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.

How Black-Backed Woodpeckers Thrive After Wildfires

14 hours ago
Female black-backed woodpecker.
Mike Laycock, USFWS (PD)

Most of you have probably seen or heard woodpeckers. Whether attracting them to your backyard with suet feeders, or hearing them drill on the side of your house, you have probably noticed their large pointed beak and ability to climb tree trunks.

But besides downy and hairy woodpeckers, which are seen often in Montana, we also have some types of woodpeckers that live in some of the most unique habitats and do some of the most peculiar things of any animal in the Rocky Mountains.

'Field Notes:' The Fruits Of Fire

Jun 10, 2018
 A forested area 5 years after a fire.
NPS - Stephanie Metzler (PD)

Have you ever walked around in a recently burned forest? One of those areas where perhaps last summer you saw flames leaping out or smoke billowing? If not, I urge you to go out and take a look at this unique environment. I had never spent any time in a burned forest until a few years ago. I was immediately impressed with the beauty and abundant life I found in this transformed forest.

Bitterroot flowers Along the Nez Perce National Historic Trail, Lolo, MT.
U.S. Forest Service (PD)

Enter the high country of Montana in late May or early June and you may see a striking pale pink flower. Few plants can rival the lovely bloom of the bitterroot, a low-growing perennial herb with a blossom that ranges from deep rose to almost white.

The bitterroot grows on the dry slopes of the Rockies, ranging from southern British Columbia and Alberta to the high-altitude deserts of New Mexico and Arizona.

Ceanothus: Life From The Kiss Of Fire

May 26, 2018
Ceanothus velutinus, a plant with more common names than zip codes in California.
Walter Siegmund (CC-BY-SA-3)

Thirty-plus years ago when I was studying wildlife management at Oregon State University, we learned that Ceanothus was a highly preferred forage plant for deer and elk during the winter. I knew that Ceanothus was the genus name of a large group of western shrubs and I even knew enough to recognize a few of the individual species back then.

A beaver swims through a forest pond.
Josh Burnham (CC-BY-2.0)

In the great stands of old cottonwood trees along prairie rivers, chemical skirmishes are taking place between beavers, cottonwoods, and a certain species of beetle. Beavers gnaw on the trees; the trees fight back with toxic compounds; and the beetles move in to feast on the toxins. But in this apparent conflict, all three species benefit.

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