Montana Public Radio

Montana Natural History Center

'Fieldnotes:' Forces Of Nature

Jul 4, 2020
Pixabay - RÜŞTÜ BOZKUŞ

I feel the stress from the week lift off my shoulders as I breathe in the scent of ponderosa pine. Today, I have no papers to write, tests to take, or meetings to attend. This is my time to relax in the Montana wilderness. Even though I know that spending time in nature always makes me feel better, I don’t always take the time to immerse myself in it.

Red fox
Erik Karits (Pixabay)

I know that gully.  It’s full of secrets, hidden under the downfall, in the hawthorne trees, or in woodpecker holes that riddle the twisted old aspens. I love looking for treasures there: the signs of birds or animals or insects who find a home there or respite from the heat of a prairie summer. ... But I did not do it.

Pixabay

Nectarless orchids are masters of mimicry and can appear and smell identical to other nectar-rich orchids. Thus, they draw pollinators into their flower, and then the forced pollination begins. Certain orchids shoot sticky balls of pollen at their pollinators. Others are known to intoxicate the pollinators so that they fall into a chamber inside, and in taking the path out, they become covered in pollen.

You May Be Tough, But You're Not Tardigrade-Tough

Jun 9, 2020
Dr. Diane Nelson, N.P.S. (PD)

It’s early summer time in the Northern Rockies, a time for some bears to go into a hibernation-like state.  Yes, you heard that right: bears that hibernate in the summer.  What kind of bears are these, you might ask?  They are the waterbears, also known as tardigrades.

Why Do Red Crossbills Have Scissor-Like Bills?

May 31, 2020
Red crossbill (Loxia curvirostra)
Pixabay

As winter faded into spring and the last remnants of snow remained in shadowy patches atop higher peaks, I wandered into the Rattlesnake Wilderness, outside of Missoula, Montana.  The air was filled with male songbirds singing to attract a mate for the season. The crackling call of the corvid, the rasp of the chickadee, and the delicate honk of the red-breasted nuthatch were giving way to the springtime calls of warblers and thrushes. 

Lazuli bunting, Oakland, CA
Doug Greenberg (CC-BY-NC-2.0)

There are poems on the wing upon the mountainsides – fraught with beauty and peril.  A female bunting with grass in her mouth is one such poem. In May, lazuli buntings return to the mountains and valleys of Montana.  Lazuli – stone of azure, jewel of the sky.  As spring ripens into summer, the males with their blue hoods and russet breast bands sing from atop shrubs and trees, and begin the rite of passion.

'Field Notes' Takes The Mystery Out Of Mushrooms

May 10, 2020
Mushrooms
(PD)

Throughout the human history of traipsing the earth in search of edibles, mushrooms have undoubtedly been the least understood and most feared flora in the forests of the world. Early Greeks and Romans thought most mushrooms were sinister, evil things. They associated them with dark, damp areas of decay and often depicted mushrooms in the company of snakes or toads, two key ingredients in witches’ cauldrons.

Where Rocky Mountain wood ticks live
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (PD)

Spring has hit western Montana in full force. Days are longer than nights, temperatures are warming, and the snow is gone for the lower elevations. Animals that live here throughout the year, but become quiescent during the long, cold winters, are once again warm, active, and searching for their first meals of the spring. Such an animal is the Rocky Mountain wood tick, one of approximately 825 species of ticks known in the world, which as a group feeds solely on the blood of terrestrial vertebrates.

Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) in Potts Grove, Pennsylvania, USA. Female on nest.
Flickr user, Audrey. (CC-BY 2.0)

While glancing out my window the other day, I noticed a killdeer in my neighbor’s unpaved gravel driveway. I was reminded of the first time that I noticed a killdeer when I was a child. As I was walking up our gravel driveway, my attention was drawn to a killdeer in distress. The bird appeared to have a broken wing. Insistently and loudly repeating its name in call, it staggered forward, hugging the ground, with one of its wings distended as if broken.

Geralt-Pixabay

I consider myself to be a fairly normal human. Ten fingers, ten toes, two ears. Made up of thousands of different cells. Oh, and of all the cells in and on my body, the human cells are outnumbered tenfold by bacterial cells.

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