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The birds are back: Migrating flocks settle at Freezout

by AVERY HOWE
Hagadone News Network | April 2, 2024 12:00 AM

My favorite color is yellow, but I was good and tired of it by the time I made it past Choteau last Tuesday night. Driving from Columbia Falls, you basically head east on Highway 2, turning once in Browning to get on 89 and drive through three hours of rolling golden fields, the kind you’d imagine buffalo roaming through. But now those fields are pretty empty, and the drive is pretty boring. 

Chris had told me I couldn’t miss the birds. Reluctantly I will admit that he was right. For one, they have monopolized the only spot of blue in miles of prairie. For another, they sounded like a symphony of screaming women and trumpets played by middle schoolers. 

Freezout Wildlife Management Area southeast of Choteau reported 77,000 light geese and 5,719 swans observed on March 25. The numbers are high above longterm (2004-2023 compiled) averages for this time of year. They’re such an astounding quantity of something to be out in all that nothing. And I understand the festivals and birdwatchers that welcome them with the spring weather. You really can’t miss the birds. I watched the sun dip below the buttes and color all those white birds golden. 

On my way back home, I spotted a little owl about blowing off of a fence post on the side of the road. I pulled over to take its photo and it mostly ignored me, head on a swivel, looking for something more edible, I assume. After a couple minutes of this, it let out a bloodcurdling shriek — I would say about three times worse than the geese and swans — and took off. 

    Migrating water birds stop in Freezeout Lake Wildlife Management area on Tuesday, March 19. (Avery Howe photo)
 AVERY HOWE 
 
 
    Migrating water birds stop in Freezeout Lake Wildlife Management area on Tuesday, March 19. (Avery Howe photo)
 AVERY HOWE 
 
 
    Migrating water birds stop in Freezeout Lake Wildlife Management area on Tuesday, March 19. (Avery Howe photo)
 AVERY HOWE 
 
 
    Migrating water birds stop in Freezeout Lake Wildlife Management area on Tuesday, March 19. (Avery Howe photo)
 AVERY HOWE 
 
 
    Migrating water birds stop in Freezeout Lake Wildlife Management area on Tuesday, March 19. (Avery Howe photo)
 AVERY HOWE 
 
 
    Migrating water birds stop in Freezeout Lake Wildlife Management area on Tuesday, March 19. (Avery Howe photo)
 AVERY HOWE 
 
 
    A short-eared owl looks out for dinner along Highway 89 near Choteau on Tuesday, March 19. (Avery Howe photo)
 Avery Howe