The Eagle Has Landed on the Florida Suncoast
In my recent experience photographing our abundant and diverse local wildlife, I’ve also had the good fortune of meeting an equally abundant and diverse array of humans. They range in age from the very young to the shall we say “well-seasoned”, many with a laundry list of very impressive professional credentials. With hopes of catching the perfect action shot, some come armed with an arsenal of camera equipment that would make your head spin; some come with binoculars or an iPhone; and then there are those who come simply to observe nature in all its splendor. We are all brought together by sharing a fascination for God’s creatures great and small such as the eagle population I recently observed.
In my personal, albeit short experience thus far, I’ve observed countless species of birds, both “snow” and the traditional winged kind. Our weather attracts both to the Suncoast for year-round enjoyment. Our retired population keeps growing and many of these folks have a wealth of knowledge and take the hobby of birdwatching to another level. Some can be ornery, but most are willing to share their knowledge. I’ve learned so much, but mainly, I have learned that I have so much to learn!
After a while, the faces are recognizable as we see each other at the usual bird watching parks and nature preserves. We sometimes convene like paparazzi on busy streets to observe extraordinary events, especially during (animal, not human) mating season. We share phone numbers, and many have become friends. As a courtesy to the birding community, as well as the safety and respect to mother nature and a slew of additional reasons, I shall keep some locations anonymous.
I will, however, reveal a not so well-kept secret. The best places to observe all sorts of birds are – believe it or not – the local garbage dumps. Yes, the actual landfill where your trash gets unloaded is a mecca for bird watching. Admittedly, it’s not for the faint of heart and you will definitely benefit from a face covering so there’s another reason to mask up! On any given day, you can drive out to the local landfill and see the true meaning of the old adage “one mans’ trash is another man’s treasure”. In this case, the treasure comes in the form of Mother Nature’s most majestic of creatures and our national symbol, the Bald Eagle. Although removed from the endangered species list, they are protected from human threat by both state and federal rules. We are lucky enough to have several active nests in and around the area. Both Sarasota and Manatee Counties have Eagle Watch programs where volunteers check on the nests.
On several occasions I’ve been at the right place at the right time and have been lucky enough to photograph a pair of Bald Eagles mating. As you might imagine, it’s quite a sight to see! In the weeks that follow, I, along with the usual regulars, watch as they meticulously build their nest in preparation for their family. We come back time and time again, sometimes several times a day, to watch the progress in hopes their offspring hatch successfully and ultimately survive the elements. In this case my “couple” were indeed successful and became parents to not one but two eaglets this year.
These creatures look like Muppets when they are born and are arguably cute and not so cute at the same time! I’ve watched as the parents bring back daily meals in the form of fish, ducks or an array of other critters. Ok I have to remind myself it’s the circle of life (cue the music). They grow larger and stronger pretty quickly and remain with their parents for about 13 weeks. I, along with my fellow paparazzi, rejoice as we witness the daily practice of wing flapping which eventually leads to their maiden flight which is called fledging. We also witness the struggles. One immature eagle somehow got out of the nest too early and was stuck on a branch for days. On the seventh day, it got itself back into the nest. I took that as a sign, and I wasn’t the only one who shed tears. I nicknamed it Hope.
I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I have an emotional attachment to these magnificent birds of prey. I’ve been out photographing this family for months and it’s almost time for the babies to go out on their own. It’s an incredible sight to see and no matter how many times I witness these creatures, I am in awe.
As excited as I am to see them take these first few flights and learn how to fend for themselves, I am sad for I know the time is coming when they will leave for good – both the Eagles and the humans. We will all experience the true meaning of empty nesters!
Photos by Sheri Nadelman