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Pasco curbs parking near Anclote eagle nest

HOLIDAY — Pasco officials are cutting off parking near one of Pasco's accidental tourist attractions: a well-known eagles' nest on Baillies Bluff Road.

For years, motorists have pulled off onto the side of the road to catch a glimpse of the couple, thought to have raised at least seven generations amid the pines near Progress Energy's Anclote power plant.

Photographers with expensive camera equipment stand alongside the road for hours, next to out-of-state birding enthusiasts and curious locals.

But what makes the nest unusual — its accessibility to the public — is also what makes it dangerous to both the eagles and humans.

"A lot of eagles are hit by cars. They can swoop pretty low," said Barbara Walker of the Clearwater Audubon Society.

And then there's the matter of the eagle watchers, who typically park on the opposite side of the road and cross over. They also have to watch out for cars pulling off and on the road.

"I think there's a much greater concern for the safety of the people standing there," Walker said.

On Tuesday, Pasco commissioners approved a proposal to prohibit parking on the right of way of Baillies Bluff Road from the Anclote Park entrance and north, a little over a half-mile. "No parking" signs will go up soon.

Walker had written to the county and asked officials to take some protective measures for the eagles, including a prohibition on parking.

A county official in the environmental lands program went even further, suggesting that Pasco also prohibit hiking and birding within 330 feet of the nest.

Nothing would stop bird lovers, however, from continuing to watch the eagles by parking their cars at the nearby Anclote Gulf Park or Anclote River Park and hiking alongside the road to the site, said Walker.

Motorists must now pay $2 to park at both of those facilities.

"I'm sure it's worth it to see the eagles," she said.

A bike trail is planned to one day link those two parks.

The eagles have made the Anclote plant property their October-to-May home for about seven years.

Eagles typically have a strong fidelity to their nests even after they've been summering up North.

Pasco has at least 19 known eagle nests, from the pine tree at Anclote to a cypress off Ehren Cutoff to a cypress in Trilby, according to the Audubon Society.

Eagle watchers have fretted over the Anclote couple all year: Their longtime, 800-pound nest was in a dead pine tree nearing its end.

The eagles got through their last nesting this past May. But after they left for the summer, the tree finally fell, taking the nest with it.

Progress Energy had been working with the Audubon members to figure out its options once the eagles got back. They had thought of even building nearby a similar nest — sticks woven together, filled in with ground materials and lined with soft grass.

But nature has a way of figuring out what to do. When the eagles returned to Pasco this year, they didn't panic and leave upon finding their home gone. They built a new nest, this one in a live pine tree that is even closer to Baillies Bluff Road.

"Other than being close to the road, the eagles made a beautiful choice," said Walker.

Their eggs should be hatching any day now.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Pasco curbs parking near Anclote eagle nest 12/22/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 22, 2010 7:57pm]
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