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.

The Ungulate Mating Calendar Demands Tight Timing

Sep 22, 2020
Skeeze - Pixabay

I've seen white-tailed does and fawns in my yard all spring and summer. But just last week I saw two bucks. Why would bucks show up now, when it seemed that only does and fawns lived in the area? Well, if spring is for the birds, then fall would have to be the season for ungulates.

Wolverines: Wild Weasels Of The Alpine

Sep 15, 2020
Wolverine
Andrew Gainer (CC-BY-NC-2)

A small dark blur upslope materialized into a loping wolverine, coming straight toward us! Afraid this wolverine wanted to share our lunch, we left our backpacks where they lay, and hurried out of its path.

Lichens are a combination of fungi and algae living together in a symbiotic relationship. In this symbiosis, the fungi and algae benefit from each other. This evolutionary adaptation allows lichens to grow in some incredibly harsh environments: in deserts and in the Arctic, on barren tundra and on bare rock. Lichens grow in such rugged environments that some early naturalists thought they existed on nothing but air and sunlight.

Ceanothus: Life From The Kiss Of Fire

Sep 1, 2020
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.

How devastating are wildfires to deer and elk? Can most of them outrun or outflank a rapidly spreading fire? And what about the survivors when they return to a burned forest? Isn’t their habitat destroyed?

Black-footed ferret, Badlands National Park, SD
NPS - PD

When most people think of the threatened or endangered species of Montana, they tend to focus on the iconic animals of the West: the grizzly bear, the wolf or the Canadian lynx. But there's far less attention placed on the rarest Montana mammal and the only ferret species endemic to North America.

The Salish name for August, St̓šá Spq̓ni, means "Month of Huckleberry"
Skeeze - Pixabay

Braving horseflies the size of quarters and the searing afternoon sun, I ramble on a steep hillside like a bear, gorging for her long winter's nap. What could inspire such action? Huckleberries, of course. A recent trip to Glacier Park proved I wasn't alone in my obsession.

Bat Moms Do A Lot Of Hanging About

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.

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