagles
The Dundreggan Estate in Scotland has been rewilded by the Trees for Life charity in the hope of attracting more golden eagles -Credit:Mark Hamblin/PA Wire

In 2019, a conservation charity announced plans to release 10 golden eagles in Eryri (Snowdonia) in a bid to repopulate the national park. The project has yet to get off the ground – but another scheme has been working on a wider reintroduction programme for several years.

Running since 2016, Eagle Reintroduction Wales (ERW) aims to return both the golden eagle and white-tailed sea eagle to the country’s skies, believing there to be an “abundance of suitable habitats for both”. To secure release licences from Natural Resources Wales, a list of feasibility studies must first be completed: one of these is currently looking at prey availability for golden eagles in the Cambrian Mountains.

If Tony’s video is validated, perhaps the process is already underway. Then again it could be another escapee - or just a humble buzzard. Get all the latest Gwynedd news by signing up to our newsletter - sent every Tuesday

Find out what the weather has in store where you live