Witness the spectacle of thousands of snow geese and tundra swans taking flight at Freezout Lake

Story & photography by Greg Lindstrom
P eeling back the frost-covered rain fly on my tent and stepping into a 20-degree predawn morning was not my ideal start to a spring day. But what happened next was as spectacular of a scene as I have ever witnessed in nature.

After shivering my way down the gravel road toward the ponds surrounding Freezout Lake, I began to hear the distant call of thousands of snow geese preparing to take flight. There was barely enough light in the sky to make out the jagged mountains to the west, but the birds knew morning was coming.

I spotted the first flock as the initial rays of light illuminated the peaks along the Rocky Mountain Front. One small, V-shaped formation of snow geese rose above the peaks, followed closely by a second and third. The distant calls turned into a cacophony as the birds blanketed the sky.

Up to 300,000 snow geese and tundra swans stage at the ponds each spring during peak migration, which is generally a period of a few weeks in late March or early April. The sheer volume of birds filling the sky was remarkable. But even more stunning was the way the sky seemed to sparkle as the low-angle sunlight illuminated and darkened the birds’ black-tipped white wings.

The memory is as vivid today as when I witnessed the scene on that frosty, spring morning, and it will drive me to wake up early and witness the spectacle again this year and for many years to come.

How to Get There Travel east from Columbia Falls on U.S. Highway 2 for approximately 90 miles. Continue south on Highway 89 for 80 miles. Just past the town of Chouteau, multiple pull-offs and access road in the Freezout Lake Wildlife Management Area are accessible.