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.