Field Notes

Sunday 12:55 PM, Tuesdays and Fridays at 4:54 PM

For keen observers, a walk to the grocery store or a hike up a mountain can inspire questions. Where do magpies nest?  Why doesn’t a spider stick to its own web? How do water striders keep from sinking?  Every week since 1992, Field Notes has inquired about Montana's  natural history. Produced by the Montana Natural History Center, Field Notes are written by naturalists, students and listeners about the puzzle-tree bark, eagle talons, woolly aphids and giant puffballs of Western, Central and Southwestern Montana.

Interested in writing a Field Note? Contact Allison De Jong, Field Notes editor, at adejong [at] or (406) 327-0405.

Field Notes podcast

'Field Notes' Takes The Mystery Out Of Mushrooms

Nov 23, 2015

Throughout the human history of traipsing the earth in search of edibles, mushrooms have undoubtedly been the least understood and most feared flora in the forests of the world. Early Greeks and Romans thought most mushrooms were sinister, evil things. They associated them with dark, damp areas of decay and often depicted mushrooms in the company of snakes or toads, two key ingredients in witches’ cauldrons.

Unravel The Silky Mysteries Of Spiderweb 'Stabilimenta'

Nov 18, 2015
Unidentified orb-weaver spider in its web.
Josh Burnham (CC-BY-NC-2)

I hardly would have noticed her among the dry grasses if it were not for an unusual structure incorporated into her web: a thick white zig-zag of silk descending from the center which drew my attention before I noticed the spider waiting in the middle. What was this silken aberration? Wouldn’t it make the otherwise cryptic web more conspicuous to spider-seeking predators or web-avoiding insects? Why would a spider take such risks?

'Field Notes': Water-Loving Willows

Nov 10, 2015
Cottonwoods, a member of the Salicaceae family, are a common sight across Montana.
Flickr user Jon Hurd (CC-BY-2.0)

Amidst the rugged gumbo-ridge landscape of more easterly Montana, water is everything. With hotter summers than the western half of our state, and with drier winters, the Montana of my childhood does not have the many deep, clear, blue lakes that look up from the covers of most Montana travel brochures. It is the small, isolated watering holes dotting the prairies that sustain life here.

'Field Notes:' Deer In The Spotlight

Nov 8, 2015
White-tailed doe.

As they grazed on the grasses in a small break in the forest, and I held my breath to keep from scaring them off, I realized the white-tailed deer's abundance didn’t take away from their significance.

Malachite: Brilliantly Green, And Made In Montana

Nov 5, 2015
Courtesy Laurel Hitchborn


Never having seen such a brilliant green like this in nature, I was certain it was melted plastic or some other man-made material. Paint. It had to be paint. I tried to scrape the enamel off of the dolomite matrix, but to no avail. As I looked about, I saw that scant splashes of this enigma were all around me.

Paintbrush: The Prettiest Parasite On The Prairie?

Oct 26, 2015
Indian paintrbrush (Castilleja linariifolia) in Grand Teton National Park.

Most people are familiar with the showy red or yellow flowers of the Indian paintbrushes. They can be found from the dry valley grasslands to lush alpine meadows. There are 21 species of the paintbrush just in Montana, including bristly paintbrush, the red-flowered species of dry slopes and scarlet paintbrush which is common in meadows and along streams.

It's No Walk In The Park To Fly Like An Eagle

Oct 20, 2015
Golden eagle.
Flickr user Rocky (CC-BY-2)

I had been sitting in the observation blind for a couple of hours when I heard a commotion outside. Looking through the one-way glass, I saw an enormous bird with a golden crown and talons that were built for serious damage. Another landed nearby. I knew immediately that they were golden eagles, which are one of the largest predatory birds in North America.

Stellar Scintillation, Or Why Stars Twinkle

Oct 14, 2015
Stars over camp
Josh Burnham (CC-BY-NC-ND-2)

I often return from camping trips with a sore neck. For a while, I couldn’t figure out what caused this ailment. “Maybe I slept on it weird,” I think to myself. Then I think back to my last trip into the wilderness, and remember specifically the cloudless, moonless nights. The inky black sky. The stars. The universe over my head.

Fishing With The King: The Belted Kingfisher

Oct 6, 2015
A female belted Kingfisher with her catch.
Teddy Llovet (CC-BY-2)

While recently visiting the Rock Creek area to simply go fishing I became distracted as I cast my red skwala into the clear, frigid stream. I was not distracted by the surrounding beauty of grasslands and different flora, or my ongoing love/hate relationship with fly-fishing, but rather the immense variety of sound echoing off the rock outcroppings surrounding the area.

Wolverines: Wild Weasels Of The Alpine

Sep 30, 2015
In Montana, wolverines reside mostly within the Crown of the Continent ecosystem.
Andrew Gainer (CC-BY-NC-2)

A small dark blur upslope materialized into a loping wolverine, coming straight toward us! Afraid this wolverine wanted to share our lunch, we left our backpacks where they lay, and hurried out of its path.