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Very Early Visit to Monarch Meadow

A view of Dome Rock from the top of Monarch Meadow

With the continued spring-like weather, Sabine Dutoit and I wanted to head out to Road 21 and Hills Creek Reservoir for our annual ritual to see the gold stars (Crocidium multicaule) in bloom. Seeing the first show of floral color really starts the year off right. The fact that it is so much earlier than usual worries me, but for now, I’m trying to just enjoy being able to start botanizing in February. They were much farther along than last week when John Koenig and I stopped to check, but they still have a long way to go before they are at peak bloom. Hopefully, we’ll get some rain soon to keep them going.

The leaves of rein orchid (Platanthera [formerly Piperia] spp.) come up very early in spite of their late flowering. I saw 3 different species in the forest last summer, so at this stage, I don’t know which species this is.

Usually, we make numerous stops along 21 to see the earliest blooms, but I wanted to get started monitoring Monarch Meadow, so we went straight there. I plan to go there at least once a month, if I can, so I can really track the whole blooming season this year. It’s such an interesting spot, and it’s relatively easy to get to (no gravel roads!), so it should be possible for me to get there frequently enough to not miss any species. We parked as usual in the pull-off along 21 between Campers Flat and Big Pine Opening. I wanted to see if there’s an easier route to the meadow, so we headed off to the left until the road bank was low enough to reach the woods with only a few steps. We headed up through the woods and reached the meadow just where I expected. I had flagged a few spots on the way up to try to follow the same route back down. I want to make it easy for others to find the meadow for butterfly surveys later in the season. To jump ahead to our trip back, I couldn’t find any of my flagging, and we somehow went down a more difficult route, neither of us could recognize exactly how we’d come before. I can only guess that the different light in the afternoon made everything look unfamiliar. Luckily you can’t actually get lost as anywhere downhill will get you to the road, but it still appears I need to do a better job of flagging next time.

There are scattered old growth trees in the woods around the meadow. Sabine’s demonstrating that this one is over 5′ wide. It had signs that it had survived a fire, which might explain why most of the trees were much younger.

We wandered about the meadow, looking for early blooms and seedlings of later annuals. As I had expected, we found quite a bit of meadow nemophila (Nemophila pedunculata) in bloom. It likes seeps, and there were plenty of moist spots, although overall the meadow was nowhere near as damp as you’d expect in February. Lots of seedlings were coming up, including rosy plectritis (Plectritis congesta) and monkeyflowers (Erythranthe spp.), some yampah (Perideridia sp.) was emerging, and there were lots of lomatiums (Lomatium hallii and L. utriculatum), both of which emerge with fall rains. While little else was in bloom yet, we were able to add a few species to the plant list. We spotted some of the remains of the abundant purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia), but I don’t expect the new foliage to emerge for quite some time.

We headed into the woods above the meadow to do some exploring. I’d found a small damp opening up there last summer I wanted to recheck. From there Sabine suggested we look off to the west side of the ridge. The sun was illuminating another small opening I hadn’t seen last year. It appeared to have some rock outcrop. Sabine wasn’t up to going down the steep slope, so she waited in the woods while I explored this intriguing spot. It had several oaks and madrones. The outcrop was quite mossy, and at the bottom of it was a really neat pillar rock, maybe 20–30′ tall. The slope on the south side of it was quite damp.

My binoculars rolled all the way down this steep, mossy slope from the trees above this photo to the base of the cool pillar rock.

I pulled out my binoculars to get a look at what plants were growing in the moss. I placed my binoculars on top of my camera bag around my waist while I broke a dead branch out of my way. A momentary warning signal went off in my brain that this was not a bright idea, but it was too late. My binoculars hit the ground and went rolling down the steep slope. They kept rolling and rolling—right out of view—while I shrieked. Poor Sabine, she was out of sight of all of this above me at the top of the wooded ridge. She thought I was falling. I managed to scream up to her that I was fine and it was just my binoculars. I hadn’t planned to go very far down the slope since she was waiting, but I had to try to find my binoculars. While the slope was quite steep, there were lots of stable rocky footholds, so it was much easier to traverse than I expected. And thankfully, my binoculars were stopped from what could have been a much farther descent by a small level spot, having gone about 50′ downhill. Miraculously, the moss must have protected them because they appear unscathed. While climbing back up the slope, I was at least able to get a much closer look at the rock and the plants, and with the wealth of California mistmaiden (Romanzoffia californica), larkspur (Delphinium menziesii), and rosy plectritis leaves, it should be quite stunning this spring. Some gold stars had already begun to flower. Next time I’ll plan to revisit this rocky spot and spend more time looking around—but I’ll make sure everything is safely zipped up before I do!

