DUNEDIN — For the first time in at least 40 years, a pair of Florida bald eagles are nesting on Honeymoon Island. And they have a chick that's nearly three weeks old.
The nest is clearly visible at the north end of Honeymoon Island State Park's Osprey Nature Trail.
Like many eagle pairs in Pinellas County, this one has faced perils. An earlier attempt to hatch young failed.
Barb Walker of East Lake, who organizes Audubon of Florida EagleWatch volunteers to monitor eagle nesting in North Pinellas, said more nests than usual failed to produce young last year. She now collects data from the entire county and nesting failures are up again this nesting season.
This year, eight new nests have been documented, she said, but eight of the 27 nests in the county have failed. That includes one in John Chesnut Sr. Park that had two chicks in it. The chicks disappeared last week and the eagles abandoned the nest.
The cause of most of the nesting failures is unknown, Walker said, since no studies have been done. One cause she suspects is that all the area's available habitat is taken, so eagles looking for nesting territory are disturbing those already nesting.
"The best thing we can do is protect habitat, mature pines close to water," she said.
At Honeymoon Island, an eagle pair took up residence in November.
Dan Larremore, the park's environmental specialist, was pretty excited about it.
"On Veterans Day, they were first spotted carrying nest materials to an old osprey nest," he said, and the eagles were seen mating.
The park closed off the northern three-fourths of a mile of the Osprey Trail and put up a fence and information for visitors.
A few people hopped the fence, but then a lot of volunteers rallied to help watch the eagles. The main volunteer is Wilf Yusek of Largo, 84, an Audubon of Florida EagleWatch volunteer.
He said the eagles kept adding to the nest until it doubled in size.
By mid December, the eagles appeared to be rotating and incubating eggs. Those eggs somehow didn't make it, but the eagles tried again. Success came two months later.
On Feb. 19, a chick's head popped up above the nest and the eagles were feeding it. Perils now include aircraft like small private airplanes and helicopters that fly lower than allowed over the park, officials say.
Yusek watches the eagles three or four times a week. They are clearly visible from the trail, where dozens of ospreys are nesting now, too. Binoculars or a 600mm lens give great views of the nest.
Tuesday, the female eagle and the eaglet were on the nest.
"The eaglet was doing a little bit of preening, removing down from his breast," Yusek said. "The feathers will be coming in shortly."
The chick was also flexing its wings a little, strengthening the wing muscles. The male eagle was on a branch nearby and the female was preening, too, on the nest.
"Then she flew off," Yusek said. "Probably went off to go fishing."
Theresa Blackwell can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4170.