Archive for the ‘Butterflies’ Category

On the Menu at the Butterfly Café

From the west opening on the bluff next to Sacandaga campground, you can see the snow on the area that burned in the 2009 Tumblebug Fire.

I was so happy to see so many handsome male catkins on the Fremont’s silktassel (Garrya fremontii) next to the bridge and boat ramp at Hills Creek Reservoir. This lovely native plant was accidentally cut down by a Forest Service crew while working on nearby weedy shrubs a few years back. It has been slowly recovering ever since.

One of the best benefits of having a remote job doing layout and design is that I set my own hours. Or in other words, I can usually play hooky when I feel like it! When I saw that the forecast for Oakridge was supposed to be in the 70s (!) on Wednesday, March 31, I dropped everything to see how things were progressing down in Rigdon. And after spending several weeks focusing on butterflies while preparing my slide show on “Favorite Plants of Butterflies of the Western Cascades” for the North American Butterfly Association and the Middle Fork Willamette Watershed Council (you can view the recording here), I couldn’t wait to spend a day with some butterflies.

At every stop along the road, I was greeted by California tortoiseshells. When I got to “Ladybug Rock,” there were as many as I’d seen on my previous outing (see 2021 Botany Season has Begun!). I also spotted a Moss’s elfin sitting on its host food plant, broadleaf stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium), high up on the rock. While the tortoiseshell overwinters as an adult and can appear on any warm, sunny day, the elfin overwinters as a chrysalis, so this was the first newly hatched butterfly I’d seen this season—definitely a sign of spring. I climbed up on the rock to get some of the first ripe seed on the still-blooming gold stars (Crocidium multicaule). When I returned to the car, a truck passed me and then backed up to where I was. Usually, passersby are wondering if I’m okay. It turns out this man was so excited about something he had found that he just had to share it with someone, and I was the first person he’d seen (likewise, he was the first person I’d seen in the area all day). He pulled out a massive (elk?) antler with 5 points; it was over half his height!

There were several flower longhorn beetles gathering pollen by burrowing their heads into coltsfoot (Petasites frigidus) flowers along Road 21.

After a few more stops, including Big Pine Opening and the bluff at Sacandaga Campground, I returned to Ladybug Rock. I wandered through the woods by the river (the massive patches of fawn-lilies still weren’t blooming, but the coltsfoot had started) and popped back out on the road about a tenth of a mile west of Ladybug Rock. I decided to check out the little seep on the south-facing bank across the road. I’ve never noticed any interesting plants there, but the moss looks lush and inviting every time I drive by. That turned out to be the highlight of my day. Not only were there lots of tortoiseshells puddling in the wet ditch, but there were also two other butterflies, a Mylitta crescent and an echo azure—both the first of the year for me. 

A ladybug sitting on hoary manzanita (Arctostaphylos canescens) flowers at Sacandaga Bluff. Even though most of the plant was still in bud, some nectar robber had already started poking holes in the flowers just as I’d seen there the last couple of years.

I put my left-hand palm up in hopes of attracting a butterfly. While many tortioseshells were flying around me, none landed. Then I noticed that one had landed on my camera bag and another on my hip. In the heat of this unusually warm day, it was easy to find some sweat to apply to my finger before encouraging one of the butterflies to climb onto my finger. It worked well, so I “scooped” up the second one. Word seemed to have gotten around because more butterflies landed on me. Eventually, I was able to get four on my left hand, and another had alighted farther down my left arm. Others appeared to be landing on my head and back (look for an odd triangle at the top of your shadow if you’re alone and wondering if someone is on your head!). I took as many photos as I could, but at some point, I got hot and tired of standing up, so I sat down with my friends on the road bank.

Four torties sipping sweat on a hot afternoon. Quite the handful!

