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Waterfowl Migration Update

Join us in celebrating the snow goose migration in Pennsylvania. This live stream from Willow Point at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area in Lancaster County is brought to you by the Pennsylvania Game Commission and HDOnTap. The best times to view snow geese on the lake are sunrise (before they leave to feed in neighboring fields) and sunset (as they return from feeding to roost). Other species of waterfowl including tundra swans, Canada geese, and many species of ducks can be viewed throughout the day. Learn more about the snow geese migration at Middle Creek in this webinar. Enjoy! And remember, nature can be difficult to watch.

View periodic estimates of the numbers of various waterfowl visiting and annual summaries below the live feed.

ADVISORY: Please note that these numbers are estimates and subject to rapid and dramatic change. Major weather events including snow and freezing temperatures can quickly impact the number of birds that can be found at Middle Creek. These updates are submitted by Lauren Ferreri, Middle Creek manager.

2019 Snow Goose Migration Updates 

Monday, March 25:
With less than 500 snow geese on the property, today’s migration update will be the last for this year. Highlights this year included higher than average numbers for the second year in a row, peaking at 150,000 snow geese. Tundra swans numbers were also slightly higher this year topping out at 5,500 birds. Remember that Middle Creek has a lot to offer outside of snow goose season including other recreational opportunities and public events including a speaker series, art show, a 5K and 10K race and our most popular event, National Hunting and Fishing Day. More information on these events can be found on the Middle Creek website. Hope to see you soon!

Thursday, March 21 (7am):
Spring is here! Today’s weather and waterfowl numbers reflect that our seasons are changing. The majority of the swans that were remaining left yesterday/ last night with the exception of a few. Despite yesterday’s low count in the morning, a larger flock over 10,000 birds came in to Middle Creek, fed heavily, and left. The smaller flock remained through the night into this morning. The remaining snow geese continue to feed around Middle Creek. Duck diversity is still very high. Species include mallard, American black duck, gadwall, American wigeon, northern pintail, northern shoveler, green-winged teal, wood duck, ring-necked duck, bufflehead, scaup, common mergansers and hooded mergansers.

  • Snow Geese: 2,500
  • Tundra Swans: 8
  • Canada Geese: 1,050

Wednesday, March 20:
Things are really winding down here at Middle Creek in terms of the snow goose migration. A small flock is still preparing to head north while most tundra swans have also left. Canada geese on the other hand are preparing for the spring breeding season and are extremely active on the property.

  • Snow Geese: 1,500
  • Tundra Swans: 250
  • Canada Geese: 1,500

Monday, March 18th (7am):
Large groups of birds cleared out Saturday evening leaving us with only a few thousand birds on Sunday morning. That same group of birds loafed all day on a smaller impoundment on the property and fed heavily until dark. They roosted on the lake over night but took off early flying Northwest. Will they return or will this be end of this years migration? Just remember these numbers are constantly fluctuating throughout the day!

  • Snow Geese: 4,000; updated later in the day to 65,000
  • Tundra Swans: 500
  • Canada Geese: 1,050

Thursday, March 14:
Despite large numbers yesterday (close to 100,000 birds!), this mornings count revealed only 10,000 birds on the lake and now there are fewer still. Tundra swan numbers have also decreased. Red-winged blackbirds are singing and the tree swallows have also returned to Middle Creek. Despite a great snow goose migration season at Middle Creek, warmer weather and longer spring days will eventually send our friends from the north back to their breeding grounds.

  • Snow Geese: 3,000
  • Tundra Swans: 1,500
  • Canada Geese: 1,000

Tuesday, March 12:
At dawn there were an estimated 40,000 birds on the lake but in the short time that it takes me to do my count, the birds continued to fall into the lake coming in from the south and west. Tundra swans also have reappeared on the lake in greater numbers. They have a tendency to cluster together away from the snow geese making them easier to count. Other waterfowl, especially duck species are taking cues from the long days and also starting their migrations. An estimated 925 norther pintail were counted yesterday on the lake with various other species.

  • Snow Geese: 150,000
  • Tundra Swans: 4,750
  • Canada Geese: 1,500

Monday, March 11:
If you were paying attention to the camera and the updates over the weekend, you noticed the snow goose were constantly fluctuating in numbers. From just 1,500 birds when the lake was almost entirely frozen to upwards of 70,000 birds on Saturday, it’s easy to see how hard it is to predict the snow goose migration. Yesterday, despite having close to 50,000 birds in the morning, the lake was mostly barren the entire day... until last evening. Through dark, the sky was filled of returning snow geese and swans coming back to Middle Creek to roost on the lake. Their calls were almost deafening upon listening to the camera this morning. I think it’s safe to say they know Spring is just right around the corner.

