Archive for the ‘Rock and Cliffs’ Category

A Seepy Spring at Deer Creek

About the only thing blooming well in the large middle meadow was the gold stars sprinkled across the rocks. Snow can be seen on Carpenter Mountain not so far away.

One of the numerous places water cascades down the road banks between the 3 and 4 mile markers on Deer Creek Road.

I’m thrilled that the last month or so has been so cold and damp. It’s been much less stressful than last year’s hot and dry spring. But it has meant that I haven’t gone out botanizing much. Deer Creek Road off the McKenzie Highway is a wonderful place to go when all the small creeks and seeps are flowing off the road banks. And above the road banks, there are a number of rocky meadows above the road west of Fritz Creek. So when we had a break in the rain last Wednesday, May 4, I decided to go check it out.

I had planned to stop at Cougar Reservoir first, to see what was blooming on the cliffs along the reservoir, but the road was closed well before the cliffs. That section north of the reservoir burned in the Holiday Farm Fire two years ago, so they were undoubtedly logging the dead trees along the road. That meant I had a lot more time to spend at Deer Creek Road, so instead of a relaxing walk along the road, it seemed like a good time to climb up to the big meadows above the road, something I hadn’t done since 2017 (see A Return Look at Deer Creek Meadows).

Fritz Creek was gushing with high water coming from upslope. A bird whizzed by me. My first thought was that it must be a dipper, but it turned out to be a rufous hummingbird zipping low above the water.

It was still early, but it looks like it will be a fabulous season, especially if the rain keeps up. The gold stars (Crocidium multicaule) were still blooming well, but some had started going to seed. I spent quite a while collecting seed since that was one of the reasons I chose this destination. I’ve been able to get some blooming on my property every year, but it still isn’t self-sowing well, so if I want to see it at home, I guess I’m going to have to collect some seed every year. There was also Hall’s lomatium (Lomatium hallii), Menzies’ larkspur (Delphinium menziesii), large-flowered blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia grandiflora), and monkeyflowers (Erythranthe microphylla? and alsinoides) in bloom, but the latter probably won’t be putting on a big show until later in the month.

The most easterly meadow in this stretch is tantalizingly close to the road, but the banks are too steep for direct access.

Menzies’ larkspur and Hall’s lomatium blooming in the rocky meadow at the top of the easternmost meadow. The grayish clump in the middle is northern buckwheat (Eriogonum compositum) coming out of dormancy. The large, bushy, brownish purple one is a hotrock penstemon (Penstemon deustus). It often turns purple in the winter but is green by summer.

The climb up and down the steep 300′ slope to the largest meadow was tricky as always, but it really doesn’t take that long. And I think I’d better come back in a few weeks and do it again when peak season starts. On the way back down, I checked the aerial view on my phone to see if I could get over to the opening to the east. It looked pretty simple, and I’d always wanted to check out that most easterly meadow. The road bank is too steep to access it directly, but when I first arrived that morning, I had checked out the woods right by the edge of Fritz Creek where it goes under the road and decided it might be accessible from that way. But rather than go down to the road and back up again, I went across from the first meadow, easily accessed the top of the eastern meadow, and went back down through the woods. That meadow was quite pleasant, especially because since it is the end of a ridge, it wasn’t as steep-sided. I’ll definitely follow that route again next time.

A nice comparison between the green comma (top and left), hoary comma (middle), and California tortoiseshell (bottom). When they are busy flying around, it can be hard to distinguish them with their similar coloring. Note the green comma has light dots totally surrounded by dark brown on the edge of its hind wings.

This friendly hoary comma is lighter overall with no greenish “lichen” markings below like the green comma and fewer dark spots on the top of the hind wings than the similar satyr comma.

After that, I walked down the road to the most westerly meadow to see if the beautiful shootingstar (Dodecatheon pulchellum) was budding up yet (it wasn’t). On the way, I passed a large gathering of butterflies at a seemingly random spot on the road. There were 2–3 dozen California tortoiseshells and anglewings drinking and fluttering about (no small butterflies, but I saw a few blues, a Julia orangetip, and several Moss’s elfins over the course of the day). My guess was that some animal must have peed there, and the butterflies were enjoying salt and other nutrients left behind. I decided to do a scientific experiment and made a contribution of my own a few feet away. When I came back from checking out the western meadow, there were two gatherings of butterflies—at least 9 were checking out my spot. I’m certainly not the only one to have tried this, check out this article for a more detailed experiment (Butterflies Really Seem To Like Drinking Cougar Pee).

The green of the green comma is more blue in this individual, but it still adds to his camouflage whether on bark or gravel.

