HELENA – Montana has no shortage of amazing nature and scenery to take in. But at this time of the year, there is one that has people looking toward the sky— even if the weather isn’t cooperating.
Every spring, Freezeout Lake, between Choteau and Fairfield, is the landing place for thousands of feathered travelers migrating from their winter homes in the South.
And with its location smack-dab in the middle of so many agricultural fields, the 12,000 acres of lake and surrounding ponds is a perfect spot for the birds to stop and rest on their journey northward.
“Needing that source of energy to stop in these places when they are resting to actually get that to help them in their migration,” said a representative of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. “So when they’re migrating, they are actually staying in better condition, I think.”
This safe haven for snow geese and other winged travelers has grabbed the attention of bird watchers, who come in flocks of their own to catch a glimpse of this natural spectacle.
And as good as Freezeout Lake is for bird watching, it’s just as good for the local economy.
In late March, Choteau held its first ever “Wild Wings” event to capitalize on the return of the birds, with guided tours, a film and even dinner.
“Definitely an uptick in numbers, for sure,” said David Shea, board member of Choteau’s Old Trail Museum. “We do a lot of advertising, and it is one of the greatest spectacles, white-goose-wise, in the lower 48. So it really does draw in a lot of people.”
But this year, after the hard winter we’ve had across the state, much of the water on Freezeout Lake is living up to its name and still frozen. Causing problems for birds looking for their ideal landing place.
“Numbers this year have been a little low, compared to normal,” added Lonner. “We’ve only, the biggest number[s] we’ve seen are 20 to 25,000 white geese.
And fewer birds means fewer people.
“We had a definite uptick over 30 rooms, 30-40 rooms per night uptick reserve for the event,” said Stage Stop Inn manager Barb Bouma. “And then when the weather did not cooperate, we had a lot of cancellations. I’d say 20 percent cancellations.”
But there is still some time left this spring to catch the sky show, and there is always next year.
“A normal year when the lake is open it’s, it makes a world of difference on the birds, it really does,” added Choteau Mayor Dan Lannen. “The warmer weather makes it nicer for the people and this year is just a little different year. They’re all different, you can’t guess them.”
But you can guess, with a good amount of certainty, that the birds will be back— and with them, the bird watchers.
-Reported by Andy Curtis/MTN News