MTPR

Montana Natural History Center

North American river otters.
Dmitry Azovtsev (CC-BY-SA-3)

At the end of last summer, as I sat in an eddy on the Clark Fork River, something furry and black caught my eye, moving as smoothly as the water itself. I was looking at a North American river otter. Remembering studying sea otters in elementary school, I wondered if I had just seen something rare for this region, and decided to do a little research.

'Field Notes': Calliope Hummingbirds

May 15, 2016
A hovering male calliope hummingbird.
Kati Fleming (CC-BY-SA-3)

It is mid-May, and I am living in a wall tent on a farm in the Mission Valley. The tent is white canvas, and sits next to the largest apple tree I have ever seen. The largest limb hangs high and wide and reaches over the top of the tent. This time of year, springtime, bees and flies and other pollinators dart between blossoms on that high limb. And inside the tent, all lit up with sunshine, it feels like the canvas house is humming and buzzing. This spring, I feel like I’m living in a cloud of wing beats.

Cottonwoods: Where Wildlife Take Refuge In Winter

May 11, 2016
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. 

'Field Notes': Bird Watching At The Polson Dump

Apr 24, 2016
Gulls at a Belfast dump
Burns Library Boston College

Bird watching at the Polson dump is not for the faint of heart. The task requires an unnatural tolerance of gigantic machinery operated by large men wearing overalls and permanent looks of disapproval. But if you're serious about observing gulls, you need to go to where trucks discard trash at the edge of town. Evidently it's much easier for gulls to pick through our leftovers than to catch freshwater shrimp and fish.

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.

Are You Mis-Using These Common Tree Terms?

Apr 4, 2016
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.
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.

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.

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