Why is everyone talking about the weather? Well, it is usually a casual topic with little argument. But, the chill that dug so deep this month was something that kept almost everyone indoors.
When Karen and I finally did venture forth, it was only after the Jeep was left running for 10 minutes so that the interior could warm to a bearable temperature. When we saw a cluster of deer feeding in the middle of the afternoon, we knew that it was frigid. A few hours later we found them at the same location. We never even stopped for a photo, for fear that they might run, burning too much fuel as they faced an arctic blast.
Other species of wildlife are also affected by the cold. For example, it will be quite some time until we see good numbers of Snow Geese that attract us to Middle Creek.
On Feb. 11, Middle Creek’s manager Jim Binder said “I got a good look at swan numbers this morning, I’m surprised that there are this many here given the conditions. The band of Snow Geese is still here too, even though there is not much open water on the lake.”
According to Binder, he estimated there were several hundred Canada Geese, 1,300 Tundra Swans, and 5,000 Snow Geese hanging around Middle Creek’s Wildlife Management area. The Snows arrived on Feb. 6, after a brief thaw.
To keep things in perspective, at the height of the migration last year in mid-March, 110,000 Snow Geese were occupying the area. I will keep you updated when the numbers change, and you can feel free to visit Middle Creek and photograph these amazing geese.
According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, “There are many variables that determine the arrival of migrating waterfowl. The most significant is icing. When the ice on the main impoundment thaws to create areas of open water, the birds begin to arrive. Snow cover on the surrounding agricultural fields also influences the arrival of waterfowl, because it can limit access to the waste grains these birds depend on for food. Therefore, areas of open water, and limited or no snow cover on adjacent fields strongly influence Middle Creek’s drawing and holding power for migrants.
“Many of the migrants that come to Middle Creek winter south of Pennsylvania, and usually begin to push north in conjunction with spring thaw. During extreme winters with a late thaw, however, there’s always a chance waterfowl will fly over Middle Creek, or stop only briefly. Timing is critical for migration and nesting.
“Exactly when birds arrive can be difficult to predict. Generally, the birds, when conditions permit, begin to arrive in late February or early March. For those planning a trip to Middle Creek, the first weekend in March would be a good time to visit. A map of the area is available at the Visitor’s Center, as are the latest updates and bird sightings. Make sure to bring along binoculars, and field guides to help identify some of the birds you’ll see. Warm clothes are an important consideration if you plan to drive with your windows open. Also a camera is usually worth taking, because sometimes tremendous photo opportunities arise at Middle Creek.”
The excitement generated by their arrival can actually make you tremble. Trying to shoot an acceptable photo, despite the huge number of “Snows” can be a real challenge. But it goes far beyond that, since it is a rarity that you can travel to one place and photograph so many different species of wildlife. While there we have seen Tundra swans, Canada Geese, a wide variety of ducks, eagles, hawks, owls and even deer and pheasants, and I’m sure I missed a few.
We hope to return again this year, an excursion we have never grown tired of. You can find the area from the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s Exit 286: Take Route 272 north for three miles, and at the traffic light, turn left on Route 897. Follow Route 897 north for about 14 miles into the village of Kleinfeltersville. In Kleinfeltersville, make the first left after the stop sign (Hopeland Road). The Visitor’s Center will be on the right, about 2 miles down Hopeland Road.
For additional information, call 717-733-1512.
On another topic, I try not to mix politics with pleasure, but there are times you have to step forth and make your voice heard. I can’t believe we are still without a state budget, and as I predicted a long time ago, our natural resources are one of many areas that are going to suffer. I don’t care what party you have adopted as your very own, there is far too much mud-slinging and finger pointing, and not enough action.
Davitt Woodwell, president and CEO of the PA Environmental Council, and Harry Campbell, executive director of the Pennsylvania Office of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, issued the following statement in response to Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget address on Tuesday: “Today Gov. Wolf delivered his 2016 budget address, despite the fact that Pennsylvania still does not have a complete operating budget in place for the current fiscal year. While the state government’s failure to deliver a budget has adverse ramifications across the Commonwealth, it is particularly ominous for Pennsylvania’s environment.”
Against the backdrop of over a decade of cuts to environmental programs and agencies, the stark reality is that Pennsylvania is losing control over its environmental future. The most recent budget address unfortunately proposed little more than additional steps down that same menacing path.
The Department of Environmental Protection alone has seen a 22 percent cut in staff — more than 700 positions — between 2002-03 and 2015-16. In the latest round of “freezing” positions, DEP is not allowed to fill necessary vacancies in a number of high-profile regulatory programs.
What’s at stake is the clean-up of roughly 19,000 miles of polluted streams in Pennsylvania and the Chesapeake Bay watershed, with the state projecting a significant shortfall of 2017 pollution reduction targets.
Many of us don’t realize that the Commonwealth faces not only failure to meet federal and court-imposed mandates, it could lose control of its very own programs. The state currently maintains primacy for a number of environmental programs, from water quality protection, mining, air quality control, and others. But, federal agencies have increasingly signaled that the state’s ongoing refusal to adequately staff and support these programs could result in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Federal Office of Surface Mining assuming direct control of oversight and enforcement in Pennsylvania.