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] or (406) 327-0405.

How Fir Trees Became Christmas Trees

Dec 24, 2017
Christmas tree in front of the cathedral of Cologne.
Flickr user CRE@!V!TY (CC-BY-NC-ND-2)

Fir trees, decorated and lighted, are such a fixture of American homes at Christmas that it's difficult for us to imagine that it was not always so. But on a time scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the beginning of life on earth, the Christmas tree tradition begins somewhere around 9.999999999.

Western Montana's Winter Inversions Explained

Dec 18, 2017
View of inversion over Missoula from Snowbowl

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.  

'Field Notes:' What's Wrong With Whitefish?

Dec 10, 2017
Mountain whitefish.

I dipped my woven landing net into the frigid creek water and drew the fish towards my legs. It was winter and I was standing mid-calf deep in a favorite fishing spot outside Missoula. I knew the fish wasn’t a trout before I scooped it into my net.

An icy bank embraced the creek, and my breath rose before me, rhythmically billowing out my mouth and nostrils. The fish nonchalantly took one of the nymphs I had been sinking near the creek bottom, diving into the depths and pulling its weight into my fly line. I could feel its tail in the handle of my fly-rod, palpitating like an irregular heartbeat.

'Field Notes:' How 'Moon Dogs' Are Made

Dec 3, 2017
A lunar halo, or moon dog. Ruka, Finland
Timo Newton-Syms (CC-BY-SA-2)

Moon dogs have many names: lunar halos, moon rings, or winter rings. Their scientific name is “paraselenae” and they are made visible by a combination of specific circumstances.

Snow Fleas

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?