MTPR

birds

Clark's Nutcracker
Ryan Mitchell (CC-BY-2.0)

As a bird biologist who studies bird songs, I immediately recognize most sounds I come across in nature: the winnowing of a Wilson’s Snipe, the smack of a Dark-eyed Junco, the zee-chubbity-chub of a Rufous Hummingbird, just to name a few. For me it is a matrix of sound, as diverse and varied as the surrounding landscape. When I hear a strange sound in nature, I can’t give up until I determine its source.

Western meadowlark.
Kevin Cole (CC-BY-2 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

It’s spring in the Rocky Mountains, the air is filled with birdsong and my feathered neighbors are back again. Recently, a pair of American robins arrived and set up housekeeping in the neighbor’s maple tree, just as a pair did last year. There’s a song sparrow in residence again in the lilacs near the creek, belting out its bubbling song. Riding my bike to work takes me past a small field, and sure enough, there’s a western meadowlark back again singing from the same telephone pole and claiming that field for his own.

Flickr user, Ingrid Taylar (CC-BY-2.0)

I’m not sure if I’ve ever been on a river, at any time of year, and not seen a Great Blue Heron. They seem to stand as solitary sentries on the rivers of Montana, but also on rivers from Canada to South America.

Burnt snags in western Montana
Josh Burnham (CC-BY-NC-2)

One of my favorite places to look in the forest is up. I love the way trees frame patches of sky, and how rays of sun slide over the branches and slant into pockets of darkness. On a recent stroll through the woods near Echo lake, I found myself, as usual, looking up. I saw mostly fir and birch trees, and I took their narrow trunks and modest heights as signs of a young forest. But it was a much older tree that caught my eye.

'Field Notes' Investigates Gizzard Grit

Jan 14, 2019
Ruffed Grouse
Flickr user tuchodi (CC-BY-2)

Afternoon sunshine was softening into twilight on a recent fall day as I drove with my family down a forest road in the mountains north of Missoula. We were heading home after a day of hiking and grouse hunting—and we had a blue grouse to roast for dinner. We rounded a bend to find a covey of seven ruffed grouse, milling about in the road and pecking at the gravelly surface. What were they doing?

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