By Franz Ingelfinger, Restoration Ecologist
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, Region 1
Ready for spring waterfowl? No, not yet? Well, when winter’s chill yields to the cool, gray days of March, grab your spotting scope, thermos and extra layer, and head down to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ (FWP) North Shore Wildlife Management Area (WMA). There you will find Flathead Valley’s newest bird viewing area. FWP calls them ‘wildlife’ viewing areas, but we won’t judge. In season, the North Shore is all about birds, waterfowl to be exact. Well, shorebirds too.
The WMA was acquired in phases, and today boasts 427-acres of cultivated field, woodland, and wetland. Part of the Flathead Lake Important Bird Area, FWP’s manages the WMA to enhance foraging and resting habitat for waterfowl and shorebirds during spring migration. FWP has partnered with a local farmer, who in lieu of a cash lease, provides cover and food plots, standing grain, and wetland buffer and cover strips, all for wildlife. Totaling some 20% of the cultivated area, leave areas help fuel the spring migration.
Starting in March, tens of thousands of waterfowl – mallards, pintails, wigeon, shovels, snow geese, trumpeter and tundra swans, and others, rest and feed in the flooded fields during snowmelt. Later in the season, shorebirds begin foraging on exposed mud flats as fields gradually dry – avocet, stilt, dunlin, dowitcher, yellowlegs, and more. It is quite a sight!
Now the public has a place to view this spectacle. Thanks to funding from Montana’s nongame tax checkoff program and FWP’s Wildlife Mitigation Trust, a bird viewing area is nearing completion. FWP’s Chris Hammond coordinated the effort and partnered with Flathead Valley Community College’s Chris Moore and the Heavy Equipment Operator’s program to install an ADA accessible bird viewing platform. Constructed over the summer, finishing touches – railings, screening, and plantings will be completed this fall. All will be ready when you have finally had your fill of pumpkin spiced lattes, holiday carols, Old Man Winter and are simply ready for geese to herald spring’s imminent return.
The North Shore WMA is located along Highway 82 between Somers and Bigfork. Two parking areas access the property; one adjacent to the big, red McLarty Barn at the highway’s S-bend (the barn is open year-round to public access), and to the west at a parking area adjacent to an old pole barn. It is by this pole barn where you will find the North Shore WMA Bird (wildlife) Viewing Area.