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Waterfowl Migration Update

Waterfowl

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.

03/24/2016:

FINAL REPORT FOR 2016:
It was very, very quiet here this morning. There were the usual welcome sounds of spring, along with the honking of the locally nesting Canada geese, but the large numbers of snow geese and tundra swans are gone. There are still some interesting ducks around, and a handful of snows and swans, but for the most part the spring waterfowl migration through this area is over. And, since the migration is over, this will be the final report for the 2016 season.

03/22/2016:

There’s still a couple thousand snow geese hanging around, the swans that remained here last week have left. Winds are forecasted to be mostly from the south over the next few days, that should finish the migration locally.

Snow geese: 2,000 +/-
Tundra swans: none

03/17/2016:

These few birds continue to linger, but they won’t be here much longer and the big numbers are not likely to return.

Snow geese: less than 5,000
Tundra swans: 200
Canada geese: mostly gone

03/13/2016:

Snow geese:
                   Friday - 50,000
                   Saturday - less than 20,000
                   Sunday - less than 5,000
Tundra swans: 200

03/11/2016:

Numbers appear to be holding steady. Saturday’s winds are forecasted to be blowing from the south, that should get birds moving. We’re unable to update the website on weekends, next report will be on Monday.

03/10/2016:

Swan numbers came up again yesterday, but it looked like a lot of those birds may have left for good this morning. Canada geese continue to pass over, heading north in large numbers. Snow geese tend to leave a little later than the Canadas and swans, but we’re nearing mid-March and I would expect we’ll see numbers drop with the next south wind.

Snow geese: 50,000 steady for now
Tundra swans: 1,200 dropping

03/09/2016:

Snow goose numbers are holding steady for now, swan numbers appear to have dropped dramatically, and Canada geese are streaming north.

03/08/2016:

Snow geese: steady
Tundra swans: 2,000 +

03/07/2016:

Numbers were up, then they went down, then they came back up. The waterfowl migration is in full swing, warm temperatures and favorable winds might convince birds to leave and head north this week.

Snow geese: 50,000 +/-
Tundra swans: 1,600 +

03/04/2016:

It is apparent that snow goose numbers went up somewhat yesterday. Unfortunately no good current estimate is available, perhaps 20,000 or more. There are also reports of snow geese to the north of us, birds are moving. The duck migration has really picked up, lots of ducks of several different species present.

03/03/2016:

Yes, I was very surprised by this development too. The current cold-snap we are experiencing should not have been enough to drive that many birds back to the south. While there are birds moving north I would not have expected birds migrating through this area to be gone already. Since this seems to be a more “normal” spring, and it’s still early on the calendar, I would have expected to have lots of birds into mid-March. There is a possibility that birds are using a different waterbody nearby or they may have spent the night out feeding. Also, during the spring migration birds that push north may be replaced by birds still coming up from the south. To be honest I was surprised when I took a look at the lake this morning, saying to myself “where’d they go”? I’m not sure how this will play out, stay tuned.

Snow geese: less then 15,000
Tundra swans: less than 1,000
Canada geese: few

02/29/2016:

The buildup in numbers started late last week, waterfowl are on the move. Based on the behavior of some of the flocks of Canada geese and tundra swans this morning they may have pushed north when they left the lake this morning; migrating Canadas were passing over from the south to the north as well.

Snow geese: 65,000+
Tundra swans: 3,500+
Canada geese: lots
Ducks: a diversity of species

02/23/2016:

Snow geese: 30,000+

02/22/2016:

Some snow geese showed up on Saturday and more came in at first light this morning. There has been some movement of waterfowl lately, we’ve picked up some ducks and Canada geese, swan numbers are holding steady.

Snow geese: 20,000+/-

02/18/2016:

A few thousand snow geese showed up yesterday and a couple hundred more came in this morning, there is still very little open water on the lake.

Snow geese: 5,000+

02/16/2016:

The snow geese that were here last week left when the big freeze hit by the weekend, surprisingly the swans are toughing it out. The only open water remaining is off of Willow Point which is currently the best place to see whatever birds might be here. Today temperatures are in the forties and it’s raining which should eliminate most of the snow and perhaps some of the ice.

Snow geese: none

02/11/2016:

I got a better look at swan numbers this morning, I’m surprised that there’s this many here given the conditions. The band of snow geese is still here too even though there is not much open water on the lake. Short-range weather forecast is calling for bitterly cold temperatures, numbers will probably not increase until we experience a thaw.

Canada geese: several hundred
Tundra swans: 1,300+
Snow geese: 5,000+

02/09/2016:

Warmer temperatures and rain melted much of the snow that was here last week and a few thousand snow geese showed up. However, it is now snowing again and temperatures are expected to plummet in the near term which should put the brakes on waterfowl migration.

Canada geese: several hundred
Tundra swans: several hundred
Snow geese: 5,000+

02/02/2016:

First Report of 2016: Lots of snow and ice are keeping things pretty quiet, not many birds here. Until conditions change dramatically it will probably remain this way.  It is also still early on the calendar for birds to be on the move.

Canada geese: several hundred
Tundra swans: several hundred
Snow geese: none

2015 Migration Summary

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

Snow geese: 110,000 on 03/15/15
Tundra swans: 3,000+ on 03/27/15
Canada geese:1,800 on 03/16-12/15

It was the coldest February/March combination on record locally, and the ice-cover on the lake bore testament to that. I've long held the belief that open, ice-free water is a prerequisite before large numbers of the large waterfowl will show up. That was not the case this year, the birds had no choice but to roost (sleep) on the ice if they were heading north. The photoperiod (the amount of daylight) is what really drives the migration, although it is affected by weather conditions. As days get longer in the spring birds that migrate get the urge to start moving back towards their breeding grounds, sometimes regardless of conditions. It was an interesting migration season, they all are.


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.

No portlets in this column.
Pennsylvania Game Commission, 2001 Elmerton Ave, Harrisburg Pennsylvania 17110-9797