Montana Public Radio

Field Notes

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

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.

Bat Moms Do A Lot Of Hanging Around

Aug 4, 2020
Jerome Clarysse - Pixabay

Bats are wonderful, mysterious creatures: they swoop gracefully through the night, and sometimes through our nightmares. We fear what we don't understand, and most of us know little about bats. They behave in strange ways: only breeding when it's rainy, giving birth upside down, and sharing as a group the responsibility of nursing young.

Geology student studying the limestone near Farlin, MT.
UM Western

Last summer I was helping teach a geology field camp near Dillon. On our way back to the Birch Creek Outdoor Education Center each day, after long hours in the August sun spent identifying and mapping incredible exposures of rock, we would drive past a few crumbling cabins beneath an unweathered cliff face footed by large piles of scree.

This was once the town of Farlin – a long-abandoned copper mining camp at the base of the Pioneer Mountains. Shortly after the dawn of the 20th century, it was home to hundreds of men, women, and children. Inextricable from the experience of Montana, ghost towns like this one now dot the landscape they once extracted.

Nymphal froghoppers (Cercopoidea) avoid dessication and predators inside a froth of plant sap.
Michael L. Baird (CC-BY-2.0)

If you take a walk through fields this time of year, you can't help but notice what looks like gobs of frothy white spit on the stems of grasses and weeds. If you brush away the spit, you'll find a bright green froghopper or spit bug with shiny black eyes.

Squash.
iStock

August had just begun when a friend delivered my first hand-me-down squash of the summer: a round, green variegated giant that had reached the size of a jack-o-lantern seemingly overnight, just the way squash like to do.

Later in the kitchen, I eyed down the squash and started my perennial should-I-grill-it-or-make-zucchini-bread debate. I suspect some version of this dilemma could be ages old.

Evening Primrose: Shows Nightly At Nine

Jul 7, 2020
Yellow evening primroses (oenotherea flava)
Jerry Pierce (CC-BY-NC-2.0)

In the summer, folks come home from work at their jobs and hang out in their yards - they mow the lawn or weed the garden or have barbecues. I don't cook much, but just before dark I like to have a couple of friends over. We get out the beach chairs, face them toward the garden and get ready for my favorite summer evening entertainment. We watch my evening primroses open.

'Fieldnotes:' Forces Of Nature

Jul 4, 2020
Pixabay - RÜŞTÜ BOZKUŞ

I feel the stress from the week lift off my shoulders as I breathe in the scent of ponderosa pine. Today, I have no papers to write, tests to take, or meetings to attend. This is my time to relax in the Montana wilderness. Even though I know that spending time in nature always makes me feel better, I don’t always take the time to immerse myself in it.

Red fox
Erik Karits (Pixabay)

I know that gully.  It’s full of secrets, hidden under the downfall, in the hawthorne trees, or in woodpecker holes that riddle the twisted old aspens. I love looking for treasures there: the signs of birds or animals or insects who find a home there or respite from the heat of a prairie summer. ... But I did not do it.

Pixabay

Nectarless orchids are masters of mimicry and can appear and smell identical to other nectar-rich orchids. Thus, they draw pollinators into their flower, and then the forced pollination begins. Certain orchids shoot sticky balls of pollen at their pollinators. Others are known to intoxicate the pollinators so that they fall into a chamber inside, and in taking the path out, they become covered in pollen.

You May Be Tough, But You're Not Tardigrade-Tough

Jun 9, 2020
Dr. Diane Nelson, N.P.S. (PD)

It’s early summer time in the Northern Rockies, a time for some bears to go into a hibernation-like state.  Yes, you heard that right: bears that hibernate in the summer.  What kind of bears are these, you might ask?  They are the waterbears, also known as tardigrades.

Why Do Red Crossbills Have Scissor-Like Bills?

May 31, 2020
Red crossbill (Loxia curvirostra)
Pixabay

As winter faded into spring and the last remnants of snow remained in shadowy patches atop higher peaks, I wandered into the Rattlesnake Wilderness, outside of Missoula, Montana.  The air was filled with male songbirds singing to attract a mate for the season. The crackling call of the corvid, the rasp of the chickadee, and the delicate honk of the red-breasted nuthatch were giving way to the springtime calls of warblers and thrushes. 

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