A white snow goose extends its orange feet for a landing amongst a gaggle of white geese during migration.
Snow Geese Snow geese visit the Middle Creek WMA in Pennsylvania. © George C. Gress

Stories in Pennsylvania

Waterfowl Wanderlust

Thousands of waterfowl descend upon one particular location in Central Pennsylvania each year.

by George C. Gress

One of my favorite springtime birding areas is situated between Lancaster and Lebanon counties, just south of the small town of Kleinfeltersville. Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area is a bird watcher’s paradise.

This 6,000-acre property is owned and managed by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. It contains state game lands, public recreation areas, a 400-acre lake and many small ponds and pools with abundant wildlife.

Dozens of white snow geese float in a wide blue pond.
Snow Geese Thousands of snow geese visit the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area in Pennsylvania each year. © George C. Gress / TNC

Waterfowl begin to arrive in mid-February, and by early March the spring waterfowl migration is in full swing. This time of year, there are plenty of opportunities to see dozens of waterfowl species, as well as other wildlife. It is not unusual to see over 50,000 snow geese, 3,500 tundra swans among pintails, buffleheads, shovelers, teal, common and hooded mergansers, wood ducks, widgeon, ring necked ducks and mallards . . . just to name a few. While the waterfowl seem to be the star of the show, it only takes a few hours to realize how many other birds and wildlife—bald eagles, osprey, short eared owls, Northern harriers, eastern bluebirds, meadowlarks, bobolinks, deer, turkeys, foxes, coyotes—visit this time of year.

The main road provides ample opportunities to stop and watch wildlife. However, if snow has sufficiently melted, gates for the tour road leading into the controlled area will open in early March to allow for closer views of the many fields and ponds. While travel within the controlled area is limited to the roads, the viewing opportunities abound.

Ten white swans float in a glassy pond. Thick gray mist rises around them obscuring the leafless trees that stick up above the water.
Tundra Swans Some of the thousands of waterfowl visiting the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area each spring include tundra swans. © George C. Gress / TNC

In addition to the roads, there are several trails. One of the most popular trails is the Willow Point Trail, a level, paved half-mile trail that leads to a viewing area on the west side of the lake.

As you might expect, in addition to all of the wildlife, there are also lots of humans, and weekends can be frustratingly crowded.  However, more people means more eyes, and birders are generally a friendly bunch and will often provide tips on where to see various birds. If you go, the best time to visit is during a weekday morning at daybreak. Don’t forget to bring binoculars and your camera!

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