MTPR

Montana Natural History Center

A red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) eating a cone.
(PD)

Not long ago I was out hiking in the mountains during one glowing afternoon. I turned off the trail and headed into the woods in search of a comfortable place to nestle down and daydream. As I found a spot for myself a red squirrel came bounding toward me on a fallen log. It jumped onto the trunk of a ponderosa pine and gave me that bright-eyed stare accompanied by several swishes of its feathery tail. Then it headed up the tree and disappeared among the high branches. I'd been sitting in a peaceful reverie for only a minute when suddenly a pine cone came crashing to the ground just a couple of feet away. I looked up and saw two more falling. The squirrel was attacking me!

Field Notes: Winter Clouds

Feb 25, 2018
Winter clouds
(PD)

At no other time is the parting of clouds felt more powerfully than outdoors, at the height of winter.

On this particular day, the clouds break intermittently and when they do, motion ensues. The peeps and chatters of birds start, and you can see them dart and cling through a white and shifting world. The snow itself starts to awaken and come alive - melty, unstable layers slide down the steeples of trees.

Why No Two Snowflakes Look Alike

Feb 19, 2018
(PD)

You know the old saying “no two snowflakes are alike”? Well, there may be more truth to that than you think. I am from Hillsboro, Oregon, where the snow falls in wet, indistinguishable clumps. When I moved to Montana, I immediately noticed a difference.

A black-capped chickadee feeds on mountain ash berries.
Flickr user La FoeZ' (CC-BY-NC-ND-2)

Walking through many neighborhoods in Montana towns through the fall and winter, you’ll find yourself brushing past clusters of showy orange berries, hanging down from the limbs of mountain ash. By late winter many of the berries have spattered to the sidewalk, but through much of the drab months they provide a warm pop of color against the gray sky and white snow.

Cottonwoods: Where Wildlife Take Refuge In Winter

Jan 29, 2018
Black Cottonwood in Winter.
USFWS Mountain Prairie

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

From James Halfpenny’s fascinating book “Winter:  An Ecological Handbook,” I learned that cottonwoods, like many northern trees, have very special adaptations to survive the long, cold winters. They begin their “hardening” process in the fall, as temperatures begin to drop and the amount of daylight decreases.  Leaves typically fall during this stage of hardening, but the process continues as winter settles in. 

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