  • Snow Geese: 115,000
  • Tundra Swans: 3,750
  • Canada geese: 1,500

Friday, March 8:
90% of the lake is covered with ice and snow is still covering fields at Middle Creek. This has forced a majority of snow geese off the property. Reports show that they have moved northwest. With warmer temperatures and rain in the forecast on Sunday, more geese could come in through the weekend. Make sure to check out the webcam this weekend for the latest updates!

  • Snow Geese: 11,500
  • Tundra Swans: 3,500
  • Canada Geese: 1,250

Wednesday, March 6:
It has been very cold yesterday and today. Much of the lake is covered in ice and nearby fields are snow covered. Many of the geese departed west last night, and some probably south. Numbers have declined drastically. We may see another bump in numbers as temperatures rise over the weekend. Only time will tell.

  • Snow Geese: 20,000
  • Tundra Swans: 1,500
  • Canada Geese: 2,000

Monday, March 4:
Yesterday and today's count are the highest yet this season! However, we received more than half a foot of snow over night and that amount of precipitation might cause the birds to move away from Middle Creek to locations that have snow free fields where they can feed. It's hard to say what the majority of the birds will do from here, they could move south or north depending on where they can find food. We will continue to update you over the next few days depending on what happens with their numbers. Do not be surprised if today's numbers are much lower on both the camera and tomorrow's count.

  • Snow Goose: 105,000
  • Tundra Swans: 5,000
  • Canada Geese: 3,000

Thursday, February 28:
Snow goose numbers have declined slightly but are still at peak numbers. Swan numbers have also decreased while Canada goose numbers have increased. With snow and rain predicted for the weekend, it is hard to say how this will impact numbers of waterfowl at Middle Creek. As long as we continue to have open water and snow free fields, the geese will most stay close to Middle Creek. If areas to the north of us have snow free fields, the snow geese will continue to move along their migration route.

  • Snow Geese: 65,000
  • Tundra Swans: 2,500
  • Canada Geese: 2,500

Monday, February 25:
Snow free fields and open water…. Check! Today’s morning count revealed our highest number of snow goose yet this season. Other waterfowl numbers have stayed roughly the same but we are continuing to see a greater diversity in ducks including mallard, American black duck, northern pintail, American wigeon, gadwall, green-winged teal, northern shoveler, ring-necked duck, lesser scaup, hooded merganser, and common merganser.

  • Snow Geese: 85,000
  • Tundra Swans: 3,500
  • Canada Geese: 2,000

As a reminder we will be having our Conservation Heritage and Snow Goose Celebration this weekend on March 2nd. We couldn’t have timed it any better with the peak migration!

Thursday, February 21:
Winter weather has waterfowl as confused as we are! Snow goose numbers continue to fluctuate throughout the day. The day after Presidents Day we reported 15,000 snow geese roosting on the lake. Shortly after our post, birds started arriving by the thousands. By noon we were at 60,000 birds! Surprisingly 50,000 of them left the lake at sunset and headed west to roost for the night. Now with the fields covered in a crusty ice layer, I anticipate our numbers will not be that high again until most of it melts. Warmer temperatures the next few days will again bring the geese hopefully after the weekend.

Tundra swan and Canada goose numbers also increased with the weather system that moved in. Peak migration could happen over the next two weeks but only time will tell.

Timing couldn’t be more perfect for our a celebration of the Game Commission’s history. Join us on March 2nd as we celebrate not only the snow goose migration, but the addition of the new Conservation Heritage Museum at Middle Creek. Retired Game Commission personnel will be on site to show case items that display the importance of Pennsylvania’s rich conservation heritage! There will be raffles And even a live Duck Banding demonstration! We hope to see you there!

  • Snow Geese: 15,000 (fluctuates throughout the day)
  • Tundra Swans: 3,000
  • Canada Geese: 2,000

Tuesday, February 19:
Over the President’s Day weekend, snow geese numbers peaked around 50,000 birds. Over half of these birds, while resting and feeding at Middle Creek were roosting in other places and passed through Middle Creek in the afternoon hours. As of this morning, 15,000 snows were roosting on the lake. This is a great time to think about how quickly their numbers can change. Last year our peak migration was around 200,000 birds. They were here for less than 24 hours before they moved on. Snow goose numbers are extremely hard to predict and can even peak during the day instead of the typical sunrise and sunset hours.

Tundra swan numbers have increased since the last update. I would anticipate their numbers will continue to increase as we head into March. With the weather system that will be moving through our area tomorrow, snow geese numbers could change if they head south. This website will be updated when there are drastic changes in numbers throughout the migration.

  • Snow Geese: 15,000
  • Tundra Swans: 2,000
  • Canada Geese: 1,500

Friday, February 15:
Waterfowl numbers have not changed much at Middle Creek. There are roughly 7,500 snow geese on the property. With warmer weather, numbers are anticipated to increase. The lake is still mostly frozen and the fields are still covered with snow so the peak for migration will still be a little further in the future.

