Butterflying on Coal Creek Road

We couldn’t go up Coal Creek Road without checking out the amazing spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium) patch just past the 4-way intersection at the top of the crest (43.3998°N, -122.4561°W). We delighted in the abundance of butterflies and the intoxicating fragrance of the flowers. While most of the visitors were checkerspots, we also saw some fritillaries, parnassians, coppers, and all three of our “ladies,” including this American lady.

Julia’s orangetips rarely sit still long enough to photograph them, so I was really pleased to capture this lovely male who was making the rounds of the tall bluebells (Mertensia paniculata) growing in the roadside ditches.

Coal Creek Road 2133 which leads up to the west end of the Calapooyas is one of my favorite places to do roadside botanizing and butterflying. It’s also one of John Koenig’s, so on July 13, we drove up there for an easy day as John was still recovering from some foot issues and wasn’t up to a real hike. It was warm, but there was still enough moisture in the many seeps and creeks along the road to nourish the flowers, which in turn attracted lots of butterflies. Here are some photographic highlights.

We scared up a family of grouse along the road. The cute babies all flew up into the trees.

John spotted this lovely mating pair of lilac-bordered coppers near the waterfall on the way up the road.

We saw a great display of beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax) by what I call “Dead Toad Pond,” a shallow vernal pool east of Loletta Lakes. There was no water left where it collects in the area beyond the beargrass but also no sign of dead tadpoles this year. Contrast this with last year on exactly the same day after a much wetter spring when the pond was filled with water and teeming with tadpoles (see Saxifrages and Toads near Loletta Lakes). Also in good bloom in the area was the beautiful subalpine spiraea (Spiraea splendens).

I originally thought this hairstreak sitting in the water of a small cascading creek was the rare Johnson’s hairstreak as I had once seen one in this area, but it turns out to be the very similar thicket hairstreak. According to Neil Bjorklund, “key field marks being the very pronounced M in the white ventral hindwing median line, and the dark spots that go nearly all the way up the outer margin of the VHW.” The caterpillars of both species feed on conifer mistletoes (Arceuthobium spp.).

We were very happy to see that the area along the road that had been scraped up a few years ago had recovered so much that it was hard to tell anything had happened. The clumps of cliff paintbrush (Castilleja rupicola) growing in the road were still doing really well.

Clodius parnassians are one of my favorite species of butterflies. Their wings are so elegant. The transparent areas are unique among the Western Cascade butterflies.

A small clearwing moth (Synanthedon sp.?) hanging out on a phacelia.

I was warned about this bad spot in the road by Chuck Hefflefinger, who also frequents this area. It hadn’t been there when I drove up last year. I was glad John was able to drive his truck as I don’t think my car has enough clearance for the high ridge in the middle. I love exploring the area along this road, but the road itself is often a problem. The Forest Service doesn’t enough manpower to fix individual spots just because some of us have vehicles that can’t handle the rough spots.

The view from the Calapooyas north to Moon Point and Warner Mountain during the halcyon days of July before the Bedrock and other fires started. I’ve been in a fog of smoke with my air filter running while I work on this today in August. I’m so glad I got up there while I had the chance!

3 Responses to “Butterflying on Coal Creek Road”

  • Leigh Blake:

    THANK YOU!!! Another wonderful treat!!! The fires are abysmal!! (spelling?)..Thank you for more great photos and PROPER ID…Now to memorize!!! STAY SAFE…Breathe CLEAN!!

    Many hugs

  • Leigh Blake:

    Here it is, December 24th, 2023. Thank you for all the incredible, beautiful photographs that you’ve, not only entertained us with, but educated us as well!! I am slowly learning…and you are a wonderful teacher! Your knowledge is so vast!! But I so appreciate your wnderful love of our natural gardens…and all the creatures that dwell here. A very Merry Christmas and a HAPPIER NEW YEAR for all the natural loves we are trying to save….

    Much love to you and your family!! PS..I need and want a good NATIVE BUTTERFLY BOOK….and maybe for all our Insects!!! Suggest the best…Maybe Thriftbooks will have it!!!

  • Hi Leigh,

    The two books I keep by my desk are Butterflies of the Pacific Northwest by Robert Michael Pyle and Caitlin LaBar and Life Histories of Cascadia Butterflies by David James and David Nunnallee. The first is a traditional guide book. As the names indicates, the second gives profiles of the life histories of many different species, including extraordinary photos of eggs, caterpillars, and chrysalises.

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