Back to Lower Meadows of Youngs Rock

Looking south to Calapooya Mountains from the large (and steep!) lower meadow, you can see snow still along the crest. The large white area to right end is Bristow Prairie. While I love seeing snow lingering at the end of May, I hope it will have melted by the time I have to lead a hike there later in the month.

As I drove along the reservoir in the morning, a large butterfly caught my eye, so I pulled over immediately and waited for it to return. The gorgeous tiger swallowtail rewarded me by landing and sitting perfectly still on a stunning lupine. Calendar shot for sure!

Since there is still some snow at higher elevations, and the rain is fueling great flowers down low, on May 31, I decided to head to the large lower meadow off the Youngs Rock trail. I went down there twice back in 2016 (see Exploring Meadows Below Youngs Rock) but hadn’t returned since. After my usual stops along Hills Creek Reservoir to see the gorgeous paintbrush (Castilleja hispida and possibly pruinosa), I stopped at the bathroom by the bridge and noticed a lot of activity under the bridge. When Nancy and I stopped there the week before (see Spring Again at Coal Creek Bluff), I was surprised at the absence of swallows since we had seen some tree swallows along the cliffs. But on this trip, there were numerous swallows, some tree swallows but mostly cliff swallows. You can recognize cliff swallows by their buffy back and the creamy spot on their head and nape. Both tree and cliff swallows have a much shorter tail than barn swallows. They appeared to be rebuilding their nests under the north side of the bridge. Or maybe they start new ones every year, I don’t know. I guess there’s not enough room left in my brain to learn about birds after studying plants and butterflies so much! I spent a while watching them and listening to their unusually squeaky chattering—definitely different from the tree swallows that live in my meadow.

Cliff swallows working on a mud nest under the bridge at the south end of Hills Creek Reservoir.

Eventually, I made it to the middle Youngs Rock trailhead. When I reached the second meadow area, I stopped to look at all the clovers in bloom. In addition to the common tomcat (Trifolium willdenovii) and small-headed clovers (T. microcephalum) was the pretty branched Indian clover (T. dichotomum), one I see less often in the Cascades. I have gotten the other 2 species growing in my restoration area, but I haven’t managed to collect seeds of dichotomum, so now I know where it should be easy to find some. I decided to hide downhill through this meadow to a second section of it I don’t think I’d explored before. Spring gold (Lomatium utriculatum) was abundant in this area as it had been in the first meadow, but here it was attracting a number of cedar hairstreaks, the first ones I’d seen this year.

Branched Indian clover is easily recognized by its two-toned purple flowers and lack of an involucre (the bracts at the base of the flower head). While few perennial clovers have an involucre, it is one of the few native annual clovers in our area to not have an involucre.

While I don’t pay as much attention as I should to graminoids, unusual ones catch my eye. I passed one on the trail that I dismissed at first as some rush (Juncus spp.). But then I remembered the uncommon one I had spotted a few times, many-stemmed or forest sedge (Carex multicaulis), so I went back for a closer look. I wasn’t 100% sure it was the same one, but since I was fairly confident, I kept an eye out for it the rest of the day. I was surprised to find it in numerous places both along the trail and off. As in the other sites where I’ve found it, it seems to prefer the woods right near an opening, in rocky habitat on at least somewhat south-facing slopes. It ranges from southwestern Oregon through to southern California. The Oregon Flora map shows only one site north of the North Umpqua River. John Koenig and I spotted it at the bluff by Sacandaga Campground (see A Day of Uncommon Ferns and Sedges) and near Medicine Creek Road just north of the North Umpqua in very similar south-facing slope habitat. And last year I found what I believe is the northernmost known site just west of Hills Creek Reservoir while looking at purple milkweed (see Exploring New Milkweed Meadows in Rigdon). I’ve been exploring the Youngs Rock area for years and made well over 2 dozen trips on and off trail. I just never noticed it before. But I will definitely be looking for it on any trips to the Rigdon area. I suspect it is common here. It’s one of a number of species like the purple milkweed that make it only as far north as Rigdon.

My most interesting find of the day was many-stemmed sedge. Its wiry foliage makes it look more like a rush. The inflorescences are also rather distinctive looking, and its dry forest habitat is not where you usually look for a sedge.

“Deadhorse Falls” is a dreadful name for this beautiful waterfall. I hate to think why the creek got this name. I’d prefer something like “Serene Falls” or “Mossy Falls.” Rosy plectritis is blooming on the slope above.

From the meadow just below the trail, I cut through the woods, following the Google Earth image on my phone, trying not to do any unnecessary downhill on my way to the large meadow. I had to dodge the occasional poison oak plant, but I got excited as I heard the sound of loud, rushing water because I knew I must be nearing Deadhorse Creek and the lovely waterfall. I climbed down through the woods to the steep opening above the waterfall and sat down for a bite to eat. What a lovely secluded spot!

After a bit of exploring the creek upstream, I started the long climb up through the meadow to the trail (800′ of elevation gain from the waterfall). The flowers were pretty much the same as on my first trip in 2016, even though that was a full month earlier! We really are having a late spring this year. I had despaired of ever having one again after the last 6 or 7 dry years, so this is a real relief, if only a temporary reprieve from the ravages of climate change. There were more clovers and spring gold blooming in the meadow, and the larkspur (Delphinium menziesii) and rosy plectritis (Plectritis congesta) were coming on in the northeast corner where it was more protected. I was surprised at how few insects there were though—only the occasional butterfly or bee. For a clear, sunny, 70° day, it seemed odd. Perhaps because it has been so cool and damp.

I couldn’t get a good photo of this small sphinx moth (Sphingidae, anyone know the species?) as it whizzed around from one tomcat clover flower to another.

I passed through woods with very sparse undergrowth, a rather lonely looking fairy slipper (Calypso bulbosa) catching the light in one stretch. I eventually reached the Youngs Rock trail right where I expected, in what I call the “Lunch Meadow,” a fairly long and more or less level area. I headed along the lower side to where there are some outcrops and was surprised to see many Shelton’s violets (Viola sheltonii) still in bloom, even though many also had large seed capsules. Maybe the damp spring is allowing them to bloom much longer. Not feeling like doing any more uphill, I turned and headed back down the trail. On such a beautiful day, I was surprised to not see a soul on the trail or pretty much anywhere except along the lake. I had the whole place to myself!

Probably the largest of the few purple milkweed plants at the meadow by the quarry. It’s still in bud but looks like it will be blooming soon. Like the meadows at Youngs Rock, this one was covered with blooming spring gold.

A cedar hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus) enjoying spring gold

Once I was driving back down Youngs Creek Road 2129, I remembered I had wanted to check on the purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) in the meadow above the old quarry if I had time and energy. Well, it was only a short climb this time, and I was driving right by it, so I pulled over and followed an animal track up the short but steep road bank. The meadow was lovely, the seepy areas covered with monkeyflower and rosy plectritis. I quickly spotted the 2 milkweed plants I remembered from the bottom of the meadow and did a loop around the rest of the meadow looking for more. I counted 10 plants. I believe that’s one more than the last time I looked, but it is still a paltry population. I can’t help wondering if it used to be much larger before half the slope was destroyed for the quarry. There may have been seedlings or smaller plants, but the grass (both cheat grass and native fescue) was too lush for me to spot any. At the least the plants I saw were healthy. I was surprised they hadn’t started blooming yet, but this is indeed a late spring. With the milkweed checked, now I could head home!

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