Early Season in the Calapooyas

A last remaining snow bank in the wetland. The mountain shooting stars (Dodecatheon jeffreyi) and marsh marigold (Caltha leptosepala) were still in bloom, so it was probably too early for the Sierra Nevada blues to be out yet.

It was very odd to see a number of cliff paintbrush (Castilleja rupicola) blooming along the edge of the gravel road right beside the wet ditch and moisture lovers such as brook saxifrage (Micranthes odontoloma).

On June 19, John Koenig and I took a trip up Coal Creek Road 2133 to see what was blooming in the high country. This is one of our favorite areas. But first, we stopped by Monarch Meadow to see if there was any activity. There were no monarchs flying around, but we saw a handful of eggs. Then we stopped at many wonderful spots along Coal Creek Road to look at plants and butterflies before ending our day in the wetlands near Loletta Lakes. Thickening clouds right above us along the crest of the Calapooyas kept the butterflies down at the top, but we saw plenty on the way up. Things were still pretty early up there, and we even saw a few lingering glacier lilies (Erythronium grandiflorum) and some snow. Here are a few photographic highlights.

We’ve been seeing these “eggs on a stick” on the purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) in a number of sites. They look like those of lacewings. Lacewings are supposed to be beneficial in gardens because their larvae eat pest caterpillars and eggs. Could they be eating the monarch eggs?

We were surprised to discover two caterpillars at Monarch Meadow apparently using the milkweed as shelter. There was no sign that they’d eaten any of the leaves. Butterfly expert David James confirmed that they were the caterpillars of a skipper. He writes: “That is unusual! It appears to be a mature larva of a Woodland Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanoides) (Check the images in my book ‘Life Histories of Cascadia Butterflies). They are grass feeders of course so may be using the milkweed leaves as ‘improved’ shelters! Mature larvae do appear to aestivate for about a month before pupation so maybe that’s what they are doing on the milkweed…?”

There were loads of butterflies by the waterfall along Coal Creek Road. This particular great arctic was very territorial. Not only did it chase away every butterfly that came near it, it kept flying straight at my head, only to veer over me at the last minute. It is very camouflaged as soon as it closes its wings.

Near the waterfall is a beautiful stand of twisted stalk (Streptopus amplexifolius). To see the little bell-like flowers attached by a twisted pedicel, you need to get underneath them, which was easy here where they grew on a wet bank above the road.

At the small pond on the way up the road, there were lots of puddling butterflies, including these two western tailed blues.

We were surprised to see the moss drying and cracking in the rocky part of the wetland next to Loletta Lakes so soon after we finally had some real rain. Perhaps it somehow missed the Calapooyas.

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