Another New Milkweed and Monarch Site!

After all the great luck we’d been having finding purple milkweed in the Rigdon area of southeastern Lane County, I was determined to find some more sites. With the exception of Grassy Glade, all the other sites were on the north side of Rigdon Road 21 and the Middle Fork of the Willamette. Surely there must be some other areas on the south side. I spent some time on Google Earth, looking for all the openings I could find between Big Pine Opening and Grassy Glade that appeared to be meadows between 2400–3600′, similar to those we had been surveying. I found at least a half dozen or so promising spots, but one in particular seemed like a good place to start.

Milkweed, buckwheat, and rabbitbrush growing in “Maple Creek Meadow”. Diamond Peak can be seen to the east. The ridge in the backround was burned in the 2009 Tumblebug Fire.

So on July 8, I drove back down to the Rigdon area and headed down Coal Creek Road 2133, just south of Big Pine Opening. I was looking for Road 217, just a couple of miles down. The map indicated it had a gate, but I was surprised to find instead a very large berm blocking the road. Being unsure of the road condition, I was already prepared to walk, as it was less than 2 miles and under 500′ of elevation gain to reach the 2900′ meadow. What I hadn’t counted on was that there were dozens of berms! I’m not sure why they need so many to keep people from driving up a decommissioned road. Between the heat of the day, the endless up-and-down over berms, and not knowing how far I had gone because my GPS is on the fritz, I was getting rather discouraged walking up the rather boring forested road. Surely I had already gone 2 miles! I kept thinking, if the meadow wasn’t very interesting, at least I’d never have to walk this road again.

I only found 3 caterpillars in the meadow, but there had probably been more a couple of weeks earlier. This one was joined by a small bug.

The aerial photo I brought showed a large side road, Road 223, that crossed through the open area. I kept passing old, road-like paths, wondering if it could have grown over really fast. Finally, there it was, not grown over at all. In just a few hundred yards, I was out above a large, south-sloping meadow to my right and an old quarry to my left. It only took a few minutes to spot the first purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia)—yahoo! Suddenly, my grumpiness totally lifted. I started out by wandering around the quarried area. I was surprised to find the milkweed growing in such a disturbed area. Along with milkweed was the locally ubiquitous sticky birdbeak (Cordylanthus tenuis). It took a little while, but I finally spotted a monarch caterpillar—yippee! There were quite a few plants with no caterpillars but with tiny holes like those the caterpillars chew after they hatch. Half-chewed leaves were also evident. Whether the caterpillars had already pupated or been eaten, I’ll never know, but discovering that there was milkweed here and that the monarchs knew about it was as much as I could have hoped for, so I was thrilled. From three known sites in Lane County, we now have seven!

Elegant cluster-lily (Brodiaea elegans) is the last to bloom of our common low-elevation bulbs, waiting for the grass to totally dry out before putting on its elegant display of purple flowers.

After lunching in the shade, I wandered about the main meadow, counting milkweed plants and looking for caterpillars or eggs. It was quite dry, and the plants were farther along than those from the previous trip (see Farther Up “Milkweed Ridge”) with large seed pods. I didn’t see a lot of chew marks on the plants in the main meadow, but there were some very large plants with as many as 17 stalks, and about 100 plants in the whole area, so at least the milkweed population was healthy. There were also a number of other good butterfly nectar plants that were in fading bloom, including lots of Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum) and northern buckwheat (Eriogonum compositum). Farewell-to-spring (Clarkia amoena) was also still in bloom, and there was even some rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa), which would provide nectar for any remaining butterflies and other insects as the summer wanes. No monarchs ever flew by, however. As I headed back down the road, I was much less annoyed by the numerous berms and it didn’t seem to take so long to get back to the car. I’m looking forward to heading back up the road next year much earlier to see the rest of the wildflowers and look for monarchs when the milkweed is still blooming. Now that it is a place worth returning to, it needed a name, so I decided to call the place “Maple Creek Meadow” because Maple Creek flows down below it. Not terribly imaginitive, but it’ll do (and it starts with “M” like milkweed and monarch!).

A female monarch nectaring on one of the last flowering purple milkweeds at Grassy Glade.

I had lined up several other spots to check—in case this one hadn’t worked out—but I was running out of time to do anything else major. I decided to go check out a spot near Grassy Glade that had looked promising. When I got to the spur road that led to it, it looked too wavy to drive, so I decided to save it for another day when I had time to walk to it and went back to Grassy Glade instead. I was thrilled to find a monarch flying around the milkweed, soon after I arrived. At 3600′, this is the highest of the milkweed spots so far, so there were still a few fresh flowers for her to nectar on. I also spent a lot more time surveying the plant species, something I hadn’t had time to do with Joe earlier in the week. The only distressing thing was how few caterpillars I was able to find. In only 3 days, the population seemed to have diminished quite a bit. Perhaps next year, we can try hand-rearing some caterpillars or find some other way to help these little creatures survive. Monarchs need all the help they can get these days.

One Response to “Another New Milkweed and Monarch Site!”

  • Sabine Dutoit:

    I hope the powers that be are giving you the credit you deserve for all your diligent work on the Monarch’s mysterious life. It is dedicated lovers of creatures great and small such as you who bring the incredible magic of their lives to us who cannot join you in your journey to discover. Keep it up amazing lady. We owe you a great debt.

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