More Exploration Near Grassy Glade

The most floriferous spot at Rabbitbrush Ridge is a small draw next to the dike. No doubt this area funnels most of the surrounding moisture to the mass of northern buckwheat (Eriogonum compositum), frosted paintbrush (Castilleja pruinosa), varifleaf phacelia (Phacelia heterophylla), bluefield gilia (Gilia capitata), ookow (Dichelostemma congestum), and Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum).

Candelabrum monkeyflower is a delicate annual that prefers openings among shrubs where there’s little competition.

On Wednesday, June 10, we had a day off from the rain (not that I’m complaining about rain in June anymore!), so I took advantage of it to head back to Grassy Glade and check out one more opening I hadn’t been to yet and see how the purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) was doing.

First I made a few stops to collect seeds: silvery lupine (Lupinus albifrons) was ripening on the north side of Hills Creek Reservoir, and there was still some seed of Hall’s lomatium (Lomatium hallii) along the cliffs west of the reservoir. I also got a good collection of seeds of the annual miniature lupine (Lupinus bicolor), which I’d spotted growing abundantly along the road right under the guard rails. In this same area, the paintbrush (a mix of Castilleja hispida and C. pruinosa) was still blooming as was the Oregon sunshine, including a lovely pale yellow-flowered plant I’ve watched for years. I’ll be back for seeds of those later in the summer—Castilleja blooming in an area I’m restoring on my property are the progeny of these plants, growing successfully in mats of Oregon sunshine, some of which were also grown from seed collected here.

As on my earlier trip this year (see Milkweed is Up and Dippers are Out), my next stop was lunch at the Staley Creek Bridge. I wanted to collect seed of the beautiful population of Menzies’ larkspur (Delphinium menziesii) I had seen at peak bloom in early May. It took a while to spot the dried out seed capsules among the still-blooming large-flowered blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia grandiflora), but once I spotted the first one and got the search image in my head, I was fairly successful. I was happily surprised to find it was peak bloom time for the tiny-flowered candelabrum monkeyflower (Erythranthe [Mimulus] pulsiferae), a fairly uncommon annual. I had forgotten that this was one the sites I had found it at in the past.

On the left, peeking out of the nest, you can see the yellow beak of what I presume is a youngster begging for food. A minute later, a second dipper arrived with some delicacy in its mouth to feed its offspring. Several monkeyflower plants are growing in the mossy nest, further camouflaging it.

My other hope was to see the dippers again. After poking around and collecting seeds for about half an hour, I had to take a break for lunch. I sat down on the far side of the creek from the dipper nest, trying to position myself in a fairly inconspicuous spot but with a clear line of sight. Although the nest was totally out of reach of any land mammal, I wasn’t sure how they would react to my presence. It only took a few minutes for one of them to appear at the nest, but it was way too quick for me to get a shot. Within five minutes it was back, but again I missed it. Obviously, eating my sandwich was a hindrance to getting a quick shot; so I postponed the rest of my lunch and sat there staring through the camera (this is one time I wish I did carry a tripod!) waiting for one of the dippers to return. After a couple of successful rounds of photos, I hit the jackpot when both of them were at the nest at once. And how cool it was to see that they were feeding someone inside! Satisfied that I’d gotten some decent photos and not wanting to pester them any further, I said goodbye to the dipper family.

When I took this photo of a mass of clovers at Grassy Glade, I was focused on the dark purple branched Indian clover (Trifolium dichotomum). I didn’t see the single flower of thimble clover (T. microdon) with its distinctive flat-bottomed involucre right in the center of the photo. I don’t see that species very often, and it is actually an addition to my plant list for Grassy Glade. I’ll have to look for it in person on a future trip. Also in the photo are small-head clover (T. microcephalum), small-flowered deervetch (Acmispon parviflorus), spring gold (Lomatium utriculatum), Tolmie’s cat’s ears (Calochortus tolmiei), and hairy owlclover (Castilleja tenuis). Sometimes there is just too much going on to see everything right in front of you, especially the less showy species.

Next stop was Grassy Glade, just a few miles of gravel from the bridge. With all the rain we’ve had, most of the meadow was still green, and the moist wash was filled with flowers, mostly annual clovers and other delicate bloomers. Checking the aerial on my iPhone, I followed the wash straight down into the woods. The little opening I’d never been to before was visible as soon as I got into the forest—I hadn’t realized it would be that easy. Kris Elsbree had checked this out last year and told me there was milkweed in the opening. We’d already explored most of the other openings (see Searching for Monarchs at Grassy Glade) and found milkweed in many but not all of them. I was surprised, however, to find about 100 plants in this small area, doing a very cursory count. The moisture from the meadow above had funneled into a small creek along the east edge of the opening. I decided to call this spot Creek Glade, to go with Grassy Glade, Rocky Glade, and Mock Orange Glade, our other milkweed spots.

This little opening is actually just a short way downhill from the main meadow at Grassy Glade. How had I never gotten around to checking it out before? You can see one of the milkweed plants in the foreground on the right.

The population of purple milkweed at the west end of Rabbitbrush Ridge was at peak bloom. It’s hard to get close to photograph it here because of the slippery gravel on the steep slope. I always worry I’ll drop something that will roll down the slope and disappear to somewhere I can’t retrieve it. Another good use for a zoom lens!

Snapdragon skullcap (Scutellaria antirrhinoides) crawls around a number of rocky slopes in the Rigdon area. It was abundant on Rabbitbrush Ridge.

Finally, after a lot of hemming and hawing, I decided that I had enough time to go down to the end of the road and climb down the ridge to Rabbitbrush Ridge. The milkweeds weren’t fully open at Grassy Glade, so I was pretty sure they would be at peak at the lower elevation, and there are lots of other colorful wildflowers at this time of year on the steep, south-facing slope. I was glad I made the moderate effort to bushwhack down to Rabbitbrush Ridge as the flowers were quite beautiful. I was bummed that it had clouded over, but while heading over to the west end to look for the milkweed, the clouds thinned out, and the sun came out, making me very happy as I went about taking many of the same photos over again with the brighter light. Sadly, once again, there weren’t very many butterflies. Perhaps when the spring rains end (possibly today as I write this according to the forecast), they will be more numerous. I did watch a swallowtail alighting on rabbitbrush branches, I’m not sure why. But it was a great day, nonetheless.

The south-facing steep rocky slope at Rabbitbrush Ridge is just the kind of habitat that hotrock penstemon (Penstemon deustus) thrives in. The rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa) won’t bloom until later in the summer, but annual bluefield gilia was going great guns.

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