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Rare vulture spotted in Donegal had soared over Co Down garden

Killyleagh birdwatcher sighted animal days before it was reported in Dunfanaghy


An Egyptian vulture

An Egyptian vulture

An Egyptian vulture

A life-long birdwatcher saw a rare Egyptian vulture fly over his back garden in Co Down five days before it was spotted in Donegal.

The animal was seen circling the skies above the village of Dunfanaghy, Co Donegal, on Saturday. It was reported to be the first time the species had been recorded anywhere in Ireland.

However, Seamus McKendry (63) says he spotted the scavenger over his house in Killyleagh on July 12.

It is believed to be the same vulture seen on the Isles of Scilly in June and Mr McKendry said the animal couldn't have been any other one.

“This massive big bird went over, and I know birds inside out. There are about three pairs of buzzards nests nearby, so I’m well acquainted with them,” he said.

“It was bigger than a buzzard. In fact, we thought it could have been a stork or a heron, but we know it couldn't be a heron because they have a big floppy flight pattern.

“It was very stiff-winged and it was a white buffy colour. I only saw underneath it because it had already been over my head before I even realised.

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“I forgot about it until the news came in about the vulture being spotted in Donegal. It was definitely it, there’s nothing else it could have been.”

The Egyptian vulture has been endangered since 2007 and is in decline. It is the only long-distance migratory vulture worldwide.

It can often be found from the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa to India.

The bird’s underwing pattern and wedge-shaped tail make it distinctive in flight as it soars in thermals during warmer parts of the day.

“They’re a very migratory vulture, although they're one of the smallest vultures in Europe,” added Mr McKendry.

“There’s about four species in Europe and they're the smallest.

“They come from as far away as India and Pakistan. I think Bangladesh is actually the furthest they've been spotted.

“It’s nothing for them to cover a big distance, and whether it’s heat-related or what, I really don’t know.

“It has to be the same one in Donegal with the chances of finding two of them in the one lifetime. That would be pushing it a wee bit.”

Mr McKendry added that sightings such as these do happen, as a flamingo was shot dead in Killyleagh 40 years ago.

He said it is the rarest bird he has seen after witnessing a hobby (falcon), which have been spotted on the east coast of Ireland throughout the years.

“I thought it might have been a hawk that escaped from somebody’s collection but we knew it was far too big even for that,” said Mr McKendry.

“The wingspan was about 6ft I would say, with a white buffy underbelly and underwing and a darkish tail. It was fantastic. It was like a crucifix going over the house with the wings.”

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