A few weeks ago, on what had to be one of the windiest days of the year, I was crazy enough to attempt photographing seabirds along the New Jersey coast. Armed with some new telephoto equipment, I was adamant about shooting some birds. But as I was trying to steady myself in the violent wind, I began to question the sanity of this endeavor. At that same moment, a car pulled up directly in my line of sight. I recognized the driver as we had spoken casually several times along the trail; however, this time she had something interesting to share with me. Devastated by wind chill factor, I listened to her explain how her husband, an avid birder, had driven five hours west of where we were standing to see an enormous migration of snow geese. Roughly 110,000 in fact! On their way home to the Arctic tundra to breed, the snow geese had apparently stopped to take a breather in Middle Creek, Pennsylvania and it sounded like quite a spectacle to behold.
Grateful for this piece of information, I made the swift decision to put my camera away and do some quick research. As I surfed the web, I became exhilarated by the idea of a hundred thousand birds as I realized I had never seen so many in my life. I grew increasingly eager at the prospect of witnessing such an event. However, by the time I was able to make it to Middle Creek (two days later), the park rangers informed me that the snow geese population had decreased by half. Eventually more would arrive from the south but I only had the one afternoon so 55,000 geese and a few thousand tundra swan would have to suffice.
I arrived by early afternoon and the air was a bit frigid. Despite the cold, it was lovely to find a large group of birders, photographers, and families just as excited about the migration as I was. Everyone had gathered around the edge of Middle Creek Lake where they waited patiently for any sign of activity from the napping geese. I looked for a spot to get set up but prime real estate was difficult to secure. As I got situated and pulled out my new gear, I noticed a bit of commotion out on the lake. What started with the honking of a few geese quickly grew into a chorus and eventually a magnificent blanket of white peeling off the frozen earth and into flight. I found myself awe-struck and only half-heartedly took a few shots as my concentration was elsewhere. With an eye glued to my viewfinder, I could only see a fraction of the scene. It felt as though I were inside a giant snow globe and the snowflakes dancing all around me were in fact snow geese.
I spent the better part of the afternoon and early evening at the water’s edge playing around with my new equipment and chatting it up with some locals. From time to time small flocks of geese would fly north, however their exits were not nearly as grand as the first one I had encountered. As the sun inched its way towards the horizon, luckily I got one final chance to witness another mass flight exodus which was at least as impressive as the first. With just a small population of geese left on the lake, I was easily tempted to tag along with another photographer to a cornfield north of the lake. Very happy with the decision to leave the lake, I was able to get within ten feet of thousands of snow geese eating their dinner in a beautiful, rolling field as the sun set behind me. This final close encounter kissed by dapple sunlight made for the most special part of a special day providing a wonderful swan song for my avian afternoon.
*All images taken on a Canon 5D MKIII