This spring I wasn’t able to get to Freezout Lake Wildlife Management Area between Fairfield and Choteau to watch the annual snow goose migration. During the migration the sky literally goes dark when lift-off occurs. And the bird chatter is amazingly loud.
Freezout is located along the east slope of the Rockies. As winds come over the mountains, the birds have some amazing updrafts while they cruise to their spring homes. The wildlife management area is pretty much surrounded by barley and wheat fields so there is plenty of food for the birds. All in all, a perfect stop for them to fuel up, rest, and then take off to their final destinations.
I had a meeting in Choteau two days ago and planned enough time to take the auto tour route through Freezout. There were some snow geese, stragglers I assumed, but I also found many other birds. There weren’t many birdwatchers around at 5pm on a Tuesday so I almost had the place to myself.
As I drove the route, two gophers led the way! They are actually called Richardson’s ground squirrels but locally we refer to them as gophers. They are hole-diggers and plant uprooters but I have to say, when they were scampering ahead of me on the gravel road through Freezout, they were darn cute. Not cute enough for a photo though.
The first bird I took a photo of was the Red-winged Blackbird. The male has color on it’s wings so I can easily identify it when I see the red shoulder patch and yellow bar beneath that. Females – not so. They are a nondescript dark brown. They like to perch on cattails and there are plenty of “perches” for them at Freezout. I have a tough time photographing Blackbirds. Just when I think I have the perfect shot, they are so skittish and dart in and out quickly. This male Red-winged Blackbird left his cattail about one second after I snapped the photo.
I watched a group of American White Pelicans for quite awhile. At first I wasn’t sure what kind of bird they were. The beak – definitely a pelican but I didn’t realize they had so much black color under their wings. When I did some study about them I found out that they
sometimes fish in groups so they can herd small fish closer to the water’s edge for easier scooping. That funny looking bill can locate food sources by touch.
There was a slight breeze at Freezout Lake when I took this photo but I think the pelicans have a bit of a ruffled look to their top feathers. I enjoyed watching them. They took off a few times but came back to land in just about the same spot where I first spotted them.
A bit of research on American White Pelicans told me they are one of the largest birds in North America with many having a wingspan of 9 feet. They seem a bit awkward-looking to me but they are great fliers.
When I first drove into Freezout Lake Wildlife Management Area I saw a large group of birds approaching. I’m sure they were snow geese coming back to the lake after feeding in the nearby grain stubble fields. At peak times during spring migration the sky will cloud over when they “lift-off” or come back from feeding.
I was a bit bummed that I hadn’t gotten to Freezout earlier for the peak migration but, after I found so many other birds I changed my mind. So many times I have driven past the lake. US Hwy 89 goes right through it since the water is on both sides of the road and I don’t always allow enough time to take the gravel roads through the wetlands. Note to self: you miss a lot by not stopping at this birding mecca!