Late Start to a New Year of Botanizing

Wasp enjoying the flowers of Hooker’s fairybells (Prosartes hookeri)

With the rainy, cold winter transitioning into a rainy, cold spring, I’ve barely done any botanizing off my property this year. What few fair weather days we’ve had, I decided to stay home and protect my own wildflowers by removing blackberries—addictively satisfying work. My one break from the rain was heading down to the California desert for a few days in March (95° almost every day!) to see the “super bloom” at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and Joshua Tree National Park (click on those links for my Flickr photo albums).

Enough wildflowers are popping up now that Sabine and I decided it was finally time to head to our favorite place to start the botanizing season. On Friday, April 28, we drove down to Hills Creek Reservoir and followed Road 21 as far as Mutton Meadow before heading back. It was a lovely day though crisp until the morning clouds eventually burned off. It’s still quite early, with almost nothing in bloom in Mutton Meadow, but we found plenty to see and enjoy.

This rocky oak-covered meadow area is just north of the reservoir. More meadows are hidden behind the ones along the road.

We started off by heading to the roadcut and meadows just north of the reservoir and east of the dam on Road 23. Monkeyflowers, both Mimulus (Erythranthe) guttatus and nasutus, were in bloom, along with some Hall’s lomatium (Lomatium hallii). This area is interesting for having several plants we never see anywhere down Road 21. As on my own property, there were lots of purple sanicle (Sanicula bipinnatifida) in bloom. Two other showy species we don’t find along the rest of our route, rose checkermallow (Sidalcea virgata) and silvery lupine (Lupinus albifrons), were starting to bud up. There’ll also be a nice show of the statuesque, if not colorful, varileaf phacelia (Phacelia heterophylla ssp. virgata) in a couple of weeks, so I am definitely planning a return visit to check the meadows out more thoroughly, something I’ve never gotten around to yet.

Goldstars in glorious bloom along the roadcut cliffs.

From there we headed down our traditional route along the west side of the reservoir. The gold stars (Crocidium multicaule) were beautiful. They were just starting two months ago when John Koenig and I made a quick trip to see them on a rainy day before attending a meeting in Oakridge. They seem to continue to bloom as long as it is wet, but a few were just starting to go to seed. Tiny-flowered baby innocence (Tonella tenella) was blooming alongside them but was completely overshadowed by the bright yellow of the gold stars. We managed to spot several naked broomrape blossoms (Orobanche uniflora) among the broadleaf stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium), but neither will be at their peak for a while yet.

Abundant Sedum on the cliffs serves as the host plant for Moss’s elfin caterpillars, so this is a good place to see the butterflies.

The big excitement along the cliffs was seeing some butterflies: several Moss’s elfins and a couple of California tortoiseshells. The latter was especially exciting because we’d seen so few since their population crashed a few years back (5 or so, I don’t really remember now). They used to be one of the most common butterflies in the Cascades, but then suddenly they were nowhere to be found. I thought they might be starting to recover last year, when I started to see one or two on several hikes.

We made a number of stops along Road 21, but the best was probably “Ladybug Rock”, a spot we named back in 2012 when we saw a huge gathering of ladybugs there. It’s always an especially good spot for butterflies as it is south-facing, so we hoped to see more tortoiseshells. We weren’t disappointed. We spent a while attempting to count how many we saw, but most of them were flitting about too much. Our best guess is 7 different tortoiseshells—more than I probably saw in the last two years combined—plus 1 green comma, and a couple of blues, most likely echo azures.

The tortoiseshells were especially friendly, repeatedly landing on us. This nosy individual seemed to be focused on checking out Sabine’s pocket and fanny pack. Should we be worrying about getting pickpocketed by butterflies?

Sabine watching butterflies at Ladybug Rock. You can see snow up in the mountains in the distance, still fairly open from the large Tumblebug Fire a while back.

Across the road from Ladybug Rock is a little pulloff by the edge of the river. This is a lovely spot with a great population of fawn lilies (Erythronium oregonum) and lots of coltsfoot (Petasites frigidus) along a back channel. The latter were about finished, but the fawn lilies were stunning. We also saw a few mission bells (Fritillaria affinis) in full bloom. Sabine spotted two wasps hiding in one of their flowers. We saw quite a few more of these in the grassy area at the entrance of Secret Campground. The view of the river lined with the freshly emerging gold and chartreuse of cottonwoods and alders was just lovely, and I was also very happy to spot a dipper flying along the river. It landed on some rocks on the other side and bobbed around in the chilly water. What an amazing little bird.

An abundant population of Oregon fawn lilies across from Lady Bug Rock

The damp spring weather may have made for a late start to my botanizing (and butterflying!) season, but, as they say, April showers bring May flowers. And it seems as though it will be an excellent year for wildflowers, with enough melting snow pack to fuel them for a number of months. Yippee!

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