Planning Trip to Grassy Glade

I do hope that some of the beautiful purple milkweed will be in bloom on our upcoming trip to Grassy Glade!

Beautiful harsh paintbrush (Castilleja hispida) blooms along the road by Hills Creek Reservoir.

On Saturday, May 27, I headed out to the Rigdon area to plan the field trip I’m leading for the Native Plant Society of Oregon Annual Meeting the following Saturday. I want to give people a taste of the interesting plants in this area that are more common to the south, especially the lovely purple (or heartleaf) milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) that I’ve written about so many times. I’ve been crossing my fingers that we will see some in bloom somewhere, but with the crazy shift in weather this spring, it’s hard to anticipate how the plants are going to react. There are lots of great places in the Rigdon area, but I wanted to know which would work best for our non-trail field trip.

I drove straight to Grassy Glade and parked along the side road near the beginning of the meadow. I did a quick spin through the meadow, which was half baked and half moist. On the road in, I had noticed some of the potholes were partly filled with water. Obviously, some of the thunderstorms that I’d heard had occurred out here had blessed the area with some much-needed moisture—there hasn’t been a drop for almost three weeks at my house. My guess is that some of the meadow had already dried out before the rain, while the moister parts had been refreshed before the annuals died. Spring gold (Lomatium utriculatum) and many species of clover (Trifolium spp.) had started along with the cute narrow-leaf owl’s clover (Castilleja attenuata).

This little checkerspot caterpillar was eating a snow queen (formerly Synthyris reniformis, now Veronica regina-nivalis) leaf. They normally eat penstemons or paintbrushes, but snow queen is in the same family as Penstemon and has the same phytochemicals the caterpillars use to protect themselves from predators.

The leaves of rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera oblongifolia) usually have white along the veins. This plant at Grassy Glade was the first one I’d seen with these solid white patches.

When I got to the main milkweed area, I was glad to see they were in bud. Fingers crossed some will be in bloom in a week! I continued all the way to the end of the road (about 3/4 of a mile from the car). The road looks drivable this year, but driving means missing things in between, and it is difficult to have a bunch of people hopping in and out of the car, so we’ll be walking. My plan had been to take people down to what I call Rabbitbrush Ridge, off the end of the road. I’ve been concerned about whether people would be up to the short but steep, rocky climb down. But after seeing how dry the ridge is already, and yet most of the perennials aren’t even in bud yet, I decided it wasn’t worth it anyway. I was happy to go down myself, however, and saw several butterflies, including a green hairstreak, always a treat.

I had wanted to see if it would be worth coaxing my trip participants down to “Rabbitbrush Ridge” near Grassy Glade, but it was very dry and not much was in bloom other than a few frosted paintbrush (Castilleja pruinosa). The clouds were building up to my west, and the rumbling started soon after this.

As I headed back up the ridge, I heard the grumbling sound of thunder. Damn. I had noticed the clouds building up, but I hadn’t realized there might be thunderstorms. This is exactly what happened on my first trip to Rabbitbrush Ridge (see Exploring Near Grassy Glade). I headed back to the car with a few drops coming down. I was thrilled there’d be some more moisture, but I’m not a fan of being out in a storm, no matter how mild.

Marshall’s saxifrage (Micranthes marshallii) was blooming well in the wet areas along Staley Creek.

My next stop was to be the Staley Creek Gorge, which I had passed across on my way out. But first I checked on some of the roadcuts just before the bridge. There are three in a row that often have lots of flowers on the rocks as well as on small grassy slopes above them. One of them had a small creek that had a patch of elk clover (Aralia californica) growing in it. I’d never spotted Aralia in this area before. There was still moisture and many plants waiting to bloom. By the time I was exploring the rocky edges of Staley Creek, it was raining lightly. I hope that helps with the plants, but those along the creek looked very fresh and happy. The creek was roaring mightily, so I didn’t even notice if it was still thundering. I was happy to see the tiny candelabrum monkeyflower (Erythranthe [Mimulus] pulsiferae) in bloom along with some pretty Menzie’s larkspur (Delphinium menziesii).

False Solomon’s-seal (Maianthemum racemosum) was abundant and coming into bloom along the edges of Staley Creek. Its strong fragrance is a favorite of mine.

