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Field Notes
Mon., Wed. Friday at 4:54 p.m.

Nature notes and inquiry from the Montana Natural History Center.

  • I have the greatest opportunity to observe the phenology of the ever-present white-tailed deer. White-tailed deer are delightful to watch as they graze in the meadow in spring and summer, gather around a fallen spruce to munch on sweet lichens, or leap over fallen logs, their white fluffy tails waving like flags.
  • I looked up into the starry night and a flood of emotions came over me as I thought about my T̓at̓áyaqn (Bitterroot Salish) ancestors who hunted this way for thousands of years. All of a sudden, snčlčlép (coyotes) began howling and I felt this strong connection to my ancestors and the bison. This hunt helped me realize the sacred significance of bison to my people and I wanted to find out more about these glorious animals.
  • Tail feathers, and tails in general, provide a variety of functions for different animal species. The prehensile tails of monkeys in Central and South America are the ultimate fifth appendage. These tails can be used for grasping and hanging from branches and manipulating objects. Curiously, while African monkey species often have similar tails, none have grasping prehensile tails.
  • Visitors to Montana’s Jim Girard Memorial Tamaracks Grove near Seeley Lake have differing reactions when viewing Gus for the first time. I was awed by the 163-foot height, craning my neck to see the very tippy top and then tilting back even further to view the additional 10 feet of dead tree top.
  • The beach in question is characteristic of beaches everywhere there have been glaciers: covered in well-sorted, multi-hued pebbles. There’s a rock on this beach for every personality.
  • They’re in my yard, in a yard two blocks away, or on someone’s front porch chewing pumpkins. It’s rare that I take my daily four-mile trek without seeing these white-tailed wonders, often grazing near the sidewalk, seemingly unafraid.
  • There I was, calmly taking a shower, when I realized I was not alone. Sitting on top of a bottle of shampoo waving its antennae and staring at me with its red eyes was a Boisea trivittata. Despite their scientific label, there is nothing trivial about these ubiquitous pests known to us by their common name: boxelder bugs.
  • As we entered a conifer thicket, we happened upon an animal I was not expecting on dry land – a snail – creeping along the curved trunk of a young fir tree.
  • For millennia mosses have been used as insulation, diapers, and in many other ways that require absorption. I had to know more.
  • Their height and orange-brown bark, scaly and large-patterned, drew me to them, but I knew little else about them.
  • Historically, Trumpeter Swans covered much of North America, but by 1932, a National Park Service survey found only 69 trumpeters in the entire contiguous United States. This spurred a conservation effort that included a feeding program in the Red Rocks National Wildlife Refuge near Dillon, Montana.
  • An angry phoenix, the new bird appeared stretching its wings, repeatedly slapping the surface as it kept launching its body upright, almost leaping out of the water. All the while, it called out, the trembling sound of a woodwind instrument bouncing off the dense bowl of that valley.
  • Where initially the herd was scattered throughout the sage along the forest edge, they had now moved toward the road and were gathered together in a tight cluster. They were nervous, gazing toward the trees, ears cocked forward. They paced anxiously, some spinning in circles. I could hear a lot of mewing and a few barked alarms. These are clear signs a predator was near, probably the grizzly bear and cubs I had spotted in the area the day before.
  • In murder mysteries, the protagonist is often surprised to find a crime. A national park was the last place we expected one.
  • The canopy opens where a shallow stream crosses the path, revealing two small, silvery blue butterflies flitting about in slow and bouncy patterns. As I find my footing rock-by-rock across the stream, I recall an unusual aspect of the life cycle of these butterflies.
  • On a warm June day, at our farm in the Mission Valley, I was watching my husband and son play in the yard, honeybees from our two colonies buzzing nearby. Suddenly, my attention was captured by a steady increase in the number of bees on the air, catching and refracting sunlight with their golden bodies.
  • Sage is suddenly everywhere—everywhere, that is, where it’s not too parched even for this hardiest of dryland flora. Low, vertical cliffs of tan sandstone have replaced the steep, evergreen-covered mountains as the dominant landform. We have just entered another world: the Bighorn Basin.
  • While we łoqʷm t sox̣ʷép (cleaned the roots), I listened to them reminisce on old stories, told with our Indian humor. The day was full of laughter and joy and connecting to our culture.
  • There’s not much that brings me more pure joy in springtime than a hillside full of yellow bouquets of arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata).
  • For two weekends in May, I visited a pale yellow goldenrod crab spider living on a bright gold heart-leaved arnica flower outside my family’s cabin on Flathead Lake.
  • Riparian zones are found along the banks of a river, stream, or other moving water source, surrounded by vegetation that relies on water. These habitats are home to a wide range of flora and fauna that meet birds’ survival needs.
  • In its quiet presence my anguish receded until I had calmed, feeling drained and open to the world again. Since that experience I have wondered—was that real? Are Blue Jays capable of empathy?