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Two eagles side by side in the top of a pine tree halfway down Palmetto 14 fairway captured Larry White’s attention. The diversion was intentional. The wily eagles were distracting golfers from their new nest just to the right of the tee box, 100 yards back. Likely a married pair, eagles mate for life. Larry got a great cell phone shot of the white-headed duo. Since he was in the middle of the Working Men’s blitz, Larry wasn’t a threat to eagle eggs, even if he could climb the towering pine that supported the nest, but the eagles weren’t taking any chances.
Ben Franklin objected to the eagle as our national symbol. Eagles steal fish and have superior attitudes. Knowing they are apex avarian predators gives the bird a disrespectful approach toward humans and a dangerous one for fellow raptors. With a seven foot wingspread and the strength to haul its nine to fourteen pound body high in the sky and descend at one hundred miles per hour to attack, the eagle is a formidable animal.
Larry cites a golfing day when he and partner Al Hudgins watched a red-tailed hawk enter territory appropriated by an eagle. The eagle seized the formerly dominant hawk and promptly killed it, right in front of the foursome. Larry doesn’t know what led to the death penalty. Had the hawk breakfasted on baby eagle or merely flown too close to the wrong pine tree?
Since our lagoons don’t freeze, Skidaway Island eagles are year around residents. Nest-building begins in early February and mom eagle lays eggs by the end of the month. The eggs hatch in late April and early May. Eagles lay up to three eggs, but the first born may steal food from later hatchlings or peck them to death, an extreme example of sibling rivalry.
Male and females look alike, but the female is twenty-five per cent larger. Mom and Dad both build the nest, incubate the eggs, feed the babies, and teach them to fly and fish. Landbridge Lane residents can expect eaglets to begin circling nearby lagoons by late June or early July. Eagles take up to five years to attain adult status and sexual maturity. Until then their feathers are brown.
Almost every year since 1983, when no nesting pairs were found in Georgia, eagles have increased. In 2010 one hundred thirty-nine active nests were counted; 2011 there were one hundred forty-two. Last year researchers counted one hundred fifty-eight nests in Georgia, seventeen in Chatham County. The nest on Palmetto is new.
When eagles become common as great blue herons on Skidaway Island, what adjustments must we make? Will eagles object to high-rise golf balls? Will our squirrel population decline? Will ospreys be forced into servitude, fishing for the eagle’s dinner?
I tiptoed out on the 14th fairway at the crack of dawn, over-sized lens protruding from my camera. Dad eagle took exception to my pointing it at the nest and swooped back and forth over my head until he frightened me away.
I wonder what he will do, come spring, when I venture back to get a shot of the babies?
By: Karen Dove Barr
Wild Times on Skidaway Island
by Karen Dove Barr
Wallowing in mud and wading in tidal puddles while scarfing down a seafood buffet is hog heaven to sus scrofu, the feral pig. America’s original travel agent, Christopher Columbus, brought the first pigs to the West Indies during his second voyage in 1498, where they adapted so well Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto off-loaded breeding pairs up and down the islands of the Georgia coast in the 1540s so prospective settlers would have plenty to eat.
Unfortunately none of Georgia’s Golden Isles has nearly enough Spanish settlers to keep the pigs under control.
Hernando DeSoto can’t be blamed for all feral hogs in the southern states. Escapees from pig farms, particularly a large “hog-bust” in North Carolina in the 1920s, and later introduction of wild Eurasian hogs for hunting throughout the South have contributed to the mix.
Skidaway Islanders with acorn-bearing live oaks, living on the western edge of the island, are most likely to meet their wild hog neighbors. A large boar can be aggressive if disturbed while digging up a yard, as can mama sow with piglets.
On the flip side Skidaway pigs, if cooked thoroughly, are perfectly edible by Landings residents and it’s always hog-hunting season on private property in Georgia.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Karen Dove Barr, Attorney, was recently recognized by the Georgia State Bar for providing legal assistance to military families and service members. She has practiced in the field of family law in Savannah for 34 years.
Wild Times on Skidaway Island, Georgia's Historic Rain Forest, details life in a unique Audubon-designated, ecologically friendly refuge. There, golfers pitch balls around endangered great blue herons, mama raccoons march their babies across backyard decks where once Guale Indians trapped ancestors of the same raccoons, and residents dodge alligators and rescue snakes.
Even the vegetation is wild. Three hundred-year-old oaks dripping Spanish moss and poison ivy surmount an under-story of wax myrtle and holly. Carolina jasmine, Cherokee roses, and endangered orchids grow wild in the rain forest. The book examines choices residents make when stared down by a bald eagle, when a red-tailed hawk mistakes a golf ball for bird food, when wakened atby deer munching hibiscus. Wild Times on Skidaway Island educates about the species that residents must adapt to on this historic island.