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280 Kane St. STE #2
South Williamsport, PA
United States

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The White Mass

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I were on our way home from church, and as usual, she was driving so I could scan the fields and woods for deer and other wildlife. The drive home that day was during that brief period when the rain and warm temperatures had melted all the

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I were on our way home from church, and as usual, she was driving so I could scan the fields and woods for deer and other wildlife. The drive home that day was during that brief period when the rain and warm temperatures had melted all the snow, revealing shades of brown across the countryside.

However, what caught my attention was that massive patch of white in the middle of a light brown cornfield; how could there possibly be snow there and nowhere else, I thought.

Suddenly, the nearly 200-yard long patch of white began to rise up out of the field, and I realized it was my first sighting of snow geese this year.

In recent years, large flocks of snow geese have become a fairly common sight in Pennsylvania as they begin their winter migration back up north to the arctic and subarctic. What I found interesting is that in 1900 it was believed that only a few thousand snow geese existed, but today the North American population is now estimated at between 10 and 20 million birds.

While the chances are good that you may spot some large gatherings of snow geese right here in our area, a good place for sure sightings is Middle Creek Lake in the southeastern portion of the state. The Pennsylvania Game Commission keeps an updated listing on the internet of the estimated number of snow geese at that location. On February 25, there was an estimated 105,000 snow geese.

The snow goose population is so high right now that there is concern that the population might be too large and even damaging to the environment. In their breeding grounds in the arctic and subarctic the geese often destroy habitat that they and other wildlife depend on for food. The same destruction can occur along migration routes as well, and regulated hunting is vital to help keep numbers in check.

Something you may not have been aware of is that snow geese are actually split into two different subspecies, the greater snow goose and the lesser snow goose.

The greater snow goose is probably the one we are most familiar with since it is more abundant and at one time the only one found in Pennsylvania. The greater snow goose is all white except for black primary wing feathers, and it is slightly larger than the lesser snow goose.

The lesser snow geese come in two color phases — a white phase similar to the greater snow goose and the “blue phase,” where the head and front of the neck are white, and the body is gray/brown with some white or gray underparts.

Keep your eyes on the fields over the next few weeks, and chances are good you’ll spot some snow geese, albeit they are a lot harder to see in snow-covered fields.

Of course, like all of our geese, Canada geese included, they can often be heard but not seen due to the fog and heavy clouds on some days. Snow geese are very strong fliers, and even on a clear day, they may be hard to spot since they can reach altitudes of 7,500 feet and can reach speeds of up to 50 miles per hour.