Common Nighthawk season in my area of the Pacific Northwest kicks off in June, indicating summer is upon us and it's time to head to higher elevations to cool off. It could also be code for mountain wildflower season and I will tell you right now, there are more wildflowers than birds in this post. Skip it if you can't handle the awesomeness.
Friday night Jacob and I went up to the Clark County Larch Mountain to do some birding, wildflowering, and hopefully find nighthawks. We quickly found Jacob's county MacGillivray's Warbler but it was too quick for a photo.
Tough-leafed irises were incredibly common. I can't remember ever seeing so many up there, it was impressive.
A patch of penstemon was attracting all kinds of insects.
Eventually it was getting to be that time when we should be listening for peents and booms, so we headed to a spot we thought would be good. As we were driving down the narrow gravel road with a decent cliff on our left, an SUV came plowing down the road behind us and eventually found a tiny bit of room to pass us. It was pretty scary since they seemed like they might just push us out of their way. It took another 45 seconds or so before we realized what was going on as a sherriff also came plowing down the road at full speed.
We walked around the pullout we thought had nighthawk potential and listened to people shooting, people blasting music, and realized Friday night is not the time to be on Larch Mountain. But regardless, we finally started to hear one! It was several minutes before we started to catch a glimpse of the bird, then a second one.
Sweet! I was a little disappointed that so many clouds had accumulated so there was no real sunset, but then a bright pink line appeared along the horizon to the southwest.
It wasn't much but it was enough to cast amazing pink light on the nearby hills.
It was pretty dark on the way down but we couldn't resist stopping for this crazy daisy display.
The next day we decided to follow a tip from a fellow named Russ Jolley, who wrote a most incredible wildflower guide to the Columbia River Gorge. Not only is it filled with photos and descriptions of wildflowers, but it also tells you where and when to find them. It also includes suggested day trips for almost every week from March through September.
The last week of June he suggests visiting South Prairie Road in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, barely over an hour from our home. I was excited as soon as we made it to the area as the road was deserted and it smelled of pine forest, reminding me of the Sisters, Oregon area.
We quickly found a couple of our wildflower targets, like this Prince's pine aka Pipsissewa:
In another area we found it's buddy, Little prince's pine (or Little pipsissewa):
What I was most excited to find was Sugar stick (or candystick), a super cool-looking parasitic plant. We found patches of the plant several times and saw it in various stages of bloom.
I love it! A plant that legit looks like a freakin candy cane. Who knew?
You're right. Lots of people probably knew.
We wandered down one of the many side roads in the area where we found the Little prince's pine, and we also found this lonely skinny orchid:
I am fairly confident it is a short-spurred rein orchid.
Jacob was itching to drive down one of the side roads into the lava beds but I made sure we checked out the whole area Russ mentioned before we got too distracted. This led to us finding this snowshoe hare chowing down on plants:
We pulled over for this Nevada deer-vetch:
I got distracted by an ant carrying a bumblebee.
Finally we finished up the area I wanted to see and we went back to the side road, NF-711, that Jacob wanted to check out. At the beginning of the road was a patch of this funny-looking flower that I learned is Bladder campion. How gross does that sound?
The forest road was pretty awesome, leading between lava rocks and manzanitas. We paused at one point and heard a surprising "peent!" It was 11:30 a.m., not exactly prime nighthawk time but I'll take it!
At one point a Turkey Vulture soared in and made for a weird combo.
While we were watching the flying birds we could hear a Western Wood-Pewee calling behind us. I took a couple quick shots of the nearest flycatcher I could find and noticed later that it was not a pewee, but rather an Olive-sided.
This was a fun spot but there was a dude with three roaming dogs nearby so we decided to find another area to sit and have a snack.
This whole area is like a giant lava playground with potential caves and crazy cool scenery.
After snacking we took a walk down the road and found a small watering hole filled with salmanders and water bugs. I think they were most if not all rough-skinned newts.
We turned around after spending a long time here, annoying the juncos that wanted to come down and drink. A Western Tanager was catching insects on our walk back.
A large family of Chestnut-backed Chickadees was flitting around a couple of pine trees, occasionally pausing to look at us.
That was about it from our Skamania County adventure. Even though I think of summer as my least favorite season, I sure do love nighthawk season! Good times!!!