While the Sierra Nevada blues (Agriades [Plebejus] podarce) were out and about, Willamette National Forest Service wildlife biologist Joe Doerr organized one last group butterfly survey. Now that we knew they were definitely established in the Calapooya Mountains (see the previous post, More Butterfly Surveying in the Calapooyas), we wanted to know if they had moved north across the Middle Fork of the Willamette. The area around Groundhog Mountain has an extensive network of wetlands, most of which have abundant mountain shooting stars (Dodecatheon jeffreyi), its host food plant, as well as lots of bistort (Bistorta bistortoides), its favorite nectar plant. If they were going to populate anywhere to the north of the Calapooyas, I thought Groundhog would be the ideal spot, although I had no real expectations of finding them there since I’d been there over three dozen times and never spotted them. Still, it was worth checking. And any data is important. So on Monday, July 11, Joe, Cheron Ferland, Lori Humphreys, and I, along with 4 botanists from the Middle Fork district headed off to Groundhog.
The day started off rather dicey because our route up, Buck Creek Road 2120, was in terrible shape. Last year I went up to Groundhog Mountain twice. On my second trip, the road had evidently been through some major downpours (confirmed by a friend who drove down from there in a thunderstorm), and the tire tracks were gutted by rivulets. I unwisely thought I’d avoid that by going back to the north on Road 2309, the way I originally went up when I started visiting this lovely area about 15 years ago. That turned out to be even worse, with much deeper gullies and lots of rockfall. So I was expecting the road surface to be in bad shape and was once again thrilled to be driven up in a sturdy Forest Service rig rather than my “soccer mom” mini van. What I wasn’t anticipating was the amount of blowdown. Someone had gone up the road and cut the minimal amount necessary to squeeze through, but we still had to dodge cut trees and drive over quite a few small fallen ones. I wouldn’t risk taking my van up the road in this condition. I was also surprised by how much growth had occurred in the alders alongside the road in many spots. We were brushing their branches on both sides some times. I don’t ever remember feeling the road was narrowing in the past. I had a relatively easy trip up last May (see Two Foggy Outings), so how could it have deteriorated so badly in a little over a year’s time. And from what I’ve heard, unless there is logging or a fire, there won’t be any money to fix the roads. I will be heartbroken if I can’t get up here anymore!
But for at least one more day, I was thankful to be able to enjoy the abundant flowers and butterflies near Groundhog. We started the day off at Waterdog Lake. The extra long and arduous drive had given the clouds a chance to abate, giving us a lovely day to look for the Sierra Nevada blues. We didn’t spot any in the wetland near Waterdog Lake, but the habitat sure looked good. Oddly, no toads were present either. Next we went to what I call the main meadow, the large wetland along Road 2309 at the intersection of Road 452. Here too, the shooting stars were mostly done, the elephant’s head (Pedicularis groenlandica) was still hanging on in a few spots, and the bistort was in good bloom. This was just what we found at Bradley Lake last week, but no Sierra Nevada blues were enjoying what seemed like the perfect habitat for them. We mused how we might help them get over here (helicopter perhaps?). How would they find it themselves? We did see some greenish blues, loads of clodius parnassians, a few other butterflies, and a really interesting bumble bee.
After lunch we headed south to some wetlands near Logger Butte. We passed a great display of beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax) in full bloom and made a quick stop to take some photos. I wanted to show everyone the wetland and small pond at the deadend of Road 462. I was a bit nervous we’d run into more fallen trees, but we had no trouble getting down there. We spent quite a while looking around. I’d never had a chance to spend so much time here, so I really enjoyed poking around, especially at the far end where there was a small creek and more boggy conditions. There were still some fresh elephant’s head and its sibling, the pale yellow-flowered bracted lousewort (Pedicularis bracteosa). All three bog orchids were in bloom. There were lots of Platanthera dilatata and P. sparsiflora, and at least one P. stricta. This wetland sits on sort of a ledge. From the edge of it, you can see down to a much larger meadow with wetter sections, as evidenced by a swath of willows. Joe said we had time to go to one more spot, so I suggested that we check it out, if he was up to driving the couple of miles down Road 2135—and if it was passable. Thankfully and surprisingly, the road down was clear of obstacles.
