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Waterfowl Migration Update

WATCH: What to Expect and How to Prepare for Your Visit. Middle Creek’s manager explains the variety of ways to safely view snow geese during the 2021 migration.

Migration Magic—A Story Map: Your one-stop shop for information on Middle Creek then and now, snow goose natural history and migration, breeding and wintering grounds, and visiting Middle Creek.

Printable Map and Viewing Tips (PDF)
Enjoy a Guided Walk to Willow Point with a Game Commission educator. (7:44)

What wildlife is enjoying the lake? This livestream 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.

February 26, 2021

What a difference a few days can make! Sunny days with the warmest temperatures in months have enticed birds from our south to call Middle Creek their temporary home. Throughout the day, thousands of snow geese have been streaming to Middle Creek while both Canada geese and tundra swan numbers have also increased. Though rainy weather is in this weekend's forecast, next week could finally be the start of the movement of hundreds of thousands of birds. How long they will stay is a question we will not be able to answer until after the migration has ended. Check back next week to see who has dropped in over the weekend!

Also – just a reminder that these counts are done in the morning and are subject to rapid change, especially for snow geese.

  • Snow Geese: 3,500 (nearing 10,000 plus by the end of the day).
  • Canada Geese: 1,200
  • Tundra Swans: 350

February 24, 2021

Numbers of waterfowl at Middle Creek remain low. While snow geese are not roosting on the lake in large numbers, small flocks of 50 to 100 birds have been seen during the day. Canada geese numbers have increased slightly while tundra swan numbers continue to remain the same. It looks like continued warm temperatures will help thaw Middle Creek but it will take some time to melt the thick ice and inches of snow we have received in the last month. The next few weeks will most likely showcase the beginning of the massive movement of birds heading north. Continue to keep an eye on the migration update page and the live webcam to see how the migration is shaping up in the coming days and weeks.

  • Snow Geese: < 25 birds roosting on the lake with occasional small groups passing through
  • Canada Geese: 550
  • Tundra Swans: 125

February 19, 2021

Happy Friday, migration enthusiasts! Another weather system has moved through the area, dealing Middle Creek another 6 inches of snow and ice. Unfortunately, this means that migration for many waterfowl species continues to be delayed. In the meantime, while we wait for the return of spring, check out Middle Creek's other migration resources including our guided hikes on the Willow Point Trail and the Conservation Trail. These interactive videos and other migration information can be found at the top of the page.

  • Snow Geese: < 25 birds roosting on the lake with occasional small groups passing through
  • Canada Geese: 350
  • Tundra Swans: 75

February 16, 2021

For the first time in days, the sun is shining at Middle Creek! While temperatures are temporarily above freezing, more snow is heading our way Thursday into Friday. Tundra swan numbers have increased slightly and for the current moment are outnumbering snow geese. American black ducks and mallards continue to use the small open patch of water on the main lake that can be viewed from the migration webcam. While numbers are currently bleak, forecasted temperatures in the coming weeks are consistently in the 40’s meaning the lake will start to open up and snow will begin to melt. Keep an eye on our migration updates to see how the numbers change as the weather gets warmer!

  • Snow Geese: < 25 birds roosting on the lake
  • Canada Geese: 350
  • Tundra Swans: 250

February 10, 2021

Numbers of waterfowl at Middle Creek continue to drop as more winter weather approaches this evening and into the weekend. President’s Day weekend in other years was a busy time at Middle Creek for both waterfowl and people but this year, the waterfowl are still residing in southern coastal estuaries and marshes. Snow is still present not only in Pennsylvania, but in northern states and regions including New York and New England which will continue to keep the birds south. The biggest change since the last update is that tundra swans numbers have dropped below 100 birds.

If you are planning on visiting Middle Creek this holiday weekend, keep in mind winter weather may result in hazardous conditions around Middle Creek. Our staff will make every effort to keep our parking areas and Willow Point Trail open and we appreciate your patience.

  • Snow Geese: less than 1,000
  • Canada Geese: 450
  • Tundra Swans: 45

February 5, 2021

Happy Friday! Today's counts continue to remain low compared to the last few years. Middle Creek received an additional two inches of snow and mixed precipitation last night into this morning. Despite warm temperatures during the day today and tomorrow, continued overnight lows will be well-below freezing, meaning numbers will not change much during the weekend. If you are planning on making the trek to Middle Creek this weekend, expect bird numbers to remain low. If you are hoping to see peak migration, I would hold out a few more weeks to see what the weather brings. Keep checking back for periodic updates throughout the month to see how the migration is shaping up.

  • Snow Geese: 1,000
  • Canada Geese: 450
  • Tundra Swans: 250

February 3, 2021

Over the past few days, Middle Creek has received close to two feet of snow. Middle Creek's lake remains frozen and because the neighboring agricultural fields are covered with snow, there are limited areas for birds to feed. Total counts have dropped and we are surprised at the amount of birds that are still using Middle Creek to roost. The weather forecast predicts a slight warm up followed by continued cold temperatures for the next few weeks. Snow goose numbers will most likely continue to remain at lower counts until warmer temperatures can thaw the lake. While we wait for Spring's return and more migrating birds, check out this interactive story map of Middle Creek's migrations to learn more about Middle Creek and Snow Geese.

  • Snow Geese: 4,000
  • Canada Geese: 750
  • Tundra Swans: 125

January 29, 2021

Today's count is not surprising considering the current and incoming weather. While the majority of the lake is frozen, the predicted snow that will arrive this weekend should continue to keep migrating birds south of Middle Creek. Despite lower waterfowl numbers, immature bald eagles have been temporarily calling Middle Creek home. Four immature bald eagles were observed resting on the lake ice as they "observed" the tundra swans and Canada geese avoiding the wind. Black ducks, mallards, and northern shovelers have continued to use the back coves of Middle Creek lake that do not freeze. We will provide an updated count early next week but in the meantime you can stay connected to Middle Creek by tuning into our Snow Goose webcam located at the Willow Point Trail.

  • Snow Geese: 1,000+ (birds did not roost on the lake last night but came in this morning to feed)
  • Canada Geese: 950
  • Tundra Swans: 450

January 25, 2021

Today is the first official migration update for 2021. Middle Creek staff looks forward to sharing our observations with you as the migration season continues. While the last year has certainly been challenging and different, the snow geese and other waterfowl that call Middle Creek home at this time of year didn’t get the memo as they have been continuing their migration on schedule.

While most of Middle Creek Lake is frozen, snow geese, tundra swans, Canada geese, and a variety of duck species are still utilizing the lake as an overnight roost. Currently, Middle Creek and the surrounding landscape is free from snow offering waste grains for waterfowl to feed on during the day. With snow and icy precipitation in the forecast, followed by sub-freezing temperatures, I expect that the number of waterfowl using the lake will decrease in the next week. But don’t worry – the best is yet to come!

  •      Snow Geese: 8,000
  •      Canada Geese: 1,500
  •      Tundra Swans: 500

Are you planning a visit to Middle Creek this year? Please take a look at the additional content located on this page to make sure you are prepared for your visit. While Middle Creek welcomes visitors during the 2021 migration season, there are a few changes to be aware of, mainly that the Visitors Center (including the restrooms) will remain closed this¬ year. Check out the “What to Expect and How to Prepare for Your Visit" video and the map and viewing tips to see where alternative restroom facilities and informational kiosks are located.

2020 Migration Summary:
Peak numbers of the large waterfowl, by species and the date the high-count was recorded:
      Snow geese: 125,000 on 02/18/20
      Tundra swans: 3,000 on 02/07/20
      Canada geese: 3,000 on 02/03/20   

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