  • Snow Geese: 7,500
  • Tundra Swans: 600
  • Canada Geese: 2,500
Just as a reminder, the Visitors Center will be closed on Monday for President’s Day.

Monday, February 11:
Snow goose numbers have dropped with snowfall in the area. Tundra swans and Canada geese numbers are holding strong but Snow goose numbers are down. The weather will play a role this week in snow goose migration patterns, but their numbers could pick up later in the week after the current weather system moves through.

    • Snow Geese: 2,500
    • Tundra Swans: 500
    • Canada Geese: 2,500

Friday, February 8:
Groups of birds have started to arrive at Middle Creek. The warm spell we had in the middle of the week allowed the main lake to unfreeze in certain areas and melt most of the snow covering nearby fields. At this point there are roughly 10,000 snow geese. With the forecasted weather to stay above freezing, the bulk of the migration should be starting shortly. Remember, snow goose numbers can change dramatically in hours and the best times to see them at Middle Creek are at dawn and dusk. Today, most of the birds left Middle Creek to feed around 6:45 AM. Other waterfowl species are starting to arrive in masses including many duck species, Canada geese, and Tundra swans.

Monday, February 4:
Due to the majority of the lake being frozen and snow covered fields, there are very few snow geese at Middle Creek currently. Continue to check back as it gets warmer outside. Snow geese need a mostly unfrozen lake and snow free fields to feed. This page will contain updates as numbers shift throughout the migration season.

2018 Migration Summary:
Peak numbers of the large waterfowl, by species and the date the high-count was recorded:
Snow geese: 200,000 on 02/21/18 (largest number on record)
Tundra swans: 5,500 on 02/22/18
Canada geese: 7,500+ on 02/15/18

2017 Migration Summary:
Peak numbers of the large waterfowl, by species and the date the high-count was recorded:
Snow geese: 70,000+ on 02/22/17
Tundra swans: 4,500+ on 02/6/17
Canada geese: 5,000+ on 02/10/17

2016 Migration Summary:
Peak numbers of the large waterfowl, by species and the date the high-count was recorded:
Snow geese: 65,000+ on 02/29/16
Tundra swans: 3,500+ on 02/29/16
Canada geese: several hundred on 02/09/16

MIGRATION BACKGROUND: The period that annually attracts the most birds, and visitors, remains late winter. During this timeframe, large numbers of migrating waterfowl normally appear. In recent years, more than 100,000 snow geese, 10,000 tundra swans, 10,000 Canada geese, and a wide variety of ducks have stopped at Middle Creek while pushing north to their breeding grounds. It's also a great place to see northern harriers, or "marsh hawks," nesting and immature bald eagles, and more common creatures such as white-tailed deer and red-tailed hawks.

There are many variables that determine the arrival of migrating waterfowl. The most significant is icing. When the ice on the main impoundment thaws to create areas of open water, the birds begin to arrive. Snow cover on the surrounding agricultural fields also influences the arrival waterfowl because it can limit access to the waste grains these birds depend on for food. Therefore, areas of open water and limited or no snow cover on adjacent fields strongly influence Middle Creek's drawing and holding power for migrants.

Many of the migrants that come to Middle Creek winter south of Pennsylvania and usually begin to push north in conjunction with spring thaw. During extreme winters with a late thaw, however, there's always a chance waterfowl will fly over Middle Creek, or stop only briefly. Timing is critical for migration and nesting.

Exactly when birds arrive can be difficult to predict. Generally, the birds, when conditions permit, begin to arrive in late February or early March. For those planning a trip to Middle Creek, the first weekend in March would be a good time to visit. A map of the area is available at the Visitors Center, as are the latest updates and bird sightings. Make sure to bring along binoculars, and field guide to help identify some of the birds you'll see. Warm clothes also an important consideration if you plan to drive with your windows open. A camera also is usually worth taking, because sometimes tremendous photo opportunities arise at Middle Creek.

After stopping by the Center, visitors follow the self-guided driving tour to Stop #1, located at the lower end of the lake. This is normally an excellent site to view tundra swans. Another suggestion would be to hike to Willow Point. At dusk or dawn, this provides the best vantage for snow geese. To fully appreciate Middle Creek, a drive through the interior on the Tour Road shouldn't be missed. Weather and driving conditions permitting, the Tour Road will open March 1. A significant portion of the interior remains Propagation Area where entry is prohibited. It is because of the Propagation Area that waterfowl are attracted to Middle Creek. Within these areas, the habitat and lack of human disturbance remain the primary reason why Middle Creek has become such a vital stop to migrating waterfowl.

Middle Creek