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Residents find Lake Maggiore sights a delight

But what exactly was that fast-moving thing? Not a seal, but close.

By JON WILSON
Published March 19, 2006


ST. PETERSBURG - At first, Jacquie Small thought she had spied a seal - in Lake Maggiore, no less.

It was early morning when Small saw the sleek character. It was "very busy" in her 28th Avenue S back yard, which ends at the lakeshore.

It puttered around an oak tree, disappeared and then re-emerged from the water about 10 minutes later, slick and damp and still moving with striking intensity.

"What made me realize it wasn't a seal, I saw the whole body and the tail," Small said.

Guesses?

Contemplate a moment before reading on.

Small confirmed the animal's identity during a conversation with Hermann Trappman, who has been a ranger for 23 years at Boyd Hill Nature Park, next to the lake.

The creature was an otter, one-half of at least one mated pair living in the lake and its environs, Trappman said.

"I'll be conservative," he said, suggesting there might be others.

The otter was, for Small, one of several recent sights that confirmed her affection for the habitat around Lake Maggiore.

"Old Florida," she calls it.

The area was one of the first in lower Pinellas County to be settled during the 1880s. A trail connected a community near present-day Driftwood with Disston City, the early name of the town that became Gulfport.

The trail came to be called Lakeview Avenue and is more commonly known as 22nd Avenue S.

A development stunning in its own way has been the arrival of a flock of white pelicans that appeared in January.

Though seen in other parts of the Tampa Bay area, the white pelicans haven't come to Lake Maggiore for perhaps a half-century, Trappman said.

But they arrive every morning about 50 yards from Small's back yard. They sit on a barge that is being used in a city lake restoration project. They hang around all day, leaving just before dark, Small said.

About 30 gathered on the barge Thursday. They appeared to be chatting with a few brown pelicans and some anhingas.

Why are they back?

"We haven't got a clue," Trappman said. "I don't think anyone has a clue."

Why they left may be just as mysterious. "I just can't tell you. I don't know any reason," the ranger said.

Trappman, as he always has, favors studies to find out what's going on.

"Let's get an analysis of what wrong, then get a good analysis to right it," he said.

The lake restoration project has been going on in earnest for about 17 months. People wonder whether it could be affecting such phenomena as the return of long-gone birds.

"I'm hoping this is a result," Trappman said.

Small has spied one other interesting creature. It was lying dead in the back yard of a neighbor.

It was a walking catfish, Small thinks.

She described it as more than a foot long with a humanoid head.

"It just looks funny," she said. "You expect fins, but you see feet. It just looks strange."

It could have been a plecostomus, according to some naturalists Neighborhood Times consulted. The Hypostomus plecostomus, to use the formal name, is a popular, bottom-cleaning aquarium fish of the catfish family that also lives in the wild and grows to about a foot.

But Trappman doesn't discount the walking-catfish possibility.

Native to Asia, the fish was introduced to Florida during the late 1960s. They can breathe air and make short excursions on land using their pectoral fins to pull along.

They have been reported in Hillsborough County.

Trappman said he once saw what he thinks was a walking catfish's skeleton near the lake.

"I think they're there," he said.

[Last modified March 19, 2006, 01:07:22]


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