Unusual Insect and Plant Sightings at Hemlock Lake

After a long, hot day, I couldn’t face driving all the way up to the campground at Hemlock Lake, so I stayed at Cool Water Campground on Little River Road. Although it was getting late, I went down to cool my feet in the river and came upon two crayfish. One stayed tucked away between some rocks, but the other seemed really annoyed that I was trying to photograph it. It even chased me at one point, putting its claws up as though to challenge me to a fight. They were still there in the morning. What a wonderful find at a pretty but fairly unexceptional spot.

The chatterbox orchid, also known as stream orchid, is found in wet places, often by creeks. It is mostly found at lower elevations, so I rarely see it. The plants strange and colorful “faces” are always a treat. 

I haven’t done much camping over the last few years. Partly that’s a result of a busier work schedule, but it’s also due to more wildfires and heat waves. My van becoming too old (25 years!) and untrustworthy for gravel roads also played a big part. I was determined to get in a camping trip this summer and finally decided on a quick overnight down to Hemlock Lake in Douglas County. I hadn’t been there in 5 years, and that trip was cut short due to inclement weather (see Weather Woes at Hemlock Lake). My first day (July 21st) started out a bit rough as I decided to go the back way from Cottage Grove—a route I hadn’t done in many years. It is backcountry but all paved, and I figured it would save a lot of miles and keep me within my electric car’s range. Big mistake. It may have been shorter, but it took a really long time, and I made a wrong turn at an unmarked intersection coming down to Highway 138 in Idylyld Park rather than farther east near Steamboat since I had planned to look for purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) seed at Medicine Creek Road east of there. It was also way hotter than the forecast for the area had led me to believe. The worst of it, however, was the last 10 miles down Rock Creek Road. The last few years have not been kind to the North Umpqua. So many wildfires have hit the area. I drove through mile after mile of dead forest and empty hills. By the time I got to Hwy 138, I was in tears. The loss of wildlife habitat was devastating. I had planned to head up to Hemlock Lake via Road 4714 south of Steamboat, but I had been warned by the Forest Service that part of it had burned, and there was a lot of logging and road work going on in the area. Not wanting to face any more depressing burned forest, after a somewhat disappointing trip to Medicine Creek (too early for milkweed seeds, too late for most everything else, but at least I saw some flat-spurred piperia (Platanthera [Piperiatransversa) in bloom), I drove all the way back to Glide and headed out Little River Road. Thank goodness, rainy season has finally begun as I write this in late October, and the North Umpqua survived this year without any wildfires!

The Archie Creek Fire tore through this area in September of 2020. Apparently, it was the largest wildfire in Douglas County history.

Western ladies’ tresses is often confused with hooded ladies’ tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiana), but it has yellow-tinged flowers rather than pure white, and they are narrower with lateral tepals that don’t form a “hood”. There also tend to be more flowers per inflorescence.

This is where my trip got decidedly better. While it was almost 6 pm, I figured I had time to make some stops along Little River Road. Although it was quite late in the season for this low elevation, I did find a few chatterbox orchids (Epipactis gigantea) by the stretch of serpentine below Ace Williams Mountain. Then I did a short hike on the lovely Wolf Creek Falls trail. I had been there with Nancy Bray and Karl Anderson back in April when we came down for the day to see the Glide Wildflower Show. That was a great time to botanize in the area, but there were still some interesting and unexpected plants in bloom in late July. Right by the banks of Little River, there was a beautiful display of western ladies’ tresses (Spiranthes porrifolia). I had no idea they grew there, but it seems to me to be a rather mysterious species, popping up here and there only to disappear again. I have spotted it on occasion in the Rigdon area but always have trouble relocating it. After years of thinking it was quite rare, I was stunned to find several in a damp area on my property among the occasional (S. romanzoffiana). And after not seeing them again for 6 years, I was quite surprised to find one on the opposite side of my meadow this summer where I’d never seen any orchids before. To continue with the orchid theme, I spotted a white-flowered piperia (Platanthera ephemera, formerly Piperia candida), another uncommon species, along the forested trail. It was getting too dark for a decent photo, but I was still thrilled to see it. Knowing it would be far less impressive, I didn’t go all the way to the waterfall, as we had done in the spring, but I got back to the car in a much better mood than I had started!

