Butterflies, Currants, Shooting Stars, and More

Another spring, another spectacular display of Jeffrey’s shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi) by Moon Lake

Yesterday (June 17), my plan was to try to get up to Groundhog Mountain to look for the Douglasia I found a couple of years ago (see Exciting Cliff at Groundhog Mountain). I knew it would be a challenge, as by the time the snow melts off the roads, the Douglasia, free of snow on its vertical rocky habitat, will most likely be finished. Last year’s heavy snowpack kept me from even trying, but this year, I hoped I might make it. Alas, I got stopped by snow less than a quarter of a mile from the turnoff to Waterdog Lake. Past that, I could see the road was completely clear until it turned around to the west side of the mountain. Walking from here would add 4 miles round trip to the hike—not an option for me right now. And driving in from the north side would be even more futile. So, maybe in another week or so I’ll try again. Even if the flowers are fading, it should make estimating the population on the inaccessible cliff a lot easier than it was in the fall when I first saw it.

While it isn’t terribly showy, cup clover’s interesting involucre is worth a closer look. Something else probably attracted the spider to these flowers.

The drive up the 9 or more miles of gravel road was not a waste at all, however. My day started off on the right foot within minutes of heading up Buck Creek Road 2120. I spotted some pretty Geranium oreganum on the roadbank. I’d never seen it in my many trips up this road, probably because this was the earliest I’d ever tried to get up to Groundhog Mountain. When I got out of the car to photograph it, I noticed the wet ditch was filled with clovers. I immediately recognized the large, fluted involucre as that of Trifolium cyathiferum—that’s what gives it the common name of cup clover. I’d never seen it before, but I knew that John Koenig had found it at Jim’s Oak Patch, less than 7 miles away, so I had looked it up. This is now the second site in Lane County. It appears to be more common to the south and on the east side of the Cascades.

A hoary comma finds nectar at an early blooming willow.

This spot also turned out to be the beginning of a big day for butterflies. There were several Boisduval’s blues and Arctic skippers, some checkerspots and an unlucky Mylitta crescent who fell victim to a crab spider. As I drove along the road, I passed a clodius parnassian and a couple of pale swallowtails, and scared up at least 4 mourning cloaks hanging out on the road. I even got a (poor) photo of a great arctic out the window of the car. When I reached the snowline, I got out of the car to admire a blooming male willow. It was about the only thing in bloom with all the snow. Drinking from its fuzzy flowers were a hoary comma and a brown elfin. Hopefully there’ll be more for them to nectar on pretty soon. When I headed over to Moon Point, my back up plan in case I couldn’t get to the west side of Groundhog, I saw many more commas, a red admiral, a Western tailed blue, some kind of a duskywing, a very pale sulphur that had me chasing it back and forth never quite able to get more than a distant photo. I had slightly better luck with a male Sara orangetip, one of many, who was nectaring from the abundant stream violets (Viola glabella) along the trail. Orangetips rarely sit still for long, so I was lucky to get any kind of a photo at all. I should just enjoy their company.

The variety of Ribes flowers seen on the trip. First column, top to bottom: lacustre, sanguineum, bracteosum, viscosissimum. Second column, top to bottom: binominatum, cereum, lobbii

After making many more stops for wonderful flowers blooming in wet ditches along the road, I finally arrived at Moon Point at 2pm. It was as lovely and fresh as it was when I went last year on July 6 (see Moon Point Melting Out), maybe even a little farther along with no snow anywhere. The first thing that struck me was how dry the trail was. Last year it might as well have been a creek bed. A trail crew had evidently been there recently and had cleared a lot of the overgrown shrubs. More importantly, they got the creeks that had started overflowing the trail back into their channels. Thanks again to those who maintain the trails.

As I had seen along the roads, it is Ribes season up here. Over the course of the day, I saw 8 species, all but one, Sierra gooseberry (Ribes roezlii), were in bloom. The latter is abundant along the cliffs by the reservoir. Stink currant (R. bracteosum) was the only one not at Moon Point, but was growing with its  “best friend”, salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) in one of the wet ditches on Road 2129. I find the currants and gooseberries especially interesting for their diversity. So many variations on a single theme. Ribes bracteosum has sharply pointed maple-like leaves and an unpleasant smell. Red-flowering currant (R. sanguineum) has soft leaves with rounded lobes, while wax currant (R. cereum) has almost fan-shaped leaves that are covered with a wax-like coating by the end of the summer. And the variations of their flowers are even more interesting. The sepals are the showiest part—sometimes the petals can hardly be seen. Some flowers are flat, some hang like a fuchsia. I love them all—even the gooseberries with their nasty spines. They are also a host food plant for the hoary comma, so it is no wonder there are so many flying in this area. I’ve seen their caterpillars on R. binominatum, lobbii, and viscosissimum, all blooming now at Moon Point. No caterpillars yet this season, but you can see a photo of one I took at Group Trip to Groundhog. There’s so much more to report, but I have to get ready to head out again!

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