Pikas, and a Coyote, and Monkeyflowers, Oh My!

The first time I went to Hills Peak (see First Trip to Hills Peak) in northeastern Douglas County, I took a look at the top of the peak and three nearby wetlands. But there were several interesting looking spots that I did not have time for, so I decided it deserved a return trip. Boy, was I right! What a wonderful day I had Thursday (August 26), with great weather, interesting and unusual plants (even though most flowers were finished), and some great wildlife experiences, including a terrific hour spent hanging out with pikas.

Pika checking out its hay cache

After a brief stop along the road to look for golden hairstreaks in a large stand of blooming chinquapins (too cold for the butterflies I guess, but who knew chinquapins had such a nasty fragrance?), I headed off of Big Swamp Road 2153 to the left on Road 362 which quickly connects to Timpanogas Road 2154. Just up this road, I parked at the end of the decommissioned spur Road 016 and started walking. I was heading to a small lake just east of Hills Peak. It feels very much like the High Cascades here with pumice on the ground and dry open forest. With my aerial photo and GPS in hand, it was easy to find the lake and large surrounding wetland a half-mile up at the road. While exploring the outer edge of the wetland, I suddenly heard a loud barking sound. I couldn’t see him, but a coyote was yapping really close by. It sounded like he (or she?) was in the trees just beyond the open wetland—less than 100′ away. I wonder if it was yelling at me for intruding!

These larger form plants of primrose monkeyflower (Mimulus primuloides) do not seem to spread by stolons, only underground runners.

After the musical interlude stopped, I headed into the boggy area east of the small lake. It was still quite wet, so I decided not to explore the whole thing and just to head to the north edge and follow it to the lake. I was pleased to find lots of blooming starry ladies’ tresses (Spiranthes stellata), sundews, some fading Arnica mollis, and a lovely blooming Juncus. Along the edge, the Mimulus primuloides was blooming quite well. This was one of the main plants I was looking for today. Both forms were just starting in the wetland just west of Hills Peak a month ago. The only form growing here was the larger-flowered, basically glabrous sort. As I mentioned in my report from last month, I’ve been trying to sort out the differences between the two forms and find out if they really are distinct as the Oregon Flora Project does not list any varieties. It turns out the Jepson Manual and USDA Plants sites both acknowledge two varieties, but do not list both for Oregon. The descriptions pretty much match the two forms I see, so perhaps it is just a case of not realizing that the larger var. linearifolius does indeed grow in Oregon. What is not mentioned in the Jepson Manual Treatment, and what I was hoping to establish today, was whether they spread differently. On my last trip, I pulled out one of each type/variety and noticed strawberry-like runners on the small hairy ones (var. primuloides?) but not on the large one (var. linearifolius?). Unfortunately, I hadn’t pursued this further, so this time I intended to remedy this and collect some plants of each for the Herbarium. They were growing in large mats everywhere I went all day, so taking a few clumps would have a negligible impact.

Runners with new rosettes growing on the smaller variety of Mimulus primuloides

I dug up several clumps of the large monkeyflowers, and indeed, there were no above-ground runners on any of them, although they were definitely spreading underground by slender rhizomes. As the Jepson Manual says, these large ones have more upright leaves that aren’t in distinct rosettes. Their leaves have few hairs, but there are many hairs on the stems. Then I spent quite a while poking around the edge of the shallow lake, my favorite kind with lots of aquatics including fading pond lilies (Nuphar polysepala), Potamogeton epihydrus, and Menyanthes trifoliata, and I also discovered there was the rare and tiny bladderwort (Utricularia minor) in some channels in the sundew-filled bog. There was also lots of the hybrid Spiraea xhitchcockii, Kalmia microphylla, and, hiding as always in the huckleberries, Lonicera caerulea with ripe fruit. Having foolishly left my lunch in the car and because I had other places I wanted to get to, I tore myself away from this rich lakeside bog and headed back to the car. On the way, I stopped at another small wet meadow beside the old road. I was annoyed to see tire tracks circling through it, right on top of blooming Gentianopsis simplex and hundreds of Spiranthes stellata, more than I’ve ever seen in one place before. Here also was the little version of Mimulus primuloides. There were only a few tiny blossoms left. It has clear, somewhat flattened rosettes with very hairy leaves. I dug a few small clumps up, and, as expected, they had obvious stolons with varying sizes of rosettes attached to them. They might also have some underground runners. It’s hard to tell on these teeny plants.

