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 Short-Tailed Weasel: Life Sped Up

5 hours ago
Short-tailed weasel (Mustela erminea), summer phase
Steve Hillebrand (U.S.F.W.S.)

While some animals get off comparatively easily in the winter by hibernating, or by gorging and then fasting, the short-tailed weasel has to hunt every day to keep its blast-furnace metabolism stoked. With a heart rate of several hundred beats a minute and little in the way of fat reserves on its long and slender body, the animal must consume half its body weight daily.

Super-Morph: Botanist In The Produce Aisle

Dec 8, 2019
woman in Grand Union supermarket produce aisle
PD

As the temperature drops and the leaves turn brown and drop as well, it gets hard for a botanist in Montana to find anything interesting to study outside. At this time of year I go on field trips to the supermarket. In the produce section the leaves are still green, and you can always find some germinating alfalfa and mung beans. There’s a lot to be learned among the aisles, but there’s a distressing amount of misinformation as well.

A Naturalist's Perspective On Winter Weeds

Dec 1, 2019
Winter Weeds
Flickr user Rachel Kramer (CC-BY-2)

As you travel about Montana’s fall and winter landscape, you’re bound to see the brown and gray patchwork of roadside weeds. We tend to classify weeds as those nuisance plants that grow where they are not wanted. It’s a rather subjective definition. Often the “weedness” of a plant rests in the eyes of the beholder. One person’s weed may be another person’s wildflower. To me these remnants of summer look like survivors the morning after a great party.

Eagle Watching At Rogers Pass, 2008

Nov 24, 2019
Golden eagle.
(PD)

As raptors at the top of their food chain, goldens are good indicators of the ecological health of a region. In recent years, studies show a population in decline. What does one do with this information?  This is one of the questions of science, and of birders: what are we really looking at?

Thermophiles: Multitudes In The Hot Spring

Nov 17, 2019
Black Pool, West Thumb Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park
Jim Peaco, NPS (PD)

Researchers are now testing theories that archaea populate the lowest branches, maybe even the roots, of our phylogenetic family tree. The hydrothermal ecosystems that encompass hot springs are among the oldest continuously-inhabited ecosystems on earth. These environments and the creatures that thrive there need to be protected, for they may tell us invaluable information about evolution and our ancestry.

Fen in the Butterfly Valley of the Plumas National Forest, CA
Harold Carlson, U.S.F.S. (PD)

Even as the deep snowpack buries much of the landscape in Western Montana, there are some very special wetland habitats that will not freeze at all this winter. These wetlands, known as fens, are among the rarest habitats in the state.

Flathead Lake's Wild Horse Island.
Aaron Bolton

Just the name – Wild Horse Island – sends the imagination soaring. The short boat trip to this island on the west side of Flathead Lake about ten miles north of Polson is magical. This is certainly not an area where humans have left nothing but footprints. Even the name suggests a story.

Order in the Roost

Oct 27, 2019
Wild turkey
Daniel Parks (CC-BY-NC-2.0)

Once the turkeys had returned to the trees, a dance began. They leaped from branch to branch and sometimes switched trees, trying to get higher and higher—or so I thought. I began to wonder if the social hierarchy, so well-established for turkeys while on the ground, carries to the roost. Was it possible that the ideal vertical place in a tree could be the middle, high enough from land-based predators, yet far enough below flying threats from the night skies?

The Bitterroot Mountain range, part of the Idaho Batholith
Beth Anne Austein

The difference in temperature between the crust, mantle and core creates an effect where hot molten rock, called magma, slowly moves toward the surface in plumes, much like the wax of a lava lamp. This phenomenon, called convection, slowly moves the plates of the earth’s crust, grinding them against each other, causing volcanoes, earthquakes -- and mountains.

How Swallowtail Butterflies Survive The Winter

Oct 13, 2019
Butterfly pupa
Brad Smith (CC-BY-NC-2.0)

Fall is a hectic time of year in Montana. There are a thousand things to do before the first snow, and not nearly enough time. The days shorten, tourists leave, seasonal shops close, kids romp at the playground one last time, flower beds are mulched, snow tires put on the car, storm windows polished and mounted. You can feel the change in season just walking down the street: people hurry from building to building, head down and quiet, bundled up and hunched against the cold, looking for warmth, a fire, hot cocoa.

Pages