Second Butterfly Survey in the Calapooyas

Looking north from the edge of the plateau where Loletta Lakes lie, there’s a good view of the Coal Creek drainage to the right and the hill above the quarry that we visited the previous week on the left. I’ve been to the rocky summit a number of times, but I’m still eyeing the rocky area down the eastern slope. Some day….

One week earlier, we looked for Sierra Nevada blues in the wetlands along the crest of the Calapooya Mountains (see Second Year of Sierra Nevada Blue Surveys) with Willamette National Forest wildlife biologist Joe Doerr. We didn’t find as many as we’d hoped, so thinking that perhaps it was a bit early, we decided to wait an extra week before returning to the area to check out some additional wetlands. So on Tuesday, July 18, Joe, Joanne, Lori, John, and I returned to the area near Loletta Lakes. We were joined on this outing by Matt Georgeff, another Middle Fork district wildlife biologist.

Threeleaf lewisia is an easily missed, early blooming wildflower of snow melt seeps.

On our first trip, we had checked out the wetlands just west of Loletta Lakes. This time we started out just east of Loletta Lakes. We parked at the usual spot where there is a small pulloff in the woods. We began by heading west, paralleling the road. We hadn’t really looked at this section of wetland last year. The plants were still fresh, with plenty of mountain shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi) and marsh marigold (Caltha leptosepala) still in bloom. The tiny flowers of threeleaf lewisia (Lewisia triphylla) were peaking out of bare spots in the wet meadow. As before, it took a while before we finally spotted our first Sierra Nevada blue, but we spotted a few here and there.

In the one small area of wetland where the Sierra Nevada blues were abundant, I took dozens of photos of the cooperative butterflies, including this pair of females sharing some girl talk over a sip of bistort (Bistorta bistortoides).

After returning to the vehicles to eat lunch, we headed north to the stretch of wetland where I had spotted the first Sierra Nevada blue in the Willamette National Forest several years ago (see NARGS Campout Day 2: Loletta Lakes). Again, there were a few here and there but not as many as we had hoped to find. Then as we headed around past a thicket of willows, suddenly there seemed to be lots of our little blues, both male and female. This was more like it. After taking lots of photos, we continued on around to the west through dry areas and across small creeks into another larger wetland. This was again disappointing, although I couldn’t see that this spot differed from others. When we came back through the good spot, it was still very active with blues. Unlike a lot of butterfly species, Sierra Nevada blues don’t seem to wander very far. 

John and I have come across this fabulous roadside display of spreading phlox north of Bradley Lake in the past, so we were thrilled to see it once again at peak bloom.

Our next spot was another wetland just off Road 5851 north of Bradley Lake. John and I had explored it before, but that was before we knew about the Sierra Nevada blues in the area. Joanne had gone up here on her own after last year’s group surveys and found the blues, so we were just checking to see how they were doing. While most of our group headed straight down the steep slope from the road into the wetland, Joe and I checked out the talus slope on the other side of the road. This is the spot where the only known Brickellia grandiflora on the west side of the Cascades can be found. The talus is covered with cascara (Rhamnus purshiana), which was in bloom and humming loudly from hundreds of bees. Sadly, these were mostly the non-native honey bees. Why are there so many up in the Calapooyas?

Elephant’s head was putting on quite a show in the wetland north of Bradley Lake.

We found our blues down in the wetland, along with a number of other butterflies and lots of wildflowers. As this meadow is a little lower elevation than the ones by Loletta Lakes, it was a bit farther along. Elephant’s head was in peak bloom in parts of the meadow, along with lots white bog orchids (Platanthera dilatata). In drier spots along the edge of the wetland, sulphur buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum) was beginning to bloom and attracting acmon blues, who use it as a host food plant for their caterpillars. A large spread of Newberry’s knotweed (now Aconogonum davisiae) was also in this area. It is unusual in the Western Cascades.

A white-lined sphinx moth enjoying white bog orchids

One of the highlights of the day was just as we were heading out of this wetland. The others were already climbing back up the slope to the road when Matt pointed out a white-lined sphinx moth. It was nectaring on the abundant white bog orchid. I so rarely see these lovely moths, and I’d never seen them drinking from orchids before. Unfortunately, the others were too far away to yell to them to come back. We didn’t want to miss this sight, so we stayed a while, and I filmed some video as well as taking lots of photos. If I can solve my technical difficulties, I’ll add the video to this post.

While we’d already had a very full and enjoyable day, there was still a little time before we had to get back to the ranger station in Westfir. John and I had really been hoping to share the spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium) patch we’d seen a few days before (see Gorgeous Day at Grassy Ranch). Luckily it was only a tenth of a mile out of our way, so Joe was happy to check it out. There were still oodles of nectaring butterflies, and everyone seemed to be in as much awe as we had been when we discovered this scene. I think I even saw the same very pale orange sulphur we’d spotted on Saturday. If I was a butterfly, I don’t think I would have left such a bounty of nectar either! It was the perfect way to end our day. Thanks to Joe for organizing these surveys once again!

There were so many butterflies fluttering about on the dogbane that it was hard to get photos of them sitting still. Here are three checkerspots and a fritillary in motion.

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