Whenever I go east of the Divide it’s fun to listen to the local radio stations. On one trip, I listened to a Class C basketball game. This time around, I listened to a “rock” station out of Havre, 610 AM, which had an eclectic mix of tunes, some of which I haven’t heard in decades. They also had a feature called “Tradio” where people called in to either sell something or trade for something.
One fella was looking for a calf to nurse his cow. Another one was trying to unload a ‘97 S-10 pickup, which “ran and drove.”
I was on the east side to watch the annual snow geese migration at Freezout Lake Wildlife Management area south of Choteau.
Freezout is Montana’s premier birding destination in the spring, attracting as many as 300,000 snow geese (and their smaller cousins, Ross’s geese). In addition, about 10,000 tundra swans, along with thousands of ducks and other waterfowl, stop on their annual migration north from wintering grounds in California. The tundra swans and snow geese have the greatest journey — nesting in northern Alaska and Canada.
Not all birds at Freezout migrate farther north. Many species call the area home, at least during the nesting season.
According to the Sun River Watershed Group, of the 158 bird species that have been observed at Freezout, 67 species including 13 waterfowl and 24 other water-bird species, nest within the area.
But the migration of snow geese, which normally lasts just a few weeks, is the main attraction. The geese usually first arrive in March, sometimes when the ponds are still frozen. Freezout is not one lake, but a series of large, shallow ponds. Prior to management, in dry years, the naturally-occurring lakes would go dry. It has been a state wildlife management area since 1952. The name Freezout, with no “e” comes from a card game played by early settlers to the region who stopped in the valley, for better or for worse.
On this trip, we arrived to blue skies and thousands upon thousands of geese. I slithered along a fenceline to get a better look and this one flock just kept growing and growing as geese landed all around in front of me.
Then they all got up at once and flew away. It was, in a word, spectacular.
We set up camp in one of the camping areas and, by then, dark clouds had rolled in. That night, it was foggy and the geese were quiet — most of them must have moved on, because the next morning there was just a few flocks, along with some tundra swans and thousands of ducks — mostly pintails and wigeons.
By 10 a.m. the place was pretty quiet. We broke camp and headed back home — listening to good old rock ‘n roll on the AM radio.
One of the best online resources to see what’s going on at Freezout (and birding in general across the state) is the online Montana Birding Group at: http://birding.aba.org/mobiledigest/MT