Another Great Wildlife Day

I haven’t been posting much lately. Partly, that is due to my winding down my botanizing as the flowers are also finishing their season. The other reason is that I’ve been exploring some High Cascade wetlands. In the last few weeks I’ve visited Gold Lake Bog, Blue Lake, Hand and Scott lakes, and some interesting unnamed bogs near Little Cultus Lake, an area I’d never investigated before. On Friday (September 14), however, I went back to one of my favorite haunts, and the last one I posted about: Hills Peak. I’ve been wanting to show Molly Juillerat (Middle Fork District botanist) the wonderful lake on the east side of the peak because it is home to lesser bladderwort, one of the rare species the Forest Service monitors (see the previous post). Molly was finally free after fires near Oakridge pulled her away from her other duties, and Nancy was also able to join us.

The sphagnum moss on the mounds by the lake takes on a gorgeous copper color as the summer fades.

This late in the year, I didn’t expect to see much still in bloom, but the wildlife was exciting enough to make up for the lack of colorful flowers. Probably the most thrilling for me was a beautiful brown-tinged bear that ran across Road 21 right in front of us. That was my first bear sighting of the year. It breaks my heart to know that some of these handsome creatures will not survive the coming hunting season. The Calapooyas especially will be overrun with hunters—I’ve already had my first encounter with bowhunters this season. I so wish they could be content to stalk the animals for photos and then just leave them in peace—I’m an idealist, I know.

This salmon has worked hard to get to this spot!

Molly had us stop at a bridge across the Middle Fork of the Willamette upstream where it is still merely a creek. There, below the bridge, were a number of large salmon. I know very little about fish, so this was exciting to see these amazing animals who travel such a long way to reach their spawning grounds. A dead fish floating upside down on the other side of the bridge was testament to the finality of this journey.  They seemed content swimming in place against the flow, but, every once in a while, one would suddenly nip at a nearby fish’s tail or dart under the bridge quickly before turning around and resuming its place. We watched them for a while. I bet the bear would like to have joined us. He might have just come from lunching on other salmon heading up river.

A blond Northern Pacific treefrog (Pseudacris regilla) in one of the small channels in the bog.

We also saw several deer and more chipmunks and squirrels along the road than I like to see, waiting to dart kamikaze style in front of us. When we arrived at the small wetland near the lake, Nancy saw some small animal, maybe a vole. She also found a snake skin that had been shed on one of the mossy mounds right by the lake. I occasionally see small garter snakes in these kind of wetlands, but this looked like it might have been larger than most of those. There were a great many small treefrogs all over the bog by the lake. They come in such an amazing variety of colors and patterns, ranging from dark brown to bright green to almost silver. They can be mostly one color or highly marked, but they always have the cute dark mask. At the smaller lake, we didn’t see any elk, but they had surely been there. Not only were there large hoof prints evident in the mud, but the stench of where they had bedded down could not be missed. At our final spot, the cliff area, we watched for pikas. I was busy studying the contents of one of the large pika hay caches and didn’t see any out and about, but thankfully my friends got to watch one on the other side of the talus. I did see one of the many golden-mantled ground squirrels, however, and with all the wildlife we saw over the day, I was not in any way disappointed.

Sitka clubmoss (Lycopodium sitchense) is smaller and much less common than ground-pine (Lycopodium clavatum).

The winged seeds of flatseed rockcress (Boechera howellii) are still attached to the wide silique.

While the animals were surely the highlights of the day, I did see some interesting plants. Although the seemingly random route we took over to the large lake on the east turned out to be almost identical to the one John and I took a few weeks earlier—we passed by the same patch of unusually short-leaved pink mountain-heather (Phyllodoce empetriformis)—last time I had apparently missed a large area of Sitka clubmoss (Lycopodium sitchense). This time the strobili (fertile parts) were ripe and covered with cream-colored spores (tap them and it looks like a puff of smoke), so it was much easier to spot. I usually see it near high elevation or more northern wetlands, such as Gordon Meadows. There were also a few one-flowered gentians (Gentianopsis simplex) still in bloom and the ones John and I saw last month were now in seed, something I’d wanted to collect. Surprisingly, there were also a few hooded ladies’ tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiana) still in bud, but all the starry ladies’ tresses (S. stellata) were finished. And I was very surprised to find a large population of flatseed rockcress (now Boechera howellii) in the level area at the bottom of the pika’s talus slope, not far from the sole western boneset, (Ageratina occidentalis), which was now in bloom. I’ve walked around this area half a dozen times. How I missed the rockcress before, I don’t know. While most were in seed, several were reblooming, with more buds on the way. The flowers start out white and turn dark purple; often both colors are on the plant at the same time. They are most easily recognized by their very wide siliques (seed pods). The extra width is to accommodate the large wing on the seeds. This is why I never mind returning to the same places over and over again—there’s always more to see!

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