Further Rigdon Area Meadow Exploration

I’ve been so busy, I haven’t been able to keep up with the blog. I went out another 16 times since my last report in July, but I just didn’t seem to have the time to post. So—now that the year is just about over—I thought I’d try to at least post some photos from the most interesting of those trips—many were just seed-collecting trips to familiar places for the restoration work on my own property.

Looking for more purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) sites in the Rigdon area of southeastern Lane County was still one of my top priorities for the year. While I wasn’t able to find milkweed in most of them, I did find some interesting spots.

July 6

Purple milkweed dying back at the quarry meadow.

Crystal Shepherd, who worked as a botanist in the Middle Fork district last year, told me about a site where she found “one lonely Asclepius” last year. It was a very small opening above an old quarry along Youngs Creek Road 2129. I decided I’d better check it out it myself. I had looked at the meadow alongside the quarry many years ago in early spring but had never been back, even though it is just above the road that I’ve driven up countless times. I was thrilled to discover there was actually milkweed in the quarry meadow itself. I only spotted 10 plants, but some were already largely collapsed on the ground, so there may well be more than I saw. Before the quarry tore into the meadow, there might have been a much larger population. There were also a lot of other nice wildflowers in this meadow, including tons of tall bluefield gilia (Gilia capitata) going to seed (but not ripe yet—darn!) and quite a bit of blooming western rayless fleabane (Erigeron inornatus), what I’ve come to feel is a regular associate of purple milkweed.

Purple milkweed at Crystal’s Glade

I headed up the steep slope and through the woods to locate the waypoint Crystal had given me. I was not very hopeful as I really couldn’t imagine that there were any appropriate openings. But then I found the little sunny spot with some outcrop at the base, and there was the milkweed! It was only about a half-acre, but it had several fully blooming mock orange (Philadelphus lewisii) shrubs at the base of the rocks, attracting many butterflies and other insects. While there weren’t very many large milkweed plants, a thorough survey totaled 37 plants, including 7 seedlings. Hard to imagine but it appeared that this population was expanding. I knew this species like shadier edges of rocky meadows, but I never imagined it could survive in such a small sunny spot. What really surprised me was that I found 2 monarch eggs and one (sadly) dead caterpillar on the ground beneath a milkweed plant. How did they find such a small population in such a small opening?! I’m calling this little spot Crystal’s Glade, and I definitely plan to revisit it in the future to see how the population is doing.

Mating fritillaries on mock orange. Checkerspots, Lorquin’s admirals, and a pale swallowtail also took advantage of the abundant nectar, while I enjoyed the heady fragrance.


August 2

A hedgerow hairstreak ovipositing on the buckbrush twig

There are some openings north of the known milkweed meadows that I was interested in exploring. One of these looked fairly easy to get to from the main Road 21 that follows Hills Creek Reservoir and then continues along the Middle Fork of the Willamette. I had to walk a half mile down an overgrown road and a little way uphill through some forest, but it didn’t take me too long to reach the south-facing opening that was filled with buckbrush (Ceanothus cuneatus). I had suspected this based on the color of the shrubs you can see on Google Earth. There was no milkweed and not a lot of other things of great interest, although there had definitely been some nice wildflowers earlier in the season. There were some smaller openings in the woods to the east of the meadow. As long as I was there, I figured I’d better survey it all. I had noticed little butterflies flitting around the larger meadow. They were here again. I watched them more carefully and discovered they were indeed hedgerow hairstreaks. Their host food plant is Ceanothus, so this was not surprising. I’d never seen so many before, however. This is probably a result not only of the amount of buckbrush but of my timing. I’d only seen a few at the equally buckbrushy “Rabbitbrush Ridge” earlier in the summer.

The tiny pale green egg of a hedgerow hairstreak on a buckbrush twig

As I watched the butterflies, I noticed they kept landing on the buckbrush. It was long past bloom, so they weren’t nectaring. They were, in fact, laying eggs! Now my day was suddenly much more interesting. I’d never seen their eggs before. They were mostly greenish and were quite reminiscent of a sea urchin shell after the spines have fallen off. I followed them around taking photos of the butterflies and the eggs. At some point, I realized there was another species of butterfly in the area. It took me a while to get a good look at it, and even longer to photograph it, but it didn’t take me long to realize I was finally seeing a live, free-flying tailed copper! I knew they had been seen before in the general Hills Creek area, but I had only seen one that someone had caught. That was upsetting to me; this was thrilling. They are such gorgeous little butterflies. So even though I didn’t find any interesting plants, I was so happy I had found this spot. Since I’d already given the name Buckbrush Meadow to another meadow in the area (see More New Meadows in the Rigdon Area),. I decided to name it Hedgerow Meadow, in honor of the hairstreaks.

A gorgeous tailed copper, my big find of the day


September 21

Most of this long rocky wall is undercut.

