Yet Another Exciting Discovery at Bristow Prairie

Acres of bistort in the wetland by the lake

We always make a stop along the road to see the tiny least moonworts (Botrychium simplex). There were hundreds of them, some only a half-inch tall. Happily, the population seems to be increasing.

John Koenig was disappointed he wasn’t able to join us for the trip to Bristow Prairie (see previous post) and was still hankering to go there. And I hadn’t managed to get to the lake to look for Sierra Nevada blues on either of my earlier trips, so I was quite willing to return to this wonderful area just a few days later, on June 25th. We started out by hiking down to the lake. I had made sure to put my rubber boots in my vehicle, but I had forgotten to transfer them to John’s truck, so I had to walk very carefully through the still fairly damp wetland surrounding the lake. It was quite beautiful, filled with bistort (Bistorta bistortoides), the Sierra Nevada blue’s favorite nectar plant, and we saw a great many butterflies, including a swallowtail nectaring solely on the gorgeous white bog orchids (Platanthera dilatata) and many checkerspots. But where were the Sierra Nevada blues? We both looked at every blue we saw, but although there were many greenish blues and a few other species, I only saw one butterfly that I believe was a Sierra Nevada blue, but it was so low in the foliage, I couldn’t get a very good look at its underside to be sure.

Buckbean and pond lilies (Nuphar polysepala) in the shallow lake

Still, there was plenty to see. We made our way over to the southwestern end of the lake. The whole western section was covered with thousands of buckbean (Menyanthes trifoliata) flowers. I don’t think I’d ever seen such a show of these beauties. But unfortunately, they grow in the standing water, and I just couldn’t get near enough to photograph them the way I would have liked to. I sure wished I’d brought my boots! I didn’t mind getting my shoes a little wet, but they would have sunk in the mud had I tried to get any closer. Still, it was a lovely sight. We also saw still blooming elephant’s heads (Pedicularis groenlandica) and more patches of sundews (Drosera rotundifolia) that I hadn’t seen before. I had mistakenly thought they only grew in one small area, so it was good to find it more common here than I thought. Eventually, we turned back around and returned to the road.

A fashionable orange sulphur knows that the complementary lavender blue color of bluefield gilia highlights its own yellow and orange color scheme… or maybe it just likes the nectar from the tight head of small flowers.

We had talked about walking over to the rock garden, but John was still in his boots, so we had to return to the truck at least long enough to change shoes and replenish our water. Prior to the trip, I had been looking at the Bristow Prairie area on Google Earth. Some nearby rocky areas had intrigued me. I suggested we go and take a look at them. On the way there, we passed through some gorgeous stands of Bluefield gilia (Gilia capitata) and saw lots more butterflies. This area also had a lot of northern buckwheat (Eriogonum compositum), and it was attracting a number of acmon blues, who use the buckwheat as both a host food plant and a nectar plant. The view was outstanding here as well.

Looking north to Steeple Rock, Mosaic Rock, Moon Point, and Youngs Rock. There are many Alaska cedars here, as can be seen on the right. The foliage in the gravel is that of northern buckwheat.

As we climbed farther down the rocky slope, I commented that we had seen a great number of butterfly species over the course of the day and wondered what else we might see. I noted that I hadn’t seen any coppers yet this year. Within minutes, a lilac-bordered copper appeared! Feeling I was on a roll, I asked what else we might look for. After a moment’s thought, I wished for the most exciting and far-fetched thing I could think of in this kind of habitat, Columbia lewisia (Lewisia columbiana). I’m not sure why it came to mind so quickly since there are so few sites in the Cascades and I’ve so rarely seen it. Perhaps it was that I had just been talking to Molly Juillerat about it the week before. Several minutes later, I could hardly contain my excitement—there it was!! I tried to tell John, but I was too excited to be coherent, and about all I could do was point to it. It felt like winning a lottery ticket—a million-to-one long shot. When I’ve “conjured” up plants like this before, I’ve always questioned whether I might have seen something out of the corner of my eye before I was actually conscious of it. But, I’m quite sure I couldn’t have seen these lewisia plants from where it first came to mind. Perhaps it was just the familiarity with its habitat that made me think of it and being in the Calapooyas where most of the other sites are. Whether it was just dumb (or smart!) luck or some sort of a reward from the universe, I don’t care. I was thrilled.

A Sheridan’s green hairstreak nectaring on broadleaf stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium)

We set about surveying the area to see the extent of the population. We gave up counting after we reached 100 plants. This was a healthy population. And it could have been larger than we could see, as there was much rocky habitat out of sight over the side of a precipitous dropoff. This was another spot where having a drone would come in handy. One of these days, I’m going to have to treat myself to one. It’ll certainly be safer than peering over the edge of a cliff! After we were disappointed at not finding the Sierra Nevada blues at the lake, we headed back to the truck pretty darned pleased with how our luck had improved. And yet another great find in the Bristow Prairie area. How many times have I written that? Are there still more discoveries to be made here? I wouldn’t bet against it!

The prize of the day: Columbia lewisia! Its delicate pink flowers seem to float above a flattened rosette of fleshy leaves.

2 Responses to “Yet Another Exciting Discovery at Bristow Prairie”

  • Your enthusiasm is palpable. What a fun day! That Lewsia is gorgeous. Although I occasionally see a blue hairstreak in my garden, I hope I someday see a green hairstreak. What a beauty.

  • Daniel Mosquin:

    Awesome find! The Lewisias are always so cheery.

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