A Visit To Middle Creek. But What, No Snow Geese?
For the past 17 years now, around the first week of March, I have experienced the awe inspiring beauty of the massive migratory flocks of snow geese at the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area located in Lebanon and Lancaster Counties in southeastern Pennsylvania. I go with my brother and nephew. We leave our home in Northeastern Pennsylvania early. We arrive before dawn and enjoy the spectacular early morning scene of tens of thousands of migrating snow geese honking loudly on Middle Creek Lake. Then , after sunrise, we watch the large flocks of snow geese fly off of the lake, still honking loudly as they head to the surrounding corn fields to feed for the day or continue their journey to the arctic tundra where they breed. It is a magical experience and it is so hard to describe the beauty of this spectacular scene.
This year was different. It was a very mild Winter and we heard reports of the flocks of snow geese on the unfrozen lake in January, a month earlier than usual. Still we kept up our tradition and left for Middle Creek early last Sunday. We arrived before dawn. We knew that there would not be the large flocks we saw in the past. In some years there are over 170,000 snow geese on the lake. Our suspicions were confirmed as soon as we neared the parking area, Usually the parking lot at Middle Creek is full and the overflow of cars are parked along the road. This year there were only a few cars in the parking lot. And only one horse drawn carriage used by the local Mennonite farmers.
In past years we walked the 1/2 mile to Willow Point with crowds of other visitors who come to watch the snow geese. This year we were the only ones walking on the trail in the morning twilight.
When we arrived at Willow Point we found only a few other people there. In the past, hundreds of local folks and visitors would crowd the viewing area. And even more surprising was there were no snow geese on the lake, not a one. It was the first time in 17 years. We checked the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area live camera the night before and there were still a few thousand snow geese there, We thought they must have migrated north overnight.
We were a little disappointed, but we still enjoyed the beautiful sunrise over the lake,
We stood near the ancient willow trees after which it is named and took in the peaceful scene.
It is always a beautiful scene when the sun appears over the lake but a lot different without the thousands of honking snow geese.
But there were other water fowl on the lake. . A flock of tundra swans swam on the lake as the sun slowly rose. There were few hundred of these graceful birds swam on the lake. Some years there are over 20,000. They, too, migrate to their breeding areas on the arctic tundra. Like the snow geese, they migrated north early this year because of the warm weather.
My brother and nephew were able to identify a lot of ducks on the lake with their binoculars. I was only able to photograph this American coot.
The also spotted this bald eagle perched in a tree on the far shore of the lake.
As the sun rose , a lot of our local Winter resident birds appeared in the woodlands around Willow Point including this song sparrow,
a pair of northern cardinals, this is the male,
and Carolina wrens also sang from the treetops.
The rising sun now illuminated the trees,
and fields. Even though we didn’t see a snow goose we all agreed it was well worth the 1 1/2 mile early morning drive.
As we were taking in the beautiful scenery, and listening to the bird songs my nephew shouted he heard snow geese. And sure enough, as we looked up, a flock of snow geese flew over. There were maybe 50 geese in this small flock.
They probably left the lake overnight to feed in the surrounding fields. We were glad to have seen at least a few snow geese on our annual trip. . They are beautiful birds. We would see a few more flocks on our visit, maybe about 200 snow geese. A lot less than the 170,000 we have seen on some days on prior visit.
Shortly after the snow geese flew over the tundra swans left the lake.
They are graceful birds in flight.
We left Willow Point and while waking back to our car saw this critter enjoying a breakfast snack.
The red maples trees along the trail already had buds on them. Many years there is still ice on the lake when we visit. Not this year, after are unusually mile Winter.
As usual we take a drive on the tour road that opens up on March 1. It is closed in the Winter months. The road takes you around Middle Creek Lake. Many years the fields are covered with Canada and snow geese. but here were none on Sunday. We often see raptors and other birds on our drive. This year we only saw a lot of red-winged blackbirds.
We drove to the visitor center which has many informative exhibits. I have seen them numerous times but they always intrigue and inform me. We usually visit on Saturday and were disappointed when we found it closed Sunday morning. We next drove to a small pond below the visitor center where we usually see many species of ducks and other water fowl.
Sure enough the ducks were back this year. There were a lot of northern shoveler ducks, this is a male, and ,
mallard ducks, and hooded mergansers.
This is a male showing off his plumage.
There were also a few northern pintail ducks on another nearby pond.
We also seen a4 snow geese feeding on grass near the pond.
Snow geese mate for life. It appeared that one of the birds was injured and couldn’t fly. We think it’s mate and offspring stayed with it. It looked like it wasn’t too serious and hopefully they were soon on their way to the arctic tundra.
Of course, we saw a lot of Canada geese on the lake and ponds. One of the main reasons for the creation of Middle Creek, which is managed by the Pennsylvania Game Commission was to re-establish the Canada geese population in Pennsylvania. The Canada geese population was dwindling due to loss of habitat. The creation of Middle Creek and other nature preserves worked and the population of Canada geese has exploded. The happy couple which flew over us in one of the many flocks we saw will probably continue to add to that population. Here is a link to a gallery on my blog website with some more photos of the snow geese and other birds we saw visit to Middle Creek. Middle Creek birds March 5 2023.
We ended our visit to Middle Creek , disappointed having missed the large flocks snow geese and their magical morning flight from the lake. But we did enjoy a beautiful sunrise and saw many water fowl and other birds. including a few snow geese. And we will be back next year and, hopefully so will the snow geese. Here is a link to another gallery with some more photos from our visit to Middle Creek. Middle Creek March 5 2023.
“The future of wildlife and the habitat that they depend on is being destroyed.
It is time to make nature and all the beauty living within it our priority.”