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Monday, December 27, 2010

Regional Eagle Update by Barb Walker

Pinellas - Last year we had 21 productive nests.  This year we have 18 nests incubating so far, but one failed a few days shy of hatching so that makes 17, barring any I haven't heard about yet and there are plenty more that I expect will be productive.  One nest, in Tarpon Springs, has been under siege by a single adult female and aerial battles have been going on for nearly a week!  We've had reports of several sub adults at Fred Howard Park and reports of multiple pairs of adult bald eagles at Derby Lanes in the Gandy area.  Several nests have been built but are not being used yet.  We do have hatchlings at Bayside Bridge.  They are the first to hatch for the second consecutive year after incubating 3 times for 90+ days and being last 3 years ago.  They did successfully fend off a competitor during incubation so they get a gold star this year.  An ordinance to protect eagles during the development review process was passed last week in Tarpon Springs.

Pasco - No parking signs have been approved  on Bailee's Bluff Road near the eagles nest at the Progress Energy Power Plant.  The tree with the nest fell this summer and the eagles rebuilt in a live pine even closer to the roadside.  The nest has been a popular destination, and people can still see the eagles, but they  will need to park at one of the two nearby parks or the bait shop.  I am advising all that go to that nest to be extremely cautious.  Watching eagles and taking pictures of them can be very distracting and we really don't want to see anyone hit by a car out there.  Recently there was a very close call which required a law enforcement response.  Ultimately, this will curtail some of the intense people activity at the nest and hopefully provide the eagles some peace to raise their young.    Pasco County has done their part to be as protective as possible in the buffer zone.  Regardless of how tolerant they are, eagles are better off without crowds.  The main goal is still to find and fund a safe way for everyone to photograph and enjoy the eagles.   A plan has been discussed with Pasco Tourist Development Council to enhance the Great Florida Birding Trail in that area and provide a safe spot for eagle watchers and photographers that adheres to  the Bald Eagle Management Plan.  This might include a pull off or a viewing platform as well as an eagle festival so I hope everyone will be patient for the time being. It doesn't make it any easier for eagle watch either and no, we don't have free parking passes.   I'm still looking for the eagle with the transmitter in the eastern portion of the county.  So many eagles, so little time.

Hillsborough - activity is sparser than expected.  Several cell tower nests are inactive.  Where are all the eagles?  Hmmm, maybe they went to Tarpon Springs.  The big concern I have for Hillsborough is HL43 in Seffner.  This nest is under pressure from TECO which is using eminent domain to use a portion of the eagle watchers property too!  The new power corridor would be placed in between an old growth forest known as Simmons Hammock and the lake where the eagles fish.  Too much of this forest will be lost, including rare plants. TECO has adhered to the Bald Eagle Management Plan, for the most part, staying 660 feet away, except on one side where they are at 330 feet.  I personally expect better than that from power companies.  I feel they should be better than anyone else when it comes to protecting nests.  They were not at the APLIC meeting as far as I know and I do not know if they are even members of the consortium of power companies that aim to protect raptors and other birds.  I have so many pictures of osprey nests on TECO lines that I can't count them all.  They do have lots of deterrents, but overall, as a citizen observer, I would give TECO a failing grade, a big fat F,  on the implementation of their Avian Protection Plans.  Most of all, because  they won't even sit down at the table and talk with us.  Also, HL4, what we call the pony farm nest, is not looking too good.  The nest is on a property for sale and the nest tree AND surrounding pines died very quickly.  I do see some other pines yellowing on another property so this is probably a natural occurrence.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Total Eclipse of the Moon

Did you go out last night between 3 and 4:00 am to see the total eclipse of the moon?  We did.  Althought a great horned owl did not do a flyby as hoped for, I did get a few pics of the moon.  Here is one.

Photo by Tom Murrah

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Eagles and Alligators

There was an eagle flying over Lettuce Lake Observation Tower today.  Here is a picture my friend, Salli, took while we were watching spoonbills.  Like Friday's pictures, it was overcast so photos are dark.

Lettuce Lake, a Hillsborough County Park, always has a great variety of birds.  Today was the first time ever that we did not see any alligators at this park.  A cold front was coming in so they were probably preparing for the storm.  We made it back to the car with less than 30 seconds to spare before it started to pour!

Friday, December 10, 2010

No eggs yet

We went to visit the eagles nest today.  We saw both eagles flying around so that means there are no eggs yet.  Once the eggs are laid, one eagle stays on the nest.  They were working on the nest as you can see by the one eagle with branches and moss in it's talons.  Here are two pictures.  It was overcast this morning so the pictures are not great.  But the eagles still are!

Justice and Liberty

I'll actually be in the Eagles Forest this morning checking on "our" eagles.  I'll post this afternoon how they are doing and hopefully show you some pictures of them. 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Kids Should Name the Eagles

I think we should have a name the eagle contest for all the schools around eagle nests.  We can contact the schools around eagle nests and maybe go out, share the Eagles Forest story and have them submit names for the parents and the babies that are soon to start hatching? 

We also should rekindle the love for Justice and Liberty in Simmons Hamock Greenway.

We could get local radio stations and maybe local TV involved too. 

If you think this is a worthy effort and would like to help me organize it, contact me. I believe it would get kids interested in where eagles live (most are in cell towers) and where ideally they should be living - in trees.

