Biologists with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service along with the Flathead’s best birders from Flathead Audubon Society are out every week right now counting migratory waterfowl in the Smith and Flathead Valleys. This is the third year of spring inventory work designed to gather data to estimate the numbers of migratory birds, primarily waterfowl species, which come through this part of the Flathead basin. The Flathead and Mission Valleys are similar to Freezeout Lake with hundreds, if not thousands of swans, geese, dabbling and diving ducks, grebes, and other species coming through each week in the spring (March-May).
Although birders and biologists have been out viewing migratory birds in the spring for many years, no one has ever attempted to quantify the numbers, by species, and over how many weeks. There will be at least two helicopter aerial surveys to compare to the ground surveys.
According to Gael Bissell, wildlife biologist with FWP, “The surveys are based on randomly selected routes that encompass lands from Flathead Lake to Columbia Falls and Whitefish west to Idaho Hill. These routes are run simultaneously one day a week.”
According to John Vore, wildlife biologist for the Flathead, Smith, and Swan Valleys, “This year seems to be relatively warm and dry so fewer birds may be staying around in the valley; however, as the ice melts on the wetlands, we will see many birds.” Last year, volunteers counted over 50,000 migratory birds that represented about 25 species.