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Snow geese migration draws thousands of visitors to Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area

This year's migration saw a peak of 150,000 snow geese

  • Jeremy Long
The annual snow geese migration at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area on March 3, 2022

 Jeremy Long / WITF

The annual snow geese migration at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area on March 3, 2022

Every year, right as winter’s temperatures begin to warm and the if the lake isn’t frozen Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area is filled with hundreds of thousands of visitors.

Many of those visitors fly in.

Even more visitors come to see them.

On a dark and cold March morning before sunrise, cars started to pull in to a parking lot. 

A man opened his trunk and quickly filled a cart full of camera gear. 

He was just one of tens of thousands of people who came through Middle Creek to watch the annual snow goose migration. 

Every day during the month-long migration, dozens of wildlife photographers, bird watchers and people who just want to experience the spectacle wake up before sunrise to make the drive to Middle Creek. 

Once they arrive at the Willow Point parking lot, they walk back a roughly half-mile paved path using a flashlight or the light from their cell phone to illuminate their way. 

Jeremy Long / WITF

Photographers set up and wait to photograph the annual snow geese migration at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area on March 3, 2022

Then they wait for the sun to rise.

Middle Creek is an important stop for the snow geese, explained Brant Portner, environmental education specialist at Middle Creek.

“It just works out well that it’s nestled within all these farm fields,” Portner said. “They can go out during the day, feed on a lot of corn or winter wheat growing in the surrounding fields.” 

The snow goose migration typically begins in February and can last into March. But it all depends on the weather.

This year, birds arrived in Middle Creek on Feb. 1 and the last of the birds left on March 21, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. 

“There’s snow geese flying over constantly and if they look down and they see ice on the water or snow on the fields they’re not going to stop because they can’t feed,” Portner said. “They really can’t roost on the water overnight.”

The weather also affects their migration north, especially if open water is still frozen or the fields are snow covered. 

“They’re going to keep turning around and coming back to Middle Creek,” Portner said. “That’s why it backs up with snow geese here.” 

Once things begin to thaw out, the next major stopover for the snow geese is the Finger Lakes region in New York , Portner said. 

The peak at Middle Creek this year came over President’s Day weekend, when an estimated 150,000 snow geese and at least 5,000 people visited, officials said. 

Anita Flores and her family got up at 3:30 a.m. to make the one-hour drive from Northampton County. She heard stories about what it was like to see the tens of thousands of birds take flight, but she wanted to see it firsthand.

Jeremy Long / WITF

The annual snow geese migration at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area on March 3, 2022

Flores finally got to see the birds take off that cold March morning. 

“It’s just so emotional,” Flores said. “Breathtaking. So, many are right against the sunset or sunrise. It’s beautiful.” 

Bruce Steakly of New Jersey has been coming to Middle Creek to photograph the migration for years. 

“Probably my favorite two pictures down here,” he explained. “One shooting straight across here with the dark background and just thousands of white geese in the frame. And then another sunrise picture here with a red sky behind a sky full of geese.”

This year, his friend Steve Rockoff from Delaware came along because of the stories Steakly told about the migration and the amazing photographs he would get.

And he found out the stories were true.

“When they all take off like last night, it’s just unbelievable,” Rockoff said. “It’s a beautiful sight.

“There’s nothing like being here to hear these birds when they start to take off.”

While the snow geese have moved on this year, they will be back next year right before spring. 

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