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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Return to Red Top

I returned to Red Top Saturday to check on a few plants I have been keeping an eye on.

The season has been odd this year and today shows that what I though might happen has come true. All season many have said the plants are lagging behind by three weeks. Today I see that many plants came and went and "Poof" many are past it.

But that is OK. I hiked up the Blue Creek Trail to Red Top and then decided to return down via the Forest Service Road 9702. On this road I had some previous butterfly encounters and I knew there was a boggy area that might yield something fun.

Right were the FS road starts at Hwy 97 there is an abandoned log cabin. I found a plant growing early in the spring. It was only a pair of leaves but their feel and structure screamed "orchid" to me. I went back today and sure enough a very large Elegant Piperia was in bloom. This was the first time I had seen this plant in person.

When I parked my car to visit this spot the area was filled with clouds of moths. Many of them landed on the car and on me. I managed a few shots and I received word that the id is probably Western Spruce Budworm moth. I noticed that here and up to a certain elevation level there is extensive damage to the growing tips of most of the conifer trees. There were many birds about feeding on the moths.

Hiking up the very steep trail I finally found Rattlesnake Plantain in bloom. I believe this is the latest blooming orchid of the season.

Other than that, most plants were way past blooming. The ground was very dry. I did encounter an interesting mixed flock of Nuthatch and Brown Creepers. There was a lot of activity on one dead tree. Obviously a tasty larder of bugs and grubs. I could hear pounding and breaking of bark flakes.

I heard a lot of helicopter activity and when I finally reached a clearing saw one fly over with a water bomb bucket. There were at least 6 round trip passes while I hiked up and I was hoping to get a picture from the top but by then the flight passage had stopped. The fire lookout was manned and the volunteer said the flights were landing or dropping below the ridge line into Esmeralda Basin. He said their was no fire there and thought they might be practicing. The wind at the top of the ridge was fierce and cold. Clouds were quickly moving in from the west.

I decided then to hike down via the FS road to see if there might be some nice butterfly action. I had some great encounters in the past at one spot where water from snow melt flooded the road and made mud. Butterflies love to feed on mud.

There was absolutely no water to be found except a few moist slopes. There was a lot of thistle and Sub-alpine Daisy and that is where the butterflies allowed the best pictures. Many would tease me by landing on the road, as if to gather minerals from the dry soil.

Bee on Sub-alpine Daisy

Atlantis Fritillary , Speyeria atlantis

But some thistle allowed great pictures.

Calcedona Checkerspot.

I was also happy to fine some Pinedrops. This amazing saprophyte is covered in sticky hairs which trap bugs to supplement the plants diet. Having no chlorophyll they take nourishment from other plants and many process bugs as well. They can grow quite tall. This one is at least two feet high and still not spreading its flowers.

This one is starting to unfold the flowers.

When the plant dies it will leave a dried skeleton which might persist for a year, marking the spot to watch the nest season.

The boggy area was filled with grass, Paintbrush and Bog-orchids. I found a lucky butterfly as well

Greenish Blue Plebejus saepiolus

The place I left my car was where I found Mountain Ladyslipper earlier this season. I looked in the bushes here and found more Elegant Piperia as well as the dried remnants of the Ladyslippers. I could recognize the individual plants from my photos last time. They are still lovely.


  1. Oh! That Greenish Blue Plebejus saepiolus sent me scampering off to Google it. I was hoping that its range included my area, but, alas (love that word), it is a Western butterfly. No pretty blue butterfly for me to find.

  2. Ah Louise there are other spesky blues to be frustrated over

    Spring Azure
    Early Hairstreak
    Silvery Blue
    Eastern Tailed-Blue

    They are frustrating as , like so many butterflies, they are not great at holding still. The heat of the day helps.

    Here many of the blues like Buckwheat family of flowers.

  3. Superb post. Will have to check out the Piperias some time and I'm envious of the Pinedrops (speaking of which, I think you were right about the saprophytic plant we saw at Lake Elizabeth and the other person wrong.

  4. Thanks Ron.

    I am making my way through the Saprophytes. Groundcone is elusive , though I am pretty sure I have seen in the past and not recognized them for what they are. I plan on returning to Lake Anderson next spring per your suggestion.

    Candystick and sundew I have seen in the past and Gnome-plant, never

    Thanks to you I have really turned into an orchid and saprophyte hunter

    The one Pinedrop I saw way up the slope was HUGE and it must have been monumental by the time it opened and fully extended.