For a change of pace, I decided to go on a photography adventure on Friday, March 11th after reading an interesting blog that a fellow photographer wrote about the migrating snow geese at Willow Creek. After a quick Google search, I was delighted to learn that Willow Creek was a quick drive. I loaded up the car with the big lenses and the tripod and headed out. With a few wrong turns and some help from friendly faces, I found this fabulous location amongst countless farms and rolling hills. I am ashamed to admit; I didn't know we had THIS many farms in the area.
Upon arriving at Middle Creek and witnessing the beauty of the place, it was no surprise that I was greeted with a plethora of fellow photogs who also brought the cavalry of lenses and tripods set up along the roadside. I thought "this must be the place". I parked the car and went over to ask a fellow photographer if I was at the right location for the snow geese. He said no that this was the site for the swans. He pointed to a large band of white in the distance, "that is the snow geese" he said and told me to turn around and go back a mile, park in the lot and walk 1/2 mile down the path to the lookout. So off I went, found the parking lot and headed down the path.
When I arrived at the lookout, lenses and the sweet sound of shutter clicks were everywhere, and 50 thousand snow geese were modeling for all those clicking shutters. It was an incredible sight to see, people from all over, even NY. I saw a few really big lenses, the kind that cost as much as a car; this was some serious bird photography! I quickly set up in a spot I liked and started shooting. It was great timing, within 15 minutes thousands of snow geese began to take flight and fly to another location. I had an excellent time, got some much needed fresh air and met some amazing photographers...
MIGRATION BACKGROUND: The period that annually attracts the most birds, and visitors, remains late winter. During this timeframe, large numbers of migrating waterfowl 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 familiar creatures such as white-tailed deer and red-tailed hawks. Many variables determine the arrival of migrating waterfowl. The most significant are 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 of waterfowl as 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 the 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.
The hike to Willow Point at dusk or dawn provides the best vantage for snow geese. To fully appreciate Middle Creek, a drive through the interior Tour Road shouldn't be missed. Weather and driving conditions permitting, the Tour Road opens on March 1st. 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 Middle Creek has become such a key stop to migrating waterfowl.