Some of the forest on the west edge of the trail had a patchwork of burned areas. Geophytes (bulbs) like western tiger lilies (Lilium columbianum) appreciate the extra carbon after a fire and were blooming profusely in the understory of what remained of the forest.

The flowers of Bolander’s tarweed (Kyhosia bolanderi) close up during the day, so it was fortunate that I was able to start my hike early in the morning to catch them fully open.

The next morning, I headed up the 10 miles of gravel to Hemlock Lake after camping at Cool Water Campground, which is just before the road turns to gravel. After a foggy start at lower elevations, I found clear skies up at the lake. Without giving it much thought, I hiked the Yellow Jacket trail as I always do—from the campground in a counter-clockwise direction. I was soon rather regretting this as the many meadows that punctuate the forest on this part of the trail were still sopping wet. Not only did my pants get drenched, but starting out so early, the meadows were still in the shade, and there were no butterflies out yet. Had I gone in the other direction, I would have been in solid forest for longer, and the meadows would have been much drier and apt to be attracting more than just a few hardy bumblebees when I reached them in the afternoon—maybe I’ll remember that next time.

There’s a large open meadow with a terrific view on the southwest corner of the Yellow Jacket trail. In late July, it was covered with horsemint (Agastache urticifolia), a butterfly favorite. This pale swallowtail enjoyed the nectar from the many-flowered, pinky-purple inflorescences.

Abundant sulphur buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum) attracts numerous butterflies to what I refer to as—unsurprisingly—the buckwheat area. In the not-too-far distance to the southeast is white-topped Quartz Mountain. Patches of burned forest are apparent to the right (south).

But as the day wore on, the foliage and my pants dried out, and I saw plenty of butterflies and other insects. One of my favorite parts of the trail is a dry, south-facing somewhat rocky area along the southern stretch of the more or less triangular trail. It is filled with buckwheat (Eriogonum spp.) and a number of other lovely wildflowers that attract butterflies and other pollinators. Between photographing butterflies and bees and collecting seeds (it had evidently been a terrific year for larkspur [Delphinium menziesii or perhaps nuttallianum] here as it had been most everywhere else I went), I stayed in this one spot for almost 2 hours. Among the many butterflies I saw here were orange sulphurs, dotted blues, clodius parnassians, assorted checkerspots, pale and tiger swallowtails, fritillaries, and a Lorquin’s admiral. Later in the day, I also saw Mylitta crescents and an arctic skipper. It was a terrific day for butterflies after all. But the most exciting insect interaction I had came right after I finally tore myself away from the buckwheat area. 

I (rather rudely) watched this pair of mating fritillaries who remained coupled for about 40 minutes. Greater fritillaries are very difficult to distinguish, so I’m unsure of the species, but their spots were silvery. The tiny spiky plant the righthand one is sitting on is mountain navarretia (Navarretia divaricata). The equally small flowering plant to the left is Cascade knotweed (Polygonum cascadense).

A sheep moth beginning to lay eggs.

Just a little farther down the trail, there was another small opening to the right. I went in to check it out. There were a number of Alice’s fleabane (Erigeron aliceae) in bloom and a few butterflies, but it didn’t appear to be as interesting as the buckwheat area. I’d been so busy at the last spot that I hadn’t gotten around to lunch, so I sat down for a few bites of my sandwich. Then I saw a sheep moth (Hemileuca eglanterina) flying around. It was flying low to the ground and stopping briefly on shrubs. The only times I’ve ever seen them land are when they are mating or laying eggs. I figured it might be looking for a place to lay eggs, so I followed it around. It finally stopped on a bitter cherry (Prunus emarginata), one of its host plants, and found a spot to its liking. Sure enough, she started to lay eggs on a small twig. I’ve been lucky enough to observe sheep moths laying eggs twice in the past (see Unusual Sightings at Grasshopper Meadows). In both cases, I was stunned to see butterflies trying to mate with the sheep moth as she laid her eggs. That didn’t happen this time, but I still watched her as she slowly and deliberately went about attaching her eggs to the twig, one at a time, swinging her abdomen back and forth. Then something extraordinary happened—the twig moved! It wasn’t a twig or even part of the shrub, it was a caterpillar!! Inchworms are the caterpillars of geometric geometrid (damn autocorrect!) moths. Many of them camouflage themselves by looking—and acting—like twigs. Apparently, neither I nor the sheep moth recognized this as a caterpillar, so this was some amazing camouflage!

