Posts Tagged ‘Hills Creek Reservoir’

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.

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 »

Hidden Meadow Reveals a Thrilling Secret

Purple milkweed is a gorgeous plant with glaucous leaves and garnet-colored flowers

In November of 2012, I went exploring down along Rigdon Road 21 southeast of Hills Creek Reservoir, an area I spend a lot of time visiting, as readers of this blog no doubt have noticed. There’s a small old quarry between Campers Flat campground and Big Pine Opening. I thought I’d see what was in the rocky area up top. The woods were fairly open so I continued up the ridge and popped out in a rocky meadow. While it was well past blooming season, I enjoy “forensic botany”—trying to identify species in various states of decay or at least past flowering. I saw some saxifrages rejuvenated by fall rains, a flower or two left on the late-blooming fall knotweed (Polygonum spergulariiforme), and evidence of bluefield gilia (Gilia capitata). But what really excited me was a few clumps of dried stalks with old capsules filled with silk-topped seeds—a milkweed! Read the rest of this entry »

Exploring the Meadows by Hills Creek Dam

A couple of weeks ago, Sabine Dutoit and I spent a little while along Kitson Springs Road 23, just east of the dam on Hills Creek Reservoir (see Late Start to a New Year of Botanizing). I hadn’t ever been to several meadows hidden from the road, so I decided that would be a good trip to do May 8 after getting a late start getting out in the morning—no gravel driving and relatively close to home.

From the meadows above Road 23, there’s a wonderful view to the south of a very full (!) Hills Creek Reservoir. 

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Late Start to a New Year of Botanizing

Wasp enjoying the flowers of Hooker’s fairybells (Prosartes hookeri)

With the rainy, cold winter transitioning into a rainy, cold spring, I’ve barely done any botanizing off my property this year. What few fair weather days we’ve had, I decided to stay home and protect my own wildflowers by removing blackberries—addictively satisfying work. My one break from the rain was heading down to the California desert for a few days in March (95° almost every day!) to see the “super bloom” at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and Joshua Tree National Park (click on those links for my Flickr photo albums).

Enough wildflowers are popping up now that Sabine and I decided it was finally time to head to our favorite place to start the botanizing season. On Friday, April 28, we drove down to Hills Creek Reservoir and followed Road 21 as far as Mutton Meadow before heading back. It was a lovely day though crisp until the morning clouds eventually burned off. It’s still quite early, with almost nothing in bloom in Mutton Meadow, but we found plenty to see and enjoy.

This rocky oak-covered meadow area is just north of the reservoir. More meadows are hidden behind the ones along the road.

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First Taste of Spring

A beautiful mourning cloak basks in the warming sun at Campers Flat

A beautiful mourning cloak basks in the warming sun at Campers Flat

On Wednesday, February 24, Sabine Dutoit, Nancy Bray, Ginny McVickar, and I took advantage of the dry weather to head out to Hills Creek Reservoir south of Oakridge to look for the first wildflowers of the season. This has become an annual ritual, as it is usually warmer and drier down there, and the flower season gets an earlier start than on my property. While most of the early plants are small-flowered and not particularly showy (though still exciting in February!), the highlight of the trip is always the sheets of yellow gold stars (Crocidium multicaule). I was pretty sure we’d see some in bloom but not so sure the sheets of yellow on the cliffs along the reservoir would have kicked in yet. While the other two have seen this a number of times, this was the first time Ginny had been with us, so we were really pleased that the grand display was starting in one spot. If the rains keep coming, it should be stunning in March and may last for another month or two if it doesn’t dry out. The first Sierra gooseberry (Ribes roezlii) and Halls lomatium (Lomatium hallii) were just beginning. They ought to be quite beautiful in a few weeks, especially if we get more warm weather. Read the rest of this entry »

First Day of Spring!

First day of spring and first post of 2014! It sure didn’t feel like the first day of spring when I got up on Friday (March 21) to 29°, frost, and fog. The weather forecast said it was going to be sunny and warm later in the day, but I dressed in 3 layers of clothing just in case. John Koenig and I then headed off for my favorite early spring site: Hills Creek Reservoir and Road 21. I’ve written about this wonderful roadside route many times (see other posts here). It is always so nice to see old friends—I meant the flowers and locations, but that goes for John too!

