First Trip of the Year to Bristow Prairie

An unusual “pink-eyed Mary” (Collinsia grandiflora)!

So far, my botany season has been spent checking out lower elevation meadows in the Cascades. But finally, on June 4, it seemed like it was time to head up to the higher elevation sites. The Middle Fork District office told me that the day before they’d gotten a truck through Road 5850, which rides the ridge near Bristow Prairie, although there was a little bit of snow still along the side of the road. They weren’t sure about the upper part of Road 2125 where it comes into 5850, but I figured if the rest was clear, that part would be too. Thankfully it was, as I really wanted to see the early flowers at Bristow Prairie.

I saw a sawfly (sounds like a nursery rhyme or riddle: “I thought I saw a sawfly fly”) for the first time on Eagles Rock a few weeks ago (photo on right) and found another on this trip in the rock garden area (left). Actually, they are not flies (order Diptera) but are in the same order (Hymenoptera) as bees and wasps, and they fly with their legs hanging down the way wasps do. This one looks like the genus Trichiosoma. Although they are large and look rather intimidating, they don’t sting.

The blue-green, folded, crescent-shaped leaves of Siskiyou fritillary are quite distinctive, but they can be surprisingly hard to spot among the rocks and disappear early in the season.

I walked to the “rock garden” area from the north trailhead (although I drove right by the trailhead again—it’s really hard to spot since the sign is gone!). There was no sign of snow anywhere, but there were lots of branches down along the trail. It wasn’t at what I’d call peak bloom yet, but it also hadn’t just started blooming. It was quite colorful, with sweeps of large-flowered blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia grandiflora) and Menzies’ larkspur (Delphinium menziesii) dotted with frosted paintbrush (Castilleja pruinosa), cat’s ears (Calochortus spp. see Unusual Variability of Cat’s Ears at Bristow Prairie), and spreading phlox (Phlox diffusa). I went looking for the population of Siskiyou fritillary (Fritillaria glauca) on the far end of the slope. Things seemed too far along for there to be any flowers left on this super early flowering species, but I did finally spot some leaves still looking fairly fresh. After heading up to the top, I came back down the north end—a counter-clockwise loop. I could have sworn we’d looked really thoroughly around the whole slope when surveying for the fritillary on other early season trips, so I was surprised to find quite a few of the little glaucous leaves poking up through the rocks closer to the top and on the north side where I’d never noticed them before. I even found about 4 plants that had bloomed and still had dried petals clinging to the stalk. As at some of our other sites in Lane County—the northern end of its range—this population doesn’t seem to bloom very much. Most likely it is spreading around by the bulbs breaking up and being washed down through the rocks to start new plants rather than by seed, although the first plant to arrive must have come by seed.

Up close, the dangling red flowers of vine maple (Acer circinatum) are quite pretty.

On the way back to the trailhead, I stopped at the small wetland. The marsh marigold (Caltha leptosepala) and mountain shooting stars (Dodecatheon jeffreyi) were blooming. I tried in vain (as usual) to get some clear photos of bumblebees buzz-pollinating the Dodecatheon flowers, but they move way too fast. There weren’t many butterflies yet and no Sierra Nevada blues. I did find some bear scat and what looked like a fresh path through the foliage. The sound of a few cracking branches as well… did I just miss the bear?

Columbia lewisia seems like such a delicate thing to be surviving on rocky ledges and cliffs.

Back at my van, I drove up the road to look for the Columbia lewisia (Lewisia columbiana) that John Koenig and I discovered last year (see Yet Another Exciting Discovery at Bristow Prairie). I was surprised to find a few already starting to bloom. I’m planning to help the Citizen’s Rare Plant Watch do a more thorough survey of this population later in the month, so I wanted to know how far along the flowers are in order to plan the date. This was my main reason to come up to Bristow Prairie—not that I ever need an excuse to come up to this lovely place!

Painted ladies are having a big year, and there were a number of them hilltopping on the rocks near the Lewisia.

My last stop was to go check out the wetland in the main prairie that we discovered last year (see Quick Return to Bristow Prairie). It was quite lovely at the end of the day. There were still no Sierra Nevada blues yet, but I wouldn’t expect them to be on the wing until their favorite nectar plant, bistort (Bistorta bistortoides), is in flower. On the way back, I noticed remnants of the very earliest flowers I’d just missed, including lots of steershead (Dicentra uniflora), western springbeauty (Claytonia lanceolata), and glacier lily (Erythronium grandiflorum). One bright yellow glacier lily was all that was left of these snow-melt species. I doubt I could have gotten here early enough this year to see them in bloom, as there were still patches of snow in the roadside ditches on either side of the prairie, but I was quite satisfied with all I’d seen and am looking forward to returning again soon.

Looking north across the main prairie, you can see “Mosaic Rock” in the afternoon light. Large drifts of marsh marigold and shooting star fill this wetland section.

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