Monday, February 27, 2012

Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area: Birds and Flowers

Middle Creek WMA is a migratory stopover for a number of birds, including Snow Geese and Tundra Swans.  When we checked the status of the migration, Middle Creek WMA's website said they had 55,000 Snow Geese and 1,000 Tundra Swans. None of the four of us are really birders, but it sounded pretty impressive.  For a change of pace, we decided to do a short hike, followed by some bird-watching at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area (WMA), north of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  At least that was the plan.  We wound up doing some bird watching, hiking a shorter distance than planned, and then doing more bird watching.  The birds were that impressive.  We did sort of feel like imposters among all of the serious birders, but we learned a lot from listening to them.  One very nice woman let us view a Red-Tailed Hawk feeding on a carcass through her scope.  We also saw a Bald Eagle and Loons.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
Before the hike, we spent some time along the roadside checking out the Tundra Swans.  They are huge birds.  The Canada Geese in front of them looked small in comparison. 
There was a small gaggle of Snow Geese cruising around the bird-watching pavilion at Willow Point.  They didn't seem too bothered by all of the birders with very large scopes and cameras.
 This gaggle stayed up by the pavilion all day, dodging all of the people there to watch them.
 Dried flowers along one of the trails. 
The hike was pleasant.  It took us up on the ridge to the south of the reservoir.  We had lunch at small clearing overlooking the lake.  From there, we had a view of the snow geese feeding in a field just north of the lake.  They were more than a mile away and we could hear all of them.  All at once, they all lifted off of the field.  The dull noise of them feeding increased to a roar and the entire flock swirled up into the air. 
We descended off the ridge and came across these:  Simplocarpus foetidus (Skunk Cabbage).  It is the very first flower to emerge in the spring.  It is also several weeks early.  For comparison, last year, they emerged in mid-March in Washington, DC.  This is the yellow variety of S. foetidus, which I had not seen before.
 The red variety of S. feotidus.
 When we returned to the area with the swans, another awesome spectacle played out:  This Great Blue Heron was actively fishing.  It is about to snatch a fish out of the water in this shot.
 Click this picture to enlarge.  There is a bulge in the heron's gullet from the fish it caught.
 A Tundra Swan stretches its wings.  There were several species of ducks on the lake.  Unfortunately, none of us had a scope or lens large enough to get a good view of most of them.  These mallards give another view of just how big the swans are.
 The Snow Geese at Willow Point rising up, off the water shortly before sunset.
 Tundra Swans in flight.
 Snow Geese in flight.
 Flocks of Snow Geese returning to the lake for the night.
Sunset on Middle Creek Reservoir.

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