Watching Bees and Butterflies at Medicine Creek Road

Sadly not a monarch but a worn California tortoiseshell on purple milkweed.

On Memorial Day, May 25, I made the long drive down to the North Umpqua to check out the population of purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) along Medicine Creek Road 4775. I was a little disappointed to find it was just starting to open. I think the cool weather of late had slowed things down because Big Pine Opening was at about the same stage weeks ago, and although it is lower elevation, it is also much farther north. But although the milkweed wasn’t attracting many insects, there were plenty of plants that were.

A silver-spotted skipper was one of many insects nectaring on silverleaf phacelia.

I parked my car just a little north of the milepost 2 sign at an intersection of an old road. As soon as I crossed the road to the bottom of the large open slope, I stopped to watch all the activity on some large, bushy silverleaf phacelia (Phacelia hastata), which were growing for quite a ways along the roadside. Bees large and small were enjoying the abundant flowers. Butterflies also found it a wonderful nectar source. While the phacelia was rather drab, the gorgeous silvery lupines (Lupinus albifrons) made up for that with their spectacular purple racemes smothering the silver foliage. I spent quite a while attempting to photograph individual bees, but most were moving too fast.

A bee collecting pollen from the numerous stamens of black raspberry.

Chrysolina beetles were introduced as a biological control for Klamathweed (Hypericum perforatum). They were everywhere, but so still was the Klamathweed.

As I wandered down the road for a bit, I was surprised to find bees humming all over a couple of species of unassuming flowers that I would never have listed as great pollinator plants. Where the lupines, slender-tube iris (Iris chrysophylla), and milkweed finally faded out, and I decided to turn around, I spotted a lot of activity on a large black raspberry (Rubus leucodermis) plant. I hadn’t even noticed it was in bloom at first, as its white petals are quite small relative to the flowers. But the bees didn’t care.

Farther back up the road, I again passed the buzzing sound of busy bees. Above me on the slope was a very large poison oak in full bloom. Tiny bees, flies, and other insects seemed to be moving everywhere, but it was hard to spot many of them actually landing. I spent 5 or 10 minutes trying to see what was going on and get some photos, but I have to say it made me uncomfortable hanging out so close to a plant I’ve spent so much time “at war” with. I really didn’t want to lose my balance on the rocky slope and slip into the clutches of those poisonous branches!

From the hidden meadow, you can see back to the rocky slope above Medicine Creek Road.

Without the bright yellow inflorescences, it would be hard to spot the delicate foliage of nineleaf lomatium.

One of my goals for the day was to explore a few more of the nearby openings in search of more populations of milkweed. Last year, John Koenig and I had checked out some spots a bit farther up the road (see Terrific Day at Medicine Creek Road), and in 2017, I was thrilled to find some milkweed at a large meadow to the east (see A Week of Monarchs and Milkweed: Day 3). The little road I was parked by dead-ended a mere 500′ from the main road in a patch of lupines and irises. From there, it was only about another 500′ and a 200′ elevation drop down to a 4-acre hidden meadow. The woods were quite open, as they tend to be in Douglas County (no tangles of vine maples!). There were lovely patches of western starflower (Lysimachia [Trientalis] latifolia) in bloom and also some scattered Nevada pea (Lathyrus lanszwertii), a white-flowered species with narrow leaves I don’t see that often. Just before I popped out into the meadow, I was surprised to see a large number of nineleaf lomatium (Lomatium triternatum) coming into bloom. While it is common and widespread across the state, there are very few sites in the Western Cascades. I think I’ve only seen it in about 5 of the 100+ sites I keep track of in my database.

Silver lupine blooming profusely at the top of the hidden meadow.

Sadly, there was no sign of milkweed in the meadow, but moist areas were still bright yellow with seep monkeyflower (Erythranthe). There were also lots of annuals, including clovers (Trifolium microcephalum, T. dichotomum, and T. wildenovii), baby stars (Leptosiphon bicolor), and a little common blue cup (Githopsis specularioides). I wandered to the end of the meadow past a gorgeous show of silvery lupine and through a very short stretch of forest to another opening along a ridge. From here I could see other open areas to the east—still more places to explore!

A very small bee checking out some of the holes in the ground. You can just see the antenna of someone in the right hole.

As I was heading back, I passed a rather barren, gravelly area only thinly covered with vegetation. It took me a few minutes before I realized that dozens of tiny bees were flying in every direction just an inch or so above the ground. I watched them for half an hour as they landed by equally tiny holes in the ground, often disappearing into a hole and popping up somewhere else—or maybe those were different bees, I don’t know, but it was quite fascinating. I couldn’t help wondering, if I’d been able to bring a companion, would anyone have waited for me for that long without getting bored? At that point, it had totally clouded over and I had a long drive home, so I skipped the other spots I was going to check. It was supposed to be a day about milkweed, but turning into a day about bees was just fine with me!

Someone is now peering out from just inside the hole on the left.

2 Responses to “Watching Bees and Butterflies at Medicine Creek Road”

  • Val Rogers:

    Nothing wrong with a day about bees! Love how you take what nature gives you with gratitude Tanya.

  • What fascinating little bees. I’m wondering how your heartleaf milkweed is doing. Is it blooming yet? This spring I finally able to purchase six small seedlings from a nursery in the midwest. So far they’re doing fine but they’re still small and no blooms yet. I’m still thinking about where to grow them but I’m sure they’ll let me know eventually. :) Love your travels. Thank you for sharing them with us.

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