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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.

Middle Creek livestream

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.

2020 Snow Goose Migration Updates 

March 12, 2020

     Snow Geese: 8,000
     Tundra Swans: 50
     Canada Geese: not counted

The last remaining snow geese at Middle Creek have been feeding heavily in the fields, gearing up for their flights north. Our friends at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge have been experiencing high numbers of migrating waterfowl. Many of the snow geese and tundra swans that were previously at Middle Creek use Montezuma and the Finger Lakes as their next stop.

Migration updates will be less frequent in the next week as numbers dwindle. If there is a big change, we will let you know. Snow goose numbers will most likely continue to decrease.

March 9, 2020

     Snow Geese: 15,000
     Tundra Swans: 75
     Canada Geese: 650+

As the snow goose migration winds down and warmer weather approaches, Middle Creek staff looks back at the highlights of the season. This year our peak snow goose count was around 130,000 birds, occurring on President’s Day weekend. Tundra swan and Canada goose peak numbers were below average for Middle Creek over the last four years.

We will continue to watch the numbers of snow geese through this week, but with the warmer temperatures continuing for the extended forecast, I think it’s safe to say the peak has come and gone. We hoped you enjoyed following the migration with us since January. Keep an eye on the webcam! 15,000 geese is still a sight to see!

Thursday, March 5

     Snow Geese: 40,000
     Tundra Swans: 1150
     Canada Geese: 950

Snow goose numbers have continued to hold steady throughout the week at under 50,000 birds. Early Spring weather has made it an unusual year at Middle Creek. Tree swallows have started to return and spring peepers have begun to sing.

If you are looking to come out to Middle Creek this weekend, the Conservation Officers of Pennsylvania will be having a raffle to help raise funds for the Conservation Heritage Museum at Middle Creek. They will be displaying artifacts that date back to the inception of the Pennsylvania Game Commission. We hope to see you there!

Monday, March 2
Snow goose numbers have decreased since Friday. We expect them to continue to decrease with warmer temperatures throughout the week. While we believe that we have seen the peak of the migration, there is a possibility that numbers could continue to fluctuate for the next week or two. In the meantime, duck diversity and shorebird numbers have increased. If you haven’t seen the snow geese yet this year, time is running out! The tour route is now open but please respect the signs restricting human access. Look for the next update on Wednesday. 
     Snow Geese: 40,000
     Tundra Swans: 750
     Canada Geese: 850

Where do snow geese nest?
Snow geese nest on arctic tundra near river mouths and on islands in lakes and rivers, usually within five miles of the coast. They gather in colonies that vary greatly in the numbers and densities of pairs. A pair defends an area around their nest, where both partners feed heavily. The female builds a shallow nest out of plant material and down plucked from her body; she may reuse her last year’s nest. Nests are often sited on low ridges or hummocks offering good visibility over the surrounding terrain. A female typically lays three to five creamy white eggs, sometimes as many as seven. Incubation is by the female alone, with the male remaining close to the nest. Sometimes one pair may trespass in another pair’s territory; while the resident male is occupied in driving off the intruding male, the intruding female tries to lay an egg in or near the resident female’s nest. Because unattended eggs attract predators, a female will usually roll a deserted egg into her own nest, which can lead to her rearing another female’s young. Biologists describe this phenomenon as “nest parasitism.” Learn more.

Friday, February 28
     Snow Geese: 55,000
     Tundra Swans: 275
     Canada Geese: 800+

As the count was taking place this morning, snow geese were coming in from the west and north. Our numbers with the new arrivals are still under half of what they were last weekend. Winter weather in New York should push some geese south but there is a chance that we have seen the peak for the season. Lower tundra swan numbers continue to be seen. Although there are less snow geese, 55,000 birds is still a sight to see! If you are braving the cooler temperatures this weekend, please remember that the snow geese are wild animals and are not meant to be touched, fed, or chased. We appreciate your respect with keeping wildlife wild!

Also, as a reminder, the interior Driving Tour Route that you can take to see the north side of the lake will be open at sunrise tomorrow, February 29th. The Tour Route will continue to be open from sunrise to sunset until October 1st.

Wednesday, February 26
     Snow Geese: 85,000
     Tundra Swans: 425
     Canada Geese: 950+
Only 85,000 geese? Did the peak pass? Will there be more geese coming? Where did they go? 

All common questions as our numbers fluctuate with snow geese. The truth is snow goose migration is always hard to predict. With colder temperatures forecasted later this week, it is possible that some geese will come back to Middle Creek. However, I believe our numbers are lower due to some geese moving on past Middle Creek. This past weekend's warmer weather probably allowed the next stop on the migration to thaw out, allowing snow geese to move on. Only time will tell what will happen, but we will be back with another update on Friday to see how the weekend is shaping up.