The inchworm resumes its “twig pose,” perhaps even more convincingly camouflaged now with the eggs on it. I can’t imagine what must have happened when the eggs hatched.

Near the end of my loop, I came across a beautiful stand of candy stick (Allotropa virgata). There were several of these green cricket-like insects (help with the ID would be appreciated!) wandering around the flowers. I’m not sure what the attraction was.

Surprisingly, the sheep moth wasn’t the least bit perturbed. After the inchworm settled down, she carried on laying her eggs. The inchworm thrashed around again a bit later, but again, that didn’t dissuade the sheep moth from finishing her mission. I try (often not successfully) to avoid interfering with nature, but this didn’t seem to be beneficial to either participant. I figured the eggs might not be able to make it long enough to hatch, and the inchworm was certainly going to have a tough time getting around while carrying all these eggs. My resolve to let it play out finally cracked, and I tried to shoo the sheep moth away while she still had some eggs to lay on a more suitable surface. It took a few tries, but she finally flew off, and the inchworm resumed its ruse of being a twig. I doubt I’ll ever see something like that again and am so thankful I just happened to be at the right place at the right time! Makes you wonder what other things you might miss if you don’t take the time to stop and look around carefully.

Not a metallic bee, as I originally assumed, this gorgeous insect is a cuckoo wasp of the family Chrysididae. They are kleptoparasites, laying their eggs in the nests of bees or other insects. Their larvae then eat the host eggs, larvae, and any food meant to feed them. The dazzling adults, however, are harmless, unable to sting and spend their time nectaring on flowers. Kind of a Jekyll and Hyde dichotomy between the young and the adults.

I was really thankful to see a few clumps of the recently named broomrape (Aphyllon epigalium) that parasitizes bedstraws (hence the specific name “epigalium,” which means “likes Galium”). In the Western Cascades, its host is Oregon bedstraw (Galium oreganum). I had seen it on this trail before back in 2007, but it had been a number of years since I had been fortunate enough to see it in bloom anywhere.

Not much could have topped that experience, but on the way back to the campground, I still managed to see some great plants, more interesting insects, and—sadly—some more evidence that fire had reached the south end of the trail sometime recently. It was an amazing day, and I’m really glad I was finally able to return to Hemlock Lake. I highly recommend this trail to anyone interested in plants or wildlife, and the small campground is quite pleasant for a longer stay.

5 Responses to “Unusual Insect and Plant Sightings at Hemlock Lake”

  • Mary Beth:

    Great photos and a very engaging story.

  • Leigh Blake:

    OH TANYA!!!!! MY GOSH!!! I have to keep this…and read again.. Beautiful beautiful photos… Thank you!! What you are also talking about SCARES ME SILLY!! They are doing more and more damage to OUR WILDERNESS!! Fucking brute logging corps… Sorry but I have to say this…We are seeing this in our mountains too…not just the burns but the CLEARCUTS..with no care for the future…unless it makes money for them..
    My Presentation went well… I totally understand why you couldn’t make it..I’d love to get together with you this next year!!! You have an electric car!!! YAY!!! We have a Toyota RAV HYBRID that we adore… BUT…we will eventually go electric…That FORD f150 LIGHTNING…will be the TRUCK…got to get more charging stations…OKay NOW I’ll go back a REALLY READ this!! Thank you.. Love and HUGS!!!

  • Grace:

    That inchworm! What a fascinating thing you witnessed right there! As a kid, I spent some time in the Glide area so this post was especially fun. I’m so glad there were no fires this year. Hopefully this will be the new trend.

  • Lori Humphreys:

    Definitely mating Callippe fritillaries. I have netted many of those jewel wasps thinking that they were bees!

  • Thanks for the ID, Lori!
    I was hoping you’d be able to identify them for me. I had thought they might be Calippe fritillaries based on the large triangular marginal spots, but I wasn’t confident enough to put a name on them.

Leave a Reply

Post Categories
Notification of New Posts