For the Birds?

Story by Ilona Merritt, Photography by Kai Rambow

Some information courtesy SCC History Society

 

When the greens of the North Courses were re-sodded in 1987-8, the chemicals used to fumigate the soil had been covered with plastic, but high winds and heavy rain washed the chemicals onto fairways and into lakes. The chain reaction was overwhelming.

Fairways were covered with dead mole crickets. Gulls flew in for the feasting, joined by Muscovy ducks and Mallards. Then there were dead gulls, ducks, fish, and turtles on the course and in the lakes in a few days. Who would clean this up? About 100 turkey vultures arrived to do the job while making the islands in the Middle Lake their new rookery. In 1990, a newly contracted company’s mistake of killing weeds in the North Course lakes created more food for the Vultures. The Island in Middle Lake had become a new rookery for about 100 vultures, the food that had attracted them was gone, but they decided to stay. They cruised the SCC community by day, perching on house roofs, church steeples, and porches. They would grab the asphalt tiles with their claws and create costly leakage problems. They attacked automobiles causing damage. Bacteria left by the birds could cause health problem… Something had to be done.

At the time, Richard Thompson, director of the Animal Damage Control Division of the US Department of Agriculture, suggested a solution. Shoot blanks to scare the birds away. Residents acquired state and a federal licenses. Everything they bought, used or shot, had to be recorded in great detail. Five residents on a silver pontoon boat sent stream sparks toward tall pines. The noise they made rivaled any Fourth of July celebration, sending black, hulking vultures soaring in every direction.

Fast forward to today, and the situation has taken a new turn. Many different species of birds have come to live on Egret Island in Middle Lake. There are still a few vultures, but the list of other birds that have made their nests on the island is long. Biologists who have visited the Island are amazed at the type of birds nesting near each other, because many would never get this close in the wild. Ibis, egrets, blue herons, tri-colored herons, anhinga, cormorants, and many more.

On a recent visit to a friend’s home, we sat in the back yard and watched wood ducks and cormorants guiding their young through the water, while a bald eagle perched high in a tree above. Yes, there are still vultures, and, yes, they can still be destructive. When some residents decided to bring back Mr. Thompson’s suggested solution, others pointed out that scaring those birds away would scare the other birds away, causing some adults to abandon their nests and their young. So, for now, the guns are packed away, and all the birds are free to hunt and fly and raise their young. Some residents would like to see Egret Island designated as a bird sanctuary. But, official or not, the nesting birds on Egret Island are just one more beautiful reason to love Sun City Center.

All Photos By Kai Rambow

Wood duck with 19 babies.  Wood ducks are very skittish and attempting to get a good photo is a real challenge.

Tri-color heron stepping away from the nest for a few moments right by the waterline.

This lone eagle likes to visit at Middle Lake perching on the highest tree.

Male wood ducks have amazing colors.

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