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.

Field Notes podcast

Ponderosa pine bark
Flickr user Tim Jones (CC-BY-NC-ND)

The bark of any tree is more than just a good-looking facade. Even the most graceful aspen or stately ponderosa requires bark to protect its sensitive inner flesh from disease, parasites, and other environmental stresses, such as fire.

Ancient Giants: The Mysterious Beauty Of An Aspen Grove

Jul 13, 2015
Aspen grove

One of the world's largest and oldest organisms is an 80,000 year-old aspen colony covering over 106 acres. How do aspens grow so large and so old?

Ant lion larva
Jonathan Numer (CC-BY-SA-3)

Ant lions, or "doodlebugs" have impressive mandibles, are adept at camouflage, and are very successful at trapping and ambushing their prey. "Field Notes" takes a closer look at these fascinating insects.

In August, 2010, my family and I watched from our backyard an unbelievable phenomenon: a single species of dragonfly, individually numbering in the thousands, flew steadily westward across our property on the edge of town for ten magical days. Occasionally they would perch briefly – each one facing west – on the neighbor’s wire fence before continuing on.

Clark's Nutcracker
Ryan Mitchell (CC-BY-2.0)

As a bird biologist who studies bird songs, I immediately recognize most sounds I come across in nature: the winnowing of a Wilson’s Snipe, the smack of a Dark-eyed Junco, the zee-chubbity-chub of a Rufous Hummingbird, just to name a few. For me it is a matrix of sound, as diverse and varied as the surrounding landscape. When I hear a strange sound in nature, I can’t give up until I determine its source.

Glacial erratic in Yellowstone Park's Lamar Valley
Jo Suderman - National Parks Service

Few sights have the romantic appeal of a lone tree growing in the grasslands of Montana. While these trees are beloved by photographers and artists for the serenity and peace they evoke, their origins typically lie in a more abrasive past.

Josh Burnham (CC-BY-2.0)

In the great stands of old cottonwood trees along prairie rivers, chemical skirmishes are taking place between beavers, cottonwoods, and a certain species of beetle. Beavers gnaw on the trees; the trees fight back with toxic compounds; and the beetles move in to feast on the toxins. But in this apparent conflict, all three species benefit.

The Sweet Songs Of The Yellow-Headed Blackbird

Jun 15, 2015
Male yellow-headed blackbird (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus) (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Flickr user, Vitalii Khustochka

Next time you’re out exploring and hear the sounds of a mechanical disaster, don’t call the National Enquirer to report an alien landing. Pull out your binoculars. You might just catch a glimpse of a yellow-headed blackbird singing his song.


Shellfish In Montana: The Western Pearlshell

Jun 12, 2015

There are not many freshwater mussels west of the continental divide in Montana; in fact, there is only one native species here, the western pearlshell.

Fireweed: A Colorful Reminder Of Change

Jun 5, 2015
Steve Hillebrand, USFWS

"On a backpacking trip two summers ago, a group of fellow students and I started our trek across the Bob Marshall Wilderness on the West Fork of the Teton River. Much of this area had burned in a wildfire a few decades ago, but the landscape was far from barren. Beneath the smooth, branchless trees, fireweed was growing in bright and colorful abundance.