24 January 2009

Watching the Eagle-watchers watching eagles watching the eaglewatchers....

Lots of people dread winter in Nova Scotia. I'm one of them, some days. However, one thing that we're glad of, here in the Annapolis Valley, is the annual Eagle Watch festival. Now in its 18th year, the event draws people from all over Nova Scotia, and beyond, down to the communities of Sheffield Mills, Kingsport, and surroundings. This part of Kings County has the largest overwintering population of bald eagles in eastern North America, or at least it did. Populations ARE growing elsewhere, both in Canada and the United States, and that's to be celebrated.
Kings county is home to around 85 % of the poultry producers in Nova Scotia, and for many years, they've been feeding their offal to the eagles that overwinter here. That's been part of the reason for the eagle revival in our province, as has a reduction in pesticide use.

Some of the eagles live here yearround. We have a number that live in Scotts Bay, raising their young here and fishing on the mudflats of the Bay. It doesn't matter that I see eagles pretty well every day, especially if I'm out and around. They make me instantly happy to see them. One of the best places to watch them from is the Look-Off, a few miles up the road from here. The eagles catch the air currents and soar on them, and it's simply awesome to watch them. Obviously, I didn't take the above photo today! And I was cold by the time I headed home, so I didn't stop to see if there were any eagles playing in the wind there today.

Several times a day, producers will put out 'dinner' for the eagles, in several fields that also can be safely viewed from the roadside. You might not see any eagles at all initially. And then suddenly, they're arriving, one after another. I say they have ESP: Eagle Supper Perception. 

They get into squabbles with seagulls, chasing the gulls off briefly. There will be complex aerial ballets, swooping in on the gulls, the gulls taking off, ravens also following to see what they might be able to get. Other raptors, primarily redtailed hawks and others that live here year-round, also hang around to pick up a little chicken-to-go. 

I tend to hang way back at the feeding sites, content to watch from a distance and snicker at some of the people who come to watch and take photos. Some of them come from the city, and have no more idea of how to dress for such activities or how to behave. They might have camera equipment that costs more than my car, but they don't know how to drive, how to park, or how to act around wildlife.

Invariably, some will stop in the middle of the road (with no warning), or will pull off to the side of the road, and into the snow covering the ditches. Whoops. And of course children get excited and squeal and run around, and then the birds all take off, which seems to mystify some of the watchers. Granted, I didn't see any women in high-heels today, but usually every year there's at least a couple of them tippy-toeing around the snow and ice trying to get closer to the majestic but skittish birds.

I generally watch the birds and the people for a while, then get in my car and go off to another spot where I know there are also eagles. Maybe only one or two at a time, but that's fine; and one or two don't mind if one person quietly sets up her camera and takes a few photos, then as quietly steals away. 

Down in Sheffield Mills, the heart of the indoor festivities centres around the community hall, where they have the best pancake breakfast you can get (aside from homemade). What I love about this meal is that everything is sourced locally, from within the county or at least the province. The sausage comes from the Village Meat Market in Canning, which is where we buy most of our meat (and not just because the owners are related to my Long Suffering Spouse); apple cider from local organic apple grower Richard Hennigar; pancake mix and maple syrup from Acadian Maple; wild blueberries for the blueberry sauce from Oxford Frozen Foods; coffee and tea from Just Us! Coffee Roasters Co-op. The breakfast includes live music from a variety of performers, and afterwards you can go upstairs and take in the art exhibit, craft sale and other displays.

This amazing sculpture made me intensely happy to look at it.

While this more whimsical folk art made me grin. The Eagle Watch weekends run this weekend, and for the two following; there are a host of luncheons and suppers at various locales around the Canning area, which you can find out more about by consulting the website.

If you're in Nova Scotia, it's well worth your time to come down to the Valley during the Eagle Watch weekends; the best time to see quantities of the birds is January-February; as the days lengthen, many of them return to their summer nesting sites in Cape Breton and elsewhere, although as I observed above, there are always eagles around here year-round, just not the populations you see in the winter. And if you've never heard an eagle cry as it soars on the wind...I hope you get to. And if you want to see more photos of eagles, do check out Linda of Crafty Gardener; she also has photos of these marvelous birds on her blog today, from a trip she made last summer to the West Coast of Canada.


  1. What an extraordinary sight. We do see an occasional eagle around here, but a flock! Oh my.

  2. I have always wanted to go to Nova Scotia. I lived in British Columbia for a while. Here in the San Bernardino Mountains we have a small Eagle population and many irritating tourists! I enjoyed your blog.

  3. What fun this would be Jodi. We have a pair of Eagles that nest not far from us that we can see from a county road. It is fun to watch them raise their young. The nest has been active for quite a few years failing only a couple of times. They are pairing up now.

  4. That looks like a gazillion bald eagles! It doesn't seem that long ago--though of course, it has been, quite literally, a lifetime--that a bald eagle sighting was rare-ish,and cause for celebration.

    I'm happy that they are doing so well.

    Oh, and the mental image of bird-watching women in high heels in the snow? Too priceless for words.

  5. Amazing photos Jodi. It looks like it was a fabulous day for watching eagles. Wish I could of been there. I added a link from my post back to yours too.

  6. Definitely worth the time. So many eagles! They must be really quite majestic to watch in person. My family is from the New Brunswick area, so if I ever get up there during the winter, I'll do my best to make it over to this area. The museum was a treat too. Glad to hear the eagle population is on the increase.

  7. That's incredible. Imagine seeing so many fabulous eagles in one place. We occasionally will see one fly overhead, but never up close.

    And I am giggling about the women in heels. What can you say?

