City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

February 14, 2017

February 14th

Filed under: Blacked-Headed Chickadee, Common stonefly, Gambel's Oak, gnats, Spider — canopus56 @ 6:19 pm

Mega Tree

2:00 p.m. It is another in a series of brisk, sunny late winter days in the mid-forties. The snow in the lower canyon has left the ground except in small patches. Responding to the warmer weather, the flock of Black-capped chickadees near mile 0.3 to 0.6, now plays in more dispersed groups. In the depths of winter, they remain closer to each other. Another songbird is heard, but not seen. At mile 1.1, I look into a stream that is flowing freely, but about one month ago, here the stream was frozen in a solid milky mass. The stream itself is running lower, but is now clear and does not contains the fine particles seen yesterday. In one tree backlit by sunlight, a single strand of gossamer silk indicates that a spider was active. Two gnats and a stonefly are seen, and near mile 0.8, earlier in the day, a small beetle tried, but failed to completely cross the road. As I arrive home, a favorite tree is full of noisy European house sparrows, and the filling of this tree with a large flock is a sign that I usually take as a first precursor of the coming spring.

In southern Utah outside of Cedar City is the world’s largest single living organism: a stand of aspen trees named “Pando” (DeWoody et al). Aspens reproduce by root cloning, and Pando has been expanding for possibly 80,000 years until reaching its current mass of six million kilograms. The stand of trees is one organism connected by a series of underground roots. In northern Utah, neighboring Gambel’s oaks also reproduce asexually by clonal root extension and are connected by system of extensive clones with fused grafting roots (Neilson and Wullstein, 1986 at 298; Neilson and Wullstein, 1983 at 295; Cottam; Tiedemann, Clary and Barbour). As I jog by the Gambel oak stand between Guardhouse Gate and mile 0.3, I am passing hundreds of individual trees or just one large plant? Although biologists refer to these stands as “extensive clones” (Feb. 10th), I am unable to find any genetic investigation that sought to determine if Gambel’s oak stands form massive single organisms like southern Utah’s aspen named Pando.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on February 14th, 1854, he observes black-capped nuthatches, a downy woodpecker, and chickadees all feeding in the same area. He hears tit mice calling. On February 14th, 1857, he observes that during a thaw, many caterpillars are crawling on snow.

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