Searching for Color on Halloween

This handsome madrone (Arbutus menziesii) is growing on Rabbitbrush Ridge. It was laden with bright red berries. Beneath it is an unusually colorful, low-growing Oregon white oak (Quercus garryana). In the foreground are the silvery stalks of rubber rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa). The species’ abundance here elicited my name for this steep, rocky ridge.

One goal of my outing was to come home with seeds of the very late-blooming autumn knotweed (Polygonum spergulariiforme). I have a small population on my property that I’m working on expanding. Anything still blooming at the end of October is worth having, no matter how small its flowers.

With the days getting shorter and colder and the damp days increasing (I’m not complaining—after this summer I’m so thankful for wet weather!), I was looking for a dry and, hopefully, sunny day for one last trip into the mountains before winter really sets in. While the sun was playing peek-a-boo behind the clouds all day, at least it was dry on October 31, and I was able to head out to the Rigdon area. I decided to stay at fairly low elevation given the clouds and limited time and headed for Grassy Glade, stopping along the way for anything that looked colorful or interesting. And once I got to Grassy Glade and walked down to the end of the road past the meadow, I had just enough time to head down to “Rabbitbrush Ridge” where the last flowers of rubber rabbitbrush were still in evidence. It was a pleasant if unexciting day—hopefully enough to sustain me until the flowers reappear in February and March. I didn’t expect there would be much to photograph, but as you can see, I found plenty of interesting plants on my end-of-season trip. Read the rest of this entry »

Clear Skies at Last on Lowder Mountain

From where the trail first reaches the ridge, there’s a good view of the Three Sisters with fresh snow.

One of the few butterflies I saw, this orange sulphur was sitting on the silvery leaves of Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum), while the gorgeous purple leaves are those of sticky cinquefoil (Drymocallis glandulosa). The little flower on the left is Cascade knotweed.

Technically autumn started on September 22 this year. But for all intents and purposes, fall started with the first real rain on September 18. What a relief!! After the seemingly endless hot and smoky summer, following an unusually hot, dry spring, it was hard to remember what rain sounded like. We got at least 2 inches at my house; the patter of raindrops on the skylight above my desk was music to my ears. And finally, with the fires no longer spewing out smoke, I could go out again! It had been four weeks since I’d managed to sneak in a half day seed-collecting trip to Cloverpatch on a relatively clear day. I could hardly wait to get up in the mountains. On Monday, September 20, it was dry—or at least it wasn’t raining. I headed up to Lowder Mountain under clear blue (not dirty brown!) skies. Everything was still pretty wet from the rain, and it was quite cold up there when I stepped out of the car (not that I’m complaining!). My original plan was to bushwhack around Quaking Aspen Swamp, but not wanting to be drenched, I decided staying on the trail would be wiser and headed up Lowder Mountain instead, both trails starting from the same spot. Read the rest of this entry »

Studying Gentians at Warner Mountain

Few flowers are as gorgeous as gentians in full bloom. While most of these were single-flowered, a number of them had three flowers to a stalk. The Cascade grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia cirrata) was also coming into bloom, although these three buds hadn’t opened yet.

After several years of bad timing, I finally hit the perfect time to collect milkweed seed at Grassy Glade.

Since the bog gentians (Gentiana calycosa) had only just started on my previous trip to Warner Mountian (see Warner Mountain Botanizing), I was determined to get a better look at them, so I returned by myself on August 9. By this time, the Middle Fork Complex fires had started (after a July 29th thunderstorm went through the district), and finding a day when the smoke wasn’t too bad was difficult. But I was getting tired of being stuck at home, I figured it would only get worse as the summer wore on, and the day seemed like it might be okay. I drove through heavy smoke between Lowell and Westfir, just south of the Gales Fire, and was questioning my plans, but it wasn’t so bad heading south along Hills Creek Reservoir. My first stop was to Big Pine Opening to look for purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) seed, but it had already all blown away, so I continued on to Grassy Glade, a couple of thousand feet higher in elevation. Not only were the milkweed pods still cracking open, but I was above the smoke, so I was very pleased and spent a little while there collecting seeds and wandering around before continuing on to my main goal.

From the end of the road at Grassy Glade, I was above the smoke that had settled into the valleys and over Hills Creek Reservoir overnight, but it continued to rise all day. Warner Mountain is on the upper right of the photo, still above the smoke at this point.

While listening to a pika under the rocks I was standing on, I admired the magenta bracts covering the filberts (Corylus cornuta) from a small shrub above me. I’ve only seen them turn this color high in the mountains. Perhaps it has to do with cold temperatures. I have no idea what the benefit would be to the plant, but I wish the filberts on my property were this beautiful.

