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Monday, May 21, 2018
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Jackson: Anclote’s eagles are soaring, too

HOLIDAY - It has turned into a remarkable — indeed, historic — spring for eagles matriculating along Florida’s gulf coast. Perhaps you have seen the headlines. The humans of the species, from a couple of hours down the road at Florida Gulf Coast University, have soared where no No. 15 seed, Eagles or otherwise, ever dared dream: to a Sweet 16 date in the NCAA Tournament with — would you believe it? — the University of Florida Gators, now serving in the unfamiliar role of window dressing. FGCU’s Eagles caught a weekend thermal to rise from afterthought to America’s favorite upstarts, now closing in on a shot at college basketball’s grandest stage. Acknowledging the Eagles’ signature characteristic — an avian gift for playing above the rim — Fort Myers rebranded its website Monday, becoming officially “Dunk City.” All the hubbub surrounding these unlikeliest Cinderallas caused us to wonder how this year’s crop of genuine bald eagles was getting along on that spit of pine forest divided by Baillies Bluff Road below the Progress Energy plant. Now, having spent most of a chilly Tuesday morning observing their activities, it seems safe to report they are doing every bit as well as their more famous featherless counterparts.
The mating pair that returned for their 10th winter in the preserve between the entrances to Anclote River and Anclote Gulf parks produced, on schedule, their traditional pair of chicks, raising them in the fork of a longleaf pine that is about as high off the forest floor — 60-odd feet — as it is from the busy blacktop just beyond the chain-link fence and the series of we’re-not-foolin’ no-trespassing signs. Having survived the harrowing hopping and wing-flapping nesting stage, a period of throat-clutching for fretful tourists clustered along the east side of the road, the chicks have achieved fledgling status. Although they lack the characteristics of maturity — white heads and tails; bright yellow beaks — they’re every bit their parents’ size, with wingspans the envy of any power forward. And they’re learning how to put them to use, too. As cotton candy clouds scuttled across a turquoise sky, Tuesday, bright and chilly, was a good day for practicing fundamentals. With gusting winds that bent the pines testing the airborne skills of veteran seagulls and osprey, Sherwood and Brett occasionally launched themselves out of the high branches, now wheeling with the breeze, now hovering like a kite on string, now tucking into a power dive. Having completed a series of these rotations critical to success as a raptor, Sherwood and Brett would return, empty-taloned, having yet to acquire finishing skills — they can lob, but they can’t dunk — to the nest in the fork of the pine, chirping forlornly for mom and dad. It’s easy to anthropomorphize their parents’ failure to respond. I mean, they’re eagles, after all, not helicopters. They’re teaching Sherwood and Brett patience. They don’t want their kids to get fat. Mom and dad needed some alone time (wink-wink). Just once, heading east, one of the grownups swooped by at a distance, hovering just long enough (it seemed) to ascertain no one was in distress because the other was playing that annoying I’m-not-touching-you game. Then, having attracted the attention of an osprey, a rival predisposed to regard bald eagles as bad neighbors, the mom/dad flapped away. If things remain on schedule, and there’s no reason to believe they shouldn’t, the family will head north in about seven weeks, around Mother’s Day, which somehow seems appropriate. Assuming a successful summer in which Sherwood and Brett are dispatched to eagle graduate school, the adults will return in October, ready to begin again, minus the hoopla stirred up by the Eagles from FGCU. All that said, perhaps next week we’ll have reason to check in on the doings among the alligators of greater Wesley Chapel.

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