Waterfowl Migration Update


ADVISORY: Please note that these numbers are estimates and subject to rapid and dramatic change.
These updates are submitted by Jim Binder, Middle Creek manager.


No change. We're supposed to get a bit of a thaw this week, but it won't be enough to melt the twelve inches of ice on the lake.

NOTE: The "Wildlife Viewing Drive", alternately known as "the tour road", is closed due to ice and snow. We don't do routine winter maintenance on that road system since the road is closed through the winter anyway. So at this point we're going to have to wait until warmer weather makes the road passable. The same thing happened last year too, we were able to open the road during the second week of March, see how it goes this year.


Single-digit low temperatures and more snow are keeping the birds away, with no significant change in sight.


The lake has been completely ice-covered since January 7th. That, along with snow-covered fields, is keeping waterfowl elsewhere. Only a few hundred hardy Canada geese remain consistently, toughing it out. This will not change until we experience a substantial thaw. Ice and snow, the lack of it, is what drives bird numbers here. We'll let you know when things start to change.

2014 Migration Summary (04/07/14)

Peak numbers of the large waterfowl, by species and the date the high-count was recorded:

Snow geese: 60,000+ on 03/17/14
Tundra swans: 5,000+ on 03/17/14
Canada geese: several thousand on 03/11-12/14

This will be the last posting of this migration season, the birds that were still lingering here last week have moved on. It was an odd year, but I find myself saying that every year. After a long and hard winter the thaw arrived late, and so did the birds. We saw a similar situation some years ago, when snow geese didn't arrive in numbers until March 9th, this year it was March 10th. Both years the birds weren't here long, a couple of weeks, before they headed north. That earlier year the tundra swans flew over us from the south, not stopping after they left the Chesapeake Bay, in a rush to get north. This year we had a good swan year (5,000) and we surprisingly over-wintered about 1,000. Snow geese are increasingly spending time in the Lehigh Valley; over the past several years that area has held as many, if not more, snow geese than we had here. Since that trend started we haven't eclipsed 80,000 snow geese in a year, whereas we used to expect 150,000. That's OK, it's good to have these birds spread out, it lessens impacts on agriculture. We'll resume migration updates perhaps next February, or whenever birds start arriving.

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, 10,00 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. To take a closer look at what awaits you at Middle Creek visit the Snow Goose Photo Album.

After the stopping by the Center, visitors follow the self-guided 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.

Considering the numbers of birds we were seeing through the day yesterday, today's numbers seem low.  All I can do is report the numbers I see in the morning of a given day.  Early morning (daybreak) is usually the best time to get estimates, as any birds in the area should spend the night on the lake.  However, with a bright full moon last night some birds may have stayed out overnight.

Pennsylvania Game Commission, 2001 Elmerton Ave, Harrisburg Pennsylvania 17110-9797