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.

We stopped at many of the same places I check every spring, but the main thing I wanted to see was whether any of the darling gold stars (Crocidium multicaule) were out yet. We were thrilled to find a number of their cheery, bright yellow blossoms dotting the mossy ledges of the cliffs and road banks along the west side of Hills Creek Reservoir. While there are many spots in this area where they grow, the section between milepost 7 and 8 was the only place they seem to have started so far this season. With enough rain, the show can become quite stunning and last for several months. We were also surprised to have scared a meadowlark along the cliffs. I’ve never seen one in the area before and we weren’t near what I would think was its habitat.

At the end of the day, after several hours in the shade, the flower heads of gold stars begin to close up.

At the end of the day, after several hours in the shade, the flower heads of gold stars begin to close up.

During our lunch stop at Youngs Flat Picnic Area, we found a single Piperia (most likely elongata on the north side of area) just emerging. While these orchids are very late bloomers, the leaves are some of the first of the ephemerals to show their faces. A snow queen (Synthyris reniformis) was in bud but nothing else so far. Without a lot of flowers to distract us, we noticed quite a number of lichens, including one unfamiliar pubescent, gray, leafy one growing on the mossy ground. Not knowing much about lichens, about all I can surmise is that it is some sort of Peltigera. Nancy spotted some animals hurrying out of the damp spot down in the woods, and I’m pretty sure the glimpse I caught  was of the beige hindquarters of an elk. Certainly their scat was everywhere. I imagine they’ll still be down at these low elevation sites for a while until the snow starts to melt higher up.

A stunningly beautiful green comma (Polygonia faunus), warming up in the afternoon sun.

A lovely green comma (Polygonia faunus), warming up in the afternoon sun.

After a very pleasant stop at Campers Flat Campground, where we spotted some buds but no flowers yet on the early blooming Montia fontana and Nemophila pedunculata, and a quick look at Mutton Meadow, where nothing had started yet, we ended up at Rigdon Meadow. We hadn’t seen anyone for hours, but here we ran into fellow NPSO member Diane English and her husband. They were very knowledgeable about the area, so I listened happily to stories about nearby places they’d been. It had been warming up very nicely all day, and by now it was really pleasant. I had mentioned to Nancy earlier in the morning that if the forecast for Oakridge was right—over 60°—we might get lucky and see the first butterfly of the season. It only took a few minutes after we arrived at the meadow that he/she appeared—a gorgeous green comma. Any butterfly would have been a gorgeous sight after so many months without them. Now I know spring is on its way, and I’ll be able to get through whatever rain, cold, or snow is yet to come. Yahoo!

2 Responses to “First Hints of Spring”

  • Eleanor Ryan:

    Dear Tanya,
    We have both seen the same species–Green Comma. We saw ours at Findley. Spring is coming. I enjoyed your flower photos. I have not seen many flowers yet except the long chains on Hazelnut orchards. Thanks for your lovely description.I would like to know where the meadow is you described. Warmly–Ellie

  • Hi Ellie,

    Rigdon Meadows is right past the entrance to Sacandaga Campground. Apparently, it is an archeological site and was once a major stop on the Oregon Central Military Wagon Road. A few remains of old buildings can still be found there. While there are quite a few non-native plants, owing to the human impact, there are lots of pretty natives as well.

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