City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

October 31, 2016

October 31st

Filed under: Box Elder Tree, Mule Deer, People — canopus56 @ 7:26 pm

End of the First Deer Hunt

4:30 p.m. Yesterday was the last day of the annual rifle deer hunt. The guard’s list of vehicles let through for hunting totals 85 cars over the last ten days. The City issues at most 150 permits. The permits are for vehicles, not people, and therefore, there may be more than one person per car. In my observation of hunter vehicles since the start of this year’s hunt, I have seen only two vehicles that had more than one person, and for those two, there were two persons in each car. Yesterday, I saw one hunter car with two people, and about 15 walkers, joggers or runners. The City does not regularly count the number of people traveling into the canyon by foot or bicycle, but 10-15 per two hour period is typical. Excluded from the canyon during this ten day period are bicyclists. On a typical two-hour jog, I also see about ten to fifteen bicyclists. Based on my observation of deer over the last two years, there are perhaps four deer in the entire canyon during the summer and fall. How many of these deer have antlers and thus can be taken in the current hunt, I do not know.

Ponder the recreational equities of how hunting and multiple use are managed in the canyon. There is no easy answer that pleases all recreational users. The hunters will return for another week in late December for the anterless deer hunt.

Today, now that the hunt is over, the bicyclists return to the canyon. Last night there was a severe storm with high winds and heavy rains. The floor of the road is covered with helicopter-like seeds of the Boxelder trees.

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October 30, 2016

October 30th

Filed under: Colors, Pleasant Valley, Seasons — canopus56 @ 6:31 pm

How Green was My (Pleasant) Valley

4:00 p.m. The meadow at mile 1.3 is turning green again. Over the summer it was parched and a uniform brown. With the recent series of storms, the grasses in the meadow and along the road are having a growth spurt before the winter snow arrives. A carpet of green new shoots pokes up from below the taller brown summer grass, and this is changing the tint of the meadow. It is overcast but warm today.

October 29, 2016

October 29th

Filed under: Colors, Horsechestnut, picnic site 1, Seasons — canopus56 @ 2:32 pm

The Golden Living Room

1:30 p.m. At picnic site 1 about 150 yards from guardhouse gate, a set of stairs made from rail road ties leads down to a 30 foot wide bank at the stream. A late season horseschestnut tree, that has not lost its golden leaves, stretches over the entire bank. This chestnut and the other surrounding trees have also laid a three inch layer of light-brown leaves that completely cover the stairs and the bank. I clear off a spot on the stairs, sit, meditate, and enjoy this golden living room, and this gives me a moment to center before I reenter everyday life in the city.

It is an unseasonably warm day, and as is typical for Fall, there are about ten insects visible in the first two miles: three dragonflies, a stink bug, two unidentified moths or butterflies, a cricket, and some immature Boxelder bugs. Scrub jays, black-eyed chickadees, and North Flickers calls can be heard in the surrounding thickets. On the road, there are about 35 walkers and runners and three hunter vehicles.

October 28, 2016

October 28th

Filed under: Colors, picnic site 11, Weather — canopus56 @ 6:35 pm

Rain Colors

4:30 p.m. A cold front with light rain followed yesterday’s warm high-wind. This has brought out different colors on the southern canyon slope between mile 1.1 and mile 1.5, and the canyon looks much different from when the trees, grasses and ground are dry. Previously, the slope was more of a uniform brown and grey, but with water, more patches of color appear. Open areas become the light brown of dry grasses mixes with green. The maple trees lighten, not from leaves turning, but from the existing leaves on the trees lightening. On that south slope, large groves of maples whose leaves have not detached are more easily seen. The south slope must be shielded somehow from strong winds. All the maples on the canyon floor have been stripped clean.

Today is a Friday that includes the Halloween weekend, and there is major sports game tonight. The canyon is almost empty except for 5 walkers and runners, and no hunters in cars. I have the canyon to myself in solitude.

October 27, 2016

October 27th

Filed under: Hummingbird — canopus56 @ 7:12 pm

Hummingbird Home

4:30 pm. It is an extraordinarily hot day today; it is nearly 80 degrees Fahrenheit in late October. High winds blow from the southwest, and this heralds a coming storm front. The high winds blow more leaves from the the trees, and about a football field up-canyon from picnic site 1, there is a tree newly stripped of all of its leaves. This reveals what I believe is a hummingbird nest in its upper branches, but the identification may be wrong. This nest is a hanging cup-like sack, and although some hummingbird nests are sack-like, most are cups affixed to a branch. Assuming that it is a hummingbird nest, it may be the nest of one of the Black-chinned Hummingbirds seen feeding at the retention pond on August 1st. One can see how this is a good place for a pair of hummingbirds to build their nest and to raise a spring brood. The retention pond is about one-quarter of a mile down-canyon, and up-canyon at the next bend in the road is where on August 11th I saw 15 dragonflies in a feeding frenzy. The hummingbirds can have mosquitoes for breakfast and dragonflies for dinner. The adjacent stream probably provides other aquatic associated insects, like mayflies, for a light lunch.

