Native Plant Society trip to Bear Gap
- Hi All,
Today, I went on a hike to Bear and Pickhandle Gaps with the local chapter of the Native Plant Society, led by Jean Chott. These are minor passes along the Pacific Crest Trail at the head of Morse Creek, just north of Chinook Pass. Assisting Jean were Don Knoke and Phelps Freeborn, both plant experts. They had completed an initial survey of plants in late August along this 5-mile loop, compiling 159 species. They knew that by doing another survey at another time would yield lots of new species. So, like birders, they were anxious to add to the database for this beautiful area along the Pacific Crest Trail.
Birds were not abundant or conspicuous as the fall movement has not really begun and it was windy in many places, which kept many small birds out of sight. Noteworthy were a couple of recently fledged Pine Grosbeaks at the first switchback on the trail above the upper sign-in box. These birds were calling loudly "chee-vlee" from lower down the slopes, so I began calling them in with owlet tootings. Initially, all that came in were Warbling Vireos, Western Tanagers, Black-headed Grosbeak (evidently a migrant), and Cassin's Finches. As Cassin's Finches call "cheedle-eee," somewhat similar to the Pine Grosbeak, I wanted to confirm the identification of my "heard" bird. After a couple minutes, I was still seeing only Cassin's Finches, so began to believe I'd made a false call. Suddenly, I heard a loud "chee-vlee" from a Subalpine Fir right above me and was able to confirm identification of these two birds as juvenile, still showing patches of downy feathers, Pine Grosbeaks. I was able to share these birds with at least some of our group, too, though it was a lot easier for them to hone in on the brilliant Western Tanagers posing in plain view. This observation is my first virtually unequivocal (they could be wanderers from elsewhere in the Cascades) evidence of breeding in Yakima County.
I was introduced to some pretty neat new plants. Perhaps most memorable to me was the Rainier Lousewort (Pedicularis rainierensis), a yellow-flowered lousewort. As I had never heard of a yellow lousewort before, I was pretty astounded to study this beautiful, endemic, confined to Mt. Rainier, and its immediate surroundings.
Another new plant for me was Lomatium martindalei, a smallish biscuitroot of the rocky subalpine, which, according to Don, is uncommon east of the Cascade crest. It was growing side-by-side with a shrub-steppe bioscuitroot, Lomatium triternatum, a species familiar to me.
I was pleased to see this area, with its mosaic of plant communities due to a steep elevational gradient and varying slopes and aspects, is of interest not only to birders, but also to botanists. Don and Phelps added at least 15 species of plants to the list for this area today.
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