Hidden Bog on Warner Mountain

What a gorgeous sight! And smell! I had to stop and smell almost every Cascade lily I passed on my way to and from the Warner Lookout.

With the gravel roads lapsing into disrepair the last few years, I hadn’t managed to make it to Groundhog Mountain, one of my very favorite places in the Western Cascades, in three years (see Butterflies and More at Groundhog Mountain), and my friend John had driven on that trip. It was past time to return. While the butterfly group (NABA) has been heading up there lately via Road 2135, I decided to take a slightly longer route up 2129 past Moon Point and the Warner Mountain lookout. That way, if there were downed trees or washouts I didn’t want to cross, I could do the Moon Point trail instead. And I was pretty sure the road would be clear to the lookout since it is used during fire season. The night before I left, I pulled out my iPhone to get the aerial image of the area saved in case I wanted to do any exploring. Just off the road near the beargrass meadows up on Warner Mountain, I noticed what appeared to be a wetland. The telltale dark squiggles of meandering water is a good indication. Hmm. If I didn’t make it to Groundhog, I would have to check this out. It was only about an acre, but you never know what might be there.

A little pool surrounded by sphagnum.

On July 25th, I headed up Youngs Creek Road 2129, veering onto Road 439 and passing Moon Point. So far, so good. When I reached the first big stretch of beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax) on Warner Mountain, a few miles farther up the road, I was thrilled to see blooming Cascade lilies (Lilium washingtonianum) among the finished beargrass (it must have been glorious weeks before!). I had seen the tail end of the lily bloom up here a few years back and had hoped to get back someday when they were at peak, so this was good luck. I had to pull over and take some photos. After I returned to the car, I checked my phone to see if that mystery wetland was nearby. As it turns out, it was just down through the meadow on the south side of the road. I was parked in precisely the right spot. Groundhog could wait, I guess!

This pretty bee (perhaps a leafcutter bee, Megachile?) was hanging out on the golden sphagnum.

Finally, an open gentian! Most of them had only one flower per stem, but I found a few like this with multiple flowers. Beside it are the developing seed capsules of a mountain shooting star.

I walked through some trees and downhill through a logged area filled with more beargrass. In a mere tenth of a mile and only 100′ of elevation loss, I came to my destination. Not only was it a wetland, it was a sphagnum bog! While it was too late in the season for what appeared to be the main bloom, it must have been beautiful in the spring with lots of the common mountain shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi), marsh marigold (Caltha leptosepala), and elephant’s head (Pedicularis groenlandica). There was also quite a bit of alpine laurel (Kalmia microphylla), some perched on small mounds of sphagnum alongside round-leaved sundew (Drosera rotundifolia). This site was clearly worth a survey, so I started to record a list on my phone. It was odd how the bog was sharply delineated at the top, with a small wall of sorts above it, as if perhaps the ground had slumped here. I hadn’t even left the first 10 feet from the edge when I noticed some intriguing fresh green plants with paired, rounded leaves. Could this be… gentians?! Looking around carefully, I spotted one in bud—yes!! It took quite a bit longer to find a few large, stunningly beautiful, deep blue, funnel-shaped flowers. It really was Gentiana calycosa! Now I was really thrilled.

I watched a dragonfly laying eggs in the water of one of the bogs rivulets. Here it is taking a breather.

I’ve been to 8 sites with populations of this gorgeous species in the Western Cascades, ranging from Fish Creek Valley in Douglas County to Table Rock Wilderness in Clackamas County. But never before in a wetland. Readers of this blog may remember other discussions (see Singing the Blues at Tidbits) about how this species appears to have two distinct forms: one that grows in rocks, usually on north-facing cliffs and talus slopes, and one that grows in bogs. It is usually described as a wetland species, and I’ve seen this bog type at Jefferson Park in the High Cascades. But all the Western Cascade populations I know of are in cool, rocky spots. The only other population (so far?) in the district is above Bradley Lake (see Another Look at Aspen Meadow and Bradley Lake) where it grows on the north-facing talus slope and cliffs but not in the wetland by the lake. I’m still puzzled as to how these two forms aren’t even classified as different varieties—botanists have been known to classify varieties and subspecies based on far less. But now at least I can study this type without the 10-mile round-trip hike to Jefferson Park!

Beautiful coyote mint along Road 452 up the east side of Groundhog Mountain. But where are the fritillaries? They are usually abundant here when this nectar-filled plant is in bloom.

I thought this was a wasp of some sort, but it is actually a thick-headed fly called Physocephala burgessi. It was attracted to the barestem buckwheat (Eriogonum nudum) along the road at Groundhog Mountain. I’ve seen these funny looking creatures occasionally but haven’t had much luck photographing them before.

While exploring the rest of the bog, I noted that there was also a lot of Cascade grass-of Parnassus (Parnassia cirrata) just barely in bloom. That’s one of my favorite late-season flowers. Now I really did have to come back soon to see that and the gentians in bloom. I went all the way to the bottom of the bog, where it narrowed into a small creek. I went into the forest below to see where the creek went, but it disappeared underground as mysteriously as the water had appeared at the top of the bog.

After I left the bog, I stopped to see more Cascade lilies by the lookout and did, in fact, make it to Groundhog Mountain for a walk up Road 452 to see the mountain coyote mint (Monardella odoratissima) and other flowers in bloom. But the butterflies were not as abundant as usual, and, after finding gentians, everything else was a bit of a letdown—plus the 15 miles of gravel road to get there also wore on my energy. Still, I was quite thrilled with how the day had turned out and anxious to return.

One Response to “Hidden Bog on Warner Mountain”

  • Lori Humphreys:

    Bee: male Megachile most likely, tho I would like to see feet.
    I was up there 27 July, thunderstorm and clouds, few butterflies. Again Aug 4, and I remember not seeing many butterflies, but I was looking for bees. I have noticed that wet area on satellite pics, but didn’t go there.
    I looked at your plant list for Phacelia species, mutabilis vs hastata (checked Grasshopper list by mistake but noticed Hydrophylls with borages), I’ve been guessing which species I have based on basal leaves and stem number. For example:
    I did see 10s of hairstreaks in the Tumblebug burn, 43.478, -122.266, which is more than usual.

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