In a way, this was the highlight of the trip for me. I’d been there only once before, and it had been a long time ago. There are just so many interesting spots in the area that I can never do it all in one day. I don’t remember being impressed enough on my one trip down to have felt the need to return. But clearly I hadn’t given this area a thorough look. While much of it wasn’t wetland, there were good wetland areas on both ends. Ryan and I headed down to the east end where I had seen the brownish tinges suggesting a wetland on the Google Earth image. Sure enough, there was a sloping wetland filled with white bog orchids going through the meadow. There must have been a great show of shooting stars and marsh marigolds (Caltha leptosepala) earlier in the season. Both were now going to seed. We even found a boggy spot with round-leaved sundews (Drosera rotundifolia) and some small pools with tadpoles and a snake.
Being a fan of willows, I next headed over to the thicket of willows. I was very pleased to find they looked to be the willows I’ve been studying the last few years: Booth’s willow (Salix boothii) and Sierra willow (S. eastwoodiae). There were also some Geyer’s willow (S. geyeriana). As we had seen from above, the willows were encircled by a wet area. Most of this was tall sedges, but there was one very nice boggy spot, filled as in the other wetlands by sundews and elephant’s head. I decided to return to the vehicles by going around the other side of the willows and found a pretty creek with some shade-loving wetland plants including clasping twisted stalk (Streptopus amplexifolius), an addition to my list. As I reached the road, I very quickly spotted three new species of butterflies we hadn’t seen yet during the day, as well as a beautiful still-blooming patch of California jacob’s ladder (Polemonium californicum), which was common in the area but all finished blooming elsewhere. It seemed that we had to leave just as the butterflies were the most active. We did end up seeing quite a few different species but not of the ones we were looking for. Maybe someday the Sierra Nevada blues will find this beautiful area. Then we’ll know they’ve moved north.
Time to head back, but none of us was looking forward to going back through all those nasty trees we’d dealt with on the way up. Cheron had recently been to Moon Point and said the road up there all the way to the Warner Lookout was in fine shape. At the top of Road 2135, we turned left (south) on Road 437. It was only two miles along the ridge on roads 437 and 439 to get to Warner Lookout. It seemed to be easy going, but with only a half mile more to go, our hopes were dashed. There was another section of terrible blowdown. Someone had been up here and cut some of the trees but only wide enough for some small off-road vehicle to pass through, and it looked like there were even more downed trees ahead. No way our larger vehicles could get through it, and even if we’d felt like cutting all those trees, no one had a chain saw, just hand saws—it would have taken ages. Another route blocked. Now I really don’t know how I can get back up to this area without some serious help. We reluctantly headed back the way we came. There are two other routes, but it seemed unlikely those would be in good shape either—better to deal with the route we at least knew we could get through. I think we all had a great day, but I sure hope this wasn’t my last visit to Groundhog Mountain.
Butterflies observed near Groundhog Mountain and Logger Butte
list compiled by Lori Humphreys
- Greenish blue (Plebejus saepiolus)
- Boisduval’s blue (Plebejus icarioides)
- Western-tailed blue (Cupido amyntula)
- Anna’s blue (Celastrina echo)
- Silvery blue (Glaucopsyche lygdamus)
- Meadow (Pacific) fritillary (Boloria epithore)
- Hoffman’s checkerspot (Chlosyne hoffmanni)
- Edith’s checkerspot (Euphydryas editha)
- Snowberry checkerspot (Euphydryas colon)
- Field crescent (Phyciodes pulchella)
- Clodius parnassian (Parnassius clodius)
- American lady (Vanessa virginiensis)
- Mourning cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)
- Green comma (Polygonia faunus)
- Clodius parnassian (Parnassius clodius)
- Western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus)
- Orange sulphur (Colias eurytheme)
- Sara orangetip (Anthocharis sara)
- Arctic skipper (Carterocephalus palaemon)
- Sonoran skipper (Polites sonora)