26 February 2010

Weekly Round-Up February 26th

Can you believe February is almost over? Based on the weather, can you believe it was ever February at all?

All of us at MNHC are getting excited for the weekend (which for some of us, starts on Sunday). We are dog-tired but thrilled at all the great programming we put on this week - everything from Teachers' Workshops to Center Visits to Evening Lectures to the Master Naturalist classes. This week had it all!

Wednesday brought us an awesome lecture by University of Montana student Shannon Hilty about her research on pikas. Shannon has monitored pikas all over the Bitterroot region and is studying their habitat patterns.

These adorable little creatures are potential forecasters of rising temperatures. Due to their high sensitivity to heat, pikas are believed by some biologists to be an early-warning indicator of climate change in their habitats. Shannon is working on estimating the pika population in the Bitterroots and identifying the range of elevation they tolerate. Her research will eventually help biologists determine if there is a correlation between pika movement and climate change.

As we get ready for the weekend, take a look at the following interesting links:

Looking for a pair of ostrich boots? The Fish and Wildlife Service is auctioning off exotic contraband in Texas this week.

The Missoula Independent reports on the mysteries surrounding Colorado's first potential wolf pack in 70 years.

Montana Snowbowl is hosting its annual Gelande Championship this weekend. Think of it as Missoula's answer to the Olympics.

Our friends at Montana Wildlife Gardener profile the building of an outdoor grill shed. Burgers anyone?

That's it for now! If you have any news or would like to share pictures of your adventures in the Montana outdoors, please email us at office (@) montananaturalist.org. We want to hear from you!

Have a great weekend everyone! Have as much fun as this elk calf, in a video sent to us by friend of MNHC Ellen!

19 February 2010

Spotlight On...Bearberry

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
Ericaceae (Heath Family)
What's in a Name?  
The scientific name of Bearberry is quite literal:  Arcto and ursi both mean "bear", while staphyle and uva indicate "grapes" (or berries).  Not surprisingly, bears are quite fond of this fruit!  Also known as Kinnikinnick, from an Algonquin word meaning "item for mixing in" (to a smoking blend).

Quick ID:  
Look for Bearberry growing in dense, trailing mats along the forest floor.  It's one of our few broadleaf evergreens, with leaves that stay on all winter.  The paddle-like leaves are small (1-3 cm), leathery, and dark glossy green-turning reddish as winter moves in.  
Dainty pink-and-white flowers cluster in racemes at branch tips.  
Fruits are bright red, appearing in late summer and hanging on well into the winter.  

Found on well-drained foothill, montane, subalpine and alpine sites from Alaska to New Mexico.  Click here for MT range map. 

Bearberry has been used as a food source throughout history.  The berries are dry, mealy and bland.  Bearberry tea is widely used for many medical ailments, most notably for treating urinary tract infections and kidney stones.  However, ingesting too much can lead to constipation, and extended use has been linked to stomach and liver problems (esp. in children) and uterine contractions in pregnant women.
Bearberry leaves are high in tannin and can be used to tan hides.

Wild gardening:  
An excellent groundcover, particularly for dry sites and steep slopes.  It is tolerant of heat and cold (Zone 2-8), drought, and sun or shade.  Long-lived but slow-growing, Bearberry has no serious disease or pest problems.  Berries provide wintertime forage for birds and other wildlife.  Flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds.  The plant is a larval host for Rocky Mountain Clearwing (Hemaris senta) moths, Hoary Elfin (Callophrys polios), Brown Elphin (Callophrys augustinus), and Freija Frittilary (Boloria freija) butterflies.

Spotlight On... features Montana native plants that are currently on display in our natural areas.  Have a plant that you'd like to see featured?  Let us know!

18 February 2010

First Friday at MNHC a Smashing Success!

A few weeks ago the Natural History Center held its first ever First Friday event! The Center is lucky enough to host the Glacier Centennial Art show this month, which is traveling all across the state this year in celebration of Glacier National Park's Centennial. From photographs to oil paintings to jewelry, the fourteen pieces of art showcase the diverse interpretations of Glacier's natural beauty. The art will eventually be auctioned off later this year, with proceeds to benefit Glacier National Park's non-profit partners.

Ancient Quiet, Photograph
Bret Bouda 

View from the Backyard, Linocut
Kelly Apgar

The Crown Jewels, Dye on Silk
Nancy Cawdrey

Of course you must understand why we had to throw a little shindig to show off this collection. A well-placed story in the Missoulian combined with a special visit by Glacier National Park Superintendent Chas Cartwright attracted quite the crowd!  The Superintendent gave a nice speech while visitors nibbled on hors d'oeuvres and sipped wine. After the speech, guests stayed on eating, drinking and admiring the art well into the night. After such success, there may be more First Friday events to come!

Jessie, our Community Programs Coordinator, welcomes visitors to the Center

If you haven't yet visited us to check out the collection, you still have until the end of the month to catch it! Come down to the Center at 120 Hickory Street any time from 12-5 on Tuesday-Friday or 12-4 on Saturdays.

16 February 2010

The spring 2010 Montana Master Naturalist Course is beginning, and 25 eager students are setting out to learn about the natural history of western Montana. They will learn to look, to see, to ask questions, to find answers. They will make note of the birds and trees and insects they see. They are beginning (or continuing!) a journey of exploration and discovery, and we look forward to their insights and observations, some of which will be noted here.