Pollinator Party at Grizzly Peak

Great spangled fritillary

Great spangled fritillary on double delphinium (see next post for more on the delphiniums!)

My last trip of the year to Grizzly Peak turned out to be more about insects than plants. I can’t remember ever seeing such a variety of insects in one day. Kelley and I should have realized what a good insect day it was going to be when we met a bee expert in the parking area as soon as we arrived. We had seen some enormous bumble bees on our previous trip in late June, so we were sure he was in the right place for his research.

Along with bees, Grizzly Peak is an excellent site to look for butterflies. We saw quite a few as we passed through the various habitats. The gorgeous and statuesque Delphinium glaucum might not appear to be attractive to butterflies, but large butterflies that can reach their proboscis into the long spurs seemed exceedingly pleased with the stands blooming in openings in the woods near the beginning of the trail. We saw Western tiger swallowtails, anise swallowtails, great spangled fritillaries—both the golden brown males and the striking females with their deep chocolate brown and contrasting cream-bordered wings. There were even a few skippers and a clearwinged bee-like moth.

female blue copper on Eriogonum sphaerocephalum

My favorite of the day were the lovely female blue coppers. Their caterpillar host plant is Eriogonum, no shortage of sustenance for them there with four different species. The most unusual is Eriogonum sphaerocephalum, an East side plant. It is found in the burned western end of the summit. The female coppers were nectaring on these buckwheats. I love the subtle beauty of both of their gold-tinged colors and how they work so well together. The female, like many coppers, is brown on top, while the upperside of the stunning male is vibrant blue. You can tell the male blue copper from true blues by the prominent black veins across the blue.

Ericameria nauseosa

Ericameria hosting a pollinator party

In the rock garden area that looks south at Mount Shasta, we came upon a velvet ant. These little creatures look like furry, golden ants, but, surprisingly, they are actually wasps, and they apparently deliver a vicious sting. It’s a good thing that, like rattlesnakes, they’d rather run than fight, or Kelley might have been in some serious pain trying to corral one so we could get a better look at it and so I could photograph it. Obviously, we didn’t know what we were dealing with at the time. Only the females are wingless. They are solitary and like dry rocky or sandy areas where they lay their eggs in the nests of other wasps so their larvae can parasitize them. Ick. Guess that’s why I found one running around my rock garden once. Unfortunately, this one proved way too fast for me, and my only photo was out of focus.

pollinators

How many insects can you spot?

Easily the highlight of the day was when we crashed a huge pollinator party—a veritable bug convention gathered on a single Ericameria nauseosa. It was the first rabbitbrush in the area to open, and it seemed every insect in the area was feasting on this late-blooming treat. Neither of us had ever seen anything like this and remained transfixed for a half hour. There were numerous species of butterflies, skippers, moths, bees, ants, beetles, wasps, and grasshoppers—nearly every flower had at least one insect, and many were quite crowded. Presumably there were many more too small for us to see. No doubt some of them were eating the pollen rather than dispersing it, but clearly this plant was doing something right.

Syanthedon moth

pretty clearwing moth

One of the beautiful little mystery insects is a tiny moth. With the help of a website for moths I found (Moth Photographers Group), I narrowed this down to genus. It is a Synanthedon, some of them are called clearwings. This one’s wings are damaged, but the lower ones do appear to have transparent areas in another photo. They are agricultural pests, but I think they are very pretty. The wasps were quite fascinating as well, many had extremely narrow waists and quite a bit of red coloring. No yellowjackets however.

What a terrific day. While I always have some goals in mind—photographing a particular flower perhaps or checking out an outcrop I haven’t explored yet—I never know what I’m going to come across. It is a great feeling to be open to the experience. My days up in the mountains are about the only time I seem to be able to really be in the moment. Maybe that’s why it is such a great high for me.

For more information on Grizzly Peak, read this terrific article in the Native Plant Society of Oregon’s Kalmiopsis by NPSO member Jim Duncan who has spent years exploring this wonderful mountain.

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