Monday, February 24
What beautiful weather we are seeing here in Southeastern Pennsylvania. This past weekend, the snow geese numbers stayed consistently high and ranged between 90,000 and 125,000. The birds put on quite a show all weekend long and consistently were loafing on the lake, even during the day. Could they possibly be saving their energy reserves in preparation for their migration north? Tundra swan numbers and Canada goose numbers remain low compared to their typical numbers at this time of year.
     Snow Geese: 115,000
     Tundra Swans: 550
     Canada Geese: 750           

This past weekend was the busiest Middle Creek has ever experienced in regards to public visitation. For those of you planning to visit this week and weekend, please remember the visitors center’s hours of operation; Tuesday to Saturday from 8 AM to 4 PM and Sunday from 12 – 5 PM. Please be courteous to other visitors, especially when parking. We ask that you please do not double park on the main road or outside the visitors center to help keep traffic moving. Thank you for your cooperation.

The interior Tour Road will be opening at dawn February 29 for the season, thru October 1. The road closes each evening at sunset. 

Learn more about Middle Creek at http://bit.ly/MiddleCreekWMA
See previous updates and content at http://bit.ly/PGCMigrationUpdate

Friday, February 21
Happy Friday! With warmer temperatures coming, this could be the busiest weekend at Middle Creek in terms of public visitation. Despite lower snow goose numbers this morning, afternoon counts this week have been higher than our morning counts. The next stop on migration for these snow geese is the Finger Lakes. Those bodies of water, which are currently frozen, could thaw this weekend and snow goose numbers could decrease if the birds move north.

A reminder for visitors: please adhere to all posted signs and be aware of where you can and cannot go. Some areas are reserved for wildlife, while other areas are accessible to humans. Learn about the restricted areas.
     Snow Goose: 90,000
     Tundra Swans: 550
     Canada Geese: 800

Thursday, February 20

Snow Goose Color Phases - There was some curiosity about color combinations, and some great photos shared! The following comes from our Snow Goose Wildlife Note:

Anser caerulescens has two distinct subspecies, the greater snow goose and the lesser snow goose. The lesser snow goose is dimorphic, which means it comes in two different colors phases, a white phase and a blue phase. The white phase is all white with the exception of black primary wing feathers. On the blue phase, the head and front of the neck are white, and the body is gray-brown, with white or gray underparts. Intermediate color forms also occur. Juvenile snow geese often have gray feathers rather than white. On all snow geese, a black patch on the edges of the bill suggests a grin or smile when viewed from the side. The eyes are dark, the bill is pink, and the legs are dark pink. White individuals sometimes show rust-colored stains on the head and neck, caused by the birds’ grubbing for food in muddy ground.

Wednesday, February 19

Pair Bonds of Snow Geese - Male and female snow geese mate for life but will find a new mate if their mate is lost or dies. Most snow geese choose mates having the same color as the family in which they themselves were reared. Individuals pair up during their second winter or on their second northward migration, when they are almost two years old. Generally they first breed successfully at age three. During courtship, the male puffs up his body and stands in an exaggeratedly straight and tall posture. Males and females display to each other by raising the head and neck, calling vociferously, and flapping their wings. Mating takes place in shallow water and on land. Learn more in our Snow Goose Wildlife Note.

Tuesday, February 18
Presidents' Day weekend was our busiest weekend yet with both consistent snow geese numbers and people. During the past week we have seen higher numbers of snow geese in the afternoon and evening as geese spread out in fields on the property. However, some of them leave and roost on other sites in the area overnight and then return during the day. Due to the high volume of visitors to Middle Creek, we continue to ask for your patience with crowds. Please be on the lookout for areas that are closed to public use, and are designated by signs. We appreciate your cooperation as Middle Creek hosts thousands of geese and wildlife watchers.
     Snow Geese: 125,000
     Tundra Swans: 1,550
     Canada Geese: 1,200

Tundra swans often hang out in the cove all the way to the left on the lake - On their northern breeding range, tundra swans eat a variety of plants, including sedges, pondweed, pendant grass, arrowleaf, and algae. They consume seeds, stems, roots, and tubers. They also eat a few invertebrates. While floating on the water, tundra swans feed by dabbling with their bills. They also tip their tails upward, submerge their heads, and extend their necks to nip off vegetation as deep as 3 feet below the surface. Learn more in our Tundra Swan Wildlife Note.

Friday, February 14
Happy Valentines Day! Numbers of waterfowl continue to fluctuate slightly. Despite colder temperatures, our snow goose count has increased. However, decreased temps could contribute to the drop in other waterfowl species observed in Middle Creek as they migrate locally.  

