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Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) Icteridae

April 2, 2016
Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge, MT
Robert Niese

The Western Meadowlark performs a lovely metallic flute-like song throughout the spring and summer. Its Eastern counterpart, on the other hand, has a much flatter, whistled song. Easter and Western Meadowlarks are so similar in appearance that until quite recently they were considered the same species. Since the Eastern species was discovered and named first, the Western, when it finally gained full species distinction, became known as the “neglected” meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta). This species is one of the 37 (including subspecies) named by John James Audubon throughout his career as one of  America’s first ornithologists.

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Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides) Turdidae

National Bison Range, MT
April 2, 2016
Robert Niese

Most birds that posses such striking blue plumage typically get these gorgeous colors from tiny air pockets inside the feathers that scatter light in a way that makes them appear blue. Learn more.

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Pandemis pyrusana “Pandemis Leafroller Moth” Tortricidae

Clinton, MT
July 25, 2015
Robert Niese

Pandemis leafrollers are common in the west and are considered a pest on commercial apple, cherry, plum, and pear trees. As larvae, they roll up the sides of leaves into a tube along the mid-vein creating a shelter from predators. Larvae born early in the summer will pupate inside these shelters, but late summer larvae overwinter under bark before emerging to feed on fresh buds in the early spring. In addition to feeding on commercial fruit trees, this species is also known to chow down on alder (Alnus), willow (Salix), birch (Betula), dogwood (Cornus), aspen (Populus tremuloides), currants (Ribes), roses (Rosa), and honeysuckle (Lonicera), all of which are very common here in western Montana.

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Polypodium calirhiza “California Licorice Fern” Polypodiaceae

Mt. Tamalpais State Park, Marin County, CA
December 29, 2015
Robert Niese

P. calirhiza is a hybrid of the California Polypody (P. californicum) and Licorice Fern (P. glycyrrhiza) that was formally recognized as a separate species in 1991. These hybrids persist as a unique species because of their doubled chromosome number (2n=148 instead of 74) which produces sterile back-crosses (2n=111). Speciation by this sort of genome duplication event is surprisingly common among plants. In coastal California, all three species often occur side-by-side, but P. californicum does not grow on other plants (as seen here) and P. glycyrrhiza has rhizomes with a pleasant, sweet licorice flavor (P. calirhiza has a disappointingly sweet, even acrid taste). This hybrid polypody occurs throughout California, north to Oregon, west of the Cascades and Sierras.

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Myosotis latifolia “Broadleaf Forget-me-not” Boraginaceae

Mt. Tamalpais State Park, Marin County, CA
December 29, 2015
Robert Niese

This is not a species of Myosotis that we regularly encounter here in the PNW. It’s a common garden species, however, and some manage to occasionally escape cultivation. Coastal California is particularly rife with these escapees. They can be found in most moist, disturbed coastal habitats between Monterrey and Humboldt.

Niebla spp. “Fog Lichen”

Mt. Tamalpais State Park, Marin County, CA
December 29, 2015
Robert Niese

So far in my brief foray into lichenology, I have yet to encounter a fungus so hotly debated as the “Niebla” fog lichens (members of a complex of “Ramalina-like” maritime lichens). Rather than venture an opinion as to the identity of these species (or just one species?), I’ll just leave the name at the genus level (although even THAT is debatable). For those of you interested, various parties claim everything from 1 to 42 to 100s of species of Niebla occur on Pacific Coasts of North America. Most agree, however, that diversity is much lower north of Baja California and the Channel Islands, and that the PNW is only home to one (N. cephalota) or, at most, three species. Although some sources state that no species occur north of Humboldt County, CA…

Hypogymnia heterophylla “Seaside Bone Lichen”

Mt. Tamalpais State Park, Marin County, CA
December 29, 2015
Robert Niese

A true coastal species, H. heterophylla is regularly found along the Pacific from California’s North Coastal Redwood Forests through British Columbia. There are three species with a similar growth habit found west of the Cascades. H. heterophylla is characterized by having many dichotomous branches that occur at 45 degrees, forming a series of perpendicular branch patterns. Another species, H. imshaugii, rarely has a similar branching pattern but, when broken open, H. imshaugii has white interiors while H. heterophylla has black interiors. A third species, H. inactiva, also has a similar growth habit and dark interiors, but rarely exhibits perpendicular branches. While both H. imshaugii and H. inactiva are found east to Montana and Idaho, H. heterophylla is restricted to coastal forests only.