Heading up to Warner Mountain, I noticed the road seemed to be in better shape than I remembered. When I came to some road maintenance vehicles parked along the side, I was thrilled that the Forest Service was dealing with the potholes at last. My joy was short-lived, however, as they hadn’t finished the job. The dirt and gravel had been dumped but none of the grading done. It was not a pleasant few miles going over the rough road. I was quite relieved to finally make it past the road work (about at the intersection of the road that connects with 2129 and 2120) without flatting a tire; that had happened to me once when they were grading the road up to Table Rock Wilderness in Clackamas County a few miles ahead of me, and I never want to repeat that.

My first stop was up at the lookout. Some barking above alerted me that the woman staffing the lookout was up there with her dog. We chatted a bit, and she told me the smoke came and went every day, getting a bit worse in the afternoons, as I could see it was starting to do. I had thought about going back via the lower part of Road 2120 to avoid the rough road and was glad to hear that was the way she came up every day. I used to go to Groundhog Mountain that way, but the upper part of the road was getting pretty bad, so I hadn’t been on it in years. That made me more relaxed about my return.

I was very glad to see more of the rare green-flowered wild ginger (Asarum wagneri) growing in the talus slope. While it was well past blooming, it can be recognized by the very wide, floppy leaves. In bloom above it was pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea).

Like the previous trip, I headed out the ridge north of the lookout. This time, I went farther to the north before heading down. It got quite brushy, but I was able to reach an open section of talus slope where I thought I’d seen western boneset (Ageratina occidentalis) from the road once while driving by. Sure enough, it was there and in bloom. I really love this pretty plant. Its late-blooming pinky purple flowers are beloved by bees and butterflies. I have a plant in my rock garden that I grew from seed many years ago. Both species of wild ginger were creeping among the rocks and under the many shrubs. Some heavenly scented mock orange was still blooming. While the few mock orange plants on my property grow in damp woods, in the Cascades, they are most frequently found in talus slopes and on cliffs. The rest of the many shrubs had finished blooming and were covered with an array of colorful fruits: bright red bitter cherry (Prunus emarginata), almost black cascara (Rhamnus purshiana), and unusually bright red to magenta filberts.

Western boneset is a late-blooming rayless composite, reminiscent of a purple goldenrod, and is a great source of nectar for butterflies and bees. It especially loves talus slopes and rock piles. Underneath it was growing the common long-tailed wild ginger (Asarum caudatum), which though commonly found in the forest, also likes talus slopes, if they’re cool enough.

My favorite denizen of talus slopes is the adorable pika. I looked around for clues that they occupied this talus and was happy to see scat although I didn’t see any caches. But while examining the filberts, I heard the wonderful exclamations of a pika right underneath me. That made my day! I waited a while, but no little face popped up to see what I was doing. Still, it is reassuring to know they are there.

I was stunned to see the water continuing to flow well from the source spring. It had been over 7 weeks since the last rain, and of course, the weather had been excessively hot. It was great to be somewhere that wasn’t totally baked.

Ants were crawling deep down in many of the gentian flowers I looked at.

From the lookout area, I headed back west to the gentian bog. The gorgeous blue gentians were in very good bloom at this point. I spent quite a while looking carefully at the plants and the flowers in particular. I opened several up to see the inside of the deep tube. I was surprised to see tiny ants running around at the base. I looked down into a number of other flowers and saw ants in many of them. They must have been getting nectar. I wonder if they were contributing at all to the pollination. Even though there seemed to be far fewer bees around, they are much more efficient pollinators, but every bit helps.

I collected a gentian plant for the OSU Herbarium as this is the only location I know of in the area with this species growing in a bog the way it does in the High Cascades. I wrote about the morphological differences I had noticed between the rock and bog forms of the gentian in a post 10 years ago (see Singing the Blues at Tidbits). Most of the differences (leaf size, general growth habit, stem color) could be attributed to the difference between growing in sunny bogs vs. shady rocks. But one thing I’ve noticed that seems more significant to me is that the calyx lobes in the bog ones are arranged unevenly. I haven’t noticed that in ones I see growing in rocky habitat. These bog gentians were very similar to the ones from Jefferson Park in that character as well as the others. Still no conclusions on my Gentiana calycosa mystery, but I’m gathering more good data!

I tore this bog gentian flower so I could see it flattened out. Notice how the calyx lobes are unevenly spaced: three on one side and two on the other. The plants I’ve seen growing in rocky areas have five evenly spaced lobes that are bent outward. This doesn’t seem like an adaptation to habitat.

