Witness a migration spectacle at Pennsylvania’s Center Creek

An extended, very long time in the past, geese didn’t migrate south within the autumn, however remained within the land of the north all through the winter. Eventually one goose had a dream of the southland, that the winter there was delicate. She practiced all summer season and made her wings sturdy so within the autumn she might fly south to the land she had seen in her dream. The imaginative and prescient guided her on her journey and she or he lived nicely in the course of the winter. After the primary thunder within the spring, she flew again north. It was on this manner that geese realized to fly south within the autumn to flee the storms and chilly of winter. — Teton-Dakota legend, as informed in Paul Johnsgard’s Tune of the North Wind


A hush has fallen over the land. Our respiration is the one sound. On this chilly snap of an early March daybreak, even exhaled air is shortly stilled, flash-frozen into ice crystals. Snowflakes drift throughout farm fields that stretch throughout the 6,000-acre Center Creek Wildlife Administration Space on the border of Pennsylvania’s Lebanon and Lancaster counties, positioned within the southeastern a part of the Keystone State.

All of a sudden, the world springs to life. Greater than 100,000 Snow Geese, a blizzard of birds, take flight from Center Creek’s 360-acre central lake, its waters tinged pink within the mild of dawn. The geese are joined by 4,500 Tundra Swans. They meld into a large flock, the beating of their wings almost deafening. Guests to Willow Level, maybe one of the best place at Center Creek to see the birds, are engulfed in clouds of snow-white wings.

Snow Geese at dawn at Center Creek. Picture by Ilya Raskin

Ultimately, the birds will depart for the far north through the Atlantic Flyway. For now, they reside right here, a Globally Important Necessary Chook Space that was so designated for its massive share of the world’s inhabitants of Snow Geese and Tundra Swans. In summer season, they breed within the Arctic. As fall arrives, they head south earlier than the primary snowstorm, to accept the winter on ice-free Mid-Atlantic coastal waters. On the best way again in early spring, Center Creek is a significant resting web site for the geese and swans.

The date on which Center Creek’s geese attain peak numbers annually will depend on a number of components, in accordance with biologists on the Pennsylvania Recreation Fee, which manages the realm. The principle lake must be largely ice-free so the birds can discover protected haven. The geese additionally require snow-free fields at and round Center Creek for feeding. Mid-February to mid-March is when goose numbers are normally highest, but when the lake doesn’t freeze or main snows don’t cowl the fields, the birds can arrive as early as January. In late January this yr, as much as 79,000 Snow Geese and 1,950 Tundra Swans have been tallied. (Geese take refuge at Center Creek as nicely; the most typical species are Mallard, American Black Duck, and Gadwall.)

In 2022, Center Creek staffers had counted solely 2,400 Snow Geese and 240 Tundra Swans on February 1. The numbers peaked a couple of weeks later; on February 25, the refuge reported 105,000 Snow Geese and on February 28, 4,500 Tundra Swans. By March 11, most had moved on.

Three Tundra Swans take to the air at Center Creek. Picture by Ilya Raskin

The all-time excessive rely for Snow Geese was in late February 2018, when 200,000 birds have been reported. That yr’s Tundra Swan tally reached 5,500 birds.

In the course of the brief time the geese are at Center Creek, they feed in agricultural fields planted with corn, wheat, and barley. “Flocks alight upon a meadow or plain and go over the bottom in damaged array, cropping to both aspect as they go,” wrote Arthur Cleveland Bent in his Life Histories of North American Wild Fowl. When the geese aren’t nibbling on grains, one of the best instances to see them are on the lake at dawn, earlier than they depart for close by fields, and at sundown as they return to the lake.

Tundra Swans, previously referred to as Whistling Swans, additionally “collect in massive flocks,” wrote Bent, “and spend a lot of their time preening their feathers, maintaining a continuing movement of loud notes, as if discussing the interval of their departure and the strategy and path of their course.”

Snow Geese at Center Creek. Picture by Ilya Raskin

The swans feed on shallow water vegetation, which they attain with their lengthy necks, typically tipping their tails within the air. As aquatic crops dwindle because of the destruction of wetlands, the swans are shifting to eating on land. Just like the geese, they forage in farm fields, selecting up corn and soybeans left after the autumn harvest and consuming crops corresponding to winter wheat, rye, and barley.

Tundra Swans breed within the treeless expanses of northern Alaska and Canada’s Northwest Territories, northeastern Manitoba, northern Ontario, and northwestern Quebec. Swans that nest east of Level Hope, Alaska, winter alongside the Atlantic coast; others fly south to Pacific shorelines.

By late February to early March, most of Center Creek’s geese and swans are returning north, with a couple of stopovers. The passage is just not with out incident; lengthy stretches of winter nonetheless lie forward. “In stormy climate,” wrote Bent, “they’re stressed and frequently fly from place to position as if attempting to find a quiet spot the place they might relaxation in peace until the storm passes.” Center Creek Wildlife Administration Space is a haven that gives them that respite.

Be taught extra about Center Creek WMA

Hotspot Close to You No. 126: Center Creek WMA

Center Creek Snow Goose and Waterfowl Migration Replace

Migration Magic: A Story Map, plus ideas for visiting Center Creek

Livestream from Center Creek’s Willow Level

Proceed scrolling for extra images of birds at Center Creek WMA

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