Farther Up “Milkweed Ridge”

Like many openings in the area, the southernmost one in the complex had Oregon white oaks (Quercus garryana) being crowded out by ponderosa pines (Pinus ponderosa) and other conifers. Enhancing oak habitat has been the main focus of restoration in the area. Hopefully now improving the area for milkweed and monarchs will also be a priority.

Having found purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) and monarchs at Monarch Meadow (see Hidden Meadow Reveals a Thrilling Secret) and at the meadow complex north of there (see A Week of Monarchs and Milkweed: Day 1), the next logical place to check was another complex of openings even farther up the ridge. On July 5, Joe Doerr and I headed up there to investigate. These openings also follow the old road that the middle complex is along, so we felt particularly confident we would find more milkweed. We decided to drive in from the north on an old but (barely) driveable road. I had been on that road several times years ago, to access what Sabine and I call “Gateway Rock Ridge” (see First Outing of the New Year for the most recent trip), but I can’t imagine doing it now. The tire tracks seemed to be sinking down and lots of vegetation was reaching out into the road from the surrounding forest. Thank goodness we were in a Forest Service rig!

Unfortunately, mortality is very high for these tiny monarch caterpillars. Most get picked off by wasps and other predators when they are quite small.

We parked at the top of the old road and saw ground rose (Rosa spithamea) in bloom right by the car. From there we walked south. Before long we came to the first opening, lying right along the ridge. Sticky birdbeak (Cordylanthus tenuis) grew abundantly here along with western rayless fleabane (Erigeron inornatus). These normally uncommon species have been showing up at most of the other milkweed sites, so it was a good sign. There had also evidently been a great display of showy tarweed (Madia elegans), but it was already shriveling up in the heat of the day. We didn’t spot any milkweed at first, but then we started to see it scattered about in several openings. We found monarch caterpillars and eggs as well. Mission accomplished! We walked as far down the road as the uppermost meadow of the middle complex that we’d both already been to on separate trips. So now we knew the area all along the old road and started back toward the car.

There was one more meadow to check, however, this one down the west side of the ridge. When we got to where we thought we must be above it, it looked really steep. The meadow is almost 300′ below the road, so we couldn’t see precisely where it was. Normally I’m pretty game for any exploration, but I was pretty hot and just not feeling like bushwhacking down a steep forested slope. Joe left it up to me to decide if we were going to try, and it was clear he wanted to go. Noticing an animal trail heading down in the right direction gave me just the push I needed to get over my reluctance. It turned out that the animal trail(s) did in fact lead down to the meadow, and it wasn’t anywhere near as hard as I’d expected. In fact, Joe thought everything had gone much easier than expected—always a great thing when venturing out to unknown areas. He named this new meadow (new for us anyway, it had certainly been logged along the edges) “Perserverence Meadow”. I’m not sure if that was for our perserverence in getting down there or his perserverence convincing me to go down there to begin with!

Looking southwest from “Perserverence Meadow”, there’s a good view of the Jim’s Creek restoration project, where the conifers have been thinned out in an effort to enhance oak and meadow habitat.

While we didn’t find any milkweed in the meadow, we both liked it a lot and thought it was worth a return visit earlier in the season when more would be in flower. There was a lot of farewell-to-spring (Clarkia amoena) in bloom, but most other plants were finished. I found it interesting that the other meadows had only purple clarkia (C. purpurea). It seems that farewell-to-spring might prefer steeper meadows, like Tire Mountain where I had seen it a few days before (see July Blooms at Tire Mountain). There was a good view of Youngs Rock and the lower meadow that I went to several times last year (see Exploring Meadows Below Youngs Rock). We also got a good look at the large restoration project going on to the west at Jim’s Creek. There is a small population of purple milkweed at Jim’s Creek Prairie, but we still haven’t checked it for monarch usage yet.

A large monarch caterpillar munching down on a milkweed seed capsule at Grassy Glade. Having gotten this far, hopefully this one managed to survive long enough to make it to a turn into a chrysalis and finally a butterfly.

Western rayless fleabane (Erigeron inornatus) is also called unadorned fleabane. Both names refer to the lack of ray florets on its bright yellow, button-like flowers. This plant is abundant at Grassy Glade and found at a number of the other milkweed sites, despite being quite uncommon in the Cascades.

When we returned to the vehicle, there was still time enough left in the afternoon to do a little more research, so we drove over to Grassy Glade, a large meadow area on the south side of Road 21 off of Staley Creek Road 2134. Milkweed was discovered here several decades ago, and this area has seen been surveyed and undergone some restoration work by the Forest Service. But no one had ever reported monarch use. Joe had never been there, and it had been 7 years since I’d been there and that was very early in the spring before the milkweed was even up. We found the milkweed tucked away in the partly shaded areas at the edge of the main meadow and in some smaller openings. It didn’t take us long to find monarch caterpillars. This was great news. So far, the monarchs had found every milkweed site we’d been to. We also found lots more of the western rayless fleabane. This had been the only site it had been recorded at in Lane County, so it was good to confirm my ID from the other sites I’d been seeing it at. After one more quick stop to cool off in Staley Creek, we headed back home, very satisfied at having continued to expand our knowledge of monarch breeding in the district.

 

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