On my way home, I made a brief stop at Moon Point and walked some ways down the trail before deciding that the smoke was getting worse. I headed home by turning at the main intersection before reaching the part of the road that was in the middle of being regarded. There is a little pond on the way down. I decided to make a quick stop there to see if I could find anything interesting. Old floating-leaf pondweed (Potamogeton natans) and pond lily (Nuphar polysepala) were growing in the pond. But I was most happy to see a number of large chinquapins (Chrysolepis chrysophylla) in full bloom along the roadside. They were attracting ants, bees, a pine white, and golden hairstreaks—and best of all, I was able to get some fresh flowers for my gray hairstreak caterpillar at home to munch on (see previous post, A Stowaway from Eagles Rest)! Knowing that it was unlikely I would be able (or willing ) to go out in the smoke again, that was a great way to end the day and my summer botanizing.

A Stowaway from Eagles Rest

Last year, I discovered the caterpillars of dotted blues on barestem buckwheat (Eriogonum nudum) in the lower opening at Eagles Rest (see Butterfly Discovery at Eagles Rest). I had hoped that I would be able to find more there this year, now that I knew when and where to look. But the severe shortage of rain this past spring caused the normally seepy lower tier where the buckwheat grows to dry out much sooner than usual. A trip in early June was rather depressing—a number of plant species seemed to be drying up without ever having bloomed. I saw no dotted blues, adults or caterpillars.

A golden hairstreak up in the chinquapin.

It wasn’t until August 6th that I returned to Eagles Rest to collect whatever seeds I could find while enjoying the short afternoon hike and pleasant view. I managed to collect seeds of paintbrush (Castilleja hispida and pruinosa here, I believe), barestem buckwheat, Rattan’s penstemon (Penstemon rattanii), and a few bulbs. Read the rest of this entry »

Exciting Day at Spring Prairie

A rufous hummingbird nectaring on Cooley’s hedgenettle

An Anna’s blue on a fading lupine. I’ll have to come back when they are in bloom to try to ID the lupines.

On July 25, Nancy Bray and her husband, Herb, invited my husband Jim and me to join them on a trip to Blair Lake and nearby Spring Prairie. It was a bit hazy from fires to the south but otherwise a lovely day. When we got to the intersection of Road 733 that goes up to Spring Prairie, we made a quick decision to go up there first. I was pleased to see the road was in better shape than I remembered (no more trench down the middle of one section) as it had been quite some time since I’d driven up there although I had walked up the trail from Blair Lake last year (see Beargrass Season at Blair Lake).

We drove straight up to the edge of Spring Prairie and parked the car. On getting out, I immediately noticed lots of butterflies flying about in the large, mostly beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax) meadow. Other than some fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium) blooming farther downhill, nothing was in flower. So what were all these butterflies doing here? Growing among the beargrass was quite a bit of lupine (Lupinus sp.) with immature fruits. The butterflies all seemed to be Anna’s blues (Plebejus anna). If you guessed that they use lupines and other legumes as host plants, you’d be right. They appeared to be mating and laying eggs. I started searching the plants carefully. It took only a few minutes to spot the first egg, looking much like a tiny white sea urchin shell after the spines fall off. I’d never seen one before, but I recognized it from the similar hedgerow hairstreak eggs I’d seen a couple of years ago. What a great start to the day! I continued to look for eggs and found quite a few more, laid on stems and pods as well as leaves. Read the rest of this entry »

Warner Mountain Botanizing

A western white (?) met its demise in this patch of round-leaved sundew (Drosera rotundifolia).

An outstanding show of scarlet paintbrush below the lookout. I was surprised there weren’t more hummingbirds fighting over it.

My most exciting day of last year was finding explorer’s (or bog) gentians (Gentiana calycosa) at Warner Mountain (see Hidden Bog on Warner Mountain). I wanted to spend some more time looking at the population there this year, and I also wanted to share the hidden site with some friends, so on July 22nd, John Koenig, Sheila Klest, and Betsy Parry joined me for a trip to Warner Mountain. It was three days earlier than last year’s trip, but with this year’s extreme drought and heat, I was sure the blooming would be quite a bit earlier. I had also decided boots would be unnecessary as it would most likely be drying out. Boy, was I wrong! I was quite astounded, in fact, to find the bog not only still quite wet, and all the little creeks still running well, but the gentians had barely started. It was pretty much exactly the way I had found it on July 25, 2020. Considering it was a month after the awful record-breaking heatwave and no rain for longer than that, I couldn’t believe how fresh and moist everything was. Where was all this water that appears at the top of the bog coming from? The bog is only about 150′ lower than the top of the ridge above it, so it is not like it is getting water trickling down from much higher up. Read the rest of this entry »

Great Day for Butterflies at Bristow Prairie

With the number of times I’ve been to Bristow Prairie (this was my 26th time), I don’t remember ever seeing the prairie so pink with fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium). Molly said the Forest Service had done a controlled burn on the prairie not so long ago, so that would explain it.

