MTPR

Field Notes

Sunday 12:55 PM, Tuesdays and Fridays at 4:54 PM

For keen observers, a walk to the grocery store or a hike up a mountain can inspire questions. Where do magpies nest?  Why doesn’t a spider stick to its own web? How do water striders keep from sinking?  Every week since 1992, Field Notes has inquired about Montana's  natural history. Produced by the Montana Natural History Center, Field Notes are written by naturalists, students and listeners about the puzzle-tree bark, eagle talons, woolly aphids and giant puffballs of western, central and southwestern Montana.

Interested in writing a Field Note? Contact Allison De Jong, Field Notes editor, at adejong [at] montananaturalist.org or (406) 327-0405.

Ceanothus: Life From The Kiss Of Fire

May 26, 2018
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.

A beaver swims through a forest pond.
Josh Burnham (CC-BY-2.0)

In the great stands of old cottonwood trees along prairie rivers, chemical skirmishes are taking place between beavers, cottonwoods, and a certain species of beetle. Beavers gnaw on the trees; the trees fight back with toxic compounds; and the beetles move in to feast on the toxins. But in this apparent conflict, all three species benefit.

'Field Notes': All About The Western Meadowlark

May 13, 2018
Western meadowlark, or "thunderchunk".Western meadowlark
Kevin Cole (CC-BY-2)

If you have been in open country anywhere in Montana, you have heard, and probably seen, thunderchunks. These birds are everywhere, proclaiming territories and singing from fence posts, sage brush, and telephone poles.

'Field Notes:' Montana's Rain Shadow Explained

May 7, 2018
Montana Average Annual Precipitation, 1981-2010.
Montana State Library

I love driving from Missoula to Helena or Great Falls or Bozeman, over the big passes of the Continental Divide and along some of our country’s most spectacular rivers. On the west side of the Divide, we pass green foothills, huge ponderosas and larch, and soaring bald eagles and osprey. Dropping down onto the east side, we start to see grasslands, sage brush, mule deer and pronghorn. Travelers in Montana know that the climate on the east side of the Continental Divide is suddenly and significantly different than on the west side. Wondering why is a good thing to ponder on a long drive.

'Field Notes:' Cushion Plants Keep It Short

Apr 29, 2018
U.S.F.S. Northern Region

This spring I went out for a walk on one of the bald hills on the outskirts of Missoula, just east of Hellgate Canyon. I walked the crest of the hill and saw how the strong wind on these exposed ridges blows the soil away, leaving a gravelly surface. The plants growing on this stony pavement are different from the typical grassland species on the slopes.

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