Milkweed is Up and Dippers are Out

One of the milkweeds was close to the cliff edge above the quarry. Thank goodness for the long zoom on my camera so I could take the photo from a safe distance from the edge.

On Monday, May 4, I headed out to the Rigdon area southeast of Oakridge to check on the purple or heartleaf milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia). At home, my little seedlings had been germinating, and some of last year’s seedlings were reemerging, so I was pretty sure the milkweed would be up at Big Pine Opening. I was surprised to see how tall some of the plants were, and several even had a few open flowers. I relocated the “chia pet” milkweed plant(s) from last year (see Three Trips in a Row to Rigdon). It was still growing in the same bizarre manner. I’m really puzzled by this odd plant, but I’ll just have to watch it as it develops. I wonder if it will flower eventually.

Last year’s chia pet-like clump of purple milkweed is up again at Big Pine Opening. Comparing it to last year’s photo, it looks like it has fewer, larger shoots, but it is still way more congested than a normal plant.

Big Pine Opening is an open slope at the intersection of Road 21 and gravel Road 2135. On the side facing the gravel road, the hillside was been carved out for a quarry. Unfortunately, the milkweed only grows on the top of the slope on the side above the old quarry. After seeing milkweed growing in the relics of a quarry at “Maple Creek Meadow” (see Surveying Milkweed at “Maple Creek Meadow”), I’d wondered whether the milkweed might be able to grow in the quarry itself at Big Pine Opening. After checking out the milkweed at the top, I went back down to the road and walked partway up the talus in the quarry—I wasn’t up to the difficult task of going high up the loose rock, but, with my binoculars, I was able to spot two patches growing in the gravel along the north side, in the partial shade of a couple of young ponderosa pine. There appeared to be at least a dozen plants large enough to be in bud. One more plant was growing in the main slope. I’m not sure if I can get close enough to the plants for a good count, but I’m just pleased the population is expanding into the quarry side. I suspect there might have been more milkweed on that side before the quarry was created, so maybe they are repopulating below where they once grew.

The rock formations along Staley Creek by the bridge are quite beautiful and home to a number of moisture-loving plants, including saxifrages and mistmaiden.

When I took this photo of the dipper I was watching, I was far away with my camera fully zoomed, and I didn’t realize the other dipper was there too! I guess I didn’t notice it with the binoculars because their color blends so well with the rocks.

Now that I was assured that the milkweed had been up for a while, I drove up Staley Creek Road 2134, which heads south just across from Big Pine Opening, to go check out Grassy Glade. But it was lunchtime by this point, so I stopped at the Staley Creek Bridge to enjoy my lunch at the gorge. The water was really gushing, fueled by the melting snowpack from the high elevations of the Calapooyas above. The flowers were also spectacular. Along the mossy cliffs and rocks along the creek, the Merten’s saxifrage (Saxifraga mertensiana) was in full bloom along with some California mistmaiden (Romanzoffia californica). The uncommon Marshall’s saxifrage (Micranthes marshallii) was still in bud.

While I ate lunch and photographed the saxifrage, I spotted a dipper. It headed upstream and disappeared into the frothy spray of the raging creek. Then it reappeared only to zip down under the bridge to where the water flows through a narrow constriction, forming a small but dramatic waterfall. It bobbed around a little pool at the top of the cascade but then flew briefly to the vertical rock on the other side where I spotted a mossy clump on the wall—a nest perhaps? As I wandered around for an hour, the dipper flitted back and forth a few times and was eventually joined by a second dipper wandering along the shore of the creek.

From the little pool in the previous photo, one of the dippers flew to its mossy nest on the vertical face of the rock. It looks like quite a wet and precarious spot for raising your young, but it is certainly safe from most predators!

 

A beautiful display of Menzies’ larkspur next to Staley Creek. I will definitely be returning later in the season for seed at this easy-to-access site. The creek is just off to the right, but well below at this spot.

On the west side of the creek, there is a small open area with some rock outcrops. This a terrific place to botanize, so I always check it out. Sheets of Menzies’ larkspur (Delphinium menziesii) and large-flowered blue-eyed Mary were in bloom. The serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia) and Oregon-grape (Berberis aquifolium) were also in full bloom—I love the honey scent of the latter species. Some mission bells—or chocolate lilies if you prefer—(Fritillaria affinis) were in full bloom just above the precipitous ledge above the falls. While the many Oregon fawn-lilies (Erythronium oregonum) were mostly finished here, on the south side of the road, in the little rustic campsite, there were many in bloom along with some fresh white Lyall’s anemones (Anemone lyallii). Several lovely red-flowering currants (Ribes sanguineum) were in flower by the road. This was only supposed to be a brief stop to get a bite to eat, but it ended up being the highlight of the day.

Howell’s violet is not very well known, but it is a pretty species with its light purple flowers. It can be distinguished from similar species by its wide spur. It blooms a little later than other Cascade violets. There was a nice patch I hadn’t noticed before at Everage Flat Picnic Area along Road 21.

This two-banded checkered skipper was enjoying the masses of California mistmaiden flowers.

By the time I got up to Grassy Glade, the formerly sunny skies were completely clouded up. I was already running out of energy, having not slept much the night before, so although I did walk to the viewpoint at the end of the little road, I nixed my plan to go down the steep slope to Rabbitbrush Ridge. Instead, I looked for seedlings in the main milkweed patch. I was pleased to find the thick clump of seedlings Maya Goklany and I spotted last year by the downed tree (see Counting Purple Milkweed at Grassy Glade) were up again. I also found several other freshly germinated seed. The majority of the mature plants in the area were only up a few inches—Big Pine Opening is over 1000′ lower so it is always much farther ahead. I was quite dismayed by the number of milkweed stalks that had been munched down. Apparently, someone (I’m looking at you, deer!) finds these supposedly poisonous plants quite tasty. Actually, I read somewhere that purple milkweed isn’t as poisonous as the more common showy milkweed (A. speciosa), so maybe it isn’t a deterrent for them.

The flower buds of purple milkweed are already formed as they emerge, so when they are chewed off at this point, will those stalks be able to bloom? Food for the ungulates now may cost the butterflies food later on.

Naked broomrape was abundant in the seepy slope above one of the roadcuts on the road to Grassy Glade. Unfortunately, the scientific name has been changed again. No longer Orobanche, the old name for this genus, Aphyllon, has recently been resurrected.

Surprisingly, as I was getting ready to head back, the skies cleared up again within about 10 minutes. So instead of going straight home, I dawdled a bit at a couple of roadcut spots on Road 2137, just around the corner from the Staley Creek Bridge. Sprays of California mistmaiden covered the roadcuts, while large-flowered blue-eyed Mary cast a blue haze over the ground. A few gold stars (Crocidium multicaule) lingered, and I was able to collect a bit more seed. I’m still struggling to get it established on my own property. It blooms, but it doesn’t self-sow enough to persist on its own. I decided to climb up to the small meadow on top of one of the roadcuts. It was still quite seepy. The last few bright yellow flowers of Shelton’s violet (Viola sheltonii) were still going, but none of the seed capsules were ripe yet. Hundreds of perky purple naked broomrape (Aphyllon uniflora) were popping out of the numerous wholeleaf saxifrages (Micranthes integrifolia). Interestingly, these were darker and larger than the ones I had seen growing on the cliffs among the sedum along Hills Creek Reservoir. I also found some of the wide, gray-green leaves of the uncommon Howell’s pussytoes (Antennaria howellii) up near the trees. I will definitely have to leave more time to explore this area when I return to Grassy Glade when the milkweed is in bloom.

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