Just outside of the city of York, Pennsylvania, is William H. Kain Country Park. There are 2 “lakes” at this park, Williams and Redman, and they provide a nice opportunity to stretch the legs for the day. These waters, which were created by a dam that provides water to the city of York, are now a public playground for anyone looking to fish, boat, walk, or take in the fresher airs that lie outside of the city proper.
The path around Williams, the lake that we’ve traveled on multiple occasions, is very civilized in that people come in and care for it regularly, and it’s fairly wide open in that it allow for access up through to view the waters from the cliff-side trail. At one point, there once was a small ascent with logs thrown down by the storm, but now it’s been split into parts by a chainsaw for easier access. Now, as a whole, the rare obstacles, like a tree trunk in the way of the path, can be straddled and crossed over. In addition, there’s very little graffiti and litter at the park, but that doesn’t mean that there’s absolutely none.
Idiots will always be idiots when they tell you what you need to do every day.
For the most part, when we drive the hour long trek west to York, we seem to have the lake to ourselves. Don’t get me wrong; there are a few couples or friends that tend to walk the path, always with dogs eagerly pushing to the end of the leash, but as a whole, it’s very quiet. We’re more likely to see fishermen toward the end of our walk, down from the bridge, which allows the water to cascade down the 2nd dam, than we are to see any walkers after we leave the parking lot / picnic area at the beginning of our walk.
The walk is nice for holding hands and enjoying nature with my wife. There is no destination except for the finish line, and along the way, the lake is always available to look at, even if it is obscured by trees. The paths up the hill are never too big, and even if the trail is muddy from the rains, it’s never too bogged in tiny “ponds,” which were created by the overflowing waters. In fact, a good pair of boots does wonders for combatting these mushy marshes.
The first time that my wife Heather and I went there, we had hiked roughly 3 of the 5 miles that the guidebook told us that we would travel around Lake Williams, when up from above, we heard what sounded like the thundering collapse of a branch falling down from atop the trees. As it was winter and the ice was covering the lake, we figured at first that, in that split second of surprise, it could just be the season taking its toll on the woods.
However, we were wrong.
First, despite the fact that we thought we heard a collapse, there was no falling branch. Instead, there was the shadow of 2 big wings flying up and over the forest and heading for another tree up ahead. These were the wings of a BABE, which is more commonly known as a “big-ass bald eagle.”
We followed this glorious symbol of our country up ahead to his next tree and his next tree until finally he got tired of us “chasing” him so he gracefully swooned across the lake and rested on branches on the pines that lined the lake on the far side. There, it turned out, he had a friend, and I stretched the zoom of my camera out as far as I could to see if I could make the brown and white feathers appear clearer and in more detail. Alas, my camera didn’t have the strength, but it got close enough to let us know we really had 2 eagles playing around in William H. Kain Country Park on that winter Sunday.
Now, every time we go to this lake, we’re on a BABE watch of sorts. The second time we were there, we saw the BABEs, so we were convinced that every time we would go, it would be a walk-in opportunity for photographic joy.
Just like that, you know.
Stories abound that the BABEs are also present at another local lake, which is named Middle Creek, but it’s been a long time since I’ve seen one, and the only time I did, I didn’t have the extended zoom lens to pull in the vision of the eagle as he sat on the log in the middle of the frozen lake.
Thus, my chances for National Geographic’s cover were zonked again.
Nevertheless, Middle Creek is an amazing place for birds, but in the journeys that we go to the lake, we tend to arrive in March for the onslaught of the snow geese and the tundra swans. This year, 110,000 snow geese were at the lake at the high point of their migration. During this visitation, the honking was louder than a summer music festival filled with tens of thousands of screaming girls beckoning in the latest boy band flavor of the month.
But these birds are no New Kids on the Block or One Direction. Instead, they are a once and done opportunity that can vanish as quickly as it arrives. Either you hear the notice that they are in town, or they can be flying north again in no time at all. In this, the 65,000 geese we saw on the lake both this year and last year can be reduced to zero if you come too late or at the wrong time.
In fact, the first year that I took my wife, there were no geese on the lake until slowly, over the next hour and a half, they all returned from the surrounding farm fields for lunch. When they hit their high point, the spiraled and twisted and filled the lake with a complete white covering that left a field trip of local kids in utter amazement. Not only was this one of those moments of a lifetime, but it allowed me to avoid having to explain how the things that I promised to be there weren’t there, but how we should come back next year to see if they are there.
If you do make it there, there are things that you should expect. Throughout the cacophony of birds, the geese keep flying in and landing, wave after wave of them, until something spooks the geese, and then they spiral around the lake as if they were turning left at Pocono International Raceway in that 2.5 mile triangle path to bring them back home and around to where they can sit safely on the ice or float on the freshly melted lake. Oftentimes, all it will take is a single BABE flying from one side to the other to spook tens of thousands of geese into one of these mid-air flights. Never mind you that the geese could kick his butt in a fight, at least if they all joined together to take on the talons and beak, but off they go to spiral and zoom around the lake in unison.
I often joke that a firework being set off could do the same thing, but I’m not sure that people would appreciate it – even if they would be fixated on its avian results.
And all the while that these birds fly, the people will gawk. Endless cameras will go off as kids and adults whoop and woo and aah at the sights, which have to be seen to be believed. The spirals will captivate. The landings will amaze. The intense clusters of birds flocking together will hold people’s attentions.
And somehow, through all of this, the lake segregates itself. Tundra swans in the little nook off to the side. Canadian geese off in their spots, here and there and everywhere. Ducks here or there. Nobody chooses to breach the sanctity of each other’s territory less a bigger angrier bird goes from being regal and into his or her own business to El or La Snapping Beak, the monster migratory bird, predator supreme of Southeastern Pennsylvania!
But these are not the only birds at Middle Creek. In fact, on this last trip to Middle Creek, we encountered a ring-necked pheasant strutting on the side of the highway. As a species, these birds tend to exist to be taken out by hunters as soon as they are stocked. However, they are good eating, so it makes sense that people would go after them in their temporary refuges in the farm fields of the states. Nevertheless, it seems that the state stocking them is more about tradition than it is about allowing the birds to find a “natural” home in the state again.
In addition, we almost ran over a wild turkey that was doing his best road runner impersonation, bolting from one side of the forest to the other, just fast enough that I could hit the brakes and not turn him into an early Thanksgiving dinner, which was definitely not part of the plan. Nobody wants to make road kill of any bird, and frankly, I still wish that the only real road runner that I saw, a lone “slow” bird down in Texas, would have done more to be like Usain Bolt when he crossed my Ford Escort’s path down in Big Bend National Park back in May of 2000.
Alas, his and my day was punctuated by his decision to run and my decision to be on the road at that given time.
Nevertheless, our visit to William H. Kain Country Park on this late March 2015 Sunday didn’t feature any of these accidents. Instead, it was all about the soaring gulls that we saw from the park benches around the lake, doing our best to watch them sweep and dive, soar and float, and take their place amongst the sparkling diamonds on the lake.
It may not have given us BABEs, but it was a great day for what it was. In fact, all in all, any day with nature is a good day, even if the only babe sighting that I saw was getting to be with my wife. I can’t beat that and the dinner at her favorite Italian restaurant that always follows any trip that we take to York.