Great Day for Butterflies at Bristow Prairie

With the number of times I’ve been to Bristow Prairie (this was my 26th time), I don’t remember ever seeing the prairie so pink with fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium). Molly said the Forest Service had done a controlled burn on the prairie not so long ago, so that would explain it.

An Edith’s copper nectaring on mountain boykinia (Boykinia major) in the small wetland

On July 18, Molly Juillerat (and Loki) and Nancy Bray joined me for a day at Bristow Prairie. We decided to skip the trail to make sure we had time for the lake, so we parked by the edge of the main prairie. Our first destination was the rock garden since we knew it would be hotter on the rocks later in the day. June and early July’s heat and drought had dried it out earlier than usual, but I was able to collect some seed. From there, we headed over to the lake and surrounding wetland. Going through what is by late July really tall foliage is tricky because you can’t see the ground and any possible mountain beaver holes. But we took our time and enjoyed looking for butterflies and other insects on the way down. Naturally, the area was much moister than and still had many flowers in bloom, but it was dry enough to walk around the wetland without rubber boots. I don’t get down to the lake often enough, so I’m glad we were able to spend some time there.

Also coloring the prairie bright pink were many large patches of mountain owl-clover (Orthocarpus imbricatus). We found white-flowered plants in several spots.

Heading down to the shallow lake (mostly hidden behind the trees on the left), the meadows were filled with nettle-leaved horsemint (Agastache urticifolia). The drift of white on the right edge of the lake is slender cottongrass (Eriophorum gracile).

One of the most striking wetland plants is swamp cinquefoil (Comarum palustre) with its maroon flowers. As its name implies, it is usually found in very wet places. Here it was growing among the sedges that surround the lake.

On our way back from the lake, we headed over to the small wetland that appears at the north end of the prairie. I figured it was probably too late for the Sierra Nevada blues, and sadly, there weren’t any around. However, just a few yards from the wetland is a small, slightly elevated, dry and gravelly area that is filled with coyote mint (Monardella odoratissima) and northern buckwheat (Eriogonum compositum). Both were in full bloom and attracting a plethora of butterflies. While Molly, Loki, and Nancy relaxed in the shade, I was in heaven photographing all the butterflies. It was hard to know where to look with so many different species and so much activity! Here are some photographic highlights of our day.

Nancy spotted this handsome Cascades frog near the edge of the lake.

Coyote mint is like candy to butterflies, like this Lorquin’s admiral, and they seemed to have been coming to this small area from far and wide.

I always find it hard to photograph orange sulphurs because they rarely stay in one place long, but there were several so absorbed in nectaring on coyote mint that they sat for well for several portraits.

I was very excited to see blue coppers, here on northern buckwheat, because I so rarely see them. There were some in the rock garden and at the coyote mint spot. While the blue males could easily be mistaken for a blue, the prominent black veins on their upperside mark them as a blue copper. The spots on the upperside of the females are similar to other coppers.

As we were heading back across the prairie, I almost stepped on this junco nest hidden under marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) leaves. Had the junco not flown out right next to me, I might not have seen it at all. I took a quick photo and rushed off as soon as I could. It amazes me that juncos successfully hatch their young in these nests on the ground where they could so easily be crushed by deer, elk, or unsuspecting botanists!

Leave a Reply

Post Categories
Notification of New Posts