Butterflying at Groundhog Mountain

A lilac-bordered copper nectaring on Alice’s fleabane (Erigeron aliceae)

On Tuesday (September 6), I returned to Groundhog Mountain to spend more time watching butterflies and seeing what was still in bloom. Groundhog Mountain is my go-to place when it seems too hot to do any real hiking. After stopping several times to photograph some difficult plants like the tiny-flowered spreading groundsmoke (Gayophytum diffusum), I parked in the wide spot where the bottom of Road 452 meets Road 2309. Already there were lots of butterflies including an unusually pale-bordered Lorquin’s admiral and a fresh hoary comma where the water flowed across the road. He kept disappearing on me when he closed his golden wings, and his cryptic gray underside seemed to melt into the gravel road. The first of many Anna’s blues were also enjoying the damp soil. Since I only wanted to go as far as the Monardella area, just under a mile up the road, I walked up from here. It’s only 200 feet or so of elevation gain, and there really are flowers all along the road. The goldenrod was still blooming well along with loads of Eriogonum nudum. I don’t know why these weren’t of interest to the butterflies. They all seemed to be much more interested in the masses of leafy aster (Symphyotrichum foliaceum) and Cascade aster (Eucephalus ledophyllus). There were a good many fritillaries, all apparently hydaspe fritilliaries with cream undersides. I rarely see any of the species with the lovely silvery spots underneath. They seemed to be particular about the coyote mint (Monardella odoratissima). Their other favorite foodplant in my experience is horsemint (Agastache urticifolia), which blooms in one of the wetlands nearby but not along the road. There were lots of skippers and parnassians also enjoying the coyote mint, but the coppers never seemed to land on it at all. I did see one duskywing, a very dark individual, so possibly a Pacuvius, but these little guys seem very hard to tell apart.

It was surprising in September to see water spilling out of the ditches at the intersection of Roads 452 and 2309. The butterflies were puddling here and flowers still bloom along the road.

Miniature gilia (Gilia or Navarretia capillaris) is actually quite pretty when it grows en masse in seepy open spaces between large perennials. I was lucky there were any flowers left this late in the year.

After enjoying the lively butterflies for quite a while, I walked back down to the corner and then down the main road 2309 for a ways. Where the road bends around a hairpin turn, there is an area with lots of columbines earlier in the summer and many patches of open ground in the otherwise lush growth along the road. I’ve stopped here when there were numerous tiny annuals including a great show of the itty-bitty pink Mimulus breweri, which only shows up when it grows en masse like that. I suppose it’s typical of me to walk past all the 3-foot-tall perennials in search of tiny annuals, but this time it paid off. While most of the annuals in this spot were pretty well dried out, I did notice some unusual but vaguely familiar three-parted seed capsules. Gilia capillaris (now Navarretia capillaris, but I’m reluctant to follow yet another name change in this mixed-up family) popped into my mind. With a little more searching, I discovered several dozen individual flowers still hanging on. Sure enough, they were the little gilia. This delicate annual grows commonly in this type of habitat in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide, but Lowder Mountain (see New Plant for Lowder Mountain) is the only place I’d seen it so far in Lane County, so this was a welcome find. I’m not sure how I’ve missed this before, but I do remember finding some unusual little knotweeds (Polygonum sp.) in this same area. I’ll have to survey it more carefully earlier in the season next year.

There’s a nice view to the north from the wetland on spur road 445.

It had been years since I stopped at the wetland just south of here on side Road 445. The road is getting a little overgrown but was quite passable. Luckily there is a turn around spot right before the wetland, as the road is awfully narrow for turning around and disappears into the alders just past it. The wetland had lots of bog laurel (Kalmia microphylla) in seed and a great many of the big floppy leaves of marsh marigold (Caltha leptosepala). There were even a few flowers left in bloom. There were nice clumps of little Stellaria calycantha on mossy logs next to a small creek and some bistort (Bistorta bistortoides) and lovage (Ligusticum sp.) still in bloom. These lovages are driving me crazy, but I’ll leave that discussion for another day. This wetland was larger than I remembered. I think it is well worth checking out again in the spring.

An Edith’s copper nectaring on leafy aster (Symphyotrichum foliaceum) at Waterdog Lake

I had just enough time left to make a quick stop at Waterdog Lake. I quickly wished I hadn’t as some thoughtless hunter had left the sliced off head of his victim—an ill-fated elk—lying right in the area where people park and camp. It was covered with flies. When I returned to the car, I tried very hard not to look at it again. It’s just too upsetting. I checked out the area where the hooded ladies’ tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiana) grow and only found three, oddly fallen over. Perhaps they were stepped on. By the lake, all the tadpoles were gone, but there were many tiny toads, some with a vestige of a tail, hopping about. They had made a lot of progress since I’d seen them just a week and a half earlier (see Groundhog Mountain Still Blooming Well). The asters were still blooming along with many lovage and the tail end of the Potentilla drummondii. A few butterflies were still flying around as well, but it still had the bittersweet feeling of the changing season. Fall is approaching, and I won’t be back up here until next year.

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