Group Trip to Groundhog

Field trip participants exploring one of the many wet meadows near Groundhog Mountain. Diamond Peak is in the background.

Yesterday’s Forest Service field trip to Groundhog Mountain went well. As it was on Friday the 13th, I had been just a little superstitious. The crowd was much bigger than expected—17 or 18 I believe—but we managed to negotiate all the many car stops fairly well. And despite the heat in the Valley, at over 5000′ it was cooler, and there was a pleasant breeze, so we were pretty comfortable. There was plenty to see, and hopefully everyone enjoyed themselves and learned a few new plants and butterflies.

A caterpillar, most likely of a hoary comma, munching on the leaf of sticky currant (Ribes viscosissimum)

Our first stop was again to Waterdog Lake. Molly and I carefully showed everyone the tiny Botrychium simplex (known as least moonwort or little grapefern) that we had discovered on our prehike on Monday (see Awesome Day at Groundhog). Everyone seemed to be thrilled to see the masses of tadpoles and baby toads still congregated in and around the lake. We were pleased that there were many butterflies and dragonflies out and about as the trip was supposed to focus on butterflies as well as plants. While discussing how to ID the many currant and gooseberry species (Ribes spp.) in the area, I mentioned that they were the host food plant for some of the anglewing butterflies. One woman immediately responded by pointing out two caterpillars on the Ribes viscosissimum in front of us. Sure enough, those were exactly what I was talking about. I love it when things appear on cue like that.

The young flower stalks of round-leaved sundew were still unfurling.

We had lunch over by the wet meadow just north of Logger Butte. There are many sundews (Drosera rotundifolia) here, always an exciting plant to see on a field trip, and one I never get tired of looking at for their bizarre but beautiful leaves. The glistening droplets that top off the long red appendages on the leaves are deadly to passing insects and spiders, and we could see a number of them that had become trapped. The unusual ranger’s buttons (Sphenosciadium capitellatum) with its umbels of white pompoms had started to bloom. Most of the early plants including the masses of alpine laurel (Kalmia microphylla) here were long done. With Bruce Newhouse along for the trip, I was able to pepper him with questions about the many sedges in these wetlands and learned a few new ones. Thanks for your patience Bruce!

Female clodius parnassians have a white appendage called a sphragis which keeps them from mating more than once but doesn't seem to interfere with her laying eggs.

The section of Road 452 where the Monardella odoratissima blooms was full of butterflies. As I’d hoped, the warmer weather drew them out in much greater numbers than Molly and I had seen on Monday when it was relatively cool. We saw many blues—still largely northerns I think—checkerspots, pale swallowtails, several different species of coppers, and some fritillaries. There was one hedgerow hairstreak flying around near a large patch of Ceanothus velutinus (its caterpillar host plant) and teasing me by landing perfectly still in front of me and then flying up just as I pressed the shutter. It did this several times before tiring of the game and flying off. I never got a single picture of him. I did finally get a nice shot of a clodius parnassian laying eggs in and around her host food plant, bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa). I’d never witnessed this before and was interested in the fact that she didn’t lay all her eggs on the Dicentra but placed some on nearby plants and even a small rock. Unfortunately I had to choose between following her quick movements and keeping my eye on the egg locations. I chose to watch her and was unable to locate any of her eggs.

A Cascades frog (Rana cascadae) in the shallow water of the upper lake

We took a walk down the road that is reverted to a wetland. Andrew Mylko walked down part of the talus holding up the road to retrieve some trash and was rewarded by his first-ever sight of a pika. The rest of us enjoyed the lush plant life in the road and up on the slopes. I spotted something I’d missed earlier in the week, several patches of Arctic pearlwort (Sagina saginoides). It keeps popping up every week or so, no doubt the result of having a search image in my head now. It was getting late, but Molly and I really wanted everyone to get a chance to see the pretty shallow pond a little farther up road 452, so we made one last stop. It was good to see the fresh shooting stars, white violets, and elephant’s head, all of which had been finished everywhere else we went. Along with some of the tiny toads, we saw some frogs and larger tadpoles, probably those of the Cascades frog. I hope everyone else enjoyed the outing as much as I did. Thanks to all those who participated and shared their knowledge with everyone else on the trip!

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