Monday, March 29, 2010

Freezout Lake Snow Geese

Last weekend our family headed west to the annual staging of migrant Snow Geese at Freezeout Lake in western Montana, between Fairfield and Choteau.

It was a great weekend watching the clouds of Snow Geese moving in from surrounding fields or after an overnight flight from California. Saturday morning started out with about 20,000 birds on the lake and by the time the birds headed out to the surrounding barley fields for their evening meal, there were about 60,000 birds. Flocks were falling from the sky to join the mass on the water all day long. I spent most of Saturday at the boat launch just watching geese come in. Some from the fields came in low and fast, tipping and flipping to lose what little altitude they had as they headed towards a mid-day loafing site on the lake. Others, presumably new arrivals, descended from much higher up in slow twisting flocks.

I enjoyed the birds and wound up with lots of photos. I also spent a good deal of time just watching the birds come in and the flock on the lake swell with the additional geese.

The birds wound up just off the boat dock area and as the day progressed the flock spread out a bit and many of the birds spent a lot of time with their heads tucked under their wings, taking a nap.

Once, for some unknown reason, the entire flock rose from the water in a roaring clamor before settling back to the water.

The next morning we were back at sunrise to watch the birds that remained overnight leave the lake to feed in the fields. We parked in a designated area just off the highway and as the sun came up we could see two large white blobs in the lake. Just after 7:00 the blob began to disintegrate as small groups of geese, then larger groups of geese, rose from the lake and flew directly over us.

The rising sun also illuminated large flocks moving along the entire eastern skyline.

One flock chose to feed in the field just across the highway from the parking area. Many people lined the fenceline and the geese slowly fed slowly towards us. Something spooked the birds from behind and the flock rose from the field towards us and we soon had a blanket of snow geese about 100 feet above us as they wheeled around and headed back to the same spot they just left.

One of my favorite goose behaviors is "maple leafing" where the birds rapidly loose altitude by turning sideways or completely upside down. I have blogged about it here with Canada Geese and last weekend I got to watch the Snow Geese do the same thing. The Snow Geese seem to move much quicker and not spend as much time out of normal flying position but it was still fun to watch the birds slip and slide through the air as they descended to the lake.

I have a number of falling bird photos that I will post over the next few days.


Bill S. said...

Beautiful pictures of the "maple leafing" snow geese. I love it when they do that. We still have about 10,000 here. Great sights.

Holly said...

gorgeous. What a marvelous way to spend a couple of days. There is nothing I like better than watching large groups of animals and the natural behavior(s).

John Carlson said...

Thanks Bill. Looks like you got to see your own ID version last week too.
Thanks too Holly. It was a great way to spend a couple of days. Glad you liked it.