Sierra gooseberry (Ribes roezlii) in full bloom above the reservoir. It is abundant along the cliffs and rocky areas here.

Sierra gooseberry (Ribes roezlii) in full bloom above the reservoir. It is abundant along the cliffs and rocky areas here.

As we hoped, we drove out of the fog into clear, sunny skies when we reached the reservoir. It was quite chilly, however, and neither of us took off our heavy coats until much later in the day. We made a number of stops along the cliffs on the west side of the reservoir and were surprised to see a Moss’s elfin butterfly on the wing. According to the thermometer in the car, it was only 48° outside and felt colder than that with the wind chill. Moss’s elfins are one of the earliest butterflies to emerge in the spring. Some other early fliers overwinter as adults, but these little elfins overwinter as chrysalises, so they must be well adapted to cold temperatures. I didn’t get close enough to take a good photo as I didn’t want to disturb it too much when it needed to sit still and warm up. Read the rest of this entry »

First Hints of Spring

The weather forecasters promised a sunny day on Friday (February 15), and, at least in Oakridge, they were right. Nancy Bray and I were looking forward to a break from the gloomy fog we’ve had so much of this winter. So off we headed to Road 21, south of Oakridge, my favorite early season destination and usually the warmest place in eastern Lane County.

What a joy it is to see gold stars (Crocidium multicaule), one of the very first flowers of the spring.

What a joy it is to see gold stars (Crocidium multicaule), one of the very first wildflowers every year.

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Hills Creek to Hills Peak

On Sunday (July 29), I drove down along Road 21 past Hills Creek Reservoir, yet again. I believe that’s the 13th time this season—and it won’t be the last. It is such a fascinating area botanically with a few good trails and a great deal of roadside interest. I was still tired from bushwhacking around Bearbones Mountain, so I wanted to avoid any real hiking and to instead check up on some good roadside spots and see as much of Hills Peak, way out past the end of 21, as I had time and energy for. My first stop was to Youngs Flat Picnic Area to see if the piperias were in bloom. What great luck, the white-flowered royal rein orchid (Piperia transversa) was in perfect bloom. Chaparral rein orchid (P. elongata) blooms a little later and was just starting, although I found several in good bloom. As far as I know, it is impossible to tell the various species apart from the leaves. So this was the time to check out some of the areas along the road where I’d seen the leaves but never the flowers. So my next stop was Mutton Meadow. In the woods across the road from the meadow were some scattered Piperia transversa, no elongata. The meadow itself was filled with elegant cluster-lily (Brodiaea elegans), some kind of birdbeak (Cordylanthus sp.)—a rare plant around here, and yampah (Perideridia spp.). I believe I saw both P. gairdneri and P. oregana, but until the seeds appear, I can’t be sure. That’s a tough genus to get a handle on.

Left and middle are Piperia transversa. It has mostly white flowers with long spurs that are perpendicular to the stem. On the right is the mostly green Piperia elongata. Its spurs are even longer and point in any direction.

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Geraniums and Butterflies Along Road 21

Dan and Nancy enjoy the show of beautiful Oregon geraniums right by the main road.

Geranium oreganum has very large, very bright pink flowers. How could I have passed by this spot so many times and never seen these?!

Monday (June 11) was another day of leisurely roadside botanizing southeast of Oakridge for me, along with Sabine Dutoit, Nancy Bray, and Dan Thomas. We stopped at many of our usual sites, including the cliffs by the reservoir, Youngs Flat Picnic Area, Mutton Meadow, Jim’s Oak Patch, Skunk Creek by Road 400, several unnamed meadows, and even briefly up to the amazing “Mosaic Rock” Sabine and I discovered last year (see Amazing Rock Feature Worthy of a Name). One of the most prominent plants of the day is one I rarely see, Oregon geranium (Geranium oreganum). There used to be a plant on my property, but I haven’t seen it for years. I probably drive down Road 21 at least a dozen times every year, year after year, yet I was totally surprised when we came upon a grassy spot along the road just past Secret Campground that was filled with blooming geraniums. The only thing that might explain how I’ve missed these is that perhaps they have a short season of bloom. We stopped to take a look and saw several butterflies among the pretty flowers, including a great arctic. I got what I thought was a nice photo of a female silvery blue that Nancy had spotted. Sadly, when I saw it blown up on my computer, it turns out she was in the death grip of a crab spider. Read the rest of this entry »

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