2022 Botanizing and Butterflying Season has Begun!

The first California tortoiseshell to land on my hand

This very odd filbert (Corylus cornuta var. californica) catkin caught my eye near the river. Normally the female flowers with their red-violet stigmas are in a small cluster that is separate from the long, dangling male catkin. But this inflorescence had several females mixed in with the males. What happened here?

While it wasn’t a terribly difficult winter weatherwise (though not nearly enough rain), it is always a joy to see the first flowers of late winter and spring. And with them, the reappearance of the first butterflies. On Tuesdays, I often have meetings for my job with OregonFlora, but this past week, my meeting was postponed for a day. That turned out to be very fortunate as Tuesday was the most beautiful day of the week: clear and sunny and the first day of the year to reach 70°. I took advantage of it to head out on what has become my annual first botanizing trip of the year out to Hills Creek Reservoir and the Rigdon area along Road 21. I stopped at all my usual haunts. First along the reservoir to see the gold stars (Crocidium multicaule) blooming. It hasn’t been wet enough for an outstanding year, but they are still such a welcome sight. The paintbrushes (Castilleja) are sending up new leaves that are noticeably reddish. The Sierra gooseberry (Ribes roezlii) was just barely in bloom.

Lots of chocolate lily (Fritillaria affinis) leaves above the bank of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River just across the road from “Ladybug Rock.” Only the one on the lower left has whorled leaves indicating it is of blooming age.

The next stop was the one I was really looking forward to, to what my friends and I call “Ladybug Rock,” just a bit west of Campers Flat Campground. We probably should have called it “Tortoiseshell Rock” because it seems to be the gathering place for most of the California Tortoiseshells in the area. These gorgeous butterflies overwinter as adults, appearing on any sunny day in late winter they can get warm enough. The south-facing Ladybug Rock is the perfect place to sunbathe, and I’ve seen multitudes of them there on many occasions. This trip was just as I hoped. It was hard to count them fluttering about all over the rock, but there were 50 at least. There wasn’t much traffic so early in the season, but every time a vehicle went by, they all exploded into the air before resettling on the rock.

The first tortoiseshell is finally joined by another.

More curious butterflies bring the total from 5 to 6.

Up to 7 now

As I did last year (see On the Menu at the Butterfly Café), I walked down the road a short way to the west to a small creek to see if there were any other butterflies about. I spotted a single blue (probably an echo azure so early in the season) and a handful of torties. As it turned out, they became a literal handful, as you can see by the accompanying photos. As I often do to attract large butterflies, I put my hand out palm up, after applying some sweat. It took a few minutes, but there was some interest in my pants and my camera bag, and eventually, I managed to get one of the tortoiseshell to land on my hand, where it happily lapped up sweat and whatever dirt and minerals might have been on my skin (no sunscreen or deodorant if you think you might be hosting an insect for lunch!).

It might have taken about 7 minutes before a second one landed, but after that, it seemed like the others became curious. After a couple more minutes, there were 4, then 5, then 6. Another 5 minutes (boy was my arm getting tired!), and I had 9 on my hand as well as a couple more on my clothes! That was definitely my record. And I hadn’t even seen that many by the creek when I got there. They must have been coming over from Ladybug Rock to see what all the fuss was about. That was certainly the highlight of my day, week, and maybe even month! Elsewhere, I got brief glimpses of another blue, a Moss’s elfin, a Mylitta crescent, an anglewing (green comma?), a Propertius duskywing, and quite a few more tortoiseshell. For so early, it was definitely a great day for butterflies.

The record of 9 butterflies at once!

Meadow nemophila makes very dense mats on the damp ground at Many Creeks Meadow.

The other main goal of my day was to look at Shelton’s violet (Viola sheltonii) for a drawing I am doing for the Flora of Oregon. They were blooming both at Big Pine Opening and at my last stop, “Many Creeks Meadow.” Having just received my collecting permit from the Forest Service, I dug one up at Many Creeks Meadow to see what the roots look like. It has a tendency to meander about around logs and rocks, its long stems eventually connecting with a rhizome. So what might look like separate clumps can actually be one plant. Digging one without breaking it took some care, but I managed to get a good specimen. Other than the violets, the only things in bloom were gold stars, Halls’ lomatium (Lomatium hallii), and the cute little meadow nemophila (Nemophila pedunculata), but many things were pushing out of the ground. If spring isn’t too dry (fingers crossed it isn’t as bad as last year), the area should be beautiful in the next month or so.

A scan of Viola sheltonii. You can see the bit of towel at the bottom right. I put a folded up wash cloth under the edge of the scanner lid to keep it from actually squishing the specimen. The scanner gives a really good high-resolution image that I can use to draw from later.

3 Responses to “2022 Botanizing and Butterflying Season has Begun!”

  • Walt Rhea:

    Good to see your new postings. I am still held captive by winter chores. Do hope to get out soon.

  • Leigh Blake:

    Thank you!!! Love all your Tortoiseshells!! FABULOUS…Yes we have them too but not in this quantity…Our Viola praemorsa are up and blooming…haven’t seen the V. sheltoniis yet…searching… The Trout lilies are up and the Calochortus are close behind here in So Oregon…

    You are correct….rain is minimal…scary as hell…

    Love you post…HAPPY HIKING>>.Oh!!! Found a Western Pond turtle cross heavy traffis …took him home to join our wild turtles…we have about thirteen that have stayed for about twenty years…and have new babies every year..they can leave if they want to…but I just wanted him out of traffic..AND YESTERday at (UGH!!) walmart…there was a lady tree frog crossing the parking lot…in traffic!!!! I caught her turned her loose in our garden to join our troop of tree frogs… MANY HUGS TO YOU HAVE FUN…PRAY FOR RAIN!!

    Leigh in Trail….

  • Thanks for letting us know about what is blooming down your way. And extra thanks for all you do to save wildlife!! And yes, pray for rain!

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