Second Butterfly Survey in the Calapooyas

Looking north from the edge of the plateau where Loletta Lakes lie, there’s a good view of the Coal Creek drainage to the right and the hill above the quarry that we visited the previous week on the left. I’ve been to the rocky summit a number of times, but I’m still eyeing the rocky area down the eastern slope. Some day….

One week earlier, we looked for Sierra Nevada blues in the wetlands along the crest of the Calapooya Mountains (see Second Year of Sierra Nevada Blue Surveys) with Willamette National Forest wildlife biologist Joe Doerr. We didn’t find as many as we’d hoped, so thinking that perhaps it was a bit early, we decided to wait an extra week before returning to the area to check out some additional wetlands. So on Tuesday, July 18, Joe, Joanne, Lori, John, and I returned to the area near Loletta Lakes. We were joined on this outing by Matt Georgeff, another Middle Fork district wildlife biologist. Read the rest of this entry »

Gorgeous Day at Grassy Ranch

From the summit above Grassy Ranch, there’s a grand view. Looking southeast, we could see still snowy Mt. Thielsen and Mt. Bailey.Nancy and I saw the burned area in the middle ground when we drove up Medicine Creek Road a couple of weeks earlier. Spreading dogbane was abundant and attracting lots of pollinators.

On Saturday, July 15, John Koenig and I spent a long, wonderful day up in the Calapooya Mountains. After the butterfly survey a few days before (see Second Year of Sierra Nevada Blue Surveys), I couldn’t wait to get back up there. We decided we were going to try to drive up Coal Creek Road 2133 without making very many stops—after all, we just drove by there a few days before. Our destination was Grassy Ranch and Reynolds Ridge, over on the south-facing slope of the Calapooyas. It was a long drive coming from Lane County to the north, and we wanted to have as much time as possible over on that side since we seldom get there. But alas, there were so many beautiful things to see, we just had to make one quick stop, then another, and another, and ….. We didn’t even cross over to the south side of the ridge until after noon. The first stop was for a beautiful sweep of Cardwell’s penstemon (Penstemon cardwellii). Then we had to get out at our favorite area where there is a long, wet roadside ditch filled with wildflowers. Here we discovered a single blooming plant of Sitka mistmaiden (Romanzoffia sitchensis), a species I’d never seen in the area. We surmised it must have come from a seed swept down the creek from a population hidden far up the steep, rocky slope. There were also lots of my favorite clover, King’s clover (Trifolium productum var. kingii or T. kingii, the name seems to go back and forth).

Cardwell’s penstemon seems to prefer gravel roadsides to more natural habitats.

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Second Year of Sierra Nevada Blue Surveys

A male Sierra Nevada blue kindly sitting on my finger for a portrait at Bradley Lake

Last year, Joe Doerr, Willamette National Forest (WNF) wildlife biologist organized several trips to the Calapooyas to survey a lovely little butterfly known variously as Sierra Nevada or gray blue (Agriades or Plebejus podarce), which is at the northern end of its range in the Calapooyas (see More Butterfly Surveying in the Calapooyas). This year, we returned to many of the same areas we visited last year to see how they were doing. Our first trip was July 11. Joe and I were joined by John Koenig, Lori Humphreys, and Joanne Lowden, Middle Fork District wildlife biologist.

Bradley Lake is one of the prettiest subalpine wetlands I know of in the Western Cascades.

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Another New Milkweed and Monarch Site!

After all the great luck we’d been having finding purple milkweed in the Rigdon area of southeastern Lane County, I was determined to find some more sites. With the exception of Grassy Glade, all the other sites were on the north side of Rigdon Road 21 and the Middle Fork of the Willamette. Surely there must be some other areas on the south side. I spent some time on Google Earth, looking for all the openings I could find between Big Pine Opening and Grassy Glade that appeared to be meadows between 2400–3600′, similar to those we had been surveying. I found at least a half dozen or so promising spots, but one in particular seemed like a good place to start.

Milkweed, buckwheat, and rabbitbrush growing in “Maple Creek Meadow”. Diamond Peak can be seen to the east. The ridge in the backround was burned in the 2009 Tumblebug Fire.

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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. Read the rest of this entry »

July Blooms at Tire Mountain

The main color throughout the meadows was provided by yellow Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum), creamy white northern buckwheat (Eriogonum compositum), and pink farewell-to-spring (Clarkia amoena), which was just beginning its showstopping display. While some areas were already dried out, others, such as here at the east end of the dike meadow, were still gorgeous.

A few harsh paintbrush (Castilleja hispida) plants were still in glorious bloom as was this plant down the slope of the first big view meadow.