One of the eagles in the nest at I-75 and US301.  Taken last week.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Eagles Lifespan

After researching many sources I found that bald eagles can live up to 30 years in the wild.  In Florida, it is currently breeding season.  Typically eagles lay their eggs from late November through February.  Right the eagles I know are all on the nest.  The eagles in this picture are not Justice and Liberty.  This pair live at Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland Florida.  Look closely and you will see one is on the nest in the middle of the tree and the other is on the branch on the right side of the tree. 

Justice and Liberty also are on the nest right now, as well as the eagles at Honeymoon Island, the pair at I75 and 301 and the pair on 41 near Cockroach Bay Preserve.   Remember the preface to The Eagles Forest, it's always important to protect nesting birds near your home.  While the eggs are incubating (about 35 days) it's important to leave the eagles alone.  Sitting on a nest all day, especially in the cold, is stressful.

These pictures were taken from far away with a zoom lense.  We were hiking down a trail and looked up and there they were.  What do you think we should name them?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Eagles Forest - The Great Horned Owl

If you follow my stories, you will learn that the Great Horned Owl is always the character that goes off on the humans.  In Tilly's story, the owl is upset about humans trashing the park.  In the Eagles Forest, well here is an exerpt from the story. 
The great horned owl let out a big sigh.  “Justice is right. We need to try and stop whatever it is the humans are trying to do.  We have watched them plow up trees all around here and plant farms and build houses.  We have sat by and done nothing.  Well it has to stop.  They have pushed us all into this small tract of land.  It has come to the point where the eagle and owl are asking each other for ideas to help.  That’s just wrong.  If we had enough land and trees for all of us, that had not been tore down, turned over and hauled off, this would not be a problem.  Everyone think about this tonight, and we’ll talk with Justice again tomorrow.  If anyone has any ideas, please bring them.” 
With that some owls flew away into other trees to wait for darkness to arrive.  Others stayed to discuss the situation.
Justice and Liberty flew back to their nest tree for the night.  First thing in the morning, they would go to talk to the birds that live on Bird Island.
The drawing is from Tilly's story.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Eagles Forest

Here is the Preface to my most recent story.  If you would like to read the entire book, please let me know and I'll send you a copy.
Birds are indicators of our planets overall environmental health and are easily impacted by change in habitat brought about by natural or human causes.  Protecting the places where they nest is critical for their survival.
This is a true story from this perspective: There are two eagles living in a very large old nest on a piece of land known as Simmons Hammock Greenway in Seffner FL.  This is one of the few bald eagle nests left in this county that are still in a tree.  Sadly, most are in cell towers that do not provide adequate support for the nests over time.
The local power company has purchased the land adjacent to this property for the purposes of putting in power lines.  There is an old growth forest, over 200 years old, with a Florida Cracker House on the property they have already purchased.  Many owls do live in and around this house.  The house and area would make a great educational center for children.
Two bald eagles frequently visit and often sit peacefully near a young man, with special needs, that lives close to their nest tree. 
These eagles were named Justice and Liberty by the children of the Mango/Seffner Library several years ago.
The most important part of the story is its moral: We must all do our part to save the few remaining wildlife habitats around our homes and cities.  How this story and others like it, ultimately end . . .  is up to you. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Till's Adventure

I'm adding a link to the story today so you can read it. 


Walking around Little Manatee River State Park last week, I ran into Diamond.  He is the Diamondback Rattle Snake that is featured in Tilly's story.  He wanted to know if Tilly ever learned how to speak armadillo.  I was happy to inform him that she did.  Mrs. Coyote has taught her a few lines.  "Whyssss on Earthsssss would ssssshe wantsssss to do thatsssss issss beyond me."  he said. 

Diamond is a 5 foot long Diamondback rattlesnake.  He likes to stretch out across the path in the sun, about mid-day.  I caught him quite by surprise.  As the weather gets colder snakes do not move as fast as they do in the summer.  So if you are out in the woods, especially sandy woods that are filled with palmettos be extra wary of snakes.  I came within three feet of him before I saw him.  Diamond is almost five feet long.  If we had not seen each other at the same time, Diamond could have easily bit me.  

He is part of the family of snakes knows as Pit Vipers.  At five feet, Diamond is about full grown.  He has cousins and brothers and sisters that are almost eight feet long. Diamond's venom is what is called a hemotoxin as it destroys red blood cells.  Although humans are rarely bit, the bite of a rattlesnake can prove fatal to humans, if you do not receive treatment.  Anti-venom is available at most hospitals in Florida. If you see this beautiful snake keep a safe distance!  If you hear the rattle, move quickly.  To a rattlesnake that means, they have tried everything else and are about to strike out in defense.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Okay so my friend says you should write a blog

"I'm glad you asked me about the story.
I meant to talk to you today about how much I liked it, then I forgot all about it, duh!
I thought it was very good and you should continue down that path. I think you should start a nature blog for kids."
So here it goes!

Tilly's Story

"While they munched on grass, Tilly and the deer talked about how the humans use fire to control the tall grass, called the scrub, in the park. 
Tilly explained to the deer how fire plays a major role in keeping the parks’ ecosystem healthy and how it helps remove species of plants that don’t belong here.  “Did you know our friends, the scrub jays, depend on the fire to survive?”
They all agreed that fire helps bring the land back to the way it is suppose to be.  Tilly and the deer agreed that it gives all the animals more to eat."
Did you know that most of the fire damage that you see in parks was intentially burned?  Called Prescribed Burning, fire plays a key role in the health of our national, state and local parks.  Animals, like Tilly the gopher tortoise, can't survive for long periods of time without fire.  Check back to see how Mrs. Coyote is doing preparing her family for a prescribed burn.