Freezeout Lake Migration Trip

Over spring break, seven Chrysalis students left Eureka for a weekend trip to the Rocky Mountain Front. ‘The front’ as locals call it, is the place in our state where the mountains meet the plains. To the west, snowstorms brew high in the foreboding Rockies, to the east, golden fields and blue sky stretch into eternity. Out here, you can tell why they call it big sky country. Below are reflections by one of our adventure staff who planned the trip:

We drive by Glacier Park, up and over Marias pass, then south until we pull in to our destination, Freezout Lake Wildlife Management Area.  We are here to witness the white goose migration from Southern California where they winter to the Canadian Arctic where the breed. Nearly a million geese live in the pacific flyway, and a majority of them stop at Freezout Lake during the spring migration. For most of these birds, Freezout is the only place they will stop to rest and refuel on their journey north.

We spend the weekend on goose time. We wake up at sunrise to see them simultaneously take flight and head for the nearby barley fields where they will spend the day feeding. While the geese are at lunch, we visit with the area’s biologist who tells us about the species in the area.

The spring migration through Freezout largely consists of white geese – snow geese and Ross’s geese. Trumpeter swans and tundra swans also fly through in large numbers. In addition to these birds, ducks, pelicans, seagulls, and songbirds all make a temporary home here in the spring.

The students have many questions for the biologist, and we spend much of the afternoon in his office, looking at maps of the migration route and pictures of breeding habitat in northern Canada and Russia.

We say goodbye to the biologist and head back to our campsite. As the sun sets, flocks of geese begin to fly back to the water where they will rest for the evening. With hundreds of birds to a flock, it is easy to hear them coming and we all point and watch in awe as they pass. We can hear and feel their wings swooshing against the wind.

We make dinner and get ready for bed. The girls talk and giggle around the campfire where we roast marshmallows. We climb into our tents and say goodnight. The cattails rustle in the balmy evening and the geese on the water sing us to sleep.

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Kenny Pannell