Frozen out at Freezout

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  • Tundra swans approach the ponds at dusk.

  • 1

    Tundra swans fly overhead.

  • 2

    Snow geese fly into Freezout Lake at dusk.

  • 3

    By the next morning the fog was thick as soup, and most of the snow geese were gone.

  • Tundra swans approach the ponds at dusk.

  • 1

    Tundra swans fly overhead.

  • 2

    Snow geese fly into Freezout Lake at dusk.

  • 3

    By the next morning the fog was thick as soup, and most of the snow geese were gone.

There’s a problem with Freezout Lake south of Choteau this year — most of the ponds in the complex are frozen. The state wildlife management area is popular with bird enthusiasts in March and early April because of the tens of thousands of snow geese and other waterfowl that stop at the complex en route to breeding grounds in Alaska and Canada.

But a cold wave in February and early March has virtually all the lakes still covered in ice.

Geese are stopping, but they aren’t staying a few days like they normally would, presumably because there’s not as much to eat. The geese feed both on the huge ponds at the management area and in the expansive grain fields that surround the complex.

There’s also fewer ducks and swans as well.

But numbers aside, a rather spectacular sunset recently made the trip worth it, as the sun knifed through the clouds along the Rocky Mountain Front, waterfowl came and went.

It’s always fun to have a flock of tundra swans hover right above your head — it sounds like a giant swarm of bees as their massive wings slice through the cool mountain breeze. But by the next morning thick fog rolled in and what few snow geese there were left.

If you go, the complex has plenty of road access and a few primitive campgrounds, which means they have pit toilets, but no running water. It’s about 160 miles from Columbia Falls to the wildlife management area. It took awhile for us to get home, however, as the next morning heavy snow was falling from Choteau to Marias Pass, with four to five inches of slush on the highway. Just another facet of spring in Montana.

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