Merriam’s alumroot growing happily on the vertical rocks

The heat and smoke once again limited my outings in the summer, but much later in the season, I returned to Rigdon to check out a few more promising looking openings I’d seen on Google Earth. The one that intrigued me the most was off of Road 2125 between Coal Creek Bluff and Bristow Prairie at about 3700′. It looked like the slope and aspect were very similar to Coal Creek Bluff, only it is over 1000′ higher in elevation. There’s a 1.4-mile old road that led to within about a quarter of a mile of the meadow. It was bermed off, but I was expecting this. What I wasn’t prepared for was how hard part of the section past the road was. I could not get to the meadow without passing through an overgrown logged area. Thankfully it was worth the hard slog through small trees, shrubs, and brambles. I didn’t find any milkweed—although I imagine it would be a great place to try sowing some seeds—I did discover one of my other favorite plants, Merriam’s alumroot (Heuchera merriamii). It loves growing under overhangs, and the distinctive feature of this meadow was the long area of overhanging rocks, a nice place to stay out of the rain or hot sun. This inspired me to give it the name “Rockshelter Meadow.”

There were quite a few California tortoiseshells alighting on the rocks in the shade of the overhangs.

From the main meadow, I could see a north-facing cliff perpendicular to the meadow. It intrigued me, but I couldn’t imagine that I would be able to get there. I did go exploring into the upper woods south of the meadow. I found a creek that was actually flowing. It seemed to go down to a small waterfall. I was surprised there was water in it, considering we’d still only had a little rain. Before the creek dropped out of view, I crossed it and went up the far bank toward a little light. Surprise, surprise, I soon found myself above the cliff I’d seen from the meadow! I walked along a seepy area above the cliff and came to more overhanging rocks and another creek. I would love to see this whole area in its spring bloom. I guess I’ll just have to tough out the unpleasant access to it—if I can’t find another way in.


October 11

For my last trip to the Rigdon area this year, I was joined by John Koenig. There was one more open, rocky area I wanted to get to before the end of the year. John drove us up Road 2124, a road I don’t think I’ve ever explored, even though I’ve been up the nearby roads countless times. It was actually in fine shape. We parked at the intersection of an old road and walked a half mile down along a ridge to where the road dead-ended. It wasn’t very far through the woods to the open areas on either side of the ridge, but unfortunately, there was quite a bit of poison oak to contend with. We made our way through it carefully and found ourselves out on a very steep, more or less south-facing, rocky slope. Again, no sign of milkweed, but it was a cool place with patches of dwarf oaks and a view to the southwest.

Small oaks growing in the south open area

We followed it around to the south, passing through a small wet area with a barely wet creek. We were really surprised to see horsetail and sedges right near the edge of a cliff! As it was quite late in the season, the only thing in bloom was the lovely autumn knotweed (Polygonum spergulariiforme). Leaves of the summer-dormant California mistmaiden (Romanzoffia californica) were just emerging, and there were seedlings just germinating. It’s always fun to identify plants offseason when they aren’t blooming. We found a metal benchmark at the edge of the cliff, along with a metal post that had fallen down the slope. While leaning over to look down at this, my camera fell out of my bag and started rolling. I freaked out, watching it bounce down the hill—memories of watching my binoculars do this at Monarch Meadow earlier in the year not yet forgotten (see Very Early Visit to Monarch Meadow). Thankfully this was around the end of the cliffy area where it didn’t go down very far. It got stopped by some plants, and I was able to climb down and rescue it. The moss was fluffed up from fall rains and seemed to have protected it. I certainly didn’t want to lose another camera! We didn’t feel like leaving the loose metal littering the place, so John carried the awkward thing back with him. Thanks, John!

A bumblebee sips from the last flowering plants in the area, autumn knotweed.

We then headed back the way we came and made our way back through a short poison oak-filled stretch of forest over to another rocky opening on the other side of the ridge. This was quite nice, and although there still wasn’t any milkweed, I did spot what looked like western rayless fleabane (Erigeron inornatus) drying up, so that made me think that milkweed might be able to grow here. John and I want to return to this area when it is in bloom this coming spring. Maybe then we’ll be able to come up with a fitting name for it.

The rocky opening on the northwest side of the ridge

2 Responses to “Further Rigdon Area Meadow Exploration”

  • Cyndi Dion:

    Hi Tanya; I just wanted to wish you a Happy New Year and tell you how much I enjoy your forays into the woods. Everytime, I learn something new, and these days, with a bum leg that goes out from under me once in a while, I don’t get up to those rocky spots as much as I’d like. That hedgerow hairstreak egg is astonishing, I’ve never seen one before. Lately, since my daughter and her family moved to Talent from Portland, I’ve been out in the Cascade Siskiyou Monument with my granddaughter Willa, aged 10. She is a budding naturalist and I love the idea that there are those who may carry on after we are long gone. Best to you and Happy New Year. Hi to John Koenig! Cyndi

  • I was wondering why I stopped getting notifications from you! You were out enjoying nature instead of at your computer. I sure can’t fault you for that. Your wilderness forays are so interesting and entertaining. Thank you for continuing to share them with us and thank you for all you do to help our critters. May 2019 be a good year for all of Mother Earth.

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