In the next few weeks tundra swans and snow geese will move north through Pennsylvania on their way to the Arctic. The best place to see them is at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area in Kleinfeltersville.
Though the birds are anxious to get home they wait for winter to break its grip, moving only as far north as open water and fields without snow cover. They look for open water to rest at night and visible food in the fields.
It's always hard to predict when waterfowl numbers will reach their peak at Middle Creek but this year must be especially challenging. This winter's hot-and-cold weather has created thick ice, then open water, then ice again. The snow geese have come and gone and come again.
PA Game Commission counts the geese and swans every day and posts Thursday's count on their Migration Update page. The latest report on February 8 says:
Snow Geese: 50,000
Canada geese: 5,000
Tundra swans: 2,500
Since the last update, the majority of the snow goose numbers have returned and seem to be holding there.
Even though I saw lots of snow geese and tundra swans at the Snow Goose Festival in California I still want to go to Middle Creek. I like to arrive at Willow Point before dawn and watch the snow geese leave the lake after sunrise in an explosive burst. Then the tundra swans put on a beautiful show.
Tundra swans get in synch on the water before they fly. They swim together, bob their heads, and hum "whooooo" as they go. Near the moment of takeoff the flock swims in line, bobbing their heads frequently and humming loudly. And then they're off!
Watch them prepare for takeoff in this video from Wisconsin.
Later this month I'll go see tundra swans on the move.
(video by Dale Bohlke on YouTube)
What date is best? Here are the peak dates in 2016 & 2017 from the Middle Creek Migration Update page:
2017 Migration Summary:
Snow geese: 70,000+ on 02/22/17
Tundra swans: 4,500+ on 02/6/17 <-- notice how early this was!
Canada geese: 5,000+ on 02/10/17
2016 Migration Summary:
Snow geese: 65,000+ on 02/29/16
Tundra swans: 3,500+ on 02/29/16
Canada geese: several hundred on 02/09/16