It was a beautiful, unseasonably warm, and sunny morning in March when my husband and I arrived at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area; though this wasn’t our first trip to the nature facility, we stopped by the Visitor’s Center to pick up a map of the trails.
We were greeted by the attendant at the Visitor’s Center who informed us that the best times to see the snow geese in large numbers were at dawn and dusk when they return to the water after foraging in the fields and meadows throughout the day. The estimated count for the day we visited was approximately 50,000 snow geese, though the population varies from day to day. On the same day in 2015, there were an estimated 110,000 snow geese.
While at the Visitor’s Center we were able to pick up information on a variety of Pennsylvania wildlife. We watched the live eagle cam as the female sat upon her nest, used binoculars to view the waterfowl on the smaller pond behind the Visitor’s Center, and checked out the display of common waterfowl and birds of prey found on the nature preserve. While we were there, a group of school children on a field trip were also making use of the visitor’s center educational offerings. Though educating the public is part of what Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area does the number one priority is the wildlife and preserving wildlife habitats because “Middle Creek is owned and operated by the Pennsylvania Game Commission and paid for primarily with hunting license dollars.” The mission statement for the PA Game Commission is “to manage Pennsylvania’s wild birds, wild mammals, and their habitats for current and future generations.”
After speaking with the attendant, we decided to head down to the Willow Point Trail where he’d informed us we’d find the best spot to see the snow geese.
We were pleasantly surprised at the end of Willow Point Trail, after a quick ten-minute hike, when we found two small groupings of approximately ten geese each foraging around the meadowy area leading down to the edge of the lake. Even these hungry waterfowl were not easily deterred by the presence of humans. They quietly, except for the occasional honking and ruffling of feathers to defend territory, went about their business ignoring their visitors completely.
As for the visitors, we observed the geese with fascination as both amateurs and professional photographers had their cameras at the ready to capture any hint of action. There were a few children watching and making use of the binoculars stationed at the top of the hill just outside of a pavilion with picnic tables.
Meanwhile, out on the water, not only could we see a large flock of snow geese, but the amount of noise they made was incredible; honking and splashing as they fought for space and preened in the thick soup of white.
I parked myself on a corner of the pavement at the top of the hill looking down over the meadow out onto the lake. I figured if I sat here patiently I just might get lucky and see some of the geese in flight. In the meantime, I snapped a few pictures of the geese rummaging in the fields and even managed to get a few decent close-ups.
Interestingly enough, the most significant marking of these beautiful snow geese would be the black tips of their wings, but this isn’t something that necessarily catches your eye until you see them in flight.
As I sat watching two geese battle it out and chase each other over a territorial dispute, I heard a loud noise off to my left. Just as I turned to my husband to ask about the sound, I saw exactly where it was coming from. The large flock of snow geese on the left side of the lake had taken off all at once! It appeared that they were swarming over the lake and circling back on their previous spot, but then they flew further out into the lake and circled around to the right side at which point the large flock on the right side of the lake joined them. I watched in amazement and snapped pictures as fast as I could. I hoped that at least a few would turn out well. As the second part of the flock joined in the frenzy and circled around it looked as though the birds would collide with one another in such a large mass; instead of instantly settling back on the water as I thought they might, they surged straight over my head, flapping and honking loudly.
I laid back with my camera and shot straight up into the air managing to catch the full magnificence of their black-tipped wings. Overwhelmed by the noise and thrilled by the photo opportunity I was ecstatic to have been fortunate enough to witness the waterfowl in flight.
Without access to Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area and places like it run by the State Game Commission, we as citizens would be missing out on valuable experiences such as my husband and I were fortunate enough to have.
There is currently a bill that has been introduced in the Pennsylvania State Senate, Senate Bill 1148, that is proposing an increase in hunting and trapping license fees within the state. As this is one of the primary sources of funding for Middle Creek and places like it, it is vital that we show our support for this bill. The Game Commission’s ability to not only manage wildlife programs but also aid in educating the public about our wildlife resources is at stake, and when it comes down to either management programs for the wildlife or educational programming, the wildlife will always be the priority as that is the mandate of the Game Commission. This is as it should be, but they are in desperate need of a long-term stable source of funding if they are to continue to provide the programs, resources, and public access to state game lands that are currently offered. As noted on the Game Commission’s website, “The Commission does not receive state General Fund appropriations,” but instead rely primarily on hunting license sales. License fees have not been raised in 17 years, and the Commission is beholden to the State General Assembly’s approval to increase the licensing fees. Even if Senate Bill 1148 passes, there is still much work to be done to ensure the long-term stability of funding to preserve Pennsylvania’s wildlife and wildlife habitats for “current and future generations.”
Story and photos ©2016 Vicki Rae Gabow