Wednesday, March 23, 2016



This year the Snow Geese began to show up at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area toward the end of February. They reached their peak number of 65,000 about the first of March. The 30 inch snowfall we had the last week of January kept the birds away until most of the snow melted.  They spend most of the winter in the wetlands of Maryland, Delaware and Virginia and do not visit Middle Creek until the fields are free of snow and they have an area for feeding.  They are attracted to this place by the 400 acre lake and the thousands of acres of farm fields in the surrounding areas.  Snow Geese travel in large flocks of several thousand, eat waste grain and  graze on the fresh green shoots of plants found in fields in early Spring. 

During the day they range over Lancaster, Berks, Dauphin and Lebanon Counties in search of suitable feeding sites, but usually return to the lake at night.  

The dark colored bird in the center of this photo is called a "Blue Goose" and is a dark gray variety of an adult Snow Goose. Most of the birds are white with black wingtips.

On March first I was watching this flock and they suddenly all took off in a cloud of moving white heading for the lake to roost for the night.

By the end of March the Snows are usually gone, heading to northern Canada and their summer nesting grounds.

The Tundra Swans travel and roost in small family flocks of a 100 or so and also are attracted to the area because of the open countryside. This year about 2000 swans were observed at Middle Creek.  They are all white with black bills, are larger that Snow Geese; and tend to scatter over the entire lake as they roost while the Snow Geese usually roost in larger more compact groups.

The swans have a flute-like call and listening to them sitting on the lake can be quite pleasant until the Snow Geese show up.  
The Snows have a loud raucous call that they use all the time, even at night as they jockey for space on the lake.

By the middle of March the Tundra Swans have moved on west to Montana and from there they head north to Alaska's north slope.
The tundra areas above the Arctic Circle  in northern Alaska are the nesting grounds for these beautiful swans.

Several years ago some of us had an opportunity to assist with a research project studying the swans.  The birds were attracted to an area with corn and a cannon net was fired to trap them. We were able to hold the birds while biologists examined them and took blood samples. Unlike most wild animals the swans were very calm, did not try to bite us or struggle to get away. They looked at us as if to say "Who the heck are you?".  The feathers on their neck and breast felt like silk and it was really cool to hold such a beautiful animal. Several of the female swans were fitted with devices that emitted signals giving scientists information about their migration route to Alaska.

Each year thousands of people visit Middle Creek to observe the huge flocks of geese, swans, ducks and other waterfowl that use this site as a stop on their migration route north. The best time of day to see Snow Geese is early in the morning at dawn or in the late afternoon into the evening  A lady I spoke with during my March 1st visit had discovered the place on the internet and had traveled all the way from Boston to see the birds. The best time of year to see the Snow Geese and Tundra Swans is from February first until March 15th, depending on the weather.  Once the  tour road through the property is opened on March first, visitors have more opportunities to see large flocks of Snow Geese and other wildlife. 

The Pennsylvania Game Commission owns Middle Creek and they provide up-to-date information about the area on their website at   The Visitor Center opens February first each year and is available to visitors Tuesday through Saturday 8 to 4, Sunday 12 to 5 and closed on Mondays. The phone is 
(717) 733 -1512.

NOTE: There is a pair of Bald Eagles currently nesting along the lake at Middle Creek. At least one egg has hatched and the adults have been observed feeding young in the nest.  

Monday, March 14, 2016


Monday morning March 6th  we awakened to the calling of Wood Frogs.  We had about one month of winter this year from the end of January to the beginning of March.  The 30+ inches of snow we had at the end of January was about all the real winter we had this year. Yes it stayed cold with temperatures in the single digits a couple of times, but in early March the temperatures shot from the 30's to the 70's in just a couple days  and that was the signal to these frogs that Spring is here.

The Wood Frog singing sounds more like barking and is quite loud.  We have 4 water areas and all of them were captured by these amphibians for their annual Spring mating ritual.

I first encountered these fascinating animals when we moved to Mt Gretna in the 1990's.  They hibernate during the cold of winter, but with the first warm days of March they suddenly appear in open water  areas like vernal pools and small ponds and begin to "sing".  I have seen them do this when there are still large pieces of ice in  the water.   The temperature remains at 32 degrees until the ice melts, so I do not know how they are able to stir up the energy to be jumping all over the place like they do.  They are cold-blooded, but something about their makeup allows them to function at very cold temperatures.

When we were in Alaska in 2003  we stayed at a bed and breakfast owned  by Judy Cooper.  She was a musher, had lots of dogs and lived on a large piece of land near Fairbanks in the central part of the state..  When i asked here about the wildlife in the area, she mentioned that she had a vernal pool in her woods and every year she had Wood Frogs appear and mate just as they do here  in PA.  Now the ground  in this part of Alaska is permafrost, so somehow these little guys can survive being frozen, wake up and mate every year.  No other reptile or amphibian can survive that far north, only Wood Frogs.

After about 2 weeks the frogs stop calling and return to the forest leaf litter where the spend most of the year feeding on creatures they find there.  I rarely see them except when mating season occurs.  In a week or two the gelatinous  masses  of eggs will explodes with hundreds of tadpoles that will develop legs and lungs  and join their parents in the forest ecosystem..  So we have  again enjoyed the announcement  of Spring by the barking  of our resident Wood Frogs.