Group Trip to Blair Lake

The group following the narrow trail through the meadow. Lilies and lovage abound.

Last Friday (August 5), I helped lead a field trip to Blair Lake with Molly Juillerat, Middle Fork Ranger District botanist. It was a lovely day and very relaxing for me, especially not having to drive—Molly and two other Forest Service employees, Kate and Anna, took care of that. There were lots of flowers in bloom. The brightest and most noticeable plant was subalpine spiraea (Spiraea splendens). Its gorgeous bright pink flowers lined the road. A few hybrids (called S. xhitchcockii) between this species and the later blooming hardhack (Spiraea douglasii) were evident. These are somewhat cone-shaped—an intermediate form between the relatively flat tops of splendens and the narrow wands of douglasii. There were also multitudes of tiger lilies (Lilium columbianum), always a favorite. Since one of my fascinations is plants that close part of the day, I watched carefully as the pretty blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium idahoense) seemed much more abundant after a few hours. I’ve waited before for them to open so I could photograph them. It seems they are late risers, preferring to keep their petals closed up until around noon. Until then, they are much harder to spot.

Alpine meadow groundsel would disappear among the taller wetland plants except for its cheerful flowers, borne singly at the top of a long stem.

We followed the trail to the wetter parts of the meadow, looking at both white bog orchid (Platanthera dilatata) and the uncommon sparse-flowered bog orchid (Platanthera sparsiflora). We’d already found some of the more common slender bog orchid (Platanthera stricta) growing in a creek near the road. This always strikes me as a poor common name, in our area at least, because it is a much more substantial plant than sparsiflora, which really is slender. A pale swallowtail was drinking from the white bog orchids, flitting from flower to flower, making it very hard to get what would make a beautiful photograph. I was happy to see that the little yellow daisy-like flowers of alpine meadow groundsel (now Packera subnuda, formerly Senecio cymbalarioides) was in bloom. This alpine species rarely makes it into the Western Cascades, and Blair is one of only a few sites I’ve seen it at. I’m always trying to get a better photograph of it as the flowers stand way above the small, toothed leaves, which are usually hidden by other foliage. While lunching in the shade, we were joined by a handsome but busy great arctic, a large brown butterfly with cryptic coloring on its underside. These are not as common as I would expect from a species that is supposed to use grasses as its host food plant.

A congregation of different species of blues including greenish, silvery, western tailed, and Boisduval’s

After lunch, we headed over to the lake, and the group split up. Several of us followed a trail through the campground to a picnic table on the northwest side of the lake. While no one was eating at the table, the ground below proved to be a wonderful dining area for both butterflies and moths. There were quite a number of blues puddling in the damp soil in one small area. Several Lorquin’s admirals and a checkerspot or two were there at first, but they didn’t seem to like company, unlike the blues who were so intent on their meal, they didn’t mind having numerous photos taken of them. What really surprised me was underneath the table, staying in the shade, there were as many as twenty pretty black and white moths at one time also apparently puddling. I know little about moths, but I’ve never observed this behavior before. I could have stayed there a while longer watching this bunch, but we had to head back early to return the Forest Service vehicles before closing. But it was still a very pleasant day with a great group of flower and butterfly lovers, and I’m glad the Middle Fork district is sponsoring these trips now. Thank you Molly!

Day-flying black moths (Rheumaptera sp.) enjoying the damp soil under the picnic table.

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