Relaxing Day in Rigdon

On Sunday, May 9, I went for my first outing in almost a month—just too much to do at home, and the drought discouraged me from going to my favorite seepy spots that I’d planned on, like Deer Creek. I was really happy to be able to go out with my friend John Koenig, whom I hadn’t seen since last summer. Being vaccinated now is such a relief, and it is wonderful to safely hang out with others who are also vaccinated (if you’re hesitating—don’t!). We decided it might still be too early to try to go to higher elevations, even with all the warm weather, so we headed down to Hills Creek Reservoir and the Rigdon area to check out some of our favorite haunts. We had some vague plans but mostly just played it by ear, stopping wherever looked interesting. We ended up spending lots of time watching butterflies. We also had to warm up our “botany muscles,” trying to remember forgotten names.

At Everage Flat, we spent quite a long time watching butterflies on the Pacific dogwood flowers. This echo azure is enjoying the fresh flowers in the center of the showy bracts.

After a look at the gorgeous silvery lupine (Lupinus albifrons) at the north end of the reservoir and a brief stop to admire the blooming paintbrush on the cliffs along the reservoir, I pulled into Everage Flat Picnic Area (just south of the intersection of Youngs Creek Road 2129) as it occurred to me that we should see if the Howell’s violet (Viola howellii) was still in bloom. I expected it to be a very quick stop, so I even left my (all-electric) car on. But upon seeing that the large Pacific dogwood (Cornus nuttallii) in the sunny center of the picnic area was in perfect bloom and appeared to have butterflies flying around it, I parked the car for real. Our 2-minute stop turned into a 2-hour one!

We watched two different cedar hairstreaks nectaring on Pacific dogwood. Luckily they came down to flowers near the bottom of the tree often enough for us to photograph them.

After confirming that the pretty violet was indeed in bloom under the conifers right by the road, I headed over to the dogwood. A pale swallowtail kept flying around the picnic area but never landed. Smaller butterflies were also hovering around the tree and landing frequently. We spotted at least two cedar hairstreaks and two echo azures. There could well have been more. I don’t know that I’d never noticed butterflies on dogwood flowers (lots of beetles, however), even though the small tubular flowers in a tight cluster make for the perfect lunch spot for a butterfly. I imagine that might be because they are often in the shade. After a half-hour of photographing the butterflies, I’d worked up quite an appetite (it’s harder than it sounds!).

A persius duskywing laid eggs on the red clover. Our other duskywings apparently have orange to red eggs, while this species has white ones. They also use different host food plants. I’m going to have to get a better macro lens to take butterfly egg photos!

By this point, it was actually afternoon, so we sat down at the nearby picnic table to eat lunch. Several swallowtails were now flitting about the picnic area, and then we spotted a drab little duskywing. It headed over to the weedy red clover (Trifolium pratense) near us. There were no blossoms yet, but it landed on a number of plants. After it left, I bee-lined to the last spot it landed, and sure enough, there was a little white egg! In spite of having given a presentation on butterfly host food plants just a couple of months ago, I struggled to remember which duskywing uses pea family members as its host food plants. It turns out it is the persius duskywing (Erynnis persius). They are similar but smaller than the propertius duskywings I see frequently on my property, whose caterpillars feed on oaks.

The swamp at Everage Flat Picnic area proved to be quite interesting. We found lots of what I think is Neottia (Listera) convallarioides, Angelica genuflexa, Mitella ovalis, and a lily that looks like leopard lily (Lilium pardalinum), which is also much more likely in this soggy habitat.

Straggly gooseberry likes wet places at fairly low elevation. While it was hard to tell on this fading plant, they have fuchsia-like flowers. Their fruits are glabrous.

After finishing our sandwiches, I wanted to show John the hidden swamp. There’s one pull-in where people often camp on the north of the picnic area. Beyond that, the flat area dips down all of a sudden. If you climb down the bank in the direction of the river, you’ll find yourself in a swamp filled with skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus). The flowers were fading, and the skunky smell of the leaves becoming apparent. Under the skunk cabbage, there was quite a bit of oval-leaved mitrewort (Pectiantia [Mitella] ovalis), long-tailed wild ginger (Asarum caudatum), and some kneeling angelica (Angelica genuflexa), the latter not yet in bloom.

