Archive for the ‘Wildlife’ 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!

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 »

Hidden Bog on Warner Mountain

What a gorgeous sight! And smell! I had to stop and smell almost every Cascade lily I passed on my way to and from the Warner Lookout.

With the gravel roads lapsing into disrepair the last few years, I hadn’t managed to make it to Groundhog Mountain, one of my very favorite places in the Western Cascades, in three years (see Butterflies and More at Groundhog Mountain), and my friend John had driven on that trip. It was past time to return. While the butterfly group (NABA) has been heading up there lately via Road 2135, I decided to take a slightly longer route up 2129 past Moon Point and the Warner Mountain lookout. That way, if there were downed trees or washouts I didn’t want to cross, I could do the Moon Point trail instead. And I was pretty sure the road would be clear to the lookout since it is used during fire season. The night before I left, I pulled out my iPhone to get the aerial image of the area saved in case I wanted to do any exploring. Just off the road near the beargrass meadows up on Warner Mountain, I noticed what appeared to be a wetland. The telltale dark squiggles of meandering water is a good indication. Hmm. If I didn’t make it to Groundhog, I would have to check this out. It was only about an acre, but you never know what might be there. 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 »

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 »

More Exploration Near Grassy Glade

The most floriferous spot at Rabbitbrush Ridge is a small draw next to the dike. No doubt this area funnels most of the surrounding moisture to the mass of northern buckwheat (Eriogonum compositum), frosted paintbrush (Castilleja pruinosa), varifleaf phacelia (Phacelia heterophylla), bluefield gilia (Gilia capitata), ookow (Dichelostemma congestum), and Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum).

Candelabrum monkeyflower is a delicate annual that prefers openings among shrubs where there’s little competition.

On Wednesday, June 10, we had a day off from the rain (not that I’m complaining about rain in June anymore!), so I took advantage of it to head back to Grassy Glade and check out one more opening I hadn’t been to yet and see how the purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) was doing.

First I made a few stops to collect seeds: silvery lupine (Lupinus albifrons) was ripening on the north side of Hills Creek Reservoir, and there was still some seed of Hall’s lomatium (Lomatium hallii) along the cliffs west of the reservoir. I also got a good collection of seeds of the annual miniature lupine (Lupinus bicolor), which I’d spotted growing abundantly along the road right under the guard rails. In this same area, the paintbrush (a mix of Castilleja hispida and C. pruinosa) was still blooming as was the Oregon sunshine, including a lovely pale yellow-flowered plant I’ve watched for years. I’ll be back for seeds of those later in the summer—Castilleja blooming in an area I’m restoring on my property are the progeny of these plants, growing successfully in mats of Oregon sunshine, some of which were also grown from seed collected here. Read the rest of this entry »

Watching Bees and Butterflies at Medicine Creek Road

Sadly not a monarch but a worn California tortoiseshell on purple milkweed.

On Memorial Day, May 25, I made the long drive down to the North Umpqua to check out the population of purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) along Medicine Creek Road 4775. I was a little disappointed to find it was just starting to open. I think the cool weather of late had slowed things down because Big Pine Opening was at about the same stage weeks ago, and although it is lower elevation, it is also much farther north. But although the milkweed wasn’t attracting many insects, there were plenty of plants that were.

A silver-spotted skipper was one of many insects nectaring on silverleaf phacelia.

Read the rest of this entry »

Snow Almost Gone, Flowering Has Begun at Patterson

Springtime means skunk cabbage and mountain buttercups blooming in the lovely wetland at the bottom of the large meadow on the south side of Patterson Mountain.

Still anxious to see early mountain flowers, yesterday, May 23, I headed up to Patterson Mountain. In spite of it being my 29th trip up there, I took a wrong turn on the way up. Last year they started heavy thinning of the surrounding forest, and the main Patterson Mountain Road 5840 is hardly recognizable with the reopening of many old side roads. At one point, both sides of a “Y” in the road look equally well used and the road sign for the side road is in the middle. Hopefully, I’ll remember from now on that the right turn to take is the right turn! Read the rest of this entry »

Milkweed is Up and Dippers are Out

One of the milkweeds was close to the cliff edge above the quarry. Thank goodness for the long zoom on my camera so I could take the photo from a safe distance from the edge.

On Monday, May 4, I headed out to the Rigdon area southeast of Oakridge to check on the purple or heartleaf milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia). At home, my little seedlings had been germinating, and some of last year’s seedlings were reemerging, so I was pretty sure the milkweed would be up at Big Pine Opening. I was surprised to see how tall some of the plants were, and several even had a few open flowers. I relocated the “chia pet” milkweed plant(s) from last year (see Three Trips in a Row to Rigdon). It was still growing in the same bizarre manner. I’m really puzzled by this odd plant, but I’ll just have to watch it as it develops. I wonder if it will flower eventually.

Last year’s chia pet-like clump of purple milkweed is up again at Big Pine Opening. Comparing it to last year’s photo, it looks like it has fewer, larger shoots, but it is still way more congested than a normal plant.

Big Pine Opening is an open slope at the intersection of Road 21 and gravel Road 2135. On the side facing the gravel road, the hillside was been carved out for a quarry. Unfortunately, the milkweed only grows on the top of the slope on the side above the old quarry. After seeing milkweed growing in the relics of a quarry at “Maple Creek Meadow” (see Surveying Milkweed at “Maple Creek Meadow”), I’d wondered whether the milkweed might be able to grow in the quarry itself at Big Pine Opening. After checking out the milkweed at the top, I went back down to the road and walked partway up the talus in the quarry—I wasn’t up to the difficult task of going high up the loose rock, but, with my binoculars, I was able to spot two patches growing in the gravel along the north side, in the partial shade of a couple of young ponderosa pine. There appeared to be at least a dozen plants large enough to be in bud. One more plant was growing in the main slope. I’m not sure if I can get close enough to the plants for a good count, but I’m just pleased the population is expanding into the quarry side. I suspect there might have been more milkweed on that side before the quarry was created, so maybe they are repopulating below where they once grew. Read the rest of this entry »

Reptiles and Insects Enjoy Spring in Rigdon Area

Coltsfoot (Petasites frigidus) was still in bloom along the Middle Fork of the Willamette. It was attracting numerous tiny flies as well as a small bee. If you haven’t smelled coltsfoot, try it, it has an unusual and pleasant menthol-like scent. That might help it attract so many pollinators.

My first official spring trip to Rigdon was on April 8, a lovely warm day. With the social distancing required because of the pandemic, I was out by myself, but I was certainly not alone. While it was still early in the season, there were plenty of the usual April flowers but also a few butterflies, bees, and an unexpected number of reptiles. Here are some photo highlights.

Just like last April (see Early Trips to Rigdon), the blooming manzanitas at Sacandaga Bluff were attracting lots of insects to the flowers, most of which had been pierced earlier by some nectar-robbing bee. This makes it easier for the other insects, like this echo azure and bee (Andrena?) to access the nectar.

Read the rest of this entry »

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