New homes to come

LAKEWOOD RANCH — Walkers and bikers who have used the sidewalk on Lakewood Ranch Boulevard since mid-May have probably noticed bulldozers at work in a field just south of the Balmoral entry to Country Club.

If they used it before May, they saw no heavy equipment at all, but, perhaps, a pair of bald eagles flying around a huge nest in a tall pine tree on the property.

The construction crews, hired by homebuilder Pat Neal, are now working because the eagles have gone north.

Neal said Silverwood Preserve, the 30-acre plot where the eagles live, is being turned into 16 new home lots because he’s had success this year selling homes.

“We’ve sold 166 homes so far this year and we are doing well,” Neal said. “Silverwood Preserve is an extension of Silverwood. We sold 50 of the 56 lots in Silverwood, so we needed more lots and what you are seeing along Lakewood Ranch Boulevard is our crews carving out 16 more lots for Silverwood.”

Homes in the Silverwood neighborhood are priced in the low $400,000s and available this fall when the eagles come back, Neal said.

Neal received a bald eagle disturbance permit in September, 2008 and is allowed to construct homes as long as they are at least 100 feet from the nest, said Ulgonda Kirkpatrick, bald eagle plan coordinator for the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.

During the nesting season from Oct. 1 through May 15, Neal’s construction crew must be at least 330 feet from the nest tree, Kirkpatrick added.

“We’ve gone above and beyond the guidelines,” said Chris Reese, vice president of land development for Neal Properties. “We are constructing a six-foot fence around the regulated zone and clearly marking that it is an eagle’s nest area.”

Neal has spent seven complete seasons with the eagle pair. The eagles have had eight eaglets, including twins one year.

“They have been good parents,” Neal said. “They are now senior citizens. They are at the end of their natural life cycle, although they seem healthy.”

Every year, the birds leave Lakewood Ranch on between May 1 and May 3 and return within a 10-day period in late September, Neal said.

“They are not tagged, so we do not know precisely where they go, but by the season, we think that they go reasonably far north, but not north of the U.S.-Canada border,” Neal said.

Neal has also installed a telescope and seating area about a quarter mile inside the Balmoral entrance where residents can watch the eagles in their daily activity.

The bald eagle was removed from the endangered species list by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in 2007 and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in 2008, said Gary Morris, a spokesman with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 708-7917.