MTPR

Montana Natural History Center

Paintbrush: The Prettiest Parasite On The Prairie?

Apr 25, 2017
Indian paintrbrush (Castilleja linariifolia) in Grand Teton National Park.
(PD)

Most people are familiar with the showy red or yellow flowers of the Indian paintbrushes. They can be found from the dry valley grasslands to lush alpine meadows. There are 21 species of the paintbrush just in Montana, including bristly paintbrush, the red-flowered species of dry slopes and scarlet paintbrush which is common in meadows and along streams.

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.

'Field Notes': The Tale Of Montana's Strangest Frog

Mar 26, 2017
Ascaphus montanus tadpole.
(PD)

Several decades back while working as a biologist in Oregon, I was picking rocks off the bottom of a rushing stream. While investigating the underlying aquatic insects, I encountered an odd animal. It was what appeared to be a tadpole stuck to the bottom of the rock! Assuming all frogs and tadpoles occur in swamps, not in high elevation rushing streams, I wondered what it was doing there.

Four And Twenty Blackbirds, Flocked In A Field

Mar 12, 2017
Flickr user, Bob Webster (CC-BY-2.0)

Red-winged blackbirds are a common species in Montana and I’d seen plenty of them together, particularly near ponds and lakes. But in winter, they can flock in congregations of millions of birds that include other species of blackbirds and starlings.

Singing In The Snow

Mar 5, 2017
Flickr user, Jason Crotty (CC-BY-2.0)

If you go cross-country skiing in the North American woods, you’re likely to hear all manner of twittering and chattering as flocks of birds like chickadees, finches, and nuthatches bustle about finding food and warning each other about danger. Most birds will call like this at any time of year, but reserve singing for signaling a territory or attracting mates during the breeding season, typically in spring.

That's No Flea - It's a Snow Fly

Feb 19, 2017
MUSE (CC-BY-2.0)

When I’m out in the woods in winter, I tend to keep my eyes on the ground. I’m looking for tracks, scat - signs of warm-blooded life. About the last thing I’d expect to see is an insect. But a few weeks ago, on a ski up at Lolo Pass, that was exactly what I found – and not just one insect; dozens.

Lawmakers in Helena are considering a bill that would give each Indian tribe in the state two free licenses per year to hunt buffalo.
Josh Burnham (CC-BY-2.0)

Montana is known for tall mountains, deep valleys, and expansive forests, but most of the state is comprised of vast prairie landscapes that were once home to thundering herds of American bison. Scientists and historians believe that bison in North America numbered between 3 and 6 million prior to their government-ordered extermination in the late 1800s. Millions of bison were slaughtered simply for their tongues and hides.

Ruffed Grouse: Drummers Of The Bird World

Dec 30, 2016
Ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus). (CC BY 2.0)
Flickr user, Seabamirum

One Saturday morning looking out my window, I noticed something wandering  along the fence outside my house. Worried it was one of my chickens that had escaped, I grabbed my binoculars. But instead of a chicken, I saw a brown and white bird with a tuft on his head. As I watched him making his way, pecking and discarding all but the tastiest of scraps, two more of the birds emerged from the brush. The ruffed grouse were back.

Botanical Field Trip Through Christmas Dinner

Dec 23, 2016
Flickr user, Andrea Pokrzywinski (CC-BY-2.0)

Going for a hike at this time of year just isn’t the same for a botanist. The flowers are dead and all the leaves have fallen. Not much material for a field note out there. But here in my kitchen there are lots of interesting and colorful members of the vegetable kingdom because I’m preparing my holiday dinner.

Western Montana's Winter Inversions Explained

Dec 12, 2016
View of inversion over Missoula from Snowbowl
FLICKR USER, EVAN LOVELY (CC-BY-2.0)


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.  

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