First Taste of Spring

A beautiful mourning cloak basks in the warming sun at Campers Flat

A beautiful mourning cloak basks in the warming sun at Campers Flat

On Wednesday, February 24, Sabine Dutoit, Nancy Bray, Ginny McVickar, and I took advantage of the dry weather to head out to Hills Creek Reservoir south of Oakridge to look for the first wildflowers of the season. This has become an annual ritual, as it is usually warmer and drier down there, and the flower season gets an earlier start than on my property. While most of the early plants are small-flowered and not particularly showy (though still exciting in February!), the highlight of the trip is always the sheets of yellow gold stars (Crocidium multicaule). I was pretty sure we’d see some in bloom but not so sure the sheets of yellow on the cliffs along the reservoir would have kicked in yet. While the other two have seen this a number of times, this was the first time Ginny had been with us, so we were really pleased that the grand display was starting in one spot. If the rains keep coming, it should be stunning in March and may last for another month or two if it doesn’t dry out. The first Sierra gooseberry (Ribes roezlii) and Halls lomatium (Lomatium hallii) were just beginning. They ought to be quite beautiful in a few weeks, especially if we get more warm weather.

Sabine, Nancy, and Ginny enjoying the masses of gold stars (Crocidium multicaule) along Hills Creek Reservoir

Sabine, Nancy, and Ginny enjoying the masses of gold stars (Crocidium multicaule) at one spot along Hills Creek Reservoir. It was still quite chilly in late morning.

You have to get out early to catch the modest flowers of meadow nemophila (N. pedunculata). Look for it in seepy spots.

You have to get out early to catch the modest flowers of meadow nemophila (N. pedunculata). Look for it in seepy spots.

After a stop to look for the first emerging leaves of the rein orchids (Platanthera [sadly no longer Piperiaelongata and transversa) at Everage Flat Picnic Area, we stopped for lunch along the Middle Fork of the Willamette River at Campers Flat Campground. I was thrilled to spot a butterfly across the road the second I stepped out of the van. It was a mourning cloak. Their host plants are willows, and there are some growing (not yet blooming) on a gravel bar in the river not far from the campground. As we ate lunch at one of the picnic tables, it allowed us a much better view. Later, a green comma—also a willow lover—showed up. Although both these species overwinter as adults and thus can fly on any warm day in the winter, it still feels like a great sign that true spring is just around the corner. After lunch, we walked across the road to the open area at the beginning of the Youngs Rock Trail. Sure enough, another early bloomer, meadow nemophila (Nemophila pedunculata) was blooming well, although with its tiny pale lavender flowers, you have to know to look for it here to actually spot it.

Plentiful snow in the Calapooya Mountains is a beautiful sight!

After last year’s dry winter, plentiful snow in the Calapooya Mountains is a beautiful sight!

After lunch, we stopped at Big Pine Opening, but it was still too early for any sign of Shelton’s violet (Viola sheltonii). Nancy discovered an orgy of hundreds of ladybugs crawling around on the ground. We noticed quite a variety of patterns from many spots to spotless. I wonder which is considered the most attractive in the ladybug world of high fashion. We decided it was time to stretch our legs and took a walk along the Middle Fork trail from across the road. Lots of snow queen (Synthyris reniformis) was in bloom, but again, it was too early for the rest of the spring flowers, although we did spot some fairy slipper (Calypso bulbosa) leaves. Happily, we saw several more green commas and another mourning cloak. Although it had started out rather chilly, it was warming up into a beautiful spring-like day, and it was wonderful to be out in the sunshine, listening to the river, and enjoying the companionship of good friends. It was a great start to what I trust will be a much better wildflower season than 2015.

Ladybugs mating at Big Pine Opening

Ladybugs mating at Big Pine Opening

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