Birds by the hundreds of thousands and humans by the handful congregate at Freezeout Lake to celebrate early spring. It's a wildlife viewing spectacle that for a few days rivals any natural wonder in the world.
Tundra swans, snow geese, and 200 other migrating species start in mid-March to use the lake as a staging point, while they wait for nature’s traffic control system to indicate that their far northern destinations are open for feeding and breeding.
On March 27, even though much of Freezeout was still frozen, an estimated 100,000 snow geese and thousands of northern pintails and other waterfowl had arrived.
The window of opportunity for snow geese to pass through the Freezeout Lake neighborhood is relatively short - about two weeks - as they're drawn northward from the California coast. Birdwatchers are wise to set their spring travel calendar to witness the successive waves of snow geese, identifiable by their black-tipped white wings, arriving in huge squadrons.
Ducks, herons, shorebirds, swans, and countless snow geese congregate at Freezeout Lake each spring, creating one of the nation’s most spectacular bird-watching opportunities. Owned and managed by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, the 11,350-acre WMA attracts more than a million birds each year, from stately tundra swans to tiny Tennessee warblers.
“We’ve documented more than 200 different species using the area,” says Mark Schlepp, WMA manager. Every spring, tens of thousands of snow geese appear at the Freezeout Lake WMA, located between the towns of Fairfield and Choteau, along U.S. 89. Typically snow geese migration peaks the end of March. Some years, winter weather farther north can bottle up the birds temporarily at Freezout, leading to numbers up to 300,000.
You may encounter an alternate spelling, "Freezout" instead of "Freezeout." To bird lovers, either way is acceptable. ,
The snow geese usually begin to reach Freezeout in early March, where they rest up from a nearly 1,000 mile flight from California. Best viewing of the birds is from sunrise to 10:00am and from 4:30pm until sunset. Binoculars, telescopes, a light lunch, and possibly warm clothing will make your viewing more enjoyable.
In April, the snow geese head for Alberta and central Saskatchewan in Canada. There they mass with hundreds of thousands of other snow geese from Texas and other Gulf Coast States. In a series of shorter flights, the geese then make their way to nesting grounds on the wind swept, extreme northwest Arctic coast of Canada.
Early morning as the birds lift-off by the tens of thousands to feed in nearby harvested grain fields
Mid March and April
There are various dirt roads and trails near the lake, which may be muddy in the spring. Nearby county roads also can provide great views of swarms lifting off the lake to feed in nearby fields.
Freezeout Lake is located 40 miles west of Great Falls along US Highway 89 between Fairfield and Choteau. Access the area from US Highway 89, or Frontage Road from Fairfield, to various turnouts and parking areas year-round.