At the end of the day, we made a quick stop at Campers Flat. I saw my first 2 butterflies of the year in the opening across the road. While I was photographing the green comma (left), the mourning cloak landed nearby.

First Meadow Survey of 2018

John enjoying the view (and a moment of sunshine) at our first new meadow site of the year.

On Monday, January 29, John Koenig and I attended a meeting of the Southern Willamette Forest Collaborative at the Forest Service office in Westfir. The purpose of the meeting was to propose surveying projects in the Rigdon area of the Middle Fork District of the Willamette National Forest (south of Oakridge and Hills Creek Reservoir). Earlier in the month, Molly Juillerat, the district botanist, and I met to talk about meadows we want to survey, especially those that might have purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia). I spent some time looking at Google Earth searching for potential meadow sites I hadn’t been to yet and put together a list of 16 low-elevation open areas I think are worth checking out. Read the rest of this entry »

Final Outing of 2017

With the continued warm weather of late October, I made one final trip to the Rigdon area south of Oakridge to look at another interesting spot. During my many trips up Coal Creek Road 2133 to get up to high elevation sites in the Calapooyas, I had often caught glances of an open slope on the far side of Coal Creek. I’d wondered for years about this intriguing spot, so it seemed like the right time to figure out how to explore it.  On October 31st, I followed the route of my previous trip (see http://westerncascades.com/2018/01/27/further-low-elevation-meadow-exploration/previous post) but turned south off of Road 200 onto Road 210. I’d never been down this road before, so I wasn’t sure whether it was even driveable. It actually was in good shape for a while, and a gate across it was open, but I decided to park at the gate anyway as it didn’t look as though it was well driven. As it turned out, there was a tree blocking the road farther along, and there were other spots where it was clearly growing over from disuse. But it made for a pleasant enough walk until the road was bisected by a creek. At this time of year it wasn’t too hard to ford the creek, jumping from rock to rock, but when the water is higher in the spring, it might be necessary to head upstream to find a narrower crossing than I took. Not too long after traversing the creek, the slope on my left went uphill, rather than downhill toward Coal Creek as it had done until then. I knew this meant I’d come to my destination at last!

Looking north across the rocky slope.

Read the rest of this entry »

Further Low-Elevation Meadow Exploration

After the September rains finally put an end to the fires and cleared out the smoky skies, I was anxious to get back outside after being trapped indoors by the smoke for so much of late summer. I had hoped to look for more meadows and open areas in the Rigdon area, southeast of Hills Creek Reservoir. I knew it would be hard to spot purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) plants so late in the year, but I could at least assess the quality of the areas and the potential for milkweed or other interesting plants. With the flowers pretty much done for the season, it didn’t seem worth the many miles of gravel to get up to high elevations, so exploring more low-elevation meadows was the perfect goal.

Ground rose (Rosa spithamea) is generally less than a foot tall. It is distinguished from our other roses by its chubby, gland-covered hips. There’s quite a bit of it at Mutton Meadow.

On September 25th, Sheila Klest and I went to Monarch Meadow to see if there was any milkweed seed left and to collect any other seed of interest. The milkweed stems had mostly collapsed and there were very few intact seed capsules, but Sheila was able to bring home a bit of seed to try growing at her native plant nursery, Trillium Gardens. I was glad I had already gotten some for myself back in July (see Late Season Visit to Monarch Meadow) when they were just starting to ripen. Some sticky birdbeak (Cordylanthus tenuis) was still in bloom, and there was an unusually deep pink form of autumn willowherb (Epilobium brachycarpum) in flower in the meadow but little else. After we collected some seeds of grasses and purple and diamond clarkia (Clarkia purpurea and C. rhomboidea), we headed over to nearby Mutton Meadow. There we hunted around until we found the bright red hips of ground rose (Rosa spithamea) among the grass. They had bloomed well and the hips were perfectly ripe, so we both collected some hips and a few cuttings. I hope I’ll be able to grow this charming little rose. Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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