by Cory Davis
Duck, Duck, Goose! And goose, and goose, and goose. The annual FAS migration to Freezout Lake, south of Choteau, occurred March 25-26 and included anywhere from 8-17 participants depending on when you checked in with us. Those from the Flathead Valley headed out from Kalispell Saturday morning and enjoyed a thorough day of birding on the way over. Bob Lee and Leslie Kehoe led the caravan into some less-traveled backroads including stops at ponds just south of Browning and at Bynum Reservoir. We were snowed-out at Marias Pass but traveled through a broad range of habitats including grasslands, farmlands, foothills, and forests. Some folks from as far as Missoula had seen our posting and joined us when we got to Choteau.
A good diversity of birds was seen on both days, though the goose count for the weekend was down from past trips. We still estimated 8-12,000 geese were moving around the area on both days. Other waterfowl observed included the usual suspects: Tundra Swans, American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Canvasback, and Common Goldeneye. Many of us also enjoyed excellent views of short-eared owls and some got to see them doing their mating flights. In the evening, birders flocked to the few open restaurants in town and there were a lot of unexpected reunions (I highly recommend the peanut butter pie at the Log Cabin Restaurant!).
The highlight was of course the morning flight on Sunday. It was a partly clear, and chilly, morning. As the sun slowly came up there was a continually changing array of colors painted on the snow-covered mountains in the backdrop. Then the geese started chattering more seriously and their general excitement spilled over into those that had come for the spectacle. Like a tornado they started lifting off in waves and flying right over us. Once they were all in the air, we followed them up to the fields where they were feeding. This was a great place to watch up close, learn the differences between Snow and Ross’s Geese, and to see who could spot a “Blue” Goose. Overall, a very successful trip that got us all excited about the many upcoming spring birding trips.