Speaking of Valentines Day, did you know that some waterfowl species pair for life, whereas others invest a lot of time forming new pair bonds each year? Snow geese, tundra swans, and Canada geese will form long term monogamous bonds, or "mate for life". Ducks do not form long-term pair bonds, but instead form seasonal bonds, otherwise known as seasonal monogamy, in which new bonds are formed each season. The final mating system observed in waterfowl is polygamy, in which multiple partners can occur. Polygamy is uncommon among waterfowl and observed in only 7 percent of species. Learn more about waterfowl mating systems here: https://www.ducks.org/conservation/waterfowl-research-science/waterfowl-mating-systems. You can also learn about duck courtship displays here: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/news/what-to-watch-for-duck-courtship-video/
     Snow Geese: 105,000
     Tundra Swans: 1,500
     Canada Geese: 800 - They often move to other bodies of water when snow goose numbers are higher on the main lake.

Making the trek to Middle Creek? Please adhere to all posted signs on the property. Pay attention to where you can and cannot go and if you are not sure, please come to the Visitors Center and ask. We are happy to help. The Visitors Center will be closed on Monday in observation of the President's Day holiday.

Down for Maintenance - This camera system is powered by an off-grid solar system. Unfortunately, there hasn't been enough sun to keep the batteries charged consistently. Sometimes the camera may be down overnight to conserve battery power. It will come back online when the battery has enough charge.

Thursday, February 13

Swim, Walk, Fly! Snow geese are good swimmers. They do not normally dive to find food but can submerge to evade predators. They walk readily on land and run swiftly. They sleep floating on the water, or on land, sitting down or standing on one leg; the head is held low or tucked partway beneath one wing. Strong fliers, snow geese can reach air speeds of 50 miles per hour. 

Wednesday, February 12
It is surprising how things can change in a short two days. On the night of February 10, we have had our highest number this year so far with 130,000 birds. They didn’t stick around for long and, in a blink of an eye, we are down to 75,000 birds as of this morning. Other waterfowl species are staying roughly the same for now but this weekend's “cold snap” will be the first below-freezing temperatures in the last week or two. Perhaps it will push the birds around some more. If you are deciding to make the trip to Middle Creek this President’s Day, just a reminder that our Visitors Center is closed on Monday but we will be open Saturday from 8a to 4p and Sunday from 12 to 5p. 
     Snow Geese: 75,000
     Tundra Swans: 1,650
     Canada Geese: 850 - They often move to other bodies of water when snow goose numbers get high.

Tuesday, February 11

Oh, that sound! Snow geese and tundra swans make up the bulk of the cacophony around the lake at this time of the year. Can you tell the difference? The links below from The Cornell Lab will help. Snow geese are sound more nasal, like a duck or goose, while the tundra swan has more of a bugley sound. Enjoy!
     Snow goose sounds: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Snow_Goose/sounds
     Tundra swan sounds: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Tundra_Swan/sounds

Monday, February 10
Snow goose numbers continued to climb over the weekend with more than 100,000 birds yesterday. This morning's count was lower, and with cooler temperatures in the forecast, the birds will probably continue to stay steady. Both tundra swan and Canada goose numbers on the lake have decreased. Duck diversity seems to be increasing with American wigeon, northern pintail, gadwall, and hooded mergansers.
     Snow Geese: 80,000
     Tundra Swans: 1,750
     Canada Geese: 750 - They often move to other bodies of water when snow goose numbers get high.

Migration variables - 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.

Friday, February 7
Despite “fowl” weather and the changing temperatures, the snow geese have definitely made Middle Creek their temporary home. With 75,000 birds roosting one the lake, it will be interesting to see what happens when the rain passes this weekend. Snow geese aren’t the only ones that are utilizing Middle Creek. Tundra swans are at their highest number yet with just less than 3,000 birds. Surprisingly, Canada goose numbers seem low for this time of year. Duck variety is still fairly low on the main lake but some of the interior closed off parts of Middle Creek are showcasing more diversity. Mallards and black ducks are prevalent with northern shovelers and ring-necked ducks putting on a show near the visitors center. In closed areas, hooded mergansers, gadwall, and wigeon are resting up for their migration. 
     Snow Goose: 75,000+
     Tundra Swans: 3,000
     Canada Goose: 1,500

What's that thing popping up and diving out of sight?
This morning, I've noticed mergansers popping up from the under the surface of the water and diving out of site soon after. Mergansers are known as “sawbills’’ and “fish ducks.” They have distinctive, colorful plumage. They fly fast and low over the water. The common merganser winters in Pennsylvania. Learn more in the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Diving Duck Wildlife Note.

Tundra Swans
The tundra swan (Cygnus columbianus), formerly known as the whistling swan, breeds in northern Alaska and Canada and migrates south to spend the winter along and near the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. Tundra swans fly across Pennsylvania in spring and fall, and some individuals winter in the southeastern part of the state. Two other types of swans may be seen in Pennsylvania: the trumpeter swan (Cygnus buccinator), a native migratory species that has been reintroduced in the upper Midwest and Ontario; and the non-native mute swan (Cygnus olor), imported from Europe. Swans seen nesting in Pennsylvania are mute swans. Learn more in the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Tundra Swan Wildlife Note.

