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

Keith Williams (CC-BY-2.0)

My eyes open at 5:00 a.m. I see my breath billow towards the top of my tent as I sigh at the blaring intrusion of a battery-operated alarm clock. I must hustle if I want any shot at boiling the pot of water necessary for a hot breakfast. Fumbling around for my least stench-ridden set of clothes, the reality slowly creeps into my head: I am a field biologist.

'Field Notes': Flowers & The Fibonacci Sequence

Jul 4, 2016
Black-eyed Susan
Jason Hollinger (CC-BY-2)

It's summer, and wildflowers are dotting the hillsides and forests. You might find yourself plucking petals off those flowers, trying to determine if he loves your or she loves you not. If you're a hopeless romantic who repeats this ritual year after year, you will notice a happy coincidence — more often than not, he or she loves you. This could only mean one thing (besides that you're worthy of adoration). Empirically speaking, this means that more often than not, flowers have an odd number of petals.

Biodiversity Heritage Library (CC-BY-2.0)

This is a Field Note about greed. My greed.

Recently the dogs and I were out joyfully stretching our legs on a sunny, blue-sky late winter day. The dogs were far ahead of me across the grassy hills when I saw a fox! It saw me, too, but it just kept going about its business in the grass, poking around over by the gully. I know that gully.  It’s full of secrets, hidden under the downfall, in the hawthorne trees, or in woodpecker holes that riddle the twisted old aspens.

'Field Notes:' Reflections On Knowing A Wild Place

Jun 17, 2016
Allison de Jong

Montana has so much to offer for those who love wild places, and I’ve spent much of my time here exploring all the new spots I can in our lovely state. Yet there are a few places that I find myself returning to again and again. My favorite may be Glen Lakes in the Bitterroots.

Extremophiles: The Berkeley Pit's Silver Lining?

Jun 15, 2016
The Berkeley pit in Butte, Montana.
NASA (CC-BY-2)

This story almost begins on a dark and stormy night in November of 1995, when 342 snow geese landed on Berkeley Pit Lake. Unfortunately, this was no ordinary lake and the story did not end well for these birds.

North American river otters.
Dmitry Azovtsev (CC-BY-SA-3)

At the end of last summer, as I sat in an eddy on the Clark Fork River, something furry and black caught my eye, moving as smoothly as the water itself. I was looking at a North American river otter. Remembering studying sea otters in elementary school, I wondered if I had just seen something rare for this region, and decided to do a little research.

'Field Notes': All About The Western Meadowlark

May 30, 2016
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.

Whitebark pine.
Famartin (CC-BY-SA-3)

I first visited Glacier National Park in June. Though winter had only recently loosened its grip on the Crown of the Continent, there were blue skies and sunshine as I hiked up a high-elevation glacial basin. The temperature was a balmy 60 degrees.

'Field Notes': Calliope Hummingbirds

May 15, 2016
A hovering male calliope hummingbird.
Kati Fleming (CC-BY-SA-3)

It is mid-May, and I am living in a wall tent on a farm in the Mission Valley. The tent is white canvas, and sits next to the largest apple tree I have ever seen. The largest limb hangs high and wide and reaches over the top of the tent. This time of year, springtime, bees and flies and other pollinators dart between blossoms on that high limb. And inside the tent, all lit up with sunshine, it feels like the canvas house is humming and buzzing. This spring, I feel like I’m living in a cloud of wing beats.

Winter Cottonwoods: Apartment Buildings For Wildlife

May 11, 2016
Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany

Thinking about plants in winter recently, I remembered a particular good-sized cottonwood I saw while walking along a riverbank.  What was its story?

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