Triple Treat up the McKenzie

Left) A very fresh brown elfin on a male Sitka willow flower. Right) A echo (spring) azure on a female Sitka willow flower.

Left) A very fresh brown elfin (the purple scales don’t last long) on a male Sitka willow flower. Right) An echo (spring) azure on a female Sitka willow flower.

With the warm spring weather beckoning, Sabine and I headed up the McKenzie Highway on Wednesday (April 30) to see how the bloom was coming along in several favorite sites. Our first stop was to the main wetland at Ikenick Creek. I’d never been there anywhere near this early, and although there were lots of spring flowers on last spring’s early June trip (see The Stars are Shining at Ikenick Creek), I was a bit late for the willows. This year, I wanted to try to catch this area at the very beginning of the season. A few remnants of snow along the north-facing side of the road indicated it was indeed early here. The air was fantastic—so fresh and not hot yet. As soon as we got out of the car, we saw some blooming sitka willow (Salix sitchensis) by the roadside that was serving breakfast to a number of insects, including several brown elfins and echo (formerly spring) azures—an auspicious start to the day!

Sierra willow (Salix eastwoodiae) female (left) and male (right). Willows make good nectar plants in early spring when little else is available.

Sierra willow (Salix eastwoodiae) female (left) and male (right). Willows make good nectar plants in early spring when little else is available.

We made our way through the woods on the east side, trying to stay within sight of the open wetland so we could spot the small lake. We really didn’t need to see it because a chorus of frogs was singing rapturously from the vicinity of the lake. Only a few violets were blooming in the woods, but we did see a pretty oval-leaf huckleberry (Vaccinium ovalifolium) near the edge. Its pale pink flowers precede the leaves. They had attracted a green comma, but I couldn’t get a clear photo of it. My goal was to head out into the wetland just south of the lake to where I had seen some interesting willows last fall. While it looked quite wet, the ground was actually solid enough here to walk on (in rubber boots). Most of the many shrubs were still in bud, including mountain alder (Alnus incana), Douglas’ hawthorn (Crataegus [suksdorfii] gaylussacia), and lots of very delicate Geyer’s willow (Salix geyeriana). I was really pleased to find several Sierra willow (Salix eastwoodiae) coming into bloom. This was exactly what I was looking for. Several females plants were in bloom, while a few male plants were in bud with just the first catkin or two opening up. We also saw some skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus) starting to flower. As in many bogs where I’ve seen them, they seemed much smaller than the ones I see in low elevation wet wooded sites. At the very south end of the wetland, marsh marigolds (Caltha leptosepala) and the very first few mountain buttercups (Ranunculus populago) were coming into bloom. It’s so exciting to see this wonderful wetland right at the beginning of its long season. I can’t wait to go back—hopefully before the month is out—and see it in its full spring glory.

Sabine photographing the shooting stars up on the seepy rocks of the west meadow above Deer Creek.

Sabine photographing the shooting stars up on the seepy rocks of the west meadow above Deer Creek.

Next up was the main stop of the day, the seepy roadbanks along Deer Creek. This area is about 1000′ feet lower and south-facing, and now we could really feel the warmth of this abnormally hot day. It was quite a contrast with the cool, breezy, fresh-from-winter feel of the Ikenick Creek wetland. There was still quite a bit of moisture dripping down the roadbanks, and many of the dozen or so creeks that pour down from above were sending lots of water down to the road and on to Deer Creek well below us. It was still a bit early here, but there was much in bloom. Among the many flowers we saw were larkspur (Delphinium menziesii), Thompson’s mistmaiden (Romanzoffia thompsonii), and monkeyflowers (Mimulus guttatus and M. alsinoides), as well as some fading gold stars (Crocidium multicaule). The blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia parviflora and C. grandiflora) had started, but the rosy plectritis (Plectritis congesta) was mostly still in bud. Lots of butterflies were on the wing, including quite a few Sara’s orangetips racing back and forth along the road. Alas, the ticks were out as well, and one tiny guy managed to nip me twice on the neck before I flung him off.

Clumps of bright pink beautiful shooting stars (Dodecatheon pulchellum) perch high above me on wet, mossy ledges.

Clumps of bright pink beautiful shooting stars (Dodecatheon pulchellum) perch high above me on wet, mossy ledges.