Of particular interest to me were a great many little twayblades, most likely broad-lipped (Neottia [Listera] convallarioides), given how wet the habitat was and the shape of the leaves, but they wouldn’t be blooming for a while yet, so I’ll have to return for confirmation. I was also excited to see what appeared to be a leopard lily (Lilium pardalinum). While there are several low-elevation spots along Road 21 where it grows, I’d never seen it this far to the northwest. Also new to me in this area was straggly gooseberry (Ribes divaricatum), a lone plant leaning up against an alder. Checking the OregonFlora website later, it turns out there aren’t any records for this species in the Rigdon area. I’ll have to look for more of it in the area.

Duskywings are all very similar combinations of brown, black, and gray but seem to vary quite a bit between individuals. I believe this was a persius. 

Later on, we stopped at the same seep along the roadside where I collected all the tortoiseshells on my hand last trip there (see On the Menu at the Butterfly Café). This time there was only one ragged old tortie, but there were quite a few duskywings, apparently both persius and propertius. Their dark brown coloration with lighter markings was perfectly camouflaged where they were puddling in the dark mud with sparkling highlights of moisture.

This was a new butterfly for me: a northern cloudywing. Butterflies of the Pacific Northwest says, “Males visit mud with duskywings.” That’s exactly where this little guy was. Unlike the duskywings, he closes his wings while landing. He was also friendlier! Like the persius duskywing, this species uses legumes, and there were many clovers and other members of the pea family nearby.

We also stopped by Ladybug Rock and spotted some more lilies by the edge of the river, and later we checked out the leopard lilies at Rigdon Meadow by Sacandaga campground for comparison. I’ll have to look at them later in the season to be sure, but they all seem the same with the very narrow leaves and wet habitat. I remember I used to think it only grew at high elevation in southeastern Lane County—the northern end of their range.

At Big Pine Opening, I went to check on the weird purple milkweed I’ve been watching for the last few years (see Three Trips in a Row to Rigdon for a photo of it in 2019). It is looking more like a milkweed, and it even had a few odd buds, but it still sticks out among the much darker plants.

The Sacandaga Bluffs were already quite dry—this extended spring drought is really depressing—so after looking at some sedges and a few other things, we headed back, making one last stop to check on the purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) up on Big Pine Opening. I expected it to have emerged and even be earlier than normal, but we were quite surprised to see quite a few plants were already beginning to bloom. I don’t know what the rest of the season will bring, but I’m guessing plants will continue to be ahead of schedule and finishing up earlier than “usual.” It’s raining a little as I write this—I hope it’s not the last rain this season!

A white-crowned sparrow sitting in a budding deerbrush (Ceanothus integerrimus) at Big Pine Opening.

5 Responses to “Relaxing Day in Rigdon”

  • Tanya, I really love reading of your explorations and your finds. Thank you for writing this blog!

  • You’re welcome, Saelon. I’m glad you’re enjoying it!

  • Jeffrey Caldwell:

    Thanks, as usual, for sharing your interesting field trip. Michael Pyle has seen Johnson’s Hairstreak on Cornus nuttallii, so with your observations I now have recorded three butterfly species that use the flowers. I strongly suspect you’re right, flowers being in the sun make a difference when it comes to butterfly interest.

  • Judy Volem:

    I happily found your blog and read your most recent entry. Exquisite pohotos. Still feeling a sense of awe after the incredible hike to Tire Mountain with Molly and company. Really one of the most beautiful, informative afternoons – thank you!

  • Kate Shapiro:

    Greetings Tanya! Nice report of a spot I’ve not yet visited. As I’ve been out on hikes, in addition to flowering plants, I’m taking note of butterflies. Satyr Comma in April at Pisgah; what seemed to be a Pacific Fritillary & maybe Spring Azure today at Brice Creek. I look forward to your NPSO field trip this summer. Cheers, Kate

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