A car drove by, disturbing several butterflies who flew off my hand, but most returned on their own. Having gotten a taste of salty sweat, I guess they decided it was more delicious than mud. Once again, the car slowed down and backed up. This time it was, in fact, a concerned citizen wondering if I was all right. I guess seeing a woman sitting alone on the side of the road with her hand up in the air might have looked a little concerning! After I reassured him I was okay, the man drove off, and I finally decided it was time for me to leave, too. I walked back toward my car with several torties accompanying me. One walked me almost all the way back to my car (how chivalrous!) and another had landed on my nose. I had thought I was going to observe butterflies, but as it turned out, I was the main attraction—you might say I was the plat du jour at the Butterfly Café!

2021 Botany Season has Begun!

Our paintbrushes hunker down for the winter, not quite going totally dormant. Now the new shoots have begun to grow, bringing forth the promise of those gorgeous red flowers in a few months. This plant growing on the cliffs along Hills Creek Reservoir might be frosted paintbrush (Castilleja pruinosa), but the paintbrushes in this area are quite variable.

One of the small creeks at Many Creeks Meadow was running well.

Just a short post today about my first trip of the season. Sad to say, I’m already way behind on posting as the trip was a week ago, on March 3rd. As always, I started the season with a look at many of my favorite spots along Road 21, in the Rigdon area south of Oakridge. Things were just starting, with only a handful of species in bloom, but it was a gorgeous sunny 60° day, so I enjoyed it thoroughly. In bloom were gold stars (Crocidium multicaule), meadow nemophila (Nemophila pedunculata), snow queen (now with a new name: Veronica regina-nivalis), white alder (Alnus rhombifolia), slender toothwort (Cardamine nuttallii), Hall’s lomatium (Lomatium hallii), and the very first Sierra gooseberry (Ribes roezlii) flower.

I started the day with a quick stop along the north side of the reservoir just east of the dam. Tiny silvery lupine (Lupinus albifrons) seedlings were just sprouting their first true leaves. Even at this size, someone small had spotted this one and taken a few bites out of one of the thick cotyledon leaves.

I made a quick stop at the Oakridge dump, which is right near the Hills Creek Dam, to do some recycling. I was surprised to get this great view of Heckletooth Mountain, where both the west- and south-facing meadows can be seen at the same time.

The goldstars (Crocidium multicaule) that I seeded in my restoration area on my property had begun to bloom, so I was sure they would be flowering along the reservoir, but they still have a while to go before their peak bloom.

“Ladybug Rock” (just west of Camper’s Flat along Road 21) didn’t let me down. One of the sights I’d hoped to see was the first gathering of the overwintering butterflies as happy as I was for such a warm spring-like day. There were as many as a couple of dozen California tortoiseshells and a single green comma (wings open in the upper left) flitting about the south-facing rock face.

The male catkins of white alder (Alnus rhombifolia) were in bloom above the Middle Fork of the Willamette River at Camper’s Flat Campground.

Butterfly Discovery at Eagles Rest

Upon discovering the caterpillars in July, I had forgotten that I’d seen several adult dotted blues earlier in the season. This one is sitting on barestem buckwheat (Eriogonum nudum) still in bud on June 4. 

In addition to all the wonderful flowers at Eagles Rest (see previous post, Eagles Rest Flowers Through the Summer), I had a good time watching insects visiting the flowers on my weekly trips, and just when I thought things were fading, I had a very exciting butterfly find.

When the first barestem buckwheat (Eriogonum nudum) flowers started to dry out and turn brown, I began to collect seed of it. The dried perianth (there’s no differentiation between sepals and petals) persists, so to collect seed, I just grab the dried stuff off the inflorescence and throw it in a bag. Since there was only a little ready to collect on July 16, I put it in a small envelope. When I got home that night, I spilled it out into a container to see if any decent seed had developed yet. Imagine my surprise when I discovered a small caterpillar clinging to the inside of the envelope! It was really lucky I looked in the envelope at all. Usually, I just put all the envelopes in a box and deal with them later. Read the rest of this entry »

Exploring a New Bog Near Blair Lake

My favorite part of the bog was a small section of windy creeks and pools along the northern edge. It reminded me a lot of the bog near Lopez Lake that John Koenig and I call Zen Meadow. The white flowers are grass-of-Parnassus

This sphinx moth caterpillar was hanging out on a twinberry (Lonicera involucrata) leaf.

