Montana Public Radio

Montana Natural History Center

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.

Truffles, Trees And — Squirrels?

Apr 7, 2019
Truffle With A Squirrel Bite
FLICKR USER, SCOTT DARBEY (CC-BY-2.0)

Walking through the woods recently, I saw a red squirrel digging in the litter of the forest floor. I assumed it was burying a pine cone, but on closer inspection I found a piece of mushroom. Little did I know I was witnessing a process critical to the survival of a forest.

Do Bobcats Kill Deer? 'Field Notes' Investigates

Mar 26, 2019
Bobcat kittens
Summer M. Tribble (CC-BY-SA)

Bobcats are relatively common in patchy habitats all across the U.S., but we don’t see them often because they are crepuscular or nocturnal and well camouflaged. But after a recent bobcat sighting, I'll be on the lookout for bobcats much more than I have before.

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.

Snow Fleas
FLICKR USER, LINDSEY (CC-BY-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?

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?

Bull trout
flickr/USFWS Headquarters

In the beginning, the idea of global warming was easy for me to ignore. Of course I found the footage of floating polar bears distressing, but the ice caps seemed far away, and scientists seemed even farther from any real answers.

Why No Two Snowflakes Look Alike

Dec 24, 2018
(PD)

You know the old saying “no two snowflakes are alike”? Well, there may be more truth to that than you think. I am from Hillsboro, Oregon, where the snow falls in wet, indistinguishable clumps. When I moved to Montana, I immediately noticed a difference.

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