MTPR

Montana Natural History Center

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.  

Rough-legged hawk
FLICKR USER, FRANK D. LOSPALLUTO (CC-BY-2.0)

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 my 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.

Snow Fleas
FLICKR USER, LINDSEY (CC-BY-2.0)

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?

Ceanothus: Life From The Kiss Of Fire

Nov 20, 2016
Ceanothus velutinus, a plant with more common names than zip codes in California.
Walter Siegmund (CC-BY-SA-3)

Thirty-plus years ago when I was studying wildlife management at Oregon State University, we learned that Ceanothus was a highly preferred forage plant for deer and elk during the winter. I knew that Ceanothus was the genus name of a large group of western shrubs and I even knew enough to recognize a few of the individual species back then.

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