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Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) Trochilidae, male

Missoula, MT
May 31, 2017
Robert Niese

I spent a whole weekend trying to photograph Calliopes visiting this feeder, but they refused to participate. The RUHUs on the other hand, tolerated my presence much more and were happy to pose for me. This male was so aggressive he nearly chased me away from his feeder! How does such a tiny animal possess so much spunk?!

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Sisyrinchium montanum “Montana Strict Blue-eyed-grass” Iridaceae

Missoula, MT
May 27, 2017
Robert Niese

It’s easy to miss these little, unassuming members of the iris family. As their name suggests, at first glance they look very much like grass, but their showy purple blooms give them away quickly. Various species of Blue-eyed-grass grow throughout North America, where they tend to be found in wet or vernally wet meadows, grasslands, and irrigation ditches. I’ve been walking by these plants every day for months, but I didn’t even notice until they started to bloom!

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Polemonium micranthum “Annual Jacob’s-ladder” Polemoniaceae

Missoula, MT
April 16, 2017
Robert Niese

These abundant, weedy Jacob’s Ladders are often found growing among other equally small, white-flowered annuals like StellariaArabidopsisCapsella, and Cardamine. Unlike many members of those other weedy genera, Polemonium micranthum is a native and not quite as abundant. I certainly would have passed right over it, had I not been on my hands and knees searching for a timid jumping spider. It’s a new species to me!

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Bohemian Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus) Bombycillidae

Missoula, MT
April 18, 2017
Robert Niese

In early April, waxwings were migrating through town in the thousands. They paused in freshly blooming trees to gorge on buds and, in this case, last year’s fruits before continuing their trek northward. The noise and mess they created was astounding! I loved waking up to the roar of their high pitched calls. This flock consisted of around 600 Bohemian Waxwings and a few dozen Cedar Waxwings. The easiest way to tell them apart (for me, at least) is by their vent and under-tail colors. Bohemians have a rufous under-tail and a gray vent while Cedars have a gray-white under-tail and a pale yellow vent.

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Mentzelia laevicaulis “Giant Blazingstar” Loasaceae

Missoula, MT
July 19, 2016
Robert Niese

This family of plants is completely new to me and it had me stumped for months after I first photographed it blooming under a full moon! Blazingstars, also known as Evening-stars and Moon Flowers, are so named because their flowers tend to open in late afternoon and evening, attracting a variety of pollinators including nocturnal insects like hawkmoths. They have a widespread distribution east of the Cascades, but are fairly uncommon. Here in Montana, two species of Mentzelia are considered species of concern due to their rarity.

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Siphlonurus phyllis, Siphlonuridae, male

Missoula, MT
May 9, 2017
Robert Niese

I know relatively little about aquatic macro-invertebrates, but they are a very well-studied group of organisms due to their importance in understanding stream ecology and health. Fly fishermen are also avid naturalists of these bugs. I’ve met anglers who follow the hatch dates and times of aquatic insects more closely than manic listing birders! Apparently, this genus of mayfly is one of only a few that swarms by the thousands here in the west.

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Sisyrinchium montanum “Montana Strict Blue-eyed-grass” Iridaceae

Missoula, MT
May 27, 2017
Robert Niese

It’s easy to miss these little, unassuming members of the iris family. As their name suggests, at first glance they look very much like grass, but their showy purple blooms give them away quickly. Various species of Blue-eyed-grass grow throughout North America, where they tend to be found in wet or vernally wet meadows, grasslands, and irrigation ditches. I’ve been walking by these plants every day for months, but I didn’t even notice until they started to bloom!

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Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) Trochilidae, male

Missoula, MT
June 12, 2016
Robert Niese

Just as the sun is setting, this hummingbird feeder becomes a hub of activity. We can have as many as 12 individuals feeding all at once! I love it! In addition to RUHUs, we also see many Calliopes and some Black-chinned hummers here.

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Calligrapha verrucosa “Warty Willow Leaf Beetle” Chrysomelidae

Missoula, MT
May 26, 2016
Robert Niese

I couldn’t decide which photo i liked best, so I had to post another portrait shot of this lovely beetle. The genus name “Calligrapha” is a reference to the beautiful calligraphic script on the backs of many species. This species’s coloration is not quite as script-like, but it definitely still appears painted. These beetles are most common in the Northern Rockies of Montana, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, but, according to some older sources, their range is far broader, stretching from Nebraska to California to Alaska. If you have photographs of these beetles please contact me to supplement our scientific understanding of their distribution

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Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) Trochilidae, male

Missoula, MT
June 12, 2016
Robert Niese

Male RUHUs are probably the first hummingbirds to arrive here in Montana in the spring. They are our most aggressive hummingbirds and will chase anything that gets too close to their territories. Look for them in moist or riparian woods throughout the Pacific Northwest from April to September. In Western Washington, males will arrive with the first blooms of Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) and Indian Plum (Oemleria cerasiformis) in late February and March.