So Many Blues at Bradley Lake

The show of great camas (Camassia leichtlinii) was outstanding alongside Bradley Lake.

Two male Sierra Nevada blues resting on their host food plant, mountain shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi), already finished blooming.

I’m way behind posting reports again, but I couldn’t pass up sharing some photos of a trip John Koenig and I took to Bradley Lake on July 6th. After driving up Coal Creek Road a few days before to go to Balm Mountain (see Fabulous Loop Trip Around Balm Mountain) without being able to check all our favorite roadside stops, both of us agreed we wanted a more relaxing day and, despite all the other possible destinations we came up with, we wanted to go back up Coal Creek Road 2133, the gateway to the western side of the Calapooyas. We figured it would be a good time to check on the population of Sierra Nevada blues at Bradley Lake, so that was our eventual destination, but we didn’t even start walking to the lake until 2:30 pm. We stopped numerous times on the drive up, collecting seeds, photographing plants, and looking at all the butterflies—over 22 species for the day.

We had to keep stopping along Coal Creek Road because there were so many butterflies. Here a bunch of Hoffman’s and/or northern checkerspots (still trying to distinguish these two look-alikes!) along with a single blue are puddling in one of the many damp areas along Coal Creek Road.

Sulphur buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum) was blooming well in some dry spots in the meadows west of the lake. It is both the host food plant and a great nectar plant for dotted blues.

When we headed down the dead-end spur that leads to the lake, we were stopped by a log about a third of a mile before the lake. It was partly cut but still stretched across most of the road. Thanks to Chuck, one of my readers, for giving me a heads up about the blockage beforehand. As we got ready for our walk, we were quite surprised to see a vehicle drive up and sneak around it, its tires dipping down into the ditch by the very rocky bank. A second car also drove around it. While we rarely see anyone in the Calapooyas until hunting season, there were lots of people in the area enjoying the Fourth of July holiday. We were quite happy to walk the little extra bit of road rather than risk getting stuck around the log. In fact, we walked beyond where we usually approach the lake directly from the south and did some exploring west of the lake, where there is a mosaic of meadow, forest, and dry, rocky areas. Along with lots of flowers, we also found a small wetland patch with a few Sierra Nevada blues.

A very small metallic-colored beetle on elongated clover (Trifolium productum) on Coal Creek Road

An unusual yellow-flowered frosted paintbrush (Castilleja pruinosa) along Coal Creek Road.

When we finally arrived at the lake, I was overwhelmed with the sweep of purply blue great camas (Camassia leichtlinii). I wished we’d been there a bit earlier as the sun was sinking enough to not light up the whole wetland (never enough time to see everything!). But still, it was stunningly beautiful. In addition to the camas, there was quite a bit of bistort (Bistorta bistortoides) and elephant head (Pedicularis groenlandica) in bloom. And there were Sierra Nevada blues all around us on the west side of the lake. We didn’t try to count them because they were fluttering back and forth, and lots more were just sitting on flowers. I’m not sure how people count large numbers of moving butterflies! I took well over 200 photos of butterflies by the end of the day—my idea of heaven! We spent lots of time watching them all and just enjoying the serenity of this perfect mountain setting. When we finally made it out to the south side of the lake, the blues had disappeared. But by then it was close to 6 pm, the sun was going behind the nearby ridge, and the butterflies were undoubtedly packing it in for the night.

We approached the lake from the west side this time, passing through some meadows with large patches of California jacob’s ladder (Polemonium californicum).

Another view of the lake. Unfortunately, all our dawdling on the way up to the lake meant we didn’t get there until later in the day when the shadows were starting to stretch across the wetlands. The white pompoms are bistort, usually the favorite of the Sierra Nevada blues, but they seemed more interested in the camas.

When we arrived back at the car, we were puzzled that the log looked different. We eventually realized someone had actually moved it while we were down at the lake. It was now heading in the opposite direction but still mostly blocking the road. Perhaps we should have parked farther back from it, but it never occurred to us anyone would be moving it while we were there!

It was another wonderful day in the Calapooyas. So many blues (and purples): blue camas, larkspur, Jacob’s ladder, and penstemon, blue skies (mostly), and best of all lots of Sierra Nevada blues!

A beautiful female Sierra Nevada blue on camas

Two more female Sierra Nevada blues on camas. The females are a rich brown on both their upper and lower sides.

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