Smoky Day on Tire Mountain

At the beginning of the hike, I had to deal with smoke obscuring my view, but it wasn’t nearly as bad then as it became later in August.

On August 18, I decided to risk the smoke of what had now become a terrible fire season and head over to Tire Mountain for some more seed collecting. On most of the days up until that point, the smoke from the nearby Jones Fire drifted onto my property overnight but was blown off after the winds picked up in the afternoon. I was hoping for something similar, even though I was heading farther east. As I drove to Oakridge, I was wondering if I made the right decision. The smoke seemed to get thicker with every mile. But on the way up to the trailhead, it magically disappeared! Or so I thought. There was more smoke when I hit the trail. Oh well, I’d come this far, I had to at least get some seeds—my main motivation for going out. Read the rest of this entry »

Watching Fires from Coffin Mountain Lookout

I hadn’t been aware of the Milli Fire, which had started the day before, so it was quite a shock to see this impressive plume of smoke just north of the Three Sisters. There’s quite a variety of conifers on the summit, all kept unusually short by wind, snow, and rocky conditions. (Left) the normally ground-hugging common juniper (Juniperus communis), (center) a very squat subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa), and (right) a shrubby Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia).

A young harrier was among several soaring high above the sloping meadows. I’m used to seeing them alone, flying very low just over the ground, so I didn’t recognize them at first, in spite of their distinctive white rump patches.

I’m finally attempting to catch up on everything that I fell behind on over the last few months. I wanted to post some photos from a trip to Coffin Mountain I took on August 16 but didn’t get around to. Somehow I just couldn’t get to writing about the late summer trips, even though I was stuck inside most of the time, avoiding the smoke for much of August and September. It’s a little odd writing about those awful hot, dry, and smoky months while I listen to the steady rain outside. At the time, I couldn’t wait for rainy season to come and put out the fires and clear the air. It was hard to imagine the drought and fires would ever end. And now the rain is here—and I’m already dreaming about next year’s sunny summer days!

Earlier in the year, an old friend of mine, Charles, who had been living in Germany for a number of years, contacted me and said he and his daughter Lucia would be vacationing in the Pacific Northwest and were planning to stay at Breitenbush for a while in August. I hadn’t been to Coffin Mountain in several years, and as it is near Breitenbush and one of the best trails I know in the Western Cascades anyway, I suggested we could meet up there for a hike.

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Butterflies and More at Groundhog Mountain

Looking north from “Sundew Road”, you can see haze from smoke, but at least there was some view! Goldenrod (Solidago sp.) was blooming abundantly along the old road.

Painted ladies were abundant everywhere we went. Note the 4 or 5 circular marks along the edge of the hindwing.

The area by Groundhog Mountain has been one of my favorites for many years. What with the roads deteriorating, the oppressive heat, and the awful smoke from so many wildfires, I was afraid I wouldn’t get there this year. But on August 11, John Koenig and I took advantage of a relatively pleasant day in an otherwise nasty month and had a wonderful day up at Groundhog. There were still plenty of late-season flowers and a surprising amount of moisture after 2 months of drought. We really enjoyed it and so did the many butterflies and other insects. We spent a long day exploring Waterdog Lake, many of the wetlands, including the shallow lakes up Road 452, and what I like to call “Sundew Road”—what’s left of Road 454 on the north side of the mountain. We saw so many butterflies, moths, caterpillars, bees, dragonflies, as well as hummingbirds, frogs, and toads—too much to show it all, but here are a few highlights from our day. Read the rest of this entry »

Late Season Visit to Monarch Meadow

Purple milkweed going to seed stands conspicuously in the otherwise dried out meadow.

As July ended, super hot weather was predicted for the first week of August. I figured I’d better get out one more time before getting stuck inside for a week (or most of the month, as it turned out). So on July 31, I headed back to what I call Monarch Meadow, southeast of Oakridge, to look for ripe purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) seeds and any sign of monarchs. It was in the low 90’s by afternoon, so I wasn’t up for anything taxing, but a stiff breeze kept me surprisingly comfortable. Read the rest of this entry »

Relaxing NPSO Trip to Echo Basin

Bistort (Bistorta bistortoides) and Cooley’s hedgenettle (Stachys cooleyae) blooming in the wet meadows

Our field trip participants admiring the magnificent Alaska yellow cedars along the trail.

On July 29, my husband Jim and I drove north to Echo Basin to meet some members of the High Desert Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Oregon, who arrived from Bend. At the NPSO Annual Meeting in Roseburg in June, Lynn Putnam, a participant on the field trip I led (see Weather Woes at Hemlock Lake), asked me if I would be willing to lead a trip for her chapter. Getting to go to a beautiful place and talk about plants with a group of flower lovers without having to do any organizing made it easy to agree.

We had a lovely, clear, sunny day (before August brought with it all the heat and smoke we’re experiencing right now). There were ten of us—just the right number. Only a few had been to this beautiful trail. While the main attraction for me is getting up to the open wetland at the top of the loop, the east-side folks were most excited about being in lush woodland. I guess I take for granted all the pretty ferns and forest wildflowers since they are so ubiquitous on the west side. It was great to look at all these plants through the lens of someone from the other, drier side of the Cascades. Read the rest of this entry »

Unusual Sightings at Grasshopper Meadows

Lovely lilies, lupines, and lovage—a nice alliteration and a good view toward the southeast and Diamond Peak from the top of Grasshopper Meadows! 

On July 21, I went for a hike at Grasshopper Meadows. I figured there would still be some meadow flowers in bloom and plenty of butterflies. My first surprise was seeing another car as I arrived at the trailhead and finding it was fellow Native Plant Society of Oregon member and friend Rob Castleberry and his wife Joyce and their dog Wiley, who had arrived just minutes before me. We were able to walk together across the meadow to edge of the cliffs. On the way, we were surprised by a family of grouse bursting out of the grass in front of us. Joyce wasn’t up to the bushwhack down through the woods to the bottom of the cliff, but Rob joined me. It’s always a pleasure to share one of my favorite off-trail spots. It was too bad Joyce couldn’t come down, but I was happy she didn’t mind being left on her own for a little while. Read the rest of this entry »

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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