Every year in February, an event called Eagle Watch takes place over two weekends in the northeast Annapolis Valley near Canning. This is farming country — mixed arable, market gardens, orchards and, it turns out, poultry farms. It’s also home to one of Nova Scotia’s largest overwintering populations of bald eagles — there were over 400 at the last count in this part of the province. The numbers have exploded in recent years because the local poultry farmers throw their dead chickens into the fields for the eagles to eat (they used to bury or incinerate the dead fowl). So they eagles hang out in the fields like grazing cattle or high up in nearby trees waiting for something to happen. Apparently, when they are hungry they will also prey on (live) local bird such as kittiwakes.
We decided to take a look this year and set off early for the designated eagle watching site near Sheffield Mills. There, by the side of the road, was a field where the birds are routinely fed. We counted 12 eagles — adults but also a lot of immature eagles — perched in the trees. They mewed periodically but there wasn’t a lot of action and to be honest we were a little disappointed. We’d expected more and we thought they would be circling and diving and fighting and, frankly, ripping chickens to pieces. So we left after half an hour or so and headed for a community pancake breakfast and an eagle information display — there were stuffed birds on display so it was useful for the kids to see up close exactly what we had been looking at through the binoculars that morning. Such beautiful bright yellow beaks and talons. We learned that what we had thought were ospreys were immature bald eagles and that females are larger than males. They also had the eagle counts from the last 50 years or so up on the wall, a documentary and lots of stunning photographs. We drove down to Kingsport and saw several more eagles flying overhead. Then, as we headed home close to Port Williams, we passed a farm with a large enclosed silver barn — a poultry farm. And there in the field alongside the barn were 15 or 20 eagles. Several more were circling overhead and more again were roosting in the trees. Bonanza! We had the place to ourselves (one other car had stopped) and the birds were at least moving around a little. All in all, more than 50 bald eagles sighted in one day.