Four people and I were in an 18-foot, center-console fishing boat during the Christmas holidays in 2002 close by our house in a mangrove jungle on the edge of Charlotte Harbor in Port Charlotte, Florida. Our fishing party involved five guys: my son (a PFC in the 82nd Airborne of the U.S. Army at the time) and two other PFCs he had brought home for the holidays that were stationed with him, another local man, and me.
It was approximately 2 p.m. when my son decided to have us drop him off at a nearby bridge where he could disembark and be picked up by his mom in order to visit with his fiancé, as she had just gotten off work. While slowly making way in the manatee zone up a canal toward our destination bridge, we were all surprised by a very loud, raucous cry and the strange sound of huge wings beating -- powerful whooshing sounds with a definite hard beat at the end of the down stroke. I, being an amateur zoologist type, know that there is no raptor (endemic to this range or otherwise) that is not familiar to me.
The bird we saw was definitely a raptor and unknown to science. Its wingspan was approximately 12-16 feet and the bird stood about 40” high. The bird flew some distance, much of the time within our sight, and lit on a utility pole about ½ mile away. Its body size with wings completely folded was comparable to the standard step-down transformer it landed next to. Its color was a dull grey with a darker head and multicolored, large, hooked beak of orange and blue. There did not seem to be any bare (featherless areas) on its head or adjacent beak area.
We had a quality digital camera with us, but by the time we got it out of the waterproof storage box and ready to take pictures, the bird was at the utility pole and would have been a meaningless image showing only a tiny black dot. No one in our party (especially my son) wanted any kind of report made due to the possible tarnishing of their reputation and /or possible negative impact on future security clearances, etc.
Now, however, he's decided it's been long enough and that as long as he remains anonymous it would be okay to report this sighting to the cryptozoological world. Please note that there was no alcohol consumed by the witnesses over a several day period during which the creature was seen, and all the soldiers involved are of high moral and personal character.