This past weekend (Mar 27 – 29) I spent, with friends, at the world-famous – or at least Montana-famous – Freezeout Lake. This shallow string of ponds is located on the Rocky Mountain Front, near Choteau, Montana (about 40 miles from Great Falls). The “Front” is a dramatic and unusual landscape: the rolling wheat-basket plains of eastern Montana run hard and abruptly against the Rocky Mountains, making for a rich and unique landscape. It’s the only place in the lower 48 where grizzly bears still venture out of the mountains onto the flatter ranching country.
Getting to Freezeout from Missoula takes about 2.5 hours on the beautiful two-lane MT 200. But – why go there?
Freezeout is a major snow-goose staging area on the spring migration route from California (I have photos of the wintering geese at Sacramento NWR) to their summer grounds in Alberta and Saskatchewan. There can be gazillions at Freezeout, but just for a few days each spring; there will be some thousands present over several weeks, but the huge mass of the birds only stops over for 3 or 4 days.
The bulk of the migration comes at the end of March; MT FWP (Fish Wildlife & Parks) has a hotline with the current estimate of bird numbers present. During the 48 hours we spent at Freezeout, there were approximately 110,000 snow geese; we also saw tundra swans (a first for me), wigeon, pintail, mallards, mergansers, redheads, goldeneye, canvasbacks, and I can’t even remember what else. We had some sunshine but it was mostly bone-chilling wind (typical of the Front), and on Sunday a blizzard of snow moved in, making for hair-raising moments driving home. And the majority of the geese had already flown by the time we left – such an ephemeral thing.
I shot, oh, at least a thousand images (thank heaven for digital!!!). A couple:
The lake itself, with snow geese by the thousands on its surface, and – over the mountains of the Front – countless more thousands migrating northward.
A blizzard of snow geese – spooked up by a golden eagle.
Pintails in flight – they’re like a squadron of fighter pilots, they move so swiftly and turn so abruptly.
There are so many reasons I love Montana, and the weekend at Freezeout added to that list.