Updated: Aug 3
Just west of the town of Selma in Josephine County, Oregon is a rounded butte called Eight Dollar Mountain. Some say the name comes from the Gold Rush era, when some happy miner found a gold nugget worth $8. For us 21st century folk, that hardly seems worth naming a mountain after, but back in the late 1800's, $8 would cover room and board for one goldminer for several months.
Present day visitors to the area will find not only Eight Dollar Mountain, but also Eight Dollar Bridge and Eight Dollar Road. The beautiful Illinois River flows along the southern base of Eight Dollar Mountain, and in past visits that's where I'd focused my attention in exploring the butterfly fauna of the area. I had never thought to venture further west and up Eight Dollar Road to the south flank of Gold Ridge. That is, until I met Rob Santry and he suggested we spend a day up there.
We had a lovely, sunny day with minimal wind, and the lower slopes of Gold Ridge were beginning to show a nice diversity of butterfly species in flight. I harbored some hopes of finding Rural Skipper (Ochlodes agricola) and Spring White (Pontia sisymbrii), so we focused on habitat patches that might attract those two species.
The views out across the Illinois River Valley were lovely, and we could see Eight Dollar Mountain, Eight Dollar Road and Eight Dollar Bridge clearly--a view worth much more than the $24 implied by their place names. We didn't, however, spend much time gazing at the far vistas because the butterflies kept our attention much closer. At one particular rocky knoll, within 2 minutes of getting out of our cars, Rob called out "Leanira Checkerspot!" That was unexpected! I didn't think we would see them this early in June. At first I was skeptical, because the darn thing flew off before I could get a proper look at it, and all I could see was a partial view of a dark forewing with creamy spots. But Rob quickly quelled any doubts I had by recounting all the key field marks he had seen, and of course he had it right.
Prior to that day, my photo collection did not include a singe dorsal view of the western Oregon subspecies of Leanira Checkerspot (Chlosyne learnira oregonensis), so Rob's sighting definitely got my adrenalin pumping. Unfortunately, we were not able to re-find that checkerspot after searching for quite some time. So we continued up the road climbing up to other some spots Rob knew, but I knew I wanted to come back to this one later in the day. We drove further up the mountain eventually arriving at a saddle just below 2400 feet elevation, where there were some nice patches of the butterfly-magnet spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium), lots of clovers, and several other wildflowers in bloom, but only a few butterflies. It was clear that spring had not fully arrived there yet, and would be arriving a few weeks later. We had a quick bite to eat and then headed back down the Eight Dollar Road.
We stopped at a couple of stream crossings, hoping for Rural Skippers, but found none. When we got back down to that knoll where we'd seen the Leanira, I pulled over with hopes of finding it again. It only took a few minutes before Rob spotted another one, a different individual with less red on the upperside of the forewing. This one was absolutely immaculate and clearly had just eclosed from its chrysalis--it was not flying with great vigor yet, and we knew we had stumbled onto a very photographable Leanira! We both got many photos of this beautiful insect, a species that can initially be mistaken for a Euphydryas checkerspot if seen from a distance from above. Twenty minutes later I found a third individual that was more flight-worn, and later in the afternoon I found a fourth individual about a half mile down the road. Four Leanira Checkerspots in one day felt like a grand slam to me, since I'd previously never seen more than one in a day!
Rob and I had talked about having a particular liking for Indra Swallowtails, and we'd seen several over a couple of days. Earlier this spring I had gotten my best dorsal shots of Indra Swallowtail on Palmer Creek in the Applegate Valley, but I still didn't have any decent ventral photos. So, when a really fresh Indra landed near me to nectar on a yellow composite, my adrenalin kicked in again. I tried the same stakeout technique I'd used with good results with Gray Marbles earlier in the trip, sitting down to wait near the flower patch when the Indra veered away, chased off by a testy Snowberry Checkerspot. Sure enough, a couple minutes later it came back to that same flower patch again and I got some nice images of it nectaring on a bright yellow composite flower. Another unexpected gift!
After a few hours up on the ridge, Rob had to head back to Grants Pass, so I bid him goodbye, and then worked my way slowly down Eight Dollar Road. After crossing back over the Eight Dollar Bridge, I made a couple stops based on suggestions from Rob. A thick stand of Yerba Santa (Erioodictyon sp.) near the Eight Dollar Bridge yielded Hedgerow Hairstreaks, California Hairstreaks, Zerene Fritillaries, Coronis Fritillaries and others.
Yerba Santa was new to me as a butterfly magnet plant, and I'd only noticed it once previously in the Applegate Valley a few weeks before. I'll be keeping an eye out for this plant in the future! In this area, and at this time of year, it was a better butterfly magnet than spreading dogbane, which is saying a lot.
My last stop of the day before heading north up I-5 to Eugene, was a quick stop at the Eight Dollar Mountain Botanical Area Boardwalk and the adjacent Jeffrey Pine Loop Trail down to the river. I was still looking for Rural Skippers, as Rob had seen one in this area in the morning before I arrived. By this point in the afternoon it was getting really hot, and I hadn't brought my water bottle along, so I decided this would just be a quick scouting stop. I walked the short boardwalk through the Botanical Area to the edge of a bog with many Pitcher Plants, and saw a few species including Dun Skipper and Coronis Fritillary, but didn't stay long due to the mounting heat. Then I went across Eight Dollar Road, to the Jeffrey Pine Loop Trail. There I saw only a few butterflies including a nectaring Coronis Fritillary and some Common Ringlets, but was surprised how few butterflies there were along the river's edge. I went to the water's edge everywhere I could reach it to look for sandy or muddy puddling spots, but saw no butterflies in those areas. It had reached that hot midday time when many wild critters hunker down in the shade, including many sun-loving butterflies.
I continued down the trail paralleling the river, until I approached a densely forested patch ahead of me, where there was clearly more soil moisture and a little trickle of a stream. As I approached the edge of this forest patch, a bright orange and black comma zipped by so I stopped to try to track its flight. I got a couple glimpses of it, and guessed it to be a Green Comma (Polygonia faunus), of which I had seen many already this spring. Still, it's a lovely butterfly, and it looked very fresh, so I decided to pursue a photo. After a couple of circles around the little opening where I stood, it landed about 20 feet from me. I slowly inched toward it, trying to stay in the shade of adjacent trees so as to avoid startling it. When I saw it closer up, I was impressed by how dark it was underneath, but still assumed it was a Green Comma, since I'd had a glimpse via my binoculars of some bits of sage green in the outer band of the underside. It cooperated very nicely, allowing me to get a series of images, each one progressively closer. Even when I got up close and personal (via my telephoto lens), it didn't occur to me that this might not be a Green Comma at all. It wasn't until I reviewed the series of photos in my car, that I realized it was not Green Comma, but rather the much less common Oreas Comma (Polygonia oreas), of the subspecies silenus! This subspecies is one that I had tried to photograph over and over without any luck, mostly in and around the Willamette Valley. Here I had lucked into a great image of that very bug without even knowing it! To add to the fun and serendipity of the moment, when I got home I and checked the Oregon county occurrence data, I found that Oreas Comma had never been recorded in Josephine County before--so on top of everything else, it was a new county record!
With 27 species for the day, including Leanira Checkerspot, Indra Swallowtail and Oreas Comma, and Rob Santry's fine company, I definitely got my eight dollar's worth! You can rest assured I'll be coming back again.