Butterflies and Moths at Castle Rock and Cougar Reservoir

The gorgeous mountain cat’s ears attracted cedar hairstreaks.

Several Lorquin’s admirals were among the butterflies visiting the dogbane patch.

One of the field trip sites for the recent Native Plant Society of Oregon annual meeting was Castle Rock. It’s a relatively low-elevation rocky knob near Cougar Reservoir. When I checked the list of all my hiking trips, I discovered I hadn’t been there in 10 years. I’m not sure why it fell off my radar because I used to go every year. After so many weeks without rain, I figured it might be really dry and not very interesting, but I decided to check it out anyway, and I’m so glad I did. On June 16, I headed to Cougar Reservoir first. I was surprised there was still water dripping down the cliffs near the dam and into the concrete ditch where there were some tadpoles swimming around. That was also a surprise. I’ve been seeing a few little black and white moths lately, Macculloch’s foresters (Androloma maccullochii), but here they were abundant, nectaring on lots of flowers but especially the abundant weedy daisies (Leucanthemum vulgaris). I was also able to get seeds of Scouler’s valerian (Valeriana sitchensis var. scouleri) a little farther down the road. On my way back from the reservoir, I passed a strip of spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium) growing under the railing—a terrible spot to take photos with cars going by but worth it for all the butterflies and moths.

The monkeyflowers (now Erythranthe microphylla) were still fresh from continued moisture from above the tall cliffs.

It can be hard to spot the lovely bronze bells (Anticlea occidentalis) that grows in the drippy areas along the cliffs by Cougar Reservoir.

This was one of a great many MacCulloch’s foresters nectaring on daisies and many other flowers along the edge of the cliff.

In the spreading dogbane patch by the bridge north of the reservoir, I also spotted (pun intended!) some Langton’s foresters (Alypia langtoni). They are similar to the MacCulloch’s but have fewer, rounder spots. Both species use Clarkia as their host food plant, so they can be found in meadow or roadside areas where farewell-to-spring (Clarkia amoena) often grows.

The white to pink-tinged flowers of night-blooming morning glory actually bloom during the day. I’m not sure where it got the name. They do look like they would attract night-flying moths, so they probably stay open at night. I’ve never checked!

Up at Castle Rock, I was surprised that in spite of the dry conditions, there was actually quite a bit in bloom. Interestingly, the flowers were almost all white or cream. Mountain cat’s ears (Calochortus subalpinus) and night-blooming morning glory (Calystegia atriplicifolia) were the first to greet me in the meadow along the trail. I cut off of the trail and climbed down the rocky slope to the south to check on the population of white-flowered threadleaf phacelia (Phacelia linearis) I’d found many years ago, and was happy to see it was still there and in bloom. There was also some cream-colored hotrock penstemon (Penstemon deustus) getting started. There were lots of northern buckwheat (Eriogonum compositum) plants attracting butterflies, including cedar hairstreaks, dotted blues, and acmon (or maybe lupine) blues, so I spent more time watching insects.

Having not been to Castle Rock for so long, I was dismayed to see so many dead trees near the summit. Perhaps recent years of drought were too much for the trees living on this rocky slope. The main forest below seemed healthy enough.

Many people are familiar with the beautiful purple flowers of threadleaf phacelia on the east side of the Cascades. But in the Western Cascades, the small number of populations I’ve seen are almost all white-flowered.

When I finally got moving again, I headed to the summit at the north end of the mountain. I was very disappointed to see how many plants had been removed to install some sort of contraption and a solar panel to power it. Some time ago, I had heard about this, but this was the first time I’d seen it. I used to have to push through some shrubs to go just a little farther to the north on the ridge where I had been keeping an eye on a clump of the uncommon mountain cliff fern (Woodsia scopulina), but it was all cleared now. I couldn’t relocate the fern. Perhaps it got dislodged during the installation, or maybe it didn’t like the increased exposure. Thankfully, as I headed downhill to the east along the front of the cliff, I located two more clumps I’m pretty sure were Woodsia. Their location on vertical rock made it impossible to get close to them, but with my binoculars, I could see the telltale hairs on the stem that aren’t present on the superficially similar and far more common fragile fern (Cystopteris fragilis), which is also found on Castle Rock. These plants were new to me, but I imagine there are more on the vertical rocks faces out of sight of the summit.

Thanks to the long zoom on my camera, I was able to get a decent photo of this fern I’m pretty sure is mountain cliff fern, a hairier species than fragile fern. It was growing on vertical rock above a large drop, so, unfortunately, this was as close as I could get.

This funny-looking Tachinid fly (Gymnosoma sp.?) visiting northern buckwheat caught my eye because of its ladybug-like coloring.

Before heading home, I went back to the dogbane spot by the bridge for another half hour of butterfly and moth watching. I just couldn’t help myself. I really love relaxing days like this with a short hike and plenty of time to stop and observe all the natural things around me. I hope everyone out there gets to do this on occasion. For me, it’s the best way to deal with the anxiety of everything going on in the human-centric world.

I’m not a fan of clearcuts, but I enjoyed the mass of mostly blue deerbrush (Ceanothus integerrimus) filling in what used to be forest along the road to Castle Rock.

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