City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

November 26, 2016

November 26th

The White Tube is Gone

3:30 p.m. In the city, it again reaches into the fifties, and in the canyon at mile 1.1, the white tube (Nov. 24th) has melted, and the trees are again brown. With less water from snow fed water drops, the lichen on tree trunks have lost their bright green luster and are again becoming a dull orange-brown. It is a holiday weekend, and during the two hours on the lower two miles of the road that I am traverse, I count 91 unique persons.

The canyon is still cold and brisk at mile 1.1, but as I exit into the Pleasant Valley meadow at mile 1.2, the temperature rises by fifteen degrees. The air is quite warm. This is the breeze catching the air heated by sun-soaking grass on the north-west slope. Earlier in the day, this warm air must have penetrated to the narrows at mile 1.1 and melted the white tube. It being warmer, the deer are not driven into the lower canyon and are not seen at the usual winter grazing places high on the canyon ridgeline.

The Sun begins to fall behind the south-east ridge as I reach the second meadow at mile 2.1, and there I hear my first bird of the day: a distant chickadee. Going down canyon at the Pleasant Valley meadow at mile 1.3, the Sun, which is now much more southerly than a month ago, sets behind the south-eastern ridge instead of the north-western ridge. Here, the second bird, a lone Black-billed magpie patrols this open space.

Because the Sun is setting more southerly and behind the south-east ridge, as it sets, the road is in shade, but a shaft of light runs up the canyon and illuminates the north-western canyon wall and half of the meadow. Suddenly, a flock of fifty birds follows this shaft of light up the canyon and lands on the Gambel’s oaks higher up the canyon wall and about four hundred feet away. They are too far to identify, even through my monocular, but they have dark colored wings and white underbellies. The Sun is at its lowest, and the brown meadows and hillside are bathed in a yellow luminescent glow. After resting for a couple of minutes, the flock of fifty alights in unison, and slowly ascend to about one-hundred and fifty feet above the canyon the floor. As their wings flap, their lighter underbellies are exposed, and the yellow sunlight brightly reflects off the belly down. As they fly, the fifty birds flash like yellow beacons against the darkening blue sky, but are far more pleasing than any man-made object. The flock rallies and returns to their flight up-canyon and some unknown destination. As this first flock leaves, a second flock of fifteen stragglers arrives from down-canyon, and this second flock repeats the process. They land in the same oaks; rest; and after two or three minutes, resume their up canyon flight. It is special time.

As I about to exit the canyon at mile 0.1, I turn and look up canyon. All is darkness and grey, and there is no hint of, but only a remembrance of, rising birds bathed in a yellow glow.

It is now 7:30 p.m., and another winter storm front is approaching the valley.

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