MORE than 700 people descended on Wareham Forest over the weekend to catch a glimpse of a rare short-toed eagle.

Spotted by local ornithologist Paul Morton on Saturday at Morden Bog, the bird obligingly stayed in its tree overnight, allowing birders to travel from as far as Newcastle and Yorkshire to see it on Sunday.

Blown off course on its spring migration from breeding grounds in Africa to central and southern Europe, this is thought to be the first sighting of the snake eating eagle on the British mainland.

“It was a dream find,” said Paul. “No-one ever expects to see a short-toed eagle in Britain.”

He said: “It eats snakes, lizards and reptiles so this was a great place to feed up over a couple of days.”

It was first spotted by Alan King, one of a group of 12 people Paul, founder of Birds of Poole Harbour education charity, was taking on a guided walk of the reserve on Saturday morning.

“He saw it sitting in a tree and we went over to have a closer look,” he said. At first Paul thought it might be a pale form of buzzard or a honey buzzard but then realised to his delight what was in front of him.

Spotted around 10am on Saturday, it soon flew off towards the harbour but returned at 4pm to the same tree where it stayed until 10am on Sunday, giving hundreds of twitchers the chance to see it.

So many cars turned up that a local farmer opened a field in which they could park, in return for donations to a charity.

He believes the one-year-old bird was blown off course by the easterly winds on its first migration and is now back where it should be, further south.

The only other sightings in the UK have been fly-overs on the Isles of Scilly in 1999 and on Jersey in 2011.