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Thousands of migratory birds give residents a wildlife experience

By Staff | Mar 17, 2011

Thousands and thousands of snow geese made a rare sighting as they took off in flight from this farm in Pennsdale along Route 220 last Wednesday afternoon.

PENNSDALE – It is often said a sign of spring is here when the snow geese arrive. These birds are on the rise of 5 percent annually according to Picture Rocks resident, Wes Egli from the Lycoming Audubon Society. They are starting to spread more to untouched areas such as the Hudson Bay coastline. “It is not unusual to have snow geese this time of year in our area, but not in these large numbers,” said Egli. “They do pass here every year during migration.” They come from the southern states and nest in Alaska and across Canada and into the Arctic.

Swarms of them showcased the Pennsdale area last Wednesday for a pit stop while migrating from the south where they like to spend winters. It was reported that every year In late February over 80,000 of them come to Middlecreek in Lancaster County. It is truly a wildlife experience to watch them take off in flight.

“The weather conditions are what probably brought so many here, right before a big storm approaching,” replied Egli. Pennsdale is a good stop for them as they migrate back to their breeding ground in northern Canada. “They like to feed on the marsh grasses in the rich farmlands here,” said Egli. “To see them is one thing, but to hear them is another.” They are very vocal and can often be heard more than a mile away. They fly very high along narrow corridors, while their white bodies blend into an amazing spectacle of winter snow with moving wings turning them around the nearby field and pond.

The geese can capture the sight of many with their colorful plumage and rose-red feet and legs. Their wings are tipped with black or gray and their pink bills help them to feed on the minerals in the soil. They consist of two color phases, typical white and a blue morph which is not as numerous as white. But they are all from the same species.

The birds interbreed. When choosing a mate, the young birds will most often select a mate that resembles their parents’ coloring. They nest in colonies starting sometime in late May. The females will return to the place where they hatched to breed. She builds her nest on higher ground and after she lays the first few eggs, she lines the nest with down feathers. The eggs are incubated for 22 to 25 days. Within a few hours of hatching, the young leave their nest. They are to feed themselves, but remain under the protection of their parents.

Snow geese have been hunted by waterfowl enthusiasts for decades in New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and in the West, but according to John Dunn, the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s chief waterfowl biologist, snow geese first started showing up in substantial flocks in Pennsylvania about 15 years ago. They can be hunted in the fall after they have nested and raised their young.

“There still might be a flock or two left to be seen, but the big push for the migrating snow geese was last week,” Egli added. Other sightings were reported in Muncy Creek Township along Rt. 405 near Robin’s Real Estate and also along parts of the Susquehanna River in Williamsport. Several reports came in on the geese sightings in Pennsdale. “I saw them for several days here last week,” reported Egli.

He also said that tundra swans, another migratory waterfowl, were also seen by residents in the Muncy area. Along with the swans and geese, there are several ring-billed gulls, a type of sea gull, that comes along in late winter from the Atlantic coast on their way to the Great Lakes region where they will nest. Spring migration will occur in this area until about mid-May.