around these parts, this is a "local" Maritime family group who incorporate many musical styles into their work, including celtic, traditional, folk, pop, country and rock. A variety of instruments, including fiddle, mandolin, guitar
and a number of percussion instruments make their sound unique - it is difficult to label - it is simply Rankin.) Jimmy has long been the group's primary songwriter and his recent 8 ECMA nominations proves he "still has it". Jimmy's solo career is going well and we caught him at his third Halifax performance, a lively evening featuring many songs from his newer albums. (Rankin images courtesy of Google Images)
Later on Friday, after grocery shopping and a few necessary errands, we headed up to the Annapolis Valley to get ready for our "Eagles encounter". (Now I know you're thinking "WHAT? The Eagles were here? I didn't hear anything about it....") No, I'm not talking about the singing Eagles. No Don Henley, Hotel California, Desperado, New Kid in Town for us... No, I mean the soaring eagles.... the bald eagle - that magnificent bird of prey ....
This year was the 20th annual Eagle Watch at Sheffield Mills, near Kentville. Hundreds of eagles frequent this area in the winter as local poultry farmers put out piles of dead chickens which would otherwise have to be disposed of. In this way, they are helping the eagle make a comeback from the endangered species list. The birds relish these free chicken dinners and return year after year. These "free meals" have had an amazing effect on mortality rates, raising chick survival rates dramatically. Young eagles which
would normally not survive a difficult winter are now reaching adulthood and returning to this area of the Annapolis Valley. This program has resulted in the largest winter population of Bald Eagles in Eastern North America, now over 500.
Laura and I rose early (a rare thing for me, I know! wink) and checked out of our motel, picked up Egg McMuffins and coffee at Mickey D's, stopped to buy batteries for Laura's camera as the overnight charging in her brand new battery charger had not worked, and headed out to Sheffield Mills. We were at the viewing site by 8a.m. The farmer arrived shortly thereafter and dumped the fresh pile of "chicken dinners" in mid-field. At that point, there were perhaps 15 eagles,
tops, waiting in the surrounding trees. Okay, I thought..... let the fun begin. (At this point I should tell you, on our way to this "official" viewing site, we passed a field that had probably 30 eagles, already on the ground feeding, and at least 25-30 more in the trees... but did we stay there to get some pics?? Noooo... we hurried on to the "real" site, to secure a good spot. So here we are - Laura and I with our 200mm. and 300 mm. telephotos, among serious photographers with lenses the size of cannons, mounted on tripods. I thought I was well dressed for the cold... )
"Okay", I'm thinking..."c'mon birdies".... Well... we waited and we waited.. and we waited and we waited some more... and those darn eagles just sat there. At first I thought, "It's not so cold.... and there's no wind" (something to truly be grateful for) and people were quietly chatting while patiently awaiting the action. But as the minutes and then hours slowly passed, I was beginning to have doubts. (WHY did we not stop longer at that first field with 50+ eagles??? And were they still there NOW???? Should we go back there?) When standing still, it doesn't take long before the toes start to feel the cold. By 10a.m. I could barely feel my toes and my fingers were starting to tingle
and go numb. Finally, after several brave seagulls "moved in" on the free lunch, the eagles decided it was time to make their grand entrance. One started soaring and when he finally landed, I could sense everyone wanted to break into applause. (I was just waiting for someone to shout "The Eagle has landed!"). It wasn't long until there were 8-10 on the ground picking at the chicken, and the clicking of shutters was constant. Others continued to gather in the trees. They swooped, they soared, they landed, they fought over lunch...I quickly forgot about my somewhat frozen extremities and did my best to get some good photos. I have to say I'm a little disappointed. Brown bird against grey sky = not that exciting... My fingers were so cold, I sometimes could not seem to depress the shutter release button. Other times, I did not get Mr. Eagle in sharp focus. But I guess for my first attempt at this type of thing, I didn't do too badly.
Wildlife photography is very different from capturing a quilt or a blossom in the garden, after all. After half an hour or so, we decided staying longer was putting ourselves at risk for hypothermia or frostbite or loss of digits. I have never loved and appreciated my car's heater as much as I did that morning! We continued on, stopping several more times for a few more shots. All in all, I think we probably saw upwards of 100 eagles, both mature and juveniles... pretty amazing! Would I do it again? In a heartbeat! It was an awesome experience, shared with my daughter- what's not to love? Would I
do anything differently? Yes - better footwear and warming packets for both hands and feet - the kind I buy my brothers at Christmas for snowmobiling... (WHY did I not think to get some for this cold day??? Duh!) The only other factor is the weather, and of course you have no control there, but a sunny clear blue sky day would have made for much better photos. It was totally clouded over and grey.. lighting was even, but flat and not real bright... Some sun for highlights on those amazing white heads, and wing edges would have been nice. But when you have
travelled a distance, and cannot hang around waiting for a better day...you have to deal with what you've got.
We passed on the nearby Pancake Breakfast as the parking lot was full and overflowing, but did stop for a Chowder or Chili lunch at a local church. They were raising funds for a Youth Mission trip to Bolivia so we were happy to help them out by warming our tummies. (Actually as I ate I was fantasizing about plunging my frozen feet and hands into a large warm bowl of .. anything.. water.. chowder.. at that point I would not have cared....) As we gradually warmed up, we toured around Wolfville and Acadia U. (my Alma Mater) and then Grand Pré (more eagles there). We headed back to Halifax and finished thawing out
in a nice warm shower. Later, we topped off the day with the movie Big Miracle. As I drove home on Sunday, a gorgeous sunny blue sky day of course, I constantly was scanning the treetops for eagles - didn't see a one.. Guess they were all out for lunch in the Valley! Hope you have enjoyed my images, and I hope I'm lucky enough to return next year for better ones! Hmmmmm, maybe next Christmas I'll ask Santa for a 1000 mm. telephoto....
“Bird of the broad and sweeping wing,
Thy home is high in heaven,
Where wide the storms their banners fling,
And the tempest clouds are driven.”
~ James Gates Percival