Between finalizing Volume 2 of the Flora of Oregon (see previous post), hot summer weather, and fairly mundane trips to lower elevation sites to collect seeds, I didn’t get a lot of exploring done in August (and being on evacuation alert and smoke during the Holiday Farm fire pretty much nixed any hiking in September). But after finding the wonderful bog on Warner Mountain (see Back to Warner Mountain Bog), I did get the urge to look for new sites to botanize.

I had been planning to go back to Blair Lake to collect some seed anyway, so I took a closer look at the surrounding area on Google Earth before my trip. I noticed several areas that looked like they could be interesting wetlands that weren’t far off roads and could be combined with a trip to Blair. So, on August 9, I headed up to Blair, but when I came to the intersection of Road 733, instead of turning right to follow the sign up to Blair Lake, I stayed on Road 1934 and parked one mile farther up. Heading into the woods on the right (east), it was only about 1/8 of a mile to the wetland, although with tromping over fallen logs and such, it took 15 minutes or so (see Google Map image). Read the rest of this entry »

Back to Warner Mountain Bog

Gentians blooming in the main bog.

Alpine laurel (Kalmia microphylla is already in seed by the time the flowers of the late-blooming gentians appear.

Having just discovered explorer’s gentians (Gentiana calycosa) on Warner Mountain (see previous post, Hidden Bog on Warner Mountain), my top priority was to get back to see them in full bloom. I contacted Molly Juillerat, botanist and Middle Fork District ranger, to see if she wanted to come. Luckily, she was free the following weekend. I figured that was enough time for the display to be worth the trip. As it turns out, a couple of other friends, Nancy and Keiko, were already planning to head up to that area as well. So we agreed to all drive up separately and meet by the lookout on August 2. Keiko brought her husband, Daniel, and Molly brought her faithful dog, Ruby. After checking out an interesting rocky spot a short way off the road that I’d noticed on Google Earth (not too many flowers but pikas under the rock pile!), we stopped to have lunch by the lookout. Sadly, the Cascade lilies were pretty much done—I was really fortunate to have seen them the week before. Then we headed over to the bog. Read the rest of this entry »

Buggy Day at Bristow Prairie

The wetland by the lake was filled with bistort (Bistorta bistortoides), Oregon checkermallow (Sidalcea oregana), and arrowleaf groundsel (Senecio triangularis). We hadn’t had time to explore this area last trip, but I like to come down here at least once a year. There are too many wonderful spots at Bristow Prairie to see them all on a single trip.

Follicles of Menzies’ larkspur still filled with seeds. Usually when an animal brushes by the plant, the seeds get flung out of the capsules. More than once, I inadvertently kicked a plant as I reached forward to grab the seeds, knocking them out before I could get any. Plants have so many clever ways of distributing their seeds.

After the terrific trip John Koenig and I had to Bristow Prairie earlier in the month (see Still More Discoveries at Bristow Prairie), I decided to return on July 15 to see the next wave of flowers. This trip was not nearly as pleasant as the first because most of the afternoon I was hounded by biting flies. Some looked to be deer flies; others were both larger and smaller, but they were all determined to drive me crazy. At the very end of the day, some house fly-sized ones were actually leaving what looked like bruises on my arms just minutes after they bit me. Luckily they didn’t itch for all that long. I’ve never experienced that before in the Western Cascades, so it was doubly disconcerting. Biting flies were one of the many things I disliked about my short tenure living in the Midwest. Read the rest of this entry »

Still More Discoveries at Bristow Prairie

The rock garden is always gorgeous in June and July. The cream-colored hotrock penstemon (Penstemon deustus) was at peak. It was joined by frosted paintbrush (Castilleja pruinosa), Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum), bluefield gilia (Gilia capitata), and much more.

On July 3rd, John Koenig and I went to Bristow Prairie, one of our favorite places. Due to the pandemic, we drove up separately. Turns out we were both planning to go, so we figured we might as well go at the same time. Two sets of eyes are much better for finding interesting things. And we always seem to find unusual plants and other cool things up in this wonderful area.

