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    Killdeer eggs nestle by tiny train tracks

    A nesting bird picks a spot between miniature rails in Largo Central Park for her gravel-colored eggs.

    [Times photo: Jim Damaske]
    A killdeer guards the eggs she laid in a nest in the freight yard of a one-eighth-scale miniature track at Largo Central Park.

    By JULIANNE WU

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 18, 2001


    LARGO -- A small sign in the freight yard of the Largo Central (miniature) Railroad in Largo Central Park reads "Men at Work."

    It should say "Birds at Work."

    A mother bird, a killdeer, is nesting between the rails of the tiny tracks. "We don't know if this is the same bird, but we think it is," said John Beard, a past president of the Largo Central Railroad, one of the clubs in the Florida Live Steamers and Railroaders. "It has been coming here for about four or five years.

    "She always makes her nest in the middle of the tracks (which are about 5 inches wide), instead of on the side of the track," said Beard, of Largo.

    The nest contains four gray and black speckled eggs the size of quarters. They are almost invisible to the naked eye because they blend right in with the gravel under the track.

    Beard said he and other members of the 75-member club, which takes visitors on train rides through the park, noticed the killdeer about three weeks ago.

    "We work around her," said Beard, of Largo. "We have to take care of Mother Nature."

    The killdeer, a member of the plover family, has two black rings around its neck, brown feathers and an orange lower back.

    The bird nests quietly except when people or animals get within 10 or 15 feet of the eggs.

    Tuesday, the mother killdeer started squawking as Beard approached. At the same time, a male killdeer, perched atop a nearby chain-link fence, made himself known.

    "Usually she is very docile," Beard said, "and we try to give her as much clearance as we can. But, if you watch her closely, she will give us "the broken wing syndrome' to try and distract us from the nest. It's comical."

    Sure enough. In the space of a cheep Tuesday, the mother bird started her dance, first tilting one wing, then the other. And squawking the entire time.

    Still, despite the occasional ruckus, it's obvious Beard is proud of the visiting killdeer.

    "When the little ones hatch, we have little "fur balls' running around. They are as cute as can be," he said. "They go about 90 mph for 3 feet; then, they fall over. Soon, they get up and go again."

    The local Live Steamers club, organized in 1991, has been in Largo Central Park since it was built in 1995. The permanent mile of track meanders through oaks, grass and flower beds.

    On the first full weekend of each month, club members offer free train rides to visitors -- children and adults. On other weekends, the trains and the railroad station can be rented for private birthday parties or special festivals.

    The trains are one-eighth-scale replicas of real steam trains. The miniature train cars can weigh from 600 to 2,100 pounds. Club members use six trains to transport visitors around the park. They travel about 5 mph and carry from 15 to 18 people on a 10-minute ride.

    - Julianne Wu can be reached at 445-4221 or by e-mail: wu@sptimes.com.

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