MTPR

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] montananaturalist.org or (406) 327-0405.

Field Notes podcast

Bumblebee (Bombus nevadensis).
Sesamehoneytart (CC-BY-SA-4)

I headed home with my head full of questions about what the bumblebee had been doing and why. Why would it ignore food in favor of bare and uninviting ground?

Pronghorn antelope at the National Bison Range.
Josh Burnham

Pronghorn are unusual because their twins are the only surviving winners in some pretty serious battles within the womb. Soon after fertilization, there can be more than seven developing embryos, which begin to elongate in what pronghorn biologists call the “thread-stage.” These thread-like embryos literally entangle and often knot together till they pull each other apart. Wenfei Tong explains in this episode of "Field Notes":

Ponderosa Pine Bark: Rocky Mountain Aromatherapy

May 8, 2017
Flickr user Tim Jones (CC-BY-NC-ND)

The bark of any tree is more than just a good-looking façade. Even the most graceful aspen or stately ponderosa requires bark to protect its sensitive inner flesh from disease, parasites, and other environmental stresses, such as fire.  Much like our skin, this outer layer is a necessity to protect the biological functions occurring within its protective covering. 

The Story Behind Sagebrush, An Icon Of The West

May 1, 2017
Big sagebrush (Artemesia tridentata)
Matt Lavin (CC-BY-SA-2)

Break off a sprig of big sagebrush and inhale its aroma: the fragrance is clean, sharp and as cool as the smell of winter. Call it camphor blended with a touch of Christmas. Crush a few leaves between your fingertips and the scent is suddenly somewhat bitter and more pungent. Let the sprig dry for a few hours and you’ll find that the fragrance gradually loses its bite, softening to crisp evergreen with a hint of juicy berry.

Paintbrush: The Prettiest Parasite On The Prairie?

Apr 25, 2017
Indian paintrbrush (Castilleja linariifolia) in Grand Teton National Park.
(PD)

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.

Burnt snags in western Montana
Josh Burnham (CC-BY-NC-2)

One of my favorite places to look in the forest is up. I love the way trees frame patches of sky, and how rays of sun slide over the branches and slant into pockets of darkness. On a recent stroll through the woods near Echo lake, I found myself, as usual, looking up. I saw mostly fir and birch trees, and I took their narrow trunks and modest heights as signs of a young forest. But it was a much older tree that caught my eye.

'Field Notes': All About The Western Meadowlark

Apr 12, 2017
Western meadowlark, or "thunderchunk".Western meadowlark
Kevin Cole (CC-BY-2)

If you have been in open country anywhere in Montana, you have heard, and probably seen, thunderchunks. These birds are everywhere, proclaiming territories and singing from fence posts, sage brush, and telephone poles.

'Field Notes': The Tale Of Montana's Strangest Frog

Mar 26, 2017
Ascaphus montanus tadpole.
(PD)

Several decades back while working as a biologist in Oregon, I was picking rocks off the bottom of a rushing stream. While investigating the underlying aquatic insects, I encountered an odd animal. It was what appeared to be a tadpole stuck to the bottom of the rock! Assuming all frogs and tadpoles occur in swamps, not in high elevation rushing streams, I wondered what it was doing there.

Four And Twenty Blackbirds, Flocked In A Field

Mar 12, 2017
Flickr user, Bob Webster (CC-BY-2.0)

Red-winged blackbirds are a common species in Montana and I’d seen plenty of them together, particularly near ponds and lakes. But in winter, they can flock in congregations of millions of birds that include other species of blackbirds and starlings.

Singing In The Snow

Mar 5, 2017
Flickr user, Jason Crotty (CC-BY-2.0)

If you go cross-country skiing in the North American woods, you’re likely to hear all manner of twittering and chattering as flocks of birds like chickadees, finches, and nuthatches bustle about finding food and warning each other about danger. Most birds will call like this at any time of year, but reserve singing for signaling a territory or attracting mates during the breeding season, typically in spring.

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