On July 3, I went to Tire Mountain to look at late flowers and collect some seeds of early flowering plants. I was surprised at how much was still in bloom. I had a lovely day getting to know other wildflower-loving hikers and cavorting with butterflies and did some exploring down the steep slope of the view meadow on the north end, something I’d been meaning to do for quite some time. Along with checkerspots, acmon blues were abundant. Their host food plants are buckwheats (Eriogonum spp.), which were at peak bloom. What was surprising was how friendly they were. Not once, not twice, but three times over the course of the day, an acmon blue landed on my arm and started sipping. It sure makes it easier to get a close up photograph! Here are some of the photographic highlights. Read the rest of this entry »

A Week of Monarchs and Milkweed: Day 3

A variable checkerspot straddling the individual small flowers of spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium) to sip the sweet nectar. Milkweed species were recently moved into the dogbane family, Apocynaceae. They both share the trait of milky sap in their stems and are both beloved by butterflies as well as other insects.

For the second day of our camping trip, Nancy and I went up to Twin Lakes and what I call the BVD Meadow, both accessed from the same parking spot at the end of Twin Lakes Road 4770. I’d never seen (or felt) the road in such poor condition with many miles of washboard and areas starting to wash out a bit. My van survived without flatting another tire, but on returning to the campground, I discovered I’d lost a hubcap. The flowers were good, though farther along than I expected at the meadow, and we went for a nice swim at Twin Lakes, but both places were buggier than I ever remember. So far, it has been a particularly bad year for mosquitoes in the Western Cascades. Read the rest of this entry »

A Week of Monarchs and Milkweed: Day 2

Two monarch caterpillars sharing the same purple milkweed plant.

Nancy Bray and I had been planning a trip to the North Umpqua for quite a while. I was rather torn between going to some of my favorite places in Douglas County and looking for more milkweed and monarch sites. As luck would have it, I was able to do both. While checking the distribution of purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) on the Oregon Flora Project Atlas, I had noticed one record of milkweed on Medicine Creek Road 4775 in the North Umpqua area from 1994. While out with Crystal Shepherd on Monday, she told me she used to work at the Diamond Lake District and had seen the milkweed at that site just 5 years ago. Read the rest of this entry »

A Week of Monarchs and Milkweed: Day 1

Monarch in flight

After finding monarchs at “Monarch Meadow” the previous week (see Hidden Meadow Reveals a Thrilling Secret), I could hardly wait to get back to the area to search for more purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) and more monarchs. Molly Juillerat had gone to Monarch Meadow the following day, and on Monday, June 26, she had Crystal Shepherd, her seasonal botanist, go out to the meadow area just north of Monarch Meadow. I had planned to go there myself, so I jumped at the chance to go with Crystal. After I had suggested that as a likely next spot to investigate, Joe Doerr, Willamette National Forest wildlife biologist, had gone up there and found both milkweed and monarchs, as well as monarch eggs. So our job was to do a more careful survey of the area. Read the rest of this entry »

Youngs Rock to Moon Point

While the lower elevation meadows were drying out, this gorgeous area, off-trail just east of Youngs Rock itself, was being fueled by meltwater from the high ridge of Warner Mountain above. Both the monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus) and rosy plectritis (Plectritis congesta) were outstanding.

The Tolmie’s cats ears (Calochortus tolmiei) were outstanding at Youngs Rock. There was also quite a bit of showy tarweed (Madia elegans), but it was closing up in the afternoon.

On Saturday, June 24, Molly Juillerat and I co-led a wildflower field trip for the South Willamette Forest Collaborative, a group of people interested in restoration of the Rigdon area, southeast of Oakridge. Their previous field trip had been to see the Jim’s Creek area, which has been undergoing major restoration work for a number of years. The Youngs Rock trail starts in the Jim’s Creek area along Rigdon Road 21. We had planned to show people the wonderful trail going up to Youngs Rock starting just above the Jim’s Creek restoration area. We had pre-hiked it with some friends the previous Saturday, June 17, but when the weather forecast showed temperatures soaring above 100°F, we felt that it would be entirely too hot for an uphill climb through dry meadows and rocky habitat. Instead, we moved the trip farther uphill to Moon Point, which connects with the upper part of the Youngs Rock trail. At about 5100′, The snow there had only melted within the last few weeks, and the more or less level trail through damp meadows would be much more pleasant on such a hot day. Indeed it was a lovely day, and other than lots of mosquitoes (not aggressive, however), we had a great time. Here are a few highlights from both trips. Read the rest of this entry »

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