There were about 15 to 20 walkers and runners, and only three hunters, two in vehicles, and one walking bow hunter.

October 26, 2016

October 26th

Filed under: Dogwood, Gambel's Oak, Horsetail, Light, People, Sea gull, Watercress, Woods Rose — canopus56 @ 4:04 pm

A Horse’s Tale

1:00 p.m. In the spring and summer, foliage obscures the stream and its banks, but now, with the leaves stripped away, the stream is visible. Low-angle shafts of late afternoon light strike into its depths and illuminate individual pools and rocks. The scouring rush horsetail dominates these dappled stream banks for the first five miles of the canyon. It shares the banks with western poison ivy, occasionally with wild watercress (Nasturtium officinale) and, further from the bank, with Wood’s Rose (Rosa woodsii) and the red-osier dogwood bush. These are surrounded and overshadowed by a variety of trees, some of which like the cottonwood reach 100 feet in height.

Horsetails are the sole survivor of Paleozoic forests that covered the Earth until the rise of flowering plants 250 million years ago. But how did the eighteen inch horsetail evolve into a 100 foot tall cottonwood tree? Here again, another “just-so” evolutionary story will have to suffice. In the canyon, the horsetails occupy the banks at the stream’s spring water line. In the spring, they are flooded, which is consistent with their evolutionary roots as a marsh plant. Thus, they do not need and do not issue deep roots. In the summer, their roots are just sufficient to reach the stream’s water table, but in years of drought, they must grow deeper. Drought fosters evolutionary selection that makes them grow larger and deeper. The larger they grow, the further their seed can spread away from water, and then their descendants must grow even larger to reach down to water. In years of extreme drought, the smaller predecessors may die off all together, leaving only their taller progeny. Over a hundred million years, one can see how this self re-enforcing loop can transform the horsetail into a giant narrowleaf Mountain cottonwood next to the stream or into a Gambel’s oak that drives deep roots and that survives on little water far from the stream.

It is an unusually warm day in the seventies. The leaves of the Wood’s Rose bushes near picnic site 1 have turned a brilliant red. Four sea gulls soar 800 feet above the canyon floor, and they are followed by a distant raptor. There are about twenty walkers and runners, some of who have taken their shirts off, and a group of about 40 first or second graders. To prevent the prisoners (I mean students) from escaping (I mean wandering off), each child is dressed in a bright red T-shirt. Their voices are loud and boisterous until I out-run and leave them behind on the road. But there is only one hunter car on this Wednesday, which is expected. Insects are present, and an array of six types spanning about 30 individuals is found in the first mile. Four blue dragonflies, probably Blue-eyed Darners, fly by at mile 0.6. Several injured grasshoppers are on the road, and they provide a meal for a flock of six Mexican scrub jays.

October 25, 2016

October 25th

Filed under: Cattails, Milk Weed, picnic site 6, Unidentified — canopus56 @ 7:58 pm

A Cat’s Tale

5:15 p.m. Today, a Tuesday, has been a warm, almost summer, day with clear skies. On the canyon road, there are about twenty-five walkers and runners, but only two cars with hunters. At milepost 1.5 and looking south, the foreground trees and background trees on the slope are all grey, with only four exceptions. Nonetheless, against the deepening turquoise sky, the leafless Pleasant Valley has its own appeal.

Jogging up canyon, I pass a small marsh below picnic site 6 on the west side of the road. The two stands of common cattails (Typha latifolia L.) in the canyon have almost turned completely brown. Some green remains at their bases. The first stand fills the flood retention pond where City Creek Canyon Road intersects Bonneville Drive. There the cattails are over six feet tall and are capped by foot long spikes. The second is a small stand of four plants in a small seep marsh where the road bends just south of picnic site 6. The few cattails here stand in here against two unidentified shrubs: the leaves of one are deep purple, and the other a dark wine red.

In the 1980s and 1990s, this used to be one of my favorite places in the lower canyons. This mini-marsh was thick with cattails, but in the early 2000s, a City front loader came in, scoured the ground clean, and removed the cattail grove. The City may have been concerned that the marsh was retaining too much water, and the water would seep underneath, the water would freeze and then destroy the road with winter heave. Now, fifteen years later, a few cattails have found their way back into the marsh, along with, Utah milkweed Utah milkweed, a less dramatic version of the common Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa), and a large grove of western poison ivy. Birds have probably carried the seeds the approximately seven-tenths of a mile between the flood retention pond at the canyon’s mouth and the seep. In another ten years, I hope to see the full cattail grove restored.

