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 Gall Of Aspens: Poplar Twig Gall Flies

Apr 12, 2020
Poplar twig galls
Eli Sagor (CC BY-NC 2.0)

"Is not disease the rule of existence? There is not a lily pad floating on the river but has been riddled by insects. Almost every shrub and tree has its gall, oftentimes esteemed its chief ornament and hardly to be distinguished from the fruit. If misery loves company, misery has company enough. Now, at midsummer, find me a perfect leaf or fruit." - Henry David Thoreau, journal entry, September 1851

The Teamwork Of Late Winter: Bird Flocks

Apr 5, 2020
A Bohemian waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus) puffs its feathers, April 2011, Glacier National Park, MT
David Restivo, National Park Service. (PD)

Except when mating and nesting, bohemian and cedar waxwings are simply highly social birds. They seek food and water supplies large enough for the entire flock. They will sometimes dispatch a few birds at a time out of a larger flock to a food source, rather than allow a frenzied competition of individuals.

Jupiter and one of it 79 moons, Io, whose shadow eclipsed the sun, September 2019
Pixabay

As I get my first view through the eyepiece, I am met by a dazzling brightness. I am now looking not up but down onto the cloud tops of another world. My eye adjusts to the bright image and I begin to perceive the tan belts and gray wisps of the stormy Jovian atmosphere. Then I see it. It is what I had hoped to witness tonight, and it explains why only three of Galileo's moons are visible.

The Raven's Labor-Saving Device: A Squirrel

Mar 15, 2020
common raven
Alexas Fotos (Pixabay)

Staring out a window while avoiding my to-do list for the day, a squirrel and a raven presented me with a peculiar sight. I observed the squirrel going from spot to spot, digging up seeds in the snow with a raven following close behind. As the squirrel worked its way through the snow, the raven would follow it and move in to inspect the squirrel’s findings. The raven had realized that a squirrel digging through the snow means food, and it was using the squirrel as its personal food finder.

Hibernating ladybugs (Coccinellidae)
Flickr user, Jason (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Every autumn I begin to wonder: where do all the bugs go? Unlike people, and other warm-blooded critters that can maintain a consistent internal temperature, insects cannot. So, you might wonder, what do insects do to survive the cold?

Snow-Making 101

Mar 1, 2020
Flickr user, Dawn Perry (CC-BY-NC-2.0)

Few things brighten a typical Montana winter day like a little snowfall. Right when you feel that you can't take another grey day, a couple of inches of heaven fall to raise your spirits. But just how do these floating flakes come to be? Snow obviously comes from clouds, but not just any cloud.

How To Eat Lunch, Not Be Lunch: Safety In Numbers

Feb 23, 2020
Ryan Hagerty, U.S.F.W.S.

Horses, bighorn sheep and mule deer all coming together in the same place, using the same trails. What is so special about this place? This little patch of ground, where trails converge, is where the need to avoid predators comes into balance with the need to eat.

River otters in winter
Flickr user, USFWSMidwest (CC-BY-2.0)

What happens to otters in winter when the lake is frozen, I wondered. Does the family stay together or disperse? Do otters have any special survival strategies to get through the cold times?

How Do Ants Keep Warm In Winter?

Feb 9, 2020
red wood ant mound
Thue (PD)

On a recent stroll around a local bird refuge, I was struck by the appearance of a large ants’ nest, covered with a thatch of pine needles. The type of ants who construct these nests are called “mound builders,” and this particular mound was made by red wood ants. What do they do to survive the cold, I wondered?

Kristamonique (Pixabay)

Walking in a heavy snowstorm at night is one of my favorite ways to experience winter. There is something quite magical about being wrapped in the hug of falling snow. Snowflakes land delicately and melt on the tip of my nose. The trees are covered in a lacy latticework of icy crystals. The world slows down for a while and becomes quiet, save for the scrape of shovels on driveways and sidewalks, or the thwop of snow as it slides en masse from roof to yard.

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