An Edith’s copper nectaring on mountain boykinia (Boykinia major) in the small wetland

On July 18, Molly Juillerat (and Loki) and Nancy Bray joined me for a day at Bristow Prairie. We decided to skip the trail to make sure we had time for the lake, so we parked by the edge of the main prairie. Our first destination was the rock garden since we knew it would be hotter on the rocks later in the day. June and early July’s heat and drought had dried it out earlier than usual, but I was able to collect some seed. From there, we headed over to the lake and surrounding wetland. Going through what is by late July really tall foliage is tricky because you can’t see the ground and any possible mountain beaver holes. But we took our time and enjoyed looking for butterflies and other insects on the way down. Naturally, the area was much moister than and still had many flowers in bloom, but it was dry enough to walk around the wetland without rubber boots. I don’t get down to the lake often enough, so I’m glad we were able to spend some time there. Read the rest of this entry »

Butterflying in the Calapooyas

A serene image of yellow pond lilies (Nuphar polysepala) at Bradley Lake

A female Sierra Nevada blue nectaring on sticky tofieldia. This common wetland plant turns out to be very interesting. Scientists have recently discovered that the tiny insects that get stuck in the sticky glands on the stems are actually absorbed by the plant—it’s partly carnivorous! Thankfully, it’s incapable of catching large insects like butterflies. I wish I’d read this before I was up there so I could have looked for insects on the plants.

I was so happy to have gotten back to the Calapooyas (see Return to Loletta Peak) that when Alison Center contacted me to see if I could tell her where to find Sierra Nevada blues or join her for a trip up to where I’ve seen them, I jumped at the chance to go with her. Alison is not only the president of our local North American Butterfly Association chapter, she’s now the wildlife biologist for the Middle Fork District of the Forest Service. And she’d never been up Coal Creek Road to Loletta Lakes or Bradley Lake, so this was actually “work” for her!

So on July 8, we headed up Coal Creek Road 2133 to the wetland east of Loletta Lakes where Molly and I had just seen the Sierra Nevada blues. As it was only five days later, I was pretty sure they’d still be there—and indeed they were, still flitting about and drinking from sticky tofieldia (Triantha occidentalis). There were other butterflies and bees, so we enjoyed watching all the insects. Read the rest of this entry »

NPSO Field Trip to Moon Point

Relaxing by the lookout. The foliage of beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax) is really soft comfortable to sit and lie on.

Heading down the overgrown trail. The tall foliage on the left is alpine knotweed (Aconogonon phytolaccifolium).

On July 10, eleven (vaccinated) nature lovers gathered at the Middle Fork Ranger Station in Westfir for a field trip to Moon Point sponsored by the Native Plant Society. Jenny Moore, district botanist, was the official leader of the trip, but since she hadn’t been to Moon Point before our pre-hike a month earlier (see Early Bloomers at Moon Point), she asked me to co-lead. What with the pandemic, it was the first field trip I’d led in quite a while.

We had a lovely day up at Moon Point. The plants had grown like crazy since our earlier trip, so the trail looked very different. While a number of flowers were past peak with this summer’s heat and drought, there were still some showy species like skyrocket (Ipomopsis aggregata) and mountain owl’s clover (Orthocarpus imbricatus) in good bloom as well as inconspicuous ones like blunt-sepaled starwort (Stellaria obtusa). There were plenty enough flowers to attract quite an array of insects. Everyone was really inquisitive and as interested in all the butterflies and other insects as they were in flowers. We went all the way out to the point at the end of the trail, and on the way back most people bushwhacked with us over to the lake. Read the rest of this entry »

Return to Loletta Peak

The gash down the side of Loletta Peak is quite impressive. Amazingly, many plants occupy the steep rocky slope. In the near view is Balm Mountain (you can spot it by the logged triangle from quite a ways), while pointy Mt. Thielsen can be seen much farther to the southeast.

This large vole gave me just long enough to take its photo before disappearing into its hole below in the rocky area at the east end of the Loletta Lakes plateau. Does anyone know what species it is?

While I haven’t gotten out as much as usual this summer (work, drought, heat, now smoke as I write this), I did have some goals that I’ve been working through. After not being able to go up to most places in the Calapooyas last year because of all the treefall, and having missed out on the recent trips up Coal Creek Road for the Burke Herbarium Foray, what I was most anxious to do was to go up Coal Creek Road 2133. And since I hadn’t been up on Loletta Peak since 2015 (see Another Exciting Day in the Calapooyas), that was really my top priority. Happily, on July 3, Molly Juillerat was free, and, having never been to Loletta Peak, she was looking forward to seeing someplace new. As the ranger for the Middle Fork District of the Willamette National Forest, she’s been telling the Forest Service folks to go out and explore and get to know their district, something we both love to do. The boundary between the Middle Fork District and the Diamond Lake District of the Umpqua National Forest goes right across the top of Loletta Peak, making this is the southern edge of the district. Read the rest of this entry »

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