Xanthoria polycarpa “Pincushion Xanthoria”

Council Grove State Park, MT
March 16, 2015
Robert Niese

This lichen is relatively common on the old twigs of Populus and Pinus in open, nutrient-enriched areas (e.g. cow pastures) of the PNW. On angiosperm twigs, they tend to grow in a small pincushion-like form no more than 25mm across.

Populus tremuloides “Quaking Aspen” Salicaceae

Council Grove State Park, MT
March 16, 2015
Robert Niese

We have several species of willows, aspens (well, one aspen), and poplars in the PNW that produce these adorable fuzzy flowers in the early spring. These compact “pussy-foot” catkins are very typical of willows (Salix), but Quaking Aspen produces a very similar inflorescence. The easiest way to tell the two apart is to look at the buds. In Aspen, you’ll see lots of overlapping bud scales while in willows, the buds are smooth and consist of a single, wrap-around scale.

Andrena “Mining Bee” Andrenidae
on Ranunculus glaberrimus “Sagebrush Buttercup” Ranunculaceae

Council Grove State Park, MT
March 16, 2015
Robert Niese

Andrena is one of the world’s largest genera of bees. There are probably only a few people in all of North America who possess the specialized knowledge necessary to make a reliable species identification. Andrena bees are remarkably cold tolerant and are some of the first small bee species to frequent flowers in the spring, although this little guy was clearly struggling with the chilly morning air.

Pygmy Nuthatch (Sitta pygmaea) Sittidae

Council Grove State Park, MT
March 16, 2015
Robert Niese

There are three species of Nuthatch in the Pacific Northwest, but the Pygmy Nuthatch is the only one endemic to our region. These birds are only found in the Rockies and inland Pacific Northwest. They are particularly fond of old Ponderosa Pine forests.

American Robin (Turdus migratorius) Turdidae  

Council Grove State Park, MT
March 16, 2015
Robert Niese

Although American Robins are one of North America’s most ubiquitous birds, there are a few things most people don’t know about these abundant creatures. For example, did you know that males and females show a slight dimorphism? Males tend to have blacker heads and redder breasts which females use as an indicator of the health of potential mates.

Syntrichia ruralis “Twisted Star Moss” Pottiales

Council Grove State Park, MT
March 16, 2015
Robert Niese

This is perhaps the most common moss in all of Montana. Syntrichia ruralis has a cosmopolitan distribution and occurs in a huge variety of habitat types. Its versatility and hardiness have made it an exceptional colonist of nearly every corner of the globe. 

Apis mellifera “European Honeybee” Apidae 
on Ranunculus glaberrimus “Sagebrush Buttercup” Ranunculaceae

Council Grove State Park, MT
March 16, 2015
Robert Niese

It’s warming up here in Missoula and spring may have sprung early! The first Ranunculus glaberrimus flowers bloomed around town in early February which is several weeks earlier than previous years. Today was even warm enough to bring out a few species of bees like this European Honeybee.