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Visitors From Asia Flock To Snow Geese Spectacle In Pennsylvania

Elaine Thompson
A trio of snow geese head in for a landing in a field in the Skagit Valley, near La Conner, Wash. on Dec. 27, 2012.

It's 6:30 a.m. at Willow Point, a peninsula in the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area and though it's foggy and not yet light, about 75 people are already clustered together listening to an estimated 135,000 snow geese psyching themselves into a take-off.

Hunched over expensive cameras mounted on tripods and holding up cell phones to capture the roar, it's hard not to notice that more than half the onlookers are Asian-Americans or visitors from China.

Among them is Kwang Xu, a 71-year-old musical teacher from Philadelphia who got up with his wife at 4 a.m. to be here in time for the spectacle.

He chuckles when I rather sheepishly ask him why so many people of Asian descent have been flocking to Middle Creek in recent years.

"The Chinese have a special interest in pictures," he says.

Indeed, many of those shooting photos and videos this morning are members of photography clubs and will be posting their shots to the Chinese equivalent of Instagram.


"We never see this. It's amazing."


Many of those in attendance are former Chinese residents who have moved to the U.S. to study or for jobs. But plenty of visitors from mainland China and Taiwan also come here.

Earlier last week, the staff at the visitor's center at Middle Creek got a phone call from someone in Taiwan who said they were about to fly to Middle Creek to see the snow geese and wanted to know the peak day for the migration.

Among those who have signed the guest book at the refuge's visitor's center hail from various provinces in China and other places in Asia, including Mongolia and Papua New Guinea.

When it comes to wildlife photography by Asian hobbyists, the Middle Creek spring migration and wintering bald eagles at the Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River are must-see destinations.

Tao Huang, 55, who works for a pharmaceutical company in Downington, is focusing $20,000 worth of camera gear on the white masses bobbing in Middle Creek Lake.

"We never see this. It's amazing," adds Wendy Zhou, a Philadelphia-area resident who is taking in the noisy snow goose sit-in for the first time. She was told by a cousin that it's a must-see so she accompanied a group of 10 in three cars.

At a visit to Middle Creek a year ago, state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn was so intrigued by the striking numbers of Asian enthusiasts that she assigned a staffer to investigate.

"We have noticed. It's remarkable that people are coming that far to Middle Creek," says Lauren Fenstermacher, manager of the Pennsylvania Game Commission refuge.

"It's people who are very interested in wildlife, and birds in particular," adds Anne Sherman, an educator at the the visitor's center.

She has talked to Asian-American visitors from Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and New York City. "Most I've talked to stay overnight in hotels near Adamstown, which is good for the local economy," she says.

Middle Creek became more visible to Chinese after the Voice of America came to Middle Creek in 2009 and aired a feature in Mandarin on a popular television show in China, "Cultural Odyssey."

Wild geese are spiritual symbols in Chinese literature and poetry.

They are considered symbols of marital bliss and partnership. They also are considered a natural representation of yin and yang in Chinese philosophy and how seemingly opposite forces actually complement each other.