Updated: Jul 8, 2020
On Sunday, I drove down Interstate 5 to the Ashland area, in hopes of photographing the elusive Sooty Hairstreak and Sternitsky's Parnassian in the mountains nearby. As I pulled closer to Ashland, I saw a large plume of smoke arising from what looked to be the Cascade Siskiyou National Monument. Not good. This monument is a treasure trove of biodiversity, a mixing zone of the habitats and creatures of the Cascade Range, the Klamath Mountains and the Siskiyou Mountains. I didn't even want to think about what a wildfire there could destroy. Even though the smoke was getting increasingly thick as I got closer, I decided to drive up Baldy Creek Road, to see what conditions were really like. I've learned to not always trust first impressions...
When I saw this sign, a little debate started up in my head. One side was the law-abiding, safety-protocol-following part of me (I could die in the fire and that's not how I want to go, it would be embarrassing to be arrested for trying to photograph butterflies, etc.), and the other was the I-want-to-get-this-done-now side (maybe its not as bad as it looks, maybe they're being overly cautious, I drove three hours to get here-I'm not turning around!, etc.). It was an interesting debate. The law-abiding side won after a few rounds.
I didn't have a cell signal up there to get more information, so I drove back down to Ashland, and stopped in shady Lithia Park to ponder my next move. From the look of things the smoke was engulfing both places I wanted to visit: Boccard Point (via Baldy Creek Rd) and Mt. Ashland. Boccard Point was the spot for Sternitsky's Parnassian, a really stunning silvery white butterfly with black marks and bright red spots. Mt. Ashland was the spot for the Sooty Hairstreak, a dark and dusky little butterfly that was hard to spot due to its fast flight and cryptic coloration.
I ate lunch in the park, and tried to contact my AirBnB host to see if she would refund my rental fee, since it appeared that I wouldn't be able to do what I came for. I hung around in the park for a bit waiting for her reply. After a while it occurred to me that there may be some handy webcams that could give me a view of what was going on up on Mt. Ashland. Sure enough there was one, and danged if it wasn't showing a perfectly blue sky and crystal clear air! This was just a few miles as the hawk flies from what I now knew was the deadly Klamathon Fire. The last I heard, two people have been killed in that fire, and almost 2,000 firefighters are doing their best to protect surrounding structures and habitats. Thank you firefighters!
Now that I knew Mt. Ashland was clear, I skeedaddled up there to catch the last couple of hours of good sun, since it was already after 2 pm. Here's what I saw when I got up there:
The most productive part of the Mt. Ashland Road for butterflies is the first few miles after it turns to gravel, west of the ski area. As I was driving, I remembered seeing more than 15 years ago what was probably a Sooty Hairstreak in a mixed sage/wildflower meadow a couple miles down, so I headed straight there. I hopped out of the car, binoculars and camera strapped on. I wandered through this meadow, favoring the rocky areas, since I knew this butterfly tended to be found near rocky outcrops. After about 40 minutes I spotted a small dark thing zipping around--could it be? I followed it visually as best I could, but the dang thing was moving fast and was really darkly colored--when it would pass something dark, I would lose it completely. Then I had to wait for it to move again and then start over. Then another dark zip-zip. Crap! Lost it again. Then another zip-zip. This time, I spotted where it landed! So I walked in my molasses-in-wintertime as-slow-as-possible walk to where I saw it land. Binoculars up slowly, and that's him! Now the hard part: getting close enough for a decent picture, without scaring him off on another eye-straining zippity-doo-dah escape path. Lucky for me, he clung to his perch, in part to avoid being blown off of it by the wind that was now starting to gust a bit. That's now a new challenge: macro photography of objects being blown around in the wind is not easy. Not only did I have to approach so slowly so as to not trigger his alarm system and send him flying, I also had to stand there in photo-taking posture until there was a break in the wind.
Fortunately his perch was high enough that I wasn't all bent over and contorted, since I wouldn't have lasted long (in spite of all my yoga practice) if he was lower. Somebody watching me might of thought "Maybe that dude fell asleep while he was taking a picture-- he hasn't moved in quite a while!"
My patience paid off. The wind paused, he didn't fly, and I snapped the first of several images of the Sooty Hairstreak.
In the galleries, you'll see also see images I took there of the Arrowhead Blue, and the Sierra Nevada Blue, the latter of which is hard to find anywhere else in Oregon. Altogether, I saw 28 species of butterflies, mostly close to the wet areas near the road. A good day, that would not have happened if I hadn't checked that webcam to challenge my assumption about the extent of the smoke. Oh and I didn't cancel my AirBnB, and got to enjoy a nice stay in the Ashland area. Gratitude!
Not that I'm counting or anything, but this is now officially number 148. 12 more to go!