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

'Field Notes': Seeing The Stories In Scat

Jan 16, 2017
Canine scat showing bones and fur.
Josh Burnham

Some years ago, I worked at a science school near Yellowstone National Park. I taught kids ecology. My favorite day was the tracks and signs day where ten fifth-grade companions joined me for a hike along a river bottom to piece together recent animal activity. We rarely saw any animals, but the place throbbed with life. We were a team of detectives, opening our senses to all the clues we could find.

'Field Notes': Learning To Read The Wildlife Stories Cast In Snow

Jan 10, 2017
Heron tracks in the snow.
Josh Burnham

Skiing across fresh fallen snow through a ponderosa forest, I pause at strange tracks with no apparent beginning or end, as if some animal had fallen from the sky. Wing tracings reveal a delicate brush of feathers. Within a heavy indentation where the bird must have struck, the snow is stained slightly red. The wingspread measures almost as long as my outstretched arms.

Ruffed Grouse: Drummers Of The Bird World

Dec 30, 2016
Ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus). (CC BY 2.0)
Flickr user, Seabamirum

One Saturday morning looking out my window, I noticed something wandering  along the fence outside my house. Worried it was one of my chickens that had escaped, I grabbed my binoculars. But instead of a chicken, I saw a brown and white bird with a tuft on his head. As I watched him making his way, pecking and discarding all but the tastiest of scraps, two more of the birds emerged from the brush. The ruffed grouse were back.

Botanical Field Trip Through Christmas Dinner

Dec 23, 2016
Flickr user, Andrea Pokrzywinski (CC-BY-2.0)

Going for a hike at this time of year just isn’t the same for a botanist. The flowers are dead and all the leaves have fallen. Not much material for a field note out there. But here in my kitchen there are lots of interesting and colorful members of the vegetable kingdom because I’m preparing my holiday dinner.

Western Montana's Winter Inversions Explained

Dec 12, 2016
View of inversion over Missoula from Snowbowl
FLICKR USER, EVAN LOVELY (CC-BY-2.0)


Since my recent move to Missoula from the sunny state of Florida, I had experienced many unfamiliar weather conditions. Montana residents might be well accustomed to snow, black ice, negative temperatures, and the season known as winter, but these were still novelties to me.  

Rough-legged hawk
FLICKR USER, FRANK D. LOSPALLUTO (CC-BY-2.0)

As winter comes to the National Wildlife Refuges of the Mission Valley, we begin to see a whole different group of visitors. And I’m not just referring to the human kind. Strange as it my seem, the National Bison Range, Ninepipes National Wildlife Refuge and Pablo National Wildlife Refuge, along with other lands in the Mission Valley, are where a number of birds choose to spend their winter.

Snow Fleas
FLICKR USER, LINDSEY (CC-BY-2.0)

Every autumn I begin to wonder – where do all the bugs go? Unlike people, and other warm-blooded critters that can maintain a consistent internal temperature, insects cannot. So, you might wonder, what do insects do to survive the cold?

'Field Notes' Talks Turkey

Nov 20, 2016
Although never native to Montana, turkeys were introduced here in the 1950s when national conservation efforts were mounted to save the species.
(PD)

I had my first up close and personal encounter with a real live turkey this year while walking through a wooded portion of a friend’s ranch in the foothills of the Big Belt Mountains. Nothing too exciting happened - the bird and I stood and looked at each other for a time, and then went on about our business.

Ceanothus: Life From The Kiss Of Fire

Nov 20, 2016
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.

Wildlife Sign: Clues In The Storybook Of Nature

Nov 14, 2016
Elk in Yellowstone National Park
Jim Peaco/Yellowstone National Park (PD)

A couple weekends ago, some friends and I got up early to drive into the Flint Creek Range near Anaconda. We planned to hike through an area that we’d been told was home to some 800 elk, 150 big horn sheep, 30 mountain goats, black bear, and moose. We walked up the trail with great anticipation for a day of spectacular wildlife viewing. The sky was slate gray, and it wasn’t long before we encountered our first snowflakes and felt our hands getting numb. 

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