Montana Public Radio

Montana Natural History Center

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.

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.

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.

Ceanothus: Life From The Kiss Of Fire

Sep 1, 2020
Ceanothus velutinus, a plant with more common names than zip codes in California.
Walter Siegmund (CC-BY-SA-3)

Thirty-plus years ago when I was studying wildlife management at Oregon State University, we learned that Ceanothus was a highly preferred forage plant for deer and elk during the winter. I knew that Ceanothus was the genus name of a large group of western shrubs and I even knew enough to recognize a few of the individual species back then.

How devastating are wildfires to deer and elk? Can most of them outrun or outflank a rapidly spreading fire? And what about the survivors when they return to a burned forest? Isn’t their habitat destroyed?

Black-footed ferret, Badlands National Park, SD
NPS - PD

When most people think of the threatened or endangered species of Montana, they tend to focus on the iconic animals of the West: the grizzly bear, the wolf or the Canadian lynx. But there's far less attention placed on the rarest Montana mammal and the only ferret species endemic to North America.

Pages