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.

Field Notes: Calling All Cranes

Mar 26, 2021
Sanhill cranes in flight.
iStock

It was a beautiful day for birding. There were broken clouds allowing the March sun to peek through, taking away the morning chill. A gentle breeze blew, keeping temperatures comfortable as the day progressed.

Boom Or Bust: Boreal Forests, Irruption And Pine Siskins

Mar 16, 2021
“...a quick, nervous, dark, drab, ultra-squeaky pipsqueak of a bird that makes up in sass and belligerence what it lacks in size...”
Veronika Andrews-Pixabay

I often feel that new words come to me at the exact right moment. This fall, I had one of those moments of synchronicity, when I began to see the word "irruption" in various places - a word that until then was unfamiliar to me.

Everywhere You Look, Birds Are Dropping Clues

Mar 9, 2021
"Fieldnotes" investigates recent breakthroughs in bird poop research
Bishnu Sarangi - Pixabay

With the joy of birding comes the fear of getting dropped on. Recently, my seven-year-old daughter carefully watched a pair of Canada geese sitting on an old ponderosa pine snag. She was looking for an owl’s nest below, turned to me and wondered: “Why is bird poop white?”

Keith Williams (CC-BY-2.0)

My eyes open at 5:00 a.m. I see my breath billow towards the top of my tent as I sigh at the blaring intrusion of a battery-operated alarm clock. I must hustle if I want any shot at boiling the pot of water necessary for a hot breakfast. Fumbling around for my least stench-ridden set of clothes, the reality slowly creeps into my head: I am a field biologist.

'Field Notes:' How 'Moon Dogs' Are Made

Dec 29, 2020
A lunar halo, or moon dog. Ruka, Finland
Timo Newton-Syms (CC-BY-SA-2)

Moon dogs have many names: lunar halos, moon rings, or winter rings. Their scientific name is “paraselenae” and they are made visible by a combination of specific circumstances.

When Wildlife Remain Elusive, Follow The Clues

Nov 18, 2020
Elk herd, Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park
Jim Peaco - NPS (PD)

A couple of weekends ago, some friends and I got up early to drive into the Flint Creek Range near Anaconda.  We planned to hike through an area that we’d been told was home to some 800 elk, 150 big horn sheep, 30 mountain goats, black bear, and moose.  We walked up the trail with great anticipation for a day of spectacular wildlife viewing. 

Jim 4C4 - Pixabay

This summer, while watching white-crowned sparrows, pine siskins and Cassin's finches feeding on the sunflower seeds we’d scattered on the rail of the cabin porch, I had the experience of a black-capped chickadee eating out of my hand as I sat, statue-like, palm out, lifted and flat.

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.

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