Summer day trips: Mt. St. Helens and Horsethief Butte

A few weeks ago Jacob, Matthew and I drove up to Mount St. Helens for a hike and some exploring.

The harsh paintbrush was looking fantastic, even better combined with the mountain or a caterpillar.

We hiked part of the Boundary Trail toward Harry's Ridge from the Johnston Ridge Observatory.  We noticed a couple of ants with a tiny caterpillar but could not decide if they were working together or fighting over it.

The wildflowers were looking good along the trail.

Rosy pussytoes (Antennaria rosea)

A few people were stopped at one spot looking at something down in the distance which turned out to be two black bears.  My first ones at Mount St. Helens and Matthew's first ones in the wild. 

Birding was mild but we did hear then see a couple of Common Nighthawks and later barely heard a booming Sooty Grouse.

After our hike we drove down to Coldwater Lake because I had never been there.

We walked around some of the short trails, marveling at the tent caterpillars that were all over.

On one vine maple were a bunch of active waspy things that looked kind of intimidating but seemed okay with me taking their photo. 

The combination of Bug Guide and iNaturalist helped me to the ID of Trichiosoma triangulum, a type of sawfly.  There are a few common names kicking around on the internet including Giant Birch Sawfly and Cimbicid Sawfly.

From the boardwalk that goes out over the edge of the lake we searched for salamanders in the water, as one sign promised.  We finally found a newt.

Fun fact:  this lake happens to be in Cowlitz County, unlike the hike we did which is in Skamania.  Two of the six species we eBirded here, Downy Woodpecker and Pacific-slope Flycatcher, were new Cowlitz County birds for me.   #99 and #100!  That makes Cowlitz my 4th county in Washington to reach 100 species (weak compared to 18 in Oregon).

Yesterday Jacob and I decided to take a little trip out the gorge to Horsethief Butte, part of Columbia Hills State Park.

It's very close to The Dalles on the Washington side of the Columbia River, only an hour and a half from Portland.  It's popular for rock climbing but yesterday there were barely any other people there.  After getting out of the car the first bird we heard was a Rock Wren but the first bird we saw was a Yellow-breasted Chat.  Later a wren was very interested in posing for photos right on the trail.

This was one of only two bird species I photographed here but there were a few other cool birds around like Canyon Wrens and a Peregrine Falcon.  We hiked around the rocks, looking at lizards and wildflowers and insects.

A few areas in the butte are protected by little fences and signs mentioning their cultural significance, possibly meaning petroglyphs were found there.  Another couple that was in the area called us over to see a petroglyph they had found near one of those signs.

We politely admired it though neither of us were sold on its authenticity. 

I think this is Penstemon richardsonii


 Maybe Phacelia hastata? 

After exploring inside all the rocks we walked the trail around the butte where a pile of Brewer's Blackbirds was flying around.  Not my usual Brewer's scene.

Blue Mountain buckwheat (Eriogonum strictum)

There were tons of robberflies along the trail, some fairly tolerant of me.

After hitting a dead end packed with poison oak we turned around and headed back towards the car.  The beginning of the trail is thick with Narrow-leaf milkweed which was in turn thick with bees and other pollinators.

One extra large fuzzy bumble thing stood out:

Also near the milkweed was this spider:

We returned to the car and drove back west to Horsethief Lake State Park, just across the lake from Horsethief Butte.  I had no idea they had an awesome display of petroglyphs and pictographs here.  They were originally part of the cliffs near where we had just hiked but after The Dalles dam was created they knew they would be completely submerged in the river.  So they cut out a bunch of them and eventually they ended up here on display. 

So cool.  We took a little walk around the grassy shady part of the park where we saw several Western Kingbirds, Bullock's Orioles, and more.  Nothing unusual though.


 Awkward scrub-jay

When we began the drive back home I asked to stop for some of the wild sunflowers growing along the highway. 

I think this is the native sunflower, Helianthus annuus.

Overall it was great little adventure with plenty of birds, wildflowers, bugs, lizards and history!  Good times!!!


  1. Amazing petroglyphs! It's good to see those macro shots of the bees and more...what a beautiful area!


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