It takes a very tiny bee to pollinate the little flowers of Columbia lewisia.

Read the rest of this entry »

Beargrass Season at Blair Lake

Beargrass coming into bloom near the trailhead at Blair Meadows.

A rocky area at the edge of Mule Prairie with harsh paintbrush (Castilleja hispida), cliff penstemon (Penstemon rupicola), and Cascade fleabane (Erigeron cascadensis).

On June 25, I went up to Blair Lake. This was another place I hadn’t been to in peak season for quite some time, although I had been up there in late July last year (see Butterfly Day at Blair Lake). Unlike last year’s trip, there weren’t many different species of butterflies, but the flowers were gorgeous, and, for the first time here in years, I got to see the beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax) in bloom! Beargrass is an odd species in that the populations seem to either bloom en masse or hardly at all. There are different thoughts about what kind of schedule it is on, but it has been blooming far more often than the “every 3 years” or “every 7 years” and other ideas I’ve heard. Coffin Mountain seems to have a mass beargrass bloom every year I make it there—although I often miss the actual flowering. Although there have been lots of big beargrass years in the last decade or so, Blair Lake doesn’t seem to be on the same schedule as other sites. I haven’t seen evidence of a big bloom year for many years. But this year, it is definitely worth visiting. There were places by the road and patches up at Mule Prairie and farther up the trail at Spring Prairie where there were a great many in bloom, but most are still budding up, so it should be impressive for the next couple of weeks at least. I don’t think anyone knows exactly what factors are required to create a big bloom year, but when there is one, it is well worth the trip to see this impressive sight (and smell, although the strong fragrance of thousands of inflorescences can be a bit overwhelming!). Read the rest of this entry »

A Rainbow of Flowers at Mount June

So many brightly colored species clamouring for attention on the south ridge that it was hard to know where to point the camera. Here paintbrush, lupine, Oregon sunshine, and stonecrop make it into the photo.

Once again, there weren’t as many butterflies as one would expect for all the flowers, but we did see this pale swallowtail nectaring on wallflower (Erysimum capitatum). California tortoiseshells, duskywings, and parnassians were about the only other species we saw.

Mount June was one of the first places I went hiking when I moved to Oregon (back in the ’90s!). I went at least once a year for many years. I guess there are just too many great destinations to explore these days because it had been almost six years since I’d been there and 8 years since I’d seen the area during bloom season. My last report was from 2011 (see Sawtooth Rock Meadow in Gorgeous Peak Bloom)—funny how that seems like it was just a short while ago!

I’d been wanting to show John Koenig the off-trail areas on the south and west, and he was already planning a trip there, so, for my 30th trip there, we agreed to drive up separately and do a socially distanced hike together on June 22. The pandemic has reduced my already limited social life to almost completely absent, so it was nice to be out with a good friend on such a gorgeous day.
 
Read the rest of this entry »

A Sea of Blue at Maple Creek Meadow

This photo of the view east was taken from about the same spot as the ones I used in my previous two reports about Maple Creek Meadow—why break tradition? The little opening on the nearest ridge is Rabbitbrush Ridge where I went the previous week (see More Exploration Near Grassy Glade) and which also has purple milkweed, rubber rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa), northern buckwheat, and bluefield gilia, all seen here.

With the forecast predicting warm summer weather on the way, I figured it might be my last chance to get out to see the peak bloom of purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) at lower elevation meadows without roasting. I had been wanting to return to what I named “Maple Creek Meadow” as I’d only been there twice before: first on a hot day in July (see Another New Milkweed and Monarch Site!) when most things were finished and the following year on a cloudy day in May (see Surveying Milkweed at “Maple Creek Meadow”) when many plants were just starting. So I was due for a sunny but cool day in the middle of the season and headed out to the Rigdon area of southeastern Lane County on June 17.

Two caterpillars eating flower stalks of rose checkermallow. Apparently, their color depends partly on what they are eating. I think both are gray hairstreaks (but correct me if you think otherwise!).

Read the rest of this entry »

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