Wednesday, February 5
Numbers the last two days have held steady. The number of snow geese has increased as expected with the warmer weather. With colder temperatures and rain in the forecast, their numbers could shift again. Tundra swan numbers have increased while Canada geese numbers have gone down. Duck variety is still about the same with great views of ring-necked ducks and norther shovelers at Stop 1 along the Tour Route. American black ducks, mallards, common mergansers, and the occasional surprise with hooded mergansers and buffleheads can also be seen. As a reminder for those who are planning to travel to Middle Creek this weekend, please keep in mind that while our Visitors Center is open, the north side of the tour route and all interior roads at Middle Creek are closed to all traffic, including foot and bicycle traffic. The full tour route will be open March 1st.
     Snow Geese: 65,000
     Tundra Swans: 2,250
     Canada Geese: 1,500

Where they are coming from and where they go from here?
Usually, the greater snow geese that frequent Middle Creek at this time of year will be coming from coastal refuges like Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge and Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware. However, in recent years, birds could be locally migrating in from other bodies of water such as quarries located around Allentown and Hershey Pennsylvania. From Middle Creek, the snow geese will continue north to their final destination in northern Canada. Many of them will return to the most northern territory in Canada, called Nunavet. Check out this range map from The Cornell Lab.

Monday, February 3
Today’s forecast: Sunny and 56 degrees. It should be interesting to see how the shift to warmer weather affects the snow goose migration. This mornings count was not much different than Fridays and tomorrow could look completely different.
     Snow Geese: 45,000
     Tundra Swans: 2,000
     Canada Geese: 3,000

Color Phases of the Snow Goose
Anser caerulescens has two distinct subspecies, the greater snow goose and the lesser snow goose. The lesser snow goose is dimorphic, meaning it comes in two color phases, white and blue. The white phase is all white with the exception of black primary wing feathers. On the blue phase, the head and front of the neck are white, and the body is gray-brown, with white or gray underparts. Intermediate color forms also occur. All snow geese have, in addition to black primaries, a black patch on the edge of the bill, suggesting a grin when viewed from the side. The eyes are dark, the bill is pink, and the legs are dark pink. White individuals sometimes show rust-colored stains on the head and neck, caused by the birds’ grubbing for food in muddy ground. Learn more in the Game Commission's Snow Goose Wildlife Note.

Friday, January 31
Today marks the first migration update for a new decade; 2020! While the lake is somewhat frozen due to low temperatures overnight, we had around 40,000 snow geese roost on the lake. Other highlights included eight bald eagles that were “supervising” activities of the snow geese and a variety of duck species including mallards, American black ducks, northern shovelers, common mergansers, buffleheads, and ring-necked ducks. Stay tuned in the weeks ahead to see what this year’s peak number is!
     Snow Geese: 40,000
     Tundra Swans: 1,500
     Canada Geese: 2,000

The snow gooseAnser caerulescens, is one of the world’s most abundant waterfowl species. Snow geese breed in the arctic and subarctic regions of North America during spring and summer, then migrate south to spend the winter in inland and coastal areas, including Pennsylvania. They feed voraciously on vegetation, and recent population increases have led to serious damage of the species’ habitat, mainly on its breeding range, but also in some wintering areas.

Thursday, January 23
Quite a few snow geese there today. The manager estimates upwards of 5,000. The lake is mostly frozen over. With warm weather moving in. they are likely to stick around and the flock may grow in numbers.
Tuesday (1/21) there was a variety of duck species seen, including mallards, black ducks, pintail, hooded mergansers, northern shovelers, gadwall and American wigeon.

Thursday, January 16
Kingfisher! And I think there are whitecaps on the lake today. Tundra swans have been in the cove all the way left today, too.

Belted Kingfisher - People often hear these birds before they see them. I heard one rattle on the live stream this morning! You can hear the call on Cornell's Bird Lab and learn more about them in Pennsylvania in this Game Commission Wildlife Note

Wednesday, January 15
When I hear the word cacophony, I think of the sound an enormous flock of snow geese makes. It is something I hope everyone gets to experience it at least once in their life.

November 13, 2019
It's a bit chilly out there today folks and it's got me thinking about snow geese. We typically don't see them in great numbers until February/March.

 


2019 Migration Summary:
Peak numbers of the large waterfowl, by species and the date the high-count was recorded:
      Snow geese: 150,000 on 03/12/19
      Tundra swans: 5,000 on 03/04/19
      Canada geese: 3,000 on 03/04/19   

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