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': Bird Watching At The Polson Dump

Apr 24, 2016
Gulls at a Belfast dump
Burns Library Boston College

Bird watching at the Polson dump is not for the faint of heart. The task requires an unnatural tolerance of gigantic machinery operated by large men wearing overalls and permanent looks of disapproval. But if you're serious about observing gulls, you need to go to where trucks discard trash at the edge of town. Evidently it's much easier for gulls to pick through our leftovers than to catch freshwater shrimp and fish.

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.

Are You Mistaking These Common Tree Terms?

Apr 4, 2016
Josh Burnham (CC-BY-2.0)

As I split and stacked my winter firewood this fall in preparation for the long nights to come, trees in the surrounding forest were also preparing for winter. While I watched their leaves turning yellow along the flank of the Bitterroot Mountains, I found myself considering the confusing terms people use to describe those trees. In particular, folks tend to mix up perfectly good words in ways that leave me more befuddled than enlightened. Some write of “conifers and deciduous trees” as if they are somehow different. But, of course, when describing trees the words coniferous and deciduous may be distinctions without a difference.

Flathead NatioFlathead National Forest to update forest plan, seeks public inputnal Forest To Update Forest Plan
U.S. Forest Service

Two otters slip down a riverbank to merge with the cool depths of the Madison. An angler casts into a limpid pool. Nearby, a kingfisher plunges and emerges from the riffles, a minnow draped through its bill like a mustache. The profusion of wildlife in and around Montana’s blue-ribbon trout streams is no accident.

Do Bobcats Kill Deer? 'Field Notes' Investigates

Mar 7, 2016
Bobcat kittens
Summer M. Tribble (CC-BY-SA)

Bobcats are relatively common in patchy habitats all across the U.S., but we don’t see them often because they are crepuscular or nocturnal and well camouflaged. But after a recent bobcat sighting, I'll be on the lookout for bobcats much more than I have before.

Reviewing Avalanche Safety With 'Field Notes'

Feb 29, 2016
Reviewing Avalanche Safety With 'Field Notes'
(PD)

Over the past several years I’ve been introduced to the freedom offered by ducking resort boundary lines and skiing in the backcountry. But the more I’ve grown to love skiing the backcountry, the more I’ve come to respect the immense and unpredictable power of snow.

'Field Notes': Meeting A Montana Loon In Mexico

Feb 22, 2016
Common loon.
Cephas (CC-BY-SA-3)

Each week the haunting wail of the common look opens Field Notes. The loon's cry always brings to my mind large, clear mountain lakes rimmed by lush coniferous forests, a handsome pair in their formal back and white courting plumage calling across the quiet water.

Field Notes: Winter Clouds

Feb 16, 2016
Winter clouds
(PD)

At no other time is the parting of clouds felt more powerfully than outdoors, at the height of winter.

Townsend's Solitaire: Soundtrack To Your Hike

Feb 10, 2016
Townsend's Solitaire
Mark Watson (CC-BY-NC-ND)

When I feel the need to escape from town and immerse myself in the woods, I head up to Marshall Canyon, just east of Missoula, for a hike. Hiking along one of the old roads through the woods and taking in the fresh air and the views down the Clark Fork River towards Milltown soothe my soul and put things back into perspective. As I hike, I frequently hear what sounds like the squeak of a playground swing, swinging back and forth. This sound, however, is completely natural, the call of a somewhat drab-looking bird: a Townsend’s Solitaire.

Some rough-legged hawks fly south for the winter and end up in Montana's Mission Valley.
Andrew Reding (CC-BY-NC-ND)

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 may 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.

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