    Robin Wedewer

  8. Beautiful photos, jodi -- thanks for sharing with those of us who couldn't make it.

  9. Spectacular photos! I'm amazed by eagles. You are fortunate to live in an area where they are happy to visit.

  10. Beautiful birds! I would love to see some in the wild but never have. There is a lake here in TN that I've never been to called Reel Foot Lake. The eagles are pretty common there. What a neat sight it must be to see them flying in that aerial ballet!

  11. What wonderful photography!

    Eagle watching is a popular hobby here in northeast Oklahoma USA. During this month, hundreds of eagle watchers trek out to the local lakes to see the eagles nesting.

  12. Jodi this is a very well timed post for me. Your pictures do give them justice and honor. I like the title too. So awesome that they are plentiful at that spot. I would go for a photo op.

    I have to tell you that I no longer own an eskimo coat. I left it in the snow drifts of Montana at our last duty assignment for the AF. I knew it wouldn't be needed in NC.

    So today---I saw my first bald eagle!!! I was sitting in my backyard watching MrD work on the shed. Over our heads swooped an eagle so low that we could hear his wings working against the air. We stood there in shock. NC had no bald eagles in 1982.

    They were on the Southeastern endangered list until 2007. If i'm reading the chart correctly---we have about 500 now. I have never seen one fly over my house in NC. I have seen them in Colorado at a pitiful zoo.

    They are too awesome to be sitting around twiddling their talons in some kind of captivity. Let em live free and strong. Loud and proud.

  13. How interesting, Jodi. Thanks for telling us about your Eagle Festival. I like hearing about local festivals, and this one sounds like fun in that it combines wildlife watching with people watching.

  14. How I would have loved to be by your side today, jodi ... loving bald eagles (and you), a day of dreams for me. We are blessed to have them nesting here at the lake and often see them perched in my old huge white pine and soaring overhead. I have yet been able to capture beautiful photos like yours!

  15. You are making it harder and harder for me to not make a trip up there, jodi! You knew I would come here and ooh and aah over these eagles. And what fabulous photos you have. I can't imagine seeing these on a regular basis like you do. Lucky girl, you are!

  16. How lucky you are, Jodi, to be able to see these magnificent birds year-round! There are a few sites in Illinois and nearby Indiana that have eagle colonies and have eagle-watch weekends during the winter, but I've never been to one. If I go, I'll be sure to dress warmly--I don't wear high heels anymore:)

  17. Great photos in this interesting post! I have always been fascinated by eagles. I regret we have so few in Mississippi although I am not sure of the reason. Perhaps they don't like catfish and other fish here or perhaps the hot weather makes them uncomfortable. Thanks for sharing your photos and observations.

    Jon at Mississippi Garden

  18. Fabulous pictures - made my heart skip a beat! I live in Wales (UK) but we have a much loved house in the Annapolis Valley, we are flying out 8th Feb so just too late to make the Eagle Watch weekends but I know where the look off is so we'll be heading up there and looking skywards! I love your blog and am storing up all your gardening tips for the day we live there permanently and I can lavish our garden with the attention it deserves! Thank you for all your very useful info - a really enjoyable read, and it makes me feel closer to my home-away-from-home.

  19. Jodi,
    I am thrilled when I see a raptor swooping in the sky and this would knock my socks off! What a delight. Your photos are wonderful...the valley from the Look Off just gorgeous. We have a place in Northwest Tennessee...Reelfoot Lake, where folks eagle watch this time of year...we keep meaning to go! We do have eagles flying nearby over the river and old fields. People watching is fascinating, too.

  20. The bald eagle is the national bird of the U.S., but I never saw one in the wild until I went up to BC! Too funny, isn't it? I just love your photos of the eagles en masse! That's a sight we never see.


  21. Jodi!
    How lucky you are to be able to see eagles in the wild like that! Is must be breath taking!--Randy

  22. The bald eagle is making a slow comeback in my area. The US is dragging it's feet on the restriction of pesticides.

  23. Such a regal bird. You have captured some wonderful photos!

  24. Aaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh, eagles! Our wildlife and park services, raptor groups are working hard to build our eagle population back up, but we've never had the sheer numbers that the northern climes have had. Your photos are delightful, and this post made my day!

  25. Your comment on the eales cry on the wind is so evocative. I love that sound.
    Best regards,

  26. Jodi,
    These winged creatures of the sky are just amazing.

    A friend of mine lived near a redwood tree in California that a pair of white kites nested in. On an amazing day we got to see their nestlings learn to fly. When we looked at them with our binoculars at the tips of the tree we saw them looking directly at us. The visual acuity of these predators is almost behind our capacity to understand. It made my friend nervous about her kitten alone in the year across from them.

  27. What a wonderful sight! There used to be eagle-watching days in extreme SE Iowa years ago, at the Mississippi River, however the numbers of eagles have increased dramatically, so it's not unusual to see them fairly often. (Not in the numbers you witnessed, however!) ;-)

  28. Hi Jodi, high heels you say? Well, at least they are interested in seeing the regal eagles, even if they are city mice. I remember you writing about this before and being smitten by the sight of these birds. It is so good to see that the populations are growing too. And you have made me quite hungry for pancakes! :-)

  29. Amazing pictures, lucky you that gets to witness such majestic site. The closer we have to eagles in South Florida are vultures, they like to spend their winters down here.

  30. The eagle photos are incredible. And what a great place to live for eagle viewing! We are fortunate to have a bald eagle nest near us, but it's not as exciting as seeing a huge group of eagles together like you've captured in your photographs. Amazing.

  31. Am I too late to see the eagles? I was considering going down this weekend to try for pictures.



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