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Egmont Key

Ospreys Communicating While Tending Their Nest

Ospreys Communicating While Tending Their Nest

Egmont Key is an 250-acre island in Tampa Bay that is a National Wildlife Refuge and State Park reachable only by boat.  Two sections of the island are restricted and must be viewed from the bay.  A week ago, I was able to travel there by boat and witness some exceptional bird behavior.  This osprey nest, which had babies in it, was on the West side of the Island where it is possible to come ashore.  The image above was taken from the land, but once I came ashore I was too low down to see the babies.  The image below was taken from the boat, which afforded a higher perspective but it was quite wavy so the focus is not quite as sharp though the chicks are visible.

The beach on the west side of Egmont Key is very picturesque with lots of driftwood and dead trees.  The ospreys use the branches of these trees as perches or places to build their nests.

Ospreys, Egmont Key

Ospreys, Egmont Key

The west side of the island is also where the ruins of Fort Dade, a Spanish-American War era fort are located.   These ruins are falling into the bay, due to the erosion of the beach which is one of the biggest issues facing the island.  According to a survey from the 1850s, this island was once 580 acres, while today it is only about 250 acres.  Passage Key, which was once 100 acres, is now a sand bar.  The Egmont Key Alliance is working to preserve this island, which is so important to shorebirds.  There are several theories as to what has caused this erosion, which has been accelerating in recent years.  Some believe it is global warming, others point to a change in currents caused by the construction of the Sunshine Skyway, while others suggest it has to do with increased boat and ship activity.  When I was there, we saw a very large container ship passing the other end of the island.  Dredging by the Army Corps of Engineers has replaced some of the sand, but it is only a temporary fix.

Ruins, Egmont Key

Ruins, Egmont Key

At the end of the island farthest from the lighthouse is a beach that is restricted to the birds. There are many pelicans and shore birds and all the following images where taken by boat.  We cut the engine and drifted in the bay, while I photographed with my long lens.   It was amazing to watch them engage in their natural behaviors on the shore and in the air as they prepared to fish.

Pelicans and Shorebirds, Bird Beach, Egmont Key

Pelicans and Shorebirds, Bird Beach, Egmont Key

Pelicans Preening, Egmont Key

Pelicans Preening, Egmont Key

As we were floating in the bay, the birds started to take off to fish.  They swarmed all around us, flying overhead and on all sides of the boat seeming to cover nearly every square inch of the sky.  It was a magical moment I will never forget.  

Taking Off, Egmont Key

Taking Off, Egmont Key

Swarming Shorebirds, Egmont Key

Swarming Shorebirds, Egmont Key