L) pink or bog pyrola (P. asarifolia), R) lesser pyrola (P. minor)

My next stop was to another small lake on the northwest side of Hills Peak, just a little farther up Road 2153 from the two small wetlands I visited last time. There is a small road of sorts that goes beside it for a little ways, and there was some Gentianopsis simplex even here. While there were no aquatics to be seen in the lake itself, there was a terrific bog on the south side of the lake with more round-leaved sundews, Gentianopsis, and Spiranthes stellata and some adorable small channels with mossy, Kalmia-covered banks. Along the west side was a wetland with Aconitum, bog orchids, and such. I checked out a wooded section abutting the lake to look for Pyrolas. On my last trip, I thought one of the wetlands had some small Pyrola that might have been the uncommon P. minor, but there had been no flowers then. While it was pretty late for flowers, I did find a large patch of what turned out to be both the fairly common Pyrola asarifolia and the similar round-leaved but much smaller P. minor. The clincher was finding a few old flower stalks going to seed. The taller ones had the noticeably curved styles found on P. asarifolia (and P. picta), but a couple of shorter stalks above smaller, duller leaves had very short, straight styles—those of P. minor. I’ve only seen this in a few spots, so I was very pleased. Maybe I’ll get lucky enough to see them bloom next year.

A closeup of a friendly pika only 6 feet away!

Running out of time as always, I headed to my last spot, the base of Hills Peak itself. There’s a little road that goes into where they quarried at the bottom of the talus slope on the north side. The second I walked into this area, I saw movement along the flat open ground—a pika already! Having found every plant I’d hoped to see and more, I decided to forego my plan to walk up the slope to the base of the cliffs to see what grows on the rock. Instead, I followed the little pika up the talus and parked myself on the largest, most comfortable rock I could find. For some reason, the pikas weren’t really shy here. Perhaps it was the time of day or lateness of the season, but they stayed pretty active while I watched. Several appeared not far from me, and one kept popping up underneath me. They were a fairly noisy bunch, too. After I got too cold to keep sitting on the shady rocks, I moved over to the sunny but quieter side of the talus, and the pikas I’d just left did a lot of squeaking, as if to say “it’s about time she got out of our way.” There were quite a few hay piles lying around. This wasn’t a very botanically-rich slope, so mostly what was in the piles was Dicentra formosa and Rubus parviflorus, with a few leaves of Sambucus racemosa thrown in. About the only other common thing growing in the rocks was Erigeron cascadensis. There was no sign that the leaves were being eaten, but most of the flower stalks were lopped off. Apparently, these are best served fresh. I got one last chance to get up close to a friendly pika before I had to reluctantly say goodbye. But I have lots of great memories and photos of this day and this cute video below to enjoy this coming winter—if I don’t head back up there again in the next month to visit them one more time before the snow flies.

3 Responses to “Pikas, and a Coyote, and Monkeyflowers, Oh My!”

  • Phyllis Gustafson:

    I love your pikas! This sounded like a wonderful day.

  • Very, very cool. It takes skill, patience and a calm mind to get shots like these.
    Thank you so much for sharing

  • Cindy Salo:

    I’ve only just found your blog. It’s exceptional. Thanks for taking me on an arm chair tour of the wet and wild side of the mountains, explaining the plants and animals to me, and showing me what they look like. You do a superb job.

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