On the way to Maitland, volunteers from the National Audubon Society could hear tapping from one of three eggs removed from an osprey nest high atop a crane.
A chick was emerging right in front of their eyes.
The hatching continued after the eggs were dropped off at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey on Tuesday evening, and eventually a tiny osprey broke free.
"It takes many hours for the hatchling to work its way out of the egg," said Lynda White, an employee at the center. "It's really hard work."
Now that the nest and ospreys were gone from the perch at the Port of Tampa that had kept a salvage crew idle for days, Jani Salonen's crane was back in commission Wednesday.
A tugboat pushed the barge containing the crane from the port to near MacDill Air Force Base. The crew worked quickly to recover a sunken excavator, hoping to make up lost time.
After trying to get a resolution from regulators, and involving politicians and the Audubon Society, Salonen finally decided Tuesday to remove the eggs from the nest on his crane, then destroy the nest the parent ospreys had built.
Salonen said he was relieved when Audubon Society volunteers told him Tuesday night the eggs had arrived safely and one was starting to hatch. He asked to see a picture. "I just wanted to see out of curiously how that all turns out," he said.
The other two chicks should start tapping on their shells over the next few days. All three will be fed four to five times a day via puppets resembling osprey to keep them from becoming familiar with people.
Once the chicks are about 2 weeks old, they will be brought back to Tampa and placed in a foster osprey nest in hopes those birds will raise the chicks until they are able to fly.
Salonen may or may not be punished for disturbing the nest, which is illegal under federal law.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is aware of what happened, but no decision has been made on whether to pursue a case, said spokesman Tom MacKenzie.
If an investigation is opened, Fish and Wildlife Service agents would present findings to a U.S. attorney, who would decide whether to press charges, MacKenzie said.
Removing an active nest of a protected bird can carry a fine of up to $15,000, up to six months in prison or both. Salonen expects a $500 fine, based on conversations with wildlife officials.
He has offered to pay other expenses, such as the removal of a temporary nesting platform he had installed at the port. Salonen said he would consider reimbursing the center for the cost of caring for the hatchlings.
Both he and Audubon Society volunteers said they are pleased the eggs are safe and the chicks are expected to be healthy.
But not everyone is convinced moving the nest was the right decision.
"I would have told the guy, 'Too bad,' " said Lynda Barhorst, founder and director of the Sky Harbor Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Hudson.
This is a classic example of humans infringing on animals for convenience, she said.
"It took these birds two months to build this nest," she said.
Tia Mitchell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.