Monitoring Siskiyou Fritillary at Bearbones Mountain

Jenny taking notes about the Siskiyou fritillary population on the south ridge. The downslope gravel was awash with spring phacelia, Olympic onion, and Menzies’ larkspur.

The old growth forest is quite impressive along the trail. The trail itself is so little used as to be hard to follow if you haven’t been on it before. We had to cross over a number of large logs and small branches (I moved what I could to make the trail easier to follow), but it is worth it to see all the interesting species and beautiful flowers as well as the view from the top.

Middle Fork District botanist Jenny Moore had never been to Bearbones Mountain and had mentioned to me earlier in the year that she’d like to go check it out. After getting an e-mail last week from Chad Sageser that he’d cleared the roads (2127 & 5850) to Bearbones (thank you Chad!!), I suggested we head up there on Wednesday, June 15, the one day of the week that was supposed to have some sun. Luckily, both Jenny and Sheila Klest were able to make time to go out hiking that day. After all the rain we’ve had (yay!), and a trip to the Ochocos the week before, I was really looking forward to getting back to the Western Cascades. This was also my first trip to higher elevations (Bearbones tops out at 4910′).

After missing the trailhead last year (see Return to Bearbones Mountain), I made sure to have the map on my phone ready. Chad had warned me that Road 5850, which leads to the trailhead, had been prepped as a firebreak when there were so many fires in the area last year. The edge of the road was logged, making it even harder to spot the trailhead, and forcing us to start our hike by climbing over a large pile of branches. The blooming dogwoods at the beginning of trail also helped me recognize the spot, and someone (Chad?) had left some red flagging across the road, but if you want to try the trail, having a map and GPS are a must, as there is no longer any trail sign. Jenny was interested in seeing the firebreak as one of the projects of the Forest Service is to figure out how to heal the roadsides after the disturbance and hopefully to replant with natives that are less flammable and lower growing. We all wondered why the downed trees and branches are left to dry out. It doesn’t seem to make any sense to create a firebreak and then leave all the flammable material in place. Maybe I’m missing something.

Sheila was entranced with the multicolored leaves of budding creamy stonecrop (Sedum oregonense). Even out of bloom, it is quite showy. The teeny yellow flowers to the right are least tarweed (Hemizonella minima). It was quite common on the summit.

Though quite rare elsewhere in Lane County, mahala mat (Ceanothus prostratus) is abundant in most of the open areas of Bearbones.

Her other goal of the trip was to see the habitat of the uncommon Siskiyou fritillary (Fritillaria glauca). This was the first site I found it at in Lane County, about 15 years ago. Since then, I’ve found it at several more sites, but Bearbones is still almost the northern end of its range. After stopping at what I think of as “Phlox Rock,” a rocky opening in the forest just off the trail where there is quite a bit of spreading phlox (Phlox diffusa) and a small population of Sierra cliffbrake (Pellaea brachyptera), an uncommon fern that like the fritillary is found mostly to the south, we headed up to the summit. After a break for lunch, I climbed down the rocks on the southeast side where there is a ribbon of scree heading down the slope. This is the favored habitat of the fritillary. I located 4 or 5 plants that had a small whorl of leaves, indicating they were of blooming age. The rest of the plants were only single leaves, typical of the species. This was pitiful, but more than I had seen in past years. Unfortunately, it looked like every one of these had been bitten off before they could go to seed. While the bulbs create offsets that break off from the parent bulb and spread about in the scree, I don’t know how these plants manage to disperse farther away if they never get to make seeds. There is another small population on the south ridge that we looked at later. How did the plants get started there?

The densest area of Siskiyou fritillary is just down from the summit. It looks like the scree is deepest right here—something that gives the fritillary an advantage over most other species. You can see that several of these plants at least tried to flower this year, but it looked like someone found them too tasty to pass up. I was happy to find another small patch of single fritillary leaves right along the trail. I’m hoping this population is going to increase, and I try to monitor it as often as I can get up there early in the season before the leaves disappear entirely.

From there, we headed down through the small stretch of woods to visit the south ridge. Blooming was well behind where it usually is. I had visited Bearbones on the same date exactly 10 years before (see Beautiful Bloom at Bearbones). That year we also had a late spring, and yet things were even a little farther behind that year. It sure beats being dried out already like last year! As on the summit, we saw a few flowering cliff paintbrush (Castilleja rupicola), but I couldn’t find any of their companion, Scouler’s valerian (back to Valeriana sitchensis var. scouleri). There were multitudes of budding rosy plectritis, but none had started blooming. Back in 2012, they blanketed the ridge in pink in mid June. What was at peak bloom was death camas (Toxicodendron venenosum), Olympic onion (Allium crenulatum), and spring phacelia (Phacelia verna). All of those are more or less white, but Menzies’ larkspur (Delphinium menziesii) and large-flowered blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia grandiflora) added some much-appreciated blue to the scene.

Many of the small rocks on the south ridge have broken to reveal interesting, fan-shaped patterns of white crystals.

Despite some clouds, few butterflies, some mishaps going over logs, forgotten water bottles, and a few ticks (3 on my hat and 1 in Jenny’s hair, but thankfully none crawling on or biting us!), we had a really good day. There will be plenty more blooming over the next few weeks or month, and I may have to try to fit in another trip up to this wonderful, little-known spot.

Meadow death camas was in flower all along the south ridge. To the east, Diamond Peak still had a pretty good covering of snow—almost as much as a month earlier last year.

Spring phacelia is one of my favorite little annuals. It is endemic to a small part of the Western Cascades in Lane and Douglas counties, but it is common on the south ridge at Bearbones and as abundant and floriferous as I’ve ever seen it there—no doubt the result of the wealth of rain this spring.

Most of the cliff penstemon (Penstomon rupicola) was still only in bud, but on the way back up the ridge, we passed this gorgeous plant in spectacular bloom. Hopefully, this will be a good year for my favorite penstemon, and I’ll get to see more of it in bloom soon.

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