Montana Natural History Center

Are You Mistaking These Common Tree Terms?

Apr 4, 2016
Governor Steve Bullock announced today he’s committing $1.5 million of state fire suppression funds for various forest restoration and fuel reduction projects.
Josh Burnham (CC-BY-2.0)

As I split and stacked my winter firewood this fall in preparation for the long nights to come, trees in the surrounding forest were also preparing for winter. While I watched their leaves turning yellow along the flank of the Bitterroot Mountains, I found myself considering the confusing terms people use to describe those trees. In particular, folks tend to mix up perfectly good words in ways that leave me more befuddled than enlightened. Some write of “conifers and deciduous trees” as if they are somehow different. But, of course, when describing trees the words coniferous and deciduous may be distinctions without a difference.

Flathead NatioFlathead National Forest to update forest plan, seeks public inputnal Forest To Update Forest Plan
U.S. Forest Service

Two otters slip down a riverbank to merge with the cool depths of the Madison. An angler casts into a limpid pool. Nearby, a kingfisher plunges and emerges from the riffles, a minnow draped through its bill like a mustache. The profusion of wildlife in and around Montana’s blue-ribbon trout streams is no accident.

Wolf Moss: Wallpaper Of The World's Forests

Mar 21, 2016
Wolf Moss
Claire Burgeson

Although small and unobtrusive, an estimated 13,000 to 17,000 species of lichen spread across the Earth, from the Arctic to the equatorial tropics. One of those species, more noticeable than most, is Letharia vulpina, a brilliant fluorescent yellow-green, moss-like lichen that clings to the bark and wood of living and dead trees throughout the world, from sea level to timberline.

'Field Notes': The Wonders Of Winter Adaptation

Mar 13, 2016
A red fox rests in the snow.
Flickr user Charles Anderson (CC-BY-NC-2.0)

Humans tend to sense and respond to winter - the cold, the snow, the wind, the short days - by controlling their environment. We mediate winter's effect by living in a warm house, wearing thick jackets or flying like "snowbirds" south to warm and sunny climates. 

Do Bobcats Kill Deer? 'Field Notes' Investigates

Mar 7, 2016
Bobcat kittens
Summer M. Tribble (CC-BY-SA)

Bobcats are relatively common in patchy habitats all across the U.S., but we don’t see them often because they are crepuscular or nocturnal and well camouflaged. But after a recent bobcat sighting, I'll be on the lookout for bobcats much more than I have before.

'Field Notes': Meeting A Montana Loon In Mexico

Feb 22, 2016
Common loon.
Cephas (CC-BY-SA-3)

Each week the haunting wail of the common look opens Field Notes. The loon's cry always brings to my mind large, clear mountain lakes rimmed by lush coniferous forests, a handsome pair in their formal back and white courting plumage calling across the quiet water.

Field Notes: Winter Clouds

Feb 16, 2016
Winter clouds
(PD)

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

Townsend's Solitaire: Soundtrack To Your Hike

Feb 10, 2016
Townsend's Solitaire
Mark Watson (CC-BY-NC-ND)

When I feel the need to escape from town and immerse myself in the woods, I head up to Marshall Canyon, just east of Missoula, for a hike. Hiking along one of the old roads through the woods and taking in the fresh air and the views down the Clark Fork River towards Milltown soothe my soul and put things back into perspective. As I hike, I frequently hear what sounds like the squeak of a playground swing, swinging back and forth. This sound, however, is completely natural, the call of a somewhat drab-looking bird: a Townsend’s Solitaire.

Some rough-legged hawks fly south for the winter and end up in Montana's Mission Valley.
Andrew Reding (CC-BY-NC-ND)

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 may 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.

'Field Notes' Investigates Gizzard Grit

Jan 19, 2016
Ruffed Grouse
Flickr user tuchodi (CC-BY-2)

Afternoon sunshine was softening into twilight on a recent fall day as I drove with my family down a forest road in the mountains north of Missoula. We were heading home after a day of hiking and grouse hunting—and we had a blue grouse to roast for dinner. We rounded a bend to find a covey of seven ruffed grouse, milling about in the road and pecking at the gravelly surface. What were they doing?

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