Daybreak, 12°F, crystal clear cloudless blue sky, no wind – it was time to head south where there were reports of an abundance of snows. Lunch was made, the car loaded with warm clothing, snacks, binoculars and camera – can’t forget that lunch. Then, we were on the road passing river towns like Shamokin Dam, Liverpool, and Dauphin; a loop around the city of Harrisburg; out into the flat valleys of Pennsylvania Dutch country – and towns like Hershey (of chocolate fame) and Kleinfeltersville – with some of the most fertile soils in the world and large manicured fields of corn and soybean stubble, where no tree or shrub or wildflower is permitted to grow; past Cornwall with its historic iron furnace and equally historic miners’ village –
And on to the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area. Beginning in the 1960s the Pennsylvania Game Commission began acquiring land in the area and, after sharing funding from a state-wide bond issue for recreation and conservation projects, constructed a 360 acre lake and a number of outlying ponds.
By the late 1970s development of the wildlife management area was complete and a few greater snow geese began stopping during migration. By the 1990s the number of geese stopping there had increased to over 100,000 birds. That number has since increased to well over 150,000 in some years. It was those spring migrants we had driven down to see. And see them we did, first the vast flock on the lake estimated to number 105,000 –
Wherever large flocks of greater snow geese gather so do people who flock to view and photograph the birds –
After circling, the flock settled back down on the water. But there was a constant coming and going from the lake as birds flew out to feed or returned. Gradually a large number gathered in an extensive field on the wildlife management area and began feeding on the grass and rhizomes –
After a short time the flock took flight, circled a few times and came down in a field next to the road where we were parked –
The gray birds are last year’s young. Scattered among the large flock are a few blue phase individuals. Among greater snow geese it is reported that less than four percent are blue phase –
By mid-March all these birds will have taken flight and departed on their northbound journey, many stopping in New York's Finger Lakes region or Vermont’s Dead River Wildlife Management Area where I have seen them in other years. The entire population stages along the St. Lawrence River in Quebec before making a non-stop flight of up to 600 miles en route to their breeding grounds in the Canadian high arctic.