I spent a while photographing the anglewings, having already taken pictures of tortoiseshells that had been following me around earlier in the day. There were both green commas (Polygonia faunus) and hoary commas (P. gracilis). The green commas use willows (Salix spp.) as their host food plant, and the hoary commas like currants and gooseberries (Ribes spp.). Both willows and currants could be seen in the area, so it wasn’t surprising to see them there. I really wanted a better photo of an anglewing, so after they got somewhat used to my presence, I got some sweat on my finger (another good source of salt!) and tried to slide my finger under several butterflies. The green comma I tried it with wasn’t interested, but a hoary climbed up on my finger and drank happily while I got some good photos. I’m looking forward to another good butterfly and wildflower day soon, but in the meantime, I will be very happy if it keeps on raining!

2022 Botanizing and Butterflying Season has Begun!

The first California tortoiseshell to land on my hand

This very odd filbert (Corylus cornuta var. californica) catkin caught my eye near the river. Normally the female flowers with their red-violet stigmas are in a small cluster that is separate from the long, dangling male catkin. But this inflorescence had several females mixed in with the males. What happened here?

While it wasn’t a terribly difficult winter weatherwise (though not nearly enough rain), it is always a joy to see the first flowers of late winter and spring. And with them, the reappearance of the first butterflies. On Tuesdays, I often have meetings for my job with OregonFlora, but this past week, my meeting was postponed for a day. That turned out to be very fortunate as Tuesday was the most beautiful day of the week: clear and sunny and the first day of the year to reach 70°. I took advantage of it to head out on what has become my annual first botanizing trip of the year out to Hills Creek Reservoir and the Rigdon area along Road 21. I stopped at all my usual haunts. First along the reservoir to see the gold stars (Crocidium multicaule) blooming. It hasn’t been wet enough for an outstanding year, but they are still such a welcome sight. The paintbrushes (Castilleja) are sending up new leaves that are noticeably reddish. The Sierra gooseberry (Ribes roezlii) was just barely in bloom.

Read the rest of this entry »

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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 »

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 »

Collecting Foray at Hills Peak

The folks from the herbarium collecting specimens in the wetland near the lake

Suksdorf’s paintbrush can be recognized by the yellow and green below the red on the bracts and its prediliction for wetlands.

At long last—after a year’s delay because of the pandemic—it was time for the Burke Herbarium’s 25th annual collecting foray. On June 24th, I headed down Road 21 to Sacandaga Campground to meet the participants, including Dick Olmstead and David Giblin who organize the forays every year, several volunteers, and five UW students. Also there were John Koenig and James Mickley, the new head of the OSU Herbarium. None of the Washington folks, nor James, had ever been to the Calapooyas, so John and I were really looking forward to introducing them to our favorite spots.

On Friday morning (June 25th), we split into three groups. John went up to Bristow Prairie, David and James took a group to Potter Mountain, and I went with Dick Olmstead and his wife Sheila and dog Lolly, Scott, a volunteer, and Ava, a student, to Hills Peak. We were also joined for the day by Gail Baker, a friend and fellow local NPSO member. Read the rest of this entry »

Groundhog Mountain Reconnoiter

The roadbanks along Road 451 were painted blue with large-flowered blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia grandiflora) and Menzies’ larkspur (Delphinium menziesii). There were also large clumps of early blue violet (Viola adunca) to complete the color scheme.

After crossing the rough road, we parked to admire the view near Logger Butte and decide where we wanted to go first. I was thrilled to find some butterfly eggs on the rockcress (Boechera sp., maybe acutina) along with an adult Julia orangetip (sorry, ours aren’t Sara orangetips anymore!), possibly the mom of the eggs.

With the Burke Herbarium Collecting Foray only a week away, but with a lot of work to do and taking time off for the foray, we decided it was our last chance to scope out potential sites, so we should split up. So on June 17, Jenny Moore, Middle Fork District botanist, and John Koenig headed up Coal Creek Road, while Jenny Lippert, Willamette National Forest botanist, and I went up to the Groundhog Mountain area. With many of our previous routes to Groundhog becoming less drivable, we decided to try the relatively short (~10 miles of gravel) and direct route from Road 21 up Road 2135. I’d never done this, but I knew members of the North American Butterfly Association were going up that way. Since we were in the big Forest Service vehicle, this was a good opportunity for me to check out the road without testing myself or my smaller vehicle. I used to drive up any road to check it out, but after all the flats I got, and with the loss of money for upkeep and the subsequent degradation of Forest Service roads, those days seem to be long gone.

Going through the private timber land, the road was actually fine and the forest quite pretty. I was surprised because I had seen very large clearcuts in the Seneca land from last year’s trip to Groundhog; they must have been off of some side roads. When we hit the National Forest land, the road condition worsened, but it was still okay. Then we reached the part I’d seen on Google Earth where there is no protective forest, just rocks on one side and a big dropoff on the other. Since I wasn’t driving (thank you Jenny!), I didn’t get too anxious, but we decided we shouldn’t send the herbarium folks that way, and after visiting several spots at Groundhog, we headed back the long way (~15 miles of gravel) past the Warner Lookout. Read the rest of this entry »

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