The common cattail is a world-spanning plant. University of New Mexico botanist H. D. Harrington, in his classic book “Edible Plants of the Rocky Mountains”, describes the many ways this edible plant can be used. The early shoots can be eaten raw and added to salads; the early tubular flower stalks can be boiled; pollen can be shaken from the mature flower tubes and the pollen is used as a flour; and, the mature roots can be leeched and then boiled like potatoes. The root tuber has such a high starch content that it causes illness if eaten without preparation. The tuber needs to be chopped and leeched of part of its starch, which leaves enough starch behind that cattail root is similar to a potato. And as noted here previously, cattail groves provide shelter and a hunting ground favored by hummingbirds (August 1st). After finishing today’s jog at the flood retention pond, I try to pull a cattail out of the marsh bottom. It breaks near the surface but brings out part of the root tuber. The tuber is a reflective, bright white, and the white appears similar to the children’s paste which is also made almost entirely of starch. I will have to return with a shovel in order to extract one.

October 24, 2016

October 24th

Filed under: Box Elder Tree, Colors, Seasons — canopus56 @ 5:57 pm

The Brown Tube

Today, a Monday, the canyon is nearly empty; skies are overcast with some rain; and a strong, warm wind blows up the canyon. Leaves again fall and speckle the roadway. Between mile 0.5 and 1.1, where previously Fall leaves formed a yellow tube (Oct. 11th), now the grey roadtop is framed by two lines of light brown. The fallen leaves have made a mat about six inches deep on either side of the road that also runs up its slopes. This forms a contrasting backdrop for the grey tree trunks and for the Boxelder trees, which are leafless, but have large fronds of hanging catkins. Although not as flashy as early yellow tube, the brown tube has its own aesthetic appeal.

October 23, 2016

October 23rd

Filed under: Mule Deer, People — canopus56 @ 8:16 pm

Really Smart Deer

7:00 p.m. Yesterday was the first day of the deer rifle hunt. On the road below mile 2.0, there were about thirty late evening walkers and runners, and at the end of the a hunting day, about fifteen hunter trucks and SUVs drove. To segregate these groups, rifle hunting is only allowed above mile 4.1, and bicycles are banned altogether. Bow hunting is permitted in the lower canyon outside of an eighth mile buffer zone on either side of the road. Today, a Sunday, there again thirty late evening walkers and runners but only two hunting vehicles. To re-enforce this division of uses, the City has posted maps and signs about every mile along the road that show where the hunting and no hunting zones are.

As I jog through the twilight in the lower canyon near picnic site XX, I a hear the fainest rustling of leaves. After stopping and staring for some moments, I see six mule deer just on the other side of the stream perhaps fifty feet away. They have picked their spot to drink from the stream well. The slope is steep behind them, so no one can sneak up or observe them from behind. The slope and stream-side are covered in a deep layer of light-brown leaves, and with their grey-brown coats, they are nearly invisible. I only notice this group because one of six made the mistake of jostling leaves with one foot while I jogged past.

Previously (Oct. 20th), I noted that deer seem to have day planners because they know to disappear on the day before the hunt starts. Apparently, they also can read and have taken notice of the no hunting areas on the City’s maps. They are hiding in the no hunting buffer on either side of the road. Or perhaps, they have come the stream-side at dusk like deer always do, and I am attributing too much into their behavior.

At mile 1.6, I again see the outline of a human on the ridge between City Creek and Avenues. He been there every night for the last few days. I pull out my monocular to get a better look, and he is using binoculars to scan the western slope of City Creek and the opposing ridgeline for deer. Through the monocular, I notice that he is now looking back directly at me. I simile, waive, put the monocular away, and start jogging back down the canyon.

We all are familiar with the line of sunset rising up a mountainside. Due to the relative size and distances of the Earth and Sun, the line of sunset involves the smallest of angles between the rays of the sun and the Earth’s horizon. The angle of the rising line of sunset and the horizon are measured in the smallest of units: arcseconds or 1/3600th of a degree. As I jog down canyon, there is high cloud layer framed by the southwestern high ridge lines. As the sun sets, its rays leave the tops of mountains and continues to climb higher into the atmosphere. Tonight, for a few seconds, they sneak beneath the cloud layer and directly illuminate the underside of the, and the clouds light up in a fiery display of orange and pink.

October 22, 2016

October 22nd

Filed under: Squirrel — canopus56 @ 9:34 pm

Sumo Squirrel

11:00 a.m. I have hardly seen any rock squirrels over the last month. After the peak of summer in late August and early September, one can usually see four or five of them on any given walk. They are still there, but are invisible. One can always hear them scurrying unseen through in the undergrowth. Today, a squirrel comes down to the road, and he or she is by human standards morbidly obese. The squirrel looks like a sumo wrestler. It is rotund, but still quick and agile, and it has a healthy coat. It has been bulking up on acorns for the last few weeks and is now ready for winter.

It is the first day of the rifle deer hunt, and the hunt continues through October 30th.

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