I had originally hoped to climb up to the largest of the meadows hidden above the steep roadbanks, but what with the heat, a poor night’s sleep, and the showiest seep plants not at peak yet, we decided instead to explore the most westerly meadow, which is closer to the road. It had been four years since I’d tried unsuccessfully to relocate the beautiful shooting star (Dodecatheon pulchellum) I’d once seen in this steep, moist meadow (see Superb Floral Display Above Deer Creek). You can see the meadow from the road, and, with my binoculars, I could see a single budded plant in the creek that flowed from the meadow down to the road, so it seemed worth a try. We climbed up through the woods and looped around starting at the east side of the meadow. There are some wonderful outcrops here covered with rustyhair saxifrage (Micranthes rufidula) along with Thompson’s mistmaiden and monkeyflower. No shooting stars, however. We walked around the top of the rocks and then over to the upper part of the small creek. Still no luck. I was beginning to wonder if I’d imagined the large population here, or if they’d all died out somehow. Not wanting to go back down exactly the way we came up, I thought I’d try to stay close to the creek. There was a large drop off below us, but it seemed like it might be doable to go around and get in front of it. It was possible and… there were the shooting stars!! Once we spotted the first clump of bright pink, suddenly we could see there were quite a few on the moss-covered vertical rocks above us. Many more were still in bud. What a relief to know they hadn’t died—and that I wasn’t delusional!

Beautiful shooting star blooming at eye level right along McKenzie

Beautiful shooting star blooming at eye level right along McKenzie Highway.

We still had some more time, so we made one more stop at the cliffs along the McKenzie Highway just a few miles farther south. It’s an amazing cliff in a really inconvenient spot along the main road, but the floral display makes it worth walking in the ditch and listening to trucks whizzing by. The California mistmaiden (Romanzoffia californica) was outstanding. Many of the same things that we saw at Deer Creek were blooming here as well, including lots of the tiny Thompson’s mistmaiden, saxifrages, Hall’s lomatium, larkspurs, and monkeyflower. We also found a single blooming mission bells (Fritillaria affinis) in the ditch and spotted some small, dark-flowered naked broomrape (Orobanche uniflora) among the saxifrages. There were also many shooting stars here, some even in the ditch. I was very happy to see a few of the white-flowered plants I’d discovered a couple of years ago well above us (see McKenzie Highway Cliffs Followup). Spending a lovely spring day with a good friend looking at butterflies and flowers and finding all the plants I was hoping to—what more could a girl ask for?!

3 Responses to “Triple Treat up the McKenzie”

  • Jake:

    Did you notice the tiny March Fly on the male willow?

  • Hi Jake,

    Yes, I did, along with the bee on the other willow. Thanks for the ID on that—I know very little about flies and most insects.

    Also for you and anyone else interested in directions to these trailless locations, I haven’t gotten descriptions posted for these yet, but here they are:

    Ikenick Creek Wetland
    https://maps.google.com/?ll=44.369116,-122.014976&spn=0.018606,0.039825&t=h&z=16
    Head east on Hwy 126, the McKenzie Hwy. Continue until the Clear Lake area. At the sign for Ikenick SnoPark turn left onto Rd 2672. After 0.8 mile park on the right side of the road. The wetland is across the street and accessed by bushwhacking through the woods on either side of the outlet creek. It’s not easy, but it is worth it if you are into bogs. Watch out for treacherous hidden channels and holes!

    Deer Creek
    https://maps.google.com/?ll=44.272508,-122.077814&spn=0.009318,0.019913&t=h&z=17
    Take Hwy 126 east past McKenzie Bridge. Continue 7.5 miles past the McKenzie Ranger Station (3 miles south of Trail Bridge Reservoir). Turn left on Deer Creek Road 2654. Drive about 2.5 miles, just a little ways past a hard bend at Fritz Creek. Along the next 1.5 miles, there are about 13 creeks and seeps spilling down onto the road bank. Several partly hidden meadows can be explored with a short scramble up the steep road bank.

    McKenzie Cliffs
    https://maps.google.com/?ll=44.223129,-122.058138&spn=0.009326,0.019913&t=h&z=17
    Take Hwy 126 east past McKenzie Bridge. Continue 6.1 miles past the McKenzie Ranger Station (less than a mile south of Deer Creek Road). Park in pulloff on side of road. The cliffs go on for 1/4 mile. Be careful of traffic!

  • Jake:

    Thanks! :-)

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