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

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. 

River otters in winter
Flickr user, USFWSMidwest (CC-BY-2.0)

What happens to otters in winter when the lake is frozen, I wondered. Does the family stay together or disperse? Do otters have any special survival strategies to get through the cold times?

How Devastating Are Wildfires To Deer And Elk?

Oct 28, 2016

While watching an evening newscast about Montana wildfires, I saw some TV footage of deer and elk fleeing burning areas and listened to speculation by the newscasters of how many animals might be killed during the fires. I was reminded of watching the movie Bambi as a child, and fearing for Bambi’s life as he fled that fictional wildfire many decades ago.

Truffles, Trees And — Squirrels?

Oct 16, 2016
Truffle With A Squirrel Bite
FLICKR USER, SCOTT DARBEY (CC-BY-2.0)

Walking through the woods recently, I saw a red squirrel digging in the litter of the forest floor. I assumed it was burying a pine cone, but on closer inspection I found a piece of mushroom. Little did I know I was witnessing a process critical to the survival of a forest.

Golden Islands Of The Western Montana Forest

Oct 8, 2016
Golden islands of western larch in the Gold Creek area near Missoula.
Josh Burnham (CC-BY-2)

Sitting on the shores of Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park last fall, gazing up at the surrounding hillside, I was struck by a unique mosaic of golden splendor against the evergreen background. The largest of its species, the western larch, Larix occidentalis, is indeed a unique kind of tree.

A Rumination On The Mule Deer Rutting Season

Oct 2, 2016
Mule deer buck
FLICKR USER, JON NELSON (CC-BY-2.0)


Soaking up some September sun, I was perched on a rocky outcrop of Wild Horse Island in Flathead Lake. The sweet vanilla scent of Ponderosa pine permeated the air as I watched gulls flying overhead. I sat quietly on a large boulder and waited for the residents of this island ecosystem to resume activity as if I were not there. Across the small gully on the next rocky hilltop, a single female deer grazed in the shade of a pine. By the black tip on the end of her tail, I was able to identify her as a mule deer, Odocoileus hemionus.

Sagebrush near San Luis, CO.
Flickr user Jeff B (CC-BY-2.0)

I’ve always been impressed by survivors, especially here in the arid, unforgiving West. No species better demonstrates this survival instinct for me than does the lowly Artemisia tridentata, better known as big sagebrush. And few other species come as close to communicating such a significant part of the nature of the landscape.

Stressed? Science Says Take A Walk In The Woods

Sep 19, 2016
More and more research reveals time spent outdoors relieves stress and improves physical and emotional well-being.
Josh Burnham (CC-BY-NC-2)

I feel the stress from the week lift off my shoulders as I breathe in the scent of ponderosa pine. Today, I have no papers to write, tests to take, or meetings to attend. This is my time to relax in the Montana wilderness. Even though I know that spending time in nature always makes me feel better, I don’t always take the time to immerse myself in it. And I’m not the only one. It seems fewer people escape from the human world while, ironically, more and more research reveals time spent in nature relieves stress and improves physical and emotional well-being.

Flickr user, Jason Hollinger (CC-BY-2.0)

Recently, the work of lichenologist Toby Spribille, a research professor based part-year at the University of Montana-Missoula, has upended the idea that lichen are an alliance between just one fungus and one algae. In many lichens, a mysterious yeast is the third player in this symbiosis. 

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