City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

June 23, 2017

June 16th

Partial Success in Treating Starthistle

3:00 p.m. The field at lower Pleasant Valley (mile 1.2) where the Utah Conservation Corps and the city watershed officials have done Starthistle abatement (May 17th, May 21st, October 16th) has both succeeded and failed. The horizontal field at Pleasant Valley has filled in with new native grass, Wild bunchgrass (Poa secunda), many smaller wildflowers and also the invasive Western salisfy. The lower field is an idyllic scene, but because the field has been sprayed with Milestone herbicide (Aminopyralid), the Peregrine falcons are not hunting here for Rocky Mountain deer mice as in prior years.

The green of the lower field climbs up the hillside, and this is also an area where the Utah Conservation Corps manually pulled starthistle weeds. I cross the field to the slope to take a better look, and to my surprise, the treated vertical slopes have three or four times the density of starthistle plants as compared to the slope’s pre-treatment state last year. Other treated steep slopes to the west of Pleasant Valley are in a similar condition. Limited to steep slopes, the abatement project is a failure. Probably only a burning with reseeding can rehabilitate such slopes, but citizens in nearby residential areas rejected a burn control approach proposed in 2010 (see Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities 2010). Conversely, expensive manual pulling in conjunction with Aminopyralid spraying worked on horizontal fields (see Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative at May 21st).

I am also concerned that the use of Aminopyralid might be detrimental to the Peregrine falcons, Cooper’s hawks or Western screech-owls that utilize this field. Earlier this year, while with the Tracey Aviary bird count team (May 6th), I saw a Peregrine falcon hunting above this area, and in spring of 2015, a pair of peregrines would regularly sit on the power line wires above the field. One afternoon, one of the pair dived on the field, and then slowly rose beating its wings while grasping a fat deer mouse in its talons. The second falcon left its perch, swooped up from below of the first falcon and extended its talons. This startled the upper falcon and caused it to release its catch. The lower falcon, while flying inverted, expertly caught the mouse and flew off with its prize. Research later in this evening locates a 2007 United States Forest Service sponsored assessment of the effect of this herbicide on birds, principally by literature review (Durkin 2007). Since birds have a short-life span (Peregrines and Cooper’s hawks both live about twelve years), testing consists of applying a variety of doses of the chemical to test species. In the instant of Durkin’s review, a 2003 prior study force fed quail with a 50 percent lethal dose of Aminopyralid (id, pp. 96-97 and 4-1 to 4-6). The quail grew disoriented in the short term, but survived. In another study using high doses on hatchlings, success to viability declined up to 30 percent. Other lower dose studies did not find any significant effects. The consultant recommended exposure levels for humans, birds, and mammals based on prior works. Based on this limited study, my concern about using Aminopyralid around Peregrines and Cooper’s hawks were assuaged. Aminopyralid is not another DDT.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 16th, 1852, he records a morning fog with singing birds, and he remarks on how evening mornings are now hot. In the night, he sees an aurora borealis to the north. On the morning of Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 16th, 1853, he hears robins, birds, other birds, and crickets. He sees sunlight reflecting off a stream that makes the stream appear as silver metal (compare Dec. 26th, in main text, above). He extracts a red squirrel from its underground nest. Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 16th, 1854, he sees fleabane. The Utah version is Utah fleabane, Eigeron utahensis. He sees white lily and two variants of wild rose. He hears a cherry bird. Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 16th, 1855, he sees young squirrels. Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 16th, 1858, he smells blackberry blossoms, and on June 16th, 1860, he notes summer thunderstorms are now a common occurrence.

* * * *

On June 16th, 1997, the U.S. Forest Service revives the Anschutz Ranch East Pipeline Environmental Impact Analysis after a consultation disputes Chevron’s claim that an existing pipeline has sufficient capacity to handle all loads for the next fifty years (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 16th, 1919, there was a large grass fire in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald). On June 16th, 1915, bids were opened for the construction of the reservoir at Pleasant Valley (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 16, 1910, the Little Giant Mine petitioned the City council to open a mine in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald). On June 16, 1904, a bear destroyed a camp at the forks in City Creek Canyon, and Ben D. Luce and party hunted the bear (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 16, 1881, J.J. Branch, a former L.D.S. Church member who was present at Joseph Smith’s death, now turned evangelist, held a revival at a tent in Salt Lake City, at which he predicted that God would send a great flood from City Creek Canyon and destroy the City in retribution in retribution for the “wickedness and lying and blasphemy and abomination” of the L.D.S. church (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 16, 1897, George Crimson, a still living 1847 pioneer, relates his biography (Salt Lake Herald). In the spring of 1848, Crimson and his father built the first grist mill in City Creek Canyon, and sold the same to Brigham Young (id). He left for the California gold rush in 1849.

June 14, 2017

June 10th

Sego Lilies and Cheat Grass

6:30 p.m. The jet stream has reconnected over the Intermountain west to its usual spring route, and this has brought back strong, cooling breezes. This evening, I drive to the end of the road at North Terrace Hills Drive to walk up the trail from the Avenues to the south ridgeline of the Salt Lake salient that looks down into City Creek Canyon. I am looking for the