I wanted to see if there was anything interesting blooming or in bud at Mutton Meadow, just a couple of miles east of the intersection of Staley Creek Road 2134 and Road 21. The Tolmies’ cat’s ears (Calochortus tolmiei) and slender-tubed iris (Iris chrysophylla) were coming along well. I’d passed the iris blooming in many places along the road but rarely where there was a good place to pull over, so this might make a good stop if we have any time left on our NPSO field trip.

Very little water remained in the formerly large puddle. But it was still never more than a puddle, so the mom who laid the eggs didn’t choose very well.

As I walked over to where it tends to be wetter, I spotted some shimmering in a muddy puddle. I bent down for a closer look and was very upset to see it was the wriggling of tadpoles. The original puddle might have been seven feet long, but it was down to its last couple of feet and only an inch deep. With no real rain in the forecast, what little moisture left would be gone in days. What to do?! In my past encounters with tadpoles in such a precarious situation (see A Froggy Day at Lopez Lake), there were better nearby pools to move the tadpoles to, but not here. There also wasn’t anywhere within a couple of miles to access the river for more water, although trying to refill the puddle probably wouldn’t have helped much. After a little head scratching, I went back to the car and emptied out the wastebasket I bring with me for roadside trash. I also keep a large container of water for emergencies—this was certainly one for the tadpoles!

The poor tadpoles were very small and were close together in the remaining water in the puddle. If they hadn’t been moving around, I probably wouldn’t have noticed their dark, mud-colored bodies.

I brought the trashcan back to the puddle and filled it with the water. Then I took out the large serving spoon I also keep with me and started scooping. At first, as many as 10 would come up in a spoonful, but eventually, I was getting only one or two at a time. It was hard to spot them under oak leaves in the mud. My knees weren’t happy about all the squatting, but I really didn’t want to leave anyone behind. I kept pouring water back into the puddle, in case someone did escape my rescue attempt. And while I was there, I felt a nip—a dog tick bite. No good deed goes unpunished! After about 45 minutes, I was still looking for any last scaredy cats (scaredly tads?) when I heard a sudden, very loud crack of thunder, sounding very, very close. That was a sure sign to me to stop and hustle back to the car.

There were at least a few hundred tadpoles. I sensed they were already relieved to be able to swim freely in the deep water in the trashcan after just being able to wriggle in the shallow puddle.

Now I had the problem of where to put the little tadpoles. There aren’t any wetlands that I could think of nearby with suitable pools of water. I decided to look at the back channel of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River near “Ladybug Rock” a few miles back to the west. Someone was camping by the river there, but I was on a mission, so I just had to keep walking through their campsite. As I hoped, there was a pool of water cut off from the side creek. It was maybe 20′ long and at least 3 inches deep, so I dumped them in there and hauled another half dozen or so trashcans full of water from the creek to add some extra volume of water and try to give them more time to metamorphose. Not ideal, but at least they have a fighting chance of becoming frogs now. Writing this now, it occurs to me that there’s a small pond in the woods near the Sacandaga Campground, farther to the east. That would have been a better spot—too bad I didn’t think of it until now!

Sometime in the last year or two, after collecting paintbrush seed along the reservoir, I decided to sprinkle some of it in the Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum) by “Ladybug Rock.” Oregon sunshine is a great host species for the semiparasitic paintbrush. As I drove by, I thought, I wonder if any of it took? Almost immediately, I spotted the red of a single inflorescence! On my way home, I stopped to get a better look and found another non-blooming plant nearby. Clearly, the gardener in me was stronger than the naturalist when I seeded the spot!

I will have to check on the tadpoles the next time I’m out there, which will probably be soon as there are so many great places to botanize in Rigdon, and I’m usually going past that spot once a week on average. I do hope the NPSO attendees on my field trip will find it as interesting as I do!

3 Responses to “Planning Trip to Grassy Glade”

  • Mary Beth:

    What a wonderful story. I wish I were going on your field trip. I love your blog and think that you could easily make it into a book when you are done working for OFP. Give Bill sullivan a little competition.

  • Grace Peterson:

    They will love your field trip! Good for you for rescuing those sweet tadpoles. My Asclepias cordifolia is blooming now so fingers crossed your attendees get to see it blooming too.

  • Kathleen Taylor:

    Once upon a time my family rescued a bunch of stranded toad tadpoles near a river in Ecuador. :)

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