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Wildlife specialists rebuild osprey nest at Jiggs Landings in east Manatee County

Volunteers use a Papasan chair to provide a solid structure for ospreys to breed.

A photo from July 2023 shows how the osprey nest was tilting.
A photo from July 2023 shows how the osprey nest was tilting.
Photo by Jay Heater
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It was a tragedy for Ollie and Olivia, the Jiggs Landing resident Ospreys, whose nest had been unable to support their eggs.

For years, those who visited Jiggs Landing had watched the majestic birds, who made a home in the dying pine tree adjacent to the entry gate and the parking lot.

For the second time during the mating season, which runs from November through the end of March in Florida, a clutch of eggs had fallen out of the nest to the ground.

Mote Ranch resident Rich Ranieri, who for years has kayaked on the Braden River, found the first broken clutch of eggs.

"I noticed the nest tilting," said Ranieri, who said he is a wildlife rehab specialist by vocation. "Then I found three osprey eggs cracked on the ground."

Others who frequent Jiggs Landing were concerned as well, and they, along with Ranieri went to Denise Kleiner, who owns and manages the concessions at the Manatee County park.

"Everyone was upset," said Kleiner, "They were saying, 'Whatever is happening with that nest, it doesn't look good.' Then Rich approached me and said, 'we have to do something.'"

Ranieri told Kleiner he had a friend who might be able to help. So he called Venice's Kevin Barton, who is a wildlife consultant to the Peace River Wildlife Center.

Kevin Barton rebuilds the Osprey nest at the Jiggs Landing parking lot.
Courtesy image

Ranieri and Barton had worked together at Pelican Man's Bird Sanctuary of Sarasota, where Barton was the head of rehabilitation. That sanctuary now is called Save Our Seabirds. Barton also is the co-founder and former executive director of the Wildlife Center of Venice.

Barton wanted to help, but he knew that Kleiner would need to work with Manatee County to get all the necessary approvals. Osprey are protected by the U.S Migratory Bird Treaty Act and is part of the Imperiled Species Management Plan.

Manatee County checked Barton's credentials and made sure he had the necessary insurance, then gave its blessing for the project after checking the nest to make sure no eggs currently were in it.

Barton's plan was to use the frame from a bowl-shaped Papasan chair as the base of the nest.

On May 28, the nest renovation was underway.

"He was just doing this for the good of the birds," Kleiner said. "He didn't expect any payment. He had the Papasan chair, pulleys, extra rope (actually straps)."

"Kevin is so thorough," Ranieri said. "He hoisted up two huge branches and strapped them on each side of the Papasan chair. Then he filled it with nesting material."

Kleiner said she thought Barton, who is in his late 40s, was taking a chance to climb so high.

"He not a young guy," she said. "But he climbed that tree like Tarzan."

Both Ranieri and Kleiner described Barton as a laid-back guy who doesn't have an ego and who genuinely cares.

"It was a nest that frequently falls," Barton said. "I saw it and made some suggestions. The Papasan chair frame added stability and size. I think it worked well."

Barton said the goal was to build the nest foundation as quickly as possible so the osprey would have a chance for more eggs, even if it was just after the end of their breeding season.

Two days after the work was done, the two ospreys returned to the nest.

The osprey returned to the Jiggs Landing nest after a foundation was built from a Papasan chair.
Courtesy image

Kleiner said both Barton and Ranieri just work to help wildlife.

"This was not about money," she said. "It was amazing. They want people to understand there are solutions."

Although most of the feedback from the community was positive, a few people voiced their opinion that humans shouldn't interfere in nature..

"There are different schools of thought," Ranieri said. "It comes down to an individual's belief system. A lot of people believe to not interfere. Just let nature do its thing.

"I feel that we are such a negative force on the environment, that every little thing we can do is warranted."

The pine tree is dying. Although it sported some green last summer, Kleiner said storms seemed to have finished the job and she hasn't seen any green on the tree this year.  However, she had a member of the Florida Forest Service visit the park and he said the tree would be there "forever," unless of some natural event like lightning or high winds.

Kleiner moved to the area in 2004, so she is elated the nest could be rebuilt. She said ospreys have been in the tree every year except for 2011, when great horned owls took over the nest for one year. She has owned the concessions at Jiggs Landing since 2019.

One of the osprey that had used the nest at Jiggs Landing for years.
Photo by Jay Heater

Ranieri said it was a positive sign the osprey came back to the nest in only a couple of days. He also said he would reimburse Barton for the money he spent to rebuild the nest.

He said that if someone finds an osprey or eagles nest that is failing or that has fallen, he or she should contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission before taking any action.

Ranieri said Barton is a "unique" person who does similar things through the kindness of his heart.

Their friendship led to Barton's involvement because he said he usually doesn't come "this far north" for similar problems.

Once he saw the situation, he was going to help.

"This is their territory and their tree," he said of the birds. 



Jay Heater

Jay Heater is the managing editor of the East County Observer. Overall, he has been in the business more than 41 years, 26 spent at the Contra Costa Times in the San Francisco Bay area as a sportswriter covering college football and basketball, boxing and horse racing.

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