SHEFFIELD MILLS, NS - “I think we need a bigger hall!”
This was the reaction of organizer Meg Hodges, a member of the Sheffield Mills Community Association, when asked about the level of excitement and enthusiasm surrounding the opening day of Eagle Watch festivities in Sheffield Mills on Jan. 26.
At around 11 a.m., the line-up of people trying to get into the Sheffield Mills Community Hall for the Eagle Watch breakfast went from the main entrance all the way upstairs, winding around the vendors, information displays and craft table.
She said the turnout for the opening day was “unbelievable” but they always seem to get swarmed on the first day of the festivities.
“I don’t want to say I’m shocked but it’s always a surprise when we get such a flood of people,” Hodges said.
With an hour left to go, they had already served approximately 700 breakfasts. Hodges said she was confident that there would be large crowds for the second day on Jan. 27 and the second weekend, Feb. 2 and 3, so long as the weather remained pleasant.
The sunny weather and temperature, which sat around the freezing point, were ideal for people visiting Sheffield Mills on Jan. 26. However, as Hodges pointed out, the eagles are more active in colder temperatures. She said it looks like the area might be in for a bit of a cold snap for the second weekend of festivities.
Some visitors hoping to view the eagles up close at the feeding area in the field at the intersection of Middle Dyke and Bains roads had to walk two or three kilometres. The eastern side of Middle Dyke Road was parked full between Highway 221 and Bains Road. Many parked along the western side of Middle Dyke Road, as well as along the 221 and Bains, resulting in a traffic jam.
A crowd estimated to be in excess of 1,000 people gathered at the edge of the field for the 10 a.m. feeding. However, organizers decided to postpone the second feeding because those carcasses left at 8 a.m. had yet to be consumed.
Hodges said there were stewards at the field telling people what was going on and she attempted to keep the public informed through Facebook.
She said that because there was such a large crowd of people on the first day, the eagles were probably somewhat overwhelmed and decided to keep their distance. She said the eagles would probably get more used to the presence of so many people but they are wild animals after all and it’s difficult to predict their behaviour.
Don Droy of Annapolis Royal said he arrived with his camera just after the 8 a.m. feeding but there wasn’t much action on the part of the eagles then either.
He enjoys attending Eagle Watch because of the sheer number of the birds in the Sheffield Mills area and said it’s nice to see the population rebounding. Droy sees eagles in Annapolis Royal but usually only one or two at a time. He said he got some great photos last year when the eagles came in closer to feed.
Droy said there seemed to be a lot of young eagles around this year, which may have had something to do with them keeping their distance.
“I think from what I can see they seem to be smaller,” Droy said. “If they’re juveniles, a lot of times I think because of the number of people and this is day one, they’re kind of hanging back, you know.”
Droy said he wouldn’t be surprised to see more coming in to feed during the second weekend and he planned to return then, weather permitting.
While Droy was surprised by the number of people at the feeding area on Jan. 26 compared to the several visits he made last year, he said this would bring a lot of business to the area. There are limited activities during the winter months and Eagle Watch is great for families and children.
Greg Dean and Kate Amirault of Halifax, formerly of Newfoundland, were in attendance. Someone told them about Eagle Watch, so they looked into it and decided to make a day trip. Once they got parked, they had to walk about two kilometres to get to the feeding site.
“I didn’t think there would be this many people, but it’s great,” Dean said. “We’ll probably spend most of the day here, have lunch and take in some more sights.”
When asked if they’re used to seeing eagles, Dean said, “certainly not as many as you see here but you would see them in Newfoundland regularly, depending where you are of course.”
He said it’s great that the community of Sheffield Mills puts on the event and they would definitely bring their family members if they’re ever visiting while it’s on.
Amirault had her camera and was hopeful that the eagles would come down out of the trees so she could get some pictures. She said Eagle Watch is something nice to do outside of the city on a Saturday.
‘Big dreams’ for future
Eagle Watch is the main annual fundraiser for the upkeep of the community hall. The proceeds cover maintenance but leave little room for the growth or expansion of the building or festivities. Hodges, who represents the Sheffield Mills area on Kings County council, said she has some “big dreams” in this regard.
With an increasing level of enthusiasm and growing crowds, Hodges said they are able to qualify for bigger grants from the various levels of government. She isn’t sure what the future will look like but this could lead to an expansion of the community hall and the growth of Eagle Watch festivities.
Did you know?
Live musical performers at the Eagle Watch breakfast at the Sheffield Mills Community Hall on Jan. 26 included Gabriel Minnikin and The Miths. Chris Robinson and The Black Rock Bouys performed on Jan. 27. Susan Ueffing and the Oxbow Mountain Boys are scheduled for Feb. 2 and Kim Barlow and Peter Williams and Ahrun Havercroft are scheduled for Feb. 3.
For more information, visit www.sheffieldmills.org.