Posts Tagged ‘Monarch Meadow’

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 »

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 »

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 »

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