An extended, very long time in the past, geese didn’t migrate south within the autumn, however remained within the land of the north all through the winter. Eventually one goose had a dream of the southland, that the winter there was delicate. She practiced all summer season and made her wings robust so within the autumn she might fly south to the land she had seen in her dream. The imaginative and prescient guided her on her journey and she or he lived nicely through the winter. After the primary thunder within the spring, she flew again north. It was on this method that geese discovered to fly south within the autumn to flee the storms and chilly of winter. — Teton-Dakota legend, as advised in Paul Johnsgard’s Tune of the North Wind
A hush has fallen over the land. Our respiration is the one sound. On this chilly snap of an early March daybreak, even exhaled air is shortly stilled, flash-frozen into ice crystals. Snowflakes drift throughout farm fields that stretch throughout the 6,000-acre Center Creek Wildlife Administration Space on the border of Pennsylvania’s Lebanon and Lancaster counties, positioned within the southeastern a part of the Keystone State.
Immediately, the world springs to life. Greater than 100,000 Snow Geese, a blizzard of birds, take flight from Center Creek’s 360-acre central lake, its waters tinged pink within the gentle of dawn. The geese are joined by 4,500 Tundra Swans. They meld into an enormous flock, the beating of their wings practically deafening. Guests to Willow Level, maybe the very best place at Center Creek to see the birds, are engulfed in clouds of snow-white wings.
Ultimately, the birds will go away for the far north by way of the Atlantic Flyway. For now, they reside right here, a Globally Important Essential Fowl Space that was so designated for its giant proportion of the world’s inhabitants of Snow Geese and Tundra Swans. In summer season, they breed within the Arctic. As fall arrives, they head south earlier than the primary snowstorm, to accept the winter on ice-free Mid-Atlantic coastal waters. On the way in which again in early spring, Center Creek is a significant resting website for the geese and swans.
The date on which Center Creek’s geese attain peak numbers every year depends upon a number of components, in keeping with biologists on the Pennsylvania Sport Fee, which manages the realm. The principle lake must be principally ice-free so the birds can discover secure haven. The geese additionally require snow-free fields at and round Center Creek for feeding. Mid-February to mid-March is when goose numbers are normally highest, but when the lake doesn’t freeze or main snows don’t cowl the fields, the birds can arrive as early as January. In late January this 12 months, as much as 79,000 Snow Geese and 1,950 Tundra Swans had been tallied. (Geese take refuge at Center Creek as nicely; the commonest species are Mallard, American Black Duck, and Gadwall.)
In 2022, Center Creek staffers had counted solely 2,400 Snow Geese and 240 Tundra Swans on February 1. The numbers peaked just a few weeks later; on February 25, the refuge reported 105,000 Snow Geese and on February 28, 4,500 Tundra Swans. By March 11, most had moved on.
The all-time excessive rely for Snow Geese was in late February 2018, when 200,000 birds had been reported. That 12 months’s Tundra Swan tally reached 5,500 birds.
In the course of the brief time the geese are at Center Creek, they feed in agricultural fields planted with corn, wheat, and barley. “Flocks alight upon a meadow or plain and cross over the bottom in damaged array, cropping to both facet as they go,” wrote Arthur Cleveland Bent in his Life Histories of North American Wild Fowl. When the geese aren’t nibbling on grains, the very best instances to see them are on the lake at dawn, earlier than they go away for close by fields, and at sundown as they return to the lake.
Tundra Swans, previously often called Whistling Swans, additionally “collect in giant flocks,” wrote Bent, “and spend a lot of their time preening their feathers, maintaining a relentless stream of loud notes, as if discussing the interval of their departure and the tactic and path of their course.”
The swans feed on shallow water vegetation, which they attain with their lengthy necks, generally tipping their tails within the air. As aquatic vegetation dwindle as a result of destruction of wetlands, the swans are shifting to eating on land. Just like the geese, they forage in farm fields, selecting up corn and soybeans left after the autumn harvest and consuming crops comparable to winter wheat, rye, and barley.
Tundra Swans breed within the treeless expanses of northern Alaska and Canada’s Northwest Territories, northeastern Manitoba, northern Ontario, and northwestern Quebec. Swans that nest east of Level Hope, Alaska, winter alongside the Atlantic coast; others fly south to Pacific shorelines.
By late February to early March, most of Center Creek’s geese and swans are returning north, with just a few stopovers. The passage shouldn’t be with out incident; lengthy stretches of winter nonetheless lie forward. “In stormy climate,” wrote Bent, “they’re stressed and frequently fly from place to position as if looking for a quiet spot the place they could relaxation in peace until the storm passes.” Center Creek Wildlife Administration Space is a haven that gives them that respite.
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