Mountain High 

When animals congregate in large numbers, people follow. Whether it’s elk harems in Yellowstone, salmon runs along coastal rivers or massive bird flocks along interior migration corridors, people line up with cameras and binoculars to bear witness to the throngs. One such migration—the 500,000-strong snow goose stopover at Freezeout Lake on the Rocky Mountain Front—is perhaps the sole opportunity for Montanans to see animals of any species in numbers like these, and if you haven’t had a chance to check them out, now may just be the perfect time.

Stopping over on their migration route from California to the Arctic, these plump white birds (along with avocets, stilts, herons, gulls and other avians) occasionally number greater than one million. In other words, there could well be more birds at Freezeout Lake than there are people living in our great state.

If that sounds like reason enough to take a roadtrip, join the Five Valleys Audubon Society on a three-day jaunt to Freezout Lake May 13–15 with qualified birder Joe Elliott. You’ll stop to see Ferruginous hawk and bald eagle nests en route, as well as a great blue heron nesting colony.

Reservations are required and space is limited, so call Elliott at 542-5014 for additional information on camping, motels, food or carpooling.

And speaking of migrations, the Montana Natural History Center (MNHC) is hosting internationally known lepidopterist Robert Michael Pyle for a May 5 presentation on Monarch butterflies: “Monarch of the Americas: The Natural History, Migration, and Conservation of Our Best-Beloved Butterfly.” Starting at 7 p.m., the evening will follow the 9,000-mile Canada-to-Mexico migration of these well-traveled insects. A $5 donation is requested; log on to for the lowdown.

Or join the MNHC for Prairie Keepers, an insider scoop on how to garden with native plants in order to attract butterflies and hummingbirds to your garden. You’ll also learn common (and dummy-proof!) native wildflowers and grasses before helping transplant wildflowers and grasses. The course starts at 6 p.m. on May 10, so log on to to learn more.

The Pacific harlequin is the only duck that splits its time between the Pacific Ocean and Glacier N.P.’s frigid waters, and (like salmon) these hearty birds return annually to their birthplace to mate. Bird voyeurs can join the Glacier Institute May 7 as they train their binoculars on McDonald Creek, where an “impressive number of these secretive birds” come to get it on. Call the Institute at 755-1211 for more info on this $60 course.

The next day you can join the Glacier Institute on a trip to the National Bison Range to “examine the bison’s evolution, biology and the important role it has played in the shortgrass prairie ecosystem.” The May 8 course runs $65 and involves a “few short hikes in bison habitat.” Call 755-1211 to learn more.

New Rocky Mountaineer Gerald Olbu keeps his impressive weekend peak-bagging streak alive, this time heading up the 9,083-foot Ptarmigan Peak on May 8. This Swan Range ski/snowshoe starts on a logging road at 5,000 feet before climbing a steep ridge to the treeline and beyond. Count on excellent views of multiple snow-covered wilderness areas, including the Bob and the Missions, and while some may choose to pull out just before the summit, there’s an optional summit scramble for those interested in “some rock climbing.” More info is available from Olbu at 549-4769.

If the water’s still a bit chilly for your tastes, consider taking an armchair trip to Mexican whitewater at this month’s Rocky Mountaineer meeting. At 7 p.m. on May 11, Peter Dayton will present on two first-descent kayak trips on the Rio Atengo and Rio San Nicholas, two steep class IV/V ragers full of narrow, fluted runs and a section that, for a short stretch, goes underground. As usual they’re meeting at Pipestone Mountaineering, so call Julie Kahl at 543-6508 to learn more.

If that slideshow gets your whitewater juices flowing, consider joining rafting expert Mike Johnston for a five-day guiding school on May 14-18. You’ll learn how to read rivers and (safely) guide rafts through the excellent whitewater of the Clark Fork’s Alberton Gorge and the Blackfoot. Designed for “novice guides and recreational floaters,” the course gives students four of five days on the river while focusing on rescues, gear, rigging and trip prep. For your $385 you’ll get a Whitewater Rescue Technician certificate, too, so call Johnston at 273-4718 and assume the helm.

As part of their “Northern Rockies Nature Forum,” the Native Forest Network has rallied Nez Perce hydrologist Rebecca Lloyd to present on a collaborative project between the Nez Perce tribe and the Clearwater N.F. Held at the Missoula Public Library’s large meeting room on May 9 at 7 p.m., Lloyd’s presentation will show how a “watershed-based approach to restoration using road removal, weed treatments, and culvert work” has led to successes that are being felt ecosystem-wide. Contact Ted at 542-7343 or for more info.

The Canoe Rack is holding its annual Demo Days May 7 at Frenchtown Pond, and river lovers can take the opportunity to check out “hundreds of canoes and kayaks” as well as all things paddling. Later that night aquaphiles will congregate at the Canoe Rack for a “Paddler’s Party,” complete with live music, brats and drinks. Call 251-0040 for the lowdown.

The Society of American Foresters and the Sierra Club have teamed up for the Sawmill Gulch Fuel Reduction Project in order to reduce “the threat wildfire poses to area residents.” You can help out on May 7 during the Sawmill Gulch Work Day as volunteers stack brush and small diameter trees on their public land. The Lolo N.F. will “supervise” progress and lunch will be provided, but bring gloves, water and sturdy footwear for this 9:30–2 p.m. project. Call Bob Clark (549-1142) or Matt Arno (626-5858) for more info, or just meet at the main Rattlesnake trailhead at 9:30 a.m.

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