Groundhog Mountain Still Blooming Well

This section of Road 452 is a veritable smorgasbord for butterflies, bees, and other pollinators.

With the continued warm weather, I didn’t feel like exerting myself, so on Friday, August 25, I went to Groundhog Mountain, accompanied by Sabine Dutoit and Nancy Bray, to do some relaxing roadside botanizing and butterfly watching. There’s too much to see to do everything in one trip, so we started by heading up Road 452, which goes around the east and north sides of the mountain. The best butterfly area, a little less than a mile up the road, was really superb. The coyote mint (Monardella odoratissima) and Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum) were at peak, along with lots sulphur buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum), leafy fleabane (Erigeron foliosus), fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium), and skyrocket (Ipomopsis aggregata). What a sight. There were oodles of butterflies including pale swallowtails, hydaspe fritillaries, variable checkerspots, Anna’s blues, pine whites, parnassians, a tiger swallowtail, one painted lady—possibly my first of the season, a woodland skipper, a mylitta crescent, a Lorquin’s admiral, and several coppers, including a purplish.

A pine white (Neophasia menapia) nectaring on Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum).

Next, we parked at the beginning of Road 454, now unmarked and quite overgrown for a little ways. After plowing through some alders and willows, we reached the open part of the road. This is such a special place. The water is flowing quite well across the road, which has now become quite mossy and covered with flowers. White bog orchids (Platanthera dilatata), Senecio triangularis, Mimulus guttatus, and Micranthes [Saxifraga] oregana were going strong. Lovely Epilobium luteum and Parnassia cirrata were just getting started. We also found some bronze bells (now Anticlea occidentalis) in good bloom. The sundews didn’t appear until lower down the road, but they grow all the way up the seepy slope—just amazing. Sabine spotted a caterpillar eating some Sitka alder (Alnus viridis) leaves. It looks like the ones I’ve seen before on currants (Ribes spp.) and thought they were hoary commas. It turns out that although oreas and hoary commas eat currants, the caterpillars of green commas are found on willows and alders, so perhaps this is a green comma. Learning the host food plants is really important to butterfly identification. Just a few minutes after that, we saw an adult hoary comma flying around nearby. He finally landed on some scat and remained there happily for quite some time. Green commas have a similar underside but with greenish patches that are a dead ringer for lichen on tree bark.

The caterpillar might be a green comma (Polygonia faunus), but the adult is definitely a hoary comma (P. gracilis)

Our next stop was farther up the road at the twin ponds, one of which is almost always dry when I get there. This year was no different, but for the end of August, things were amazingly fresh, with some blooming Dodecatheon jeffreyi at one edge. The shallow lake in the back was even better. The south end, partly shaded by the forest still had a small patch of snow and lots of marsh marigold (Caltha leptosepala) just coming out. At last year’s field trip (see Group Trip to Groundhog), we saw Cascade frogs as well as boreal toads. Thankfully both were evident once again with adult frogs and both small dark tadpoles and large brown ones. Presumably, the little ones were toads. They seem to prefer swarming together in dark masses. The much larger tadpoles kept a little distance from each other. The shallow water in this small lake makes it really easy to view them all. Unfortunately, the mosquitoes were much worse here than elsewhere nearby. While trying unsuccessfully to relocate some Lycopodium sitchense I’d seen here a few years back, I discovered some very tiny lewisias that looked to me more like Lewisia nevadensis than L. triphylla except for the size. I stopped to photograph them, and a swarm of mosquitoes attacked me. That really takes the fun out of exploring places like this. But out of the hundreds of times I’ve been out in the Western Cascades, and two dozen trips to Groundhog, mosquitoes have rarely been a problem. The snowy winter has really changed the conditions this year. Hopefully, all the bugs will give the frogs and toads plenty to eat. Of the far more welcome insects, we saw a great arctic and a mariposa copper to add to our day’s butterfly list.

Tadpoles of boreal toads (Anaxyrus boreas—formerly Bufo boreas) and Cascade frogs (Rana cascadae). While these photos are not to scale, the toads were much smaller. Apparently they do a lot of their growing in their adult stage.

Our last stop was at Waterdog Lake, to check on the toads there, among other things. There were thousands of them last year in varying stages of development (see Awesome Day at Groundhog). This was good news since boreal toads are declining in much of their range. I hoped that they would be doing as well this year, but it took a while to even find any here. Eventually, we found some black masses similar to those at the upper pond. None were developing legs yet or emerging from the water as they had been on August 10 of last year. With September right around the corner, I hope they have enough time to finish developing before the cold sets in. I also spent some time relocating the small population of tiny Botrychium simplex: 27 plants, some no taller than an inch and sporing well. We also saw large gatherings of puddling Anna’s blues at the edges of the lake. What a great day for butterflies and amphibians!



2 Responses to “Groundhog Mountain Still Blooming Well”

  • Kris:

    Hi Tanya, that anglewing caterpillar is awesome! I haven’t seen one of those for a very long time. Tell Sabine that anytime she wants to stop by and help me find caterpillars she’s more than welcome. :)

    The red on the edge of the Pine White’s wing is very interesting. Could you tell if it was on the opposite wing too? Have you noticed it on other Pine Whites?

    In this area, arctics usually only show up in even numbered years, although one was reportedly seen on Sunrise Peak in Skamania County the other day. The guy who saw it said that he has never seen one in an odd-numbered year. Sunrise Peak is farther east than the areas I usually explore.

    Your first picture of the rocky slope with flowers look a lot like some of the roadside slopes in this neck of the woods.

    What’s the elevation at Twin Ponds?

    Your articles and pictures keep me sane on the days that I’m not in the mountains. It’s almost like being there.


  • Gary Pearson:

    Hello Tanya,
    I was pleased to meet you at Little Groundhog some days past. I appreciate your telling me of your website–I have found this very useful in identifying the many plant samples I have from this area. Do you know the ssp or variation of eriogonum umbellatum found here? I see it to be quite different from the types found on the east side of the cascades. Anyway, I wish you the very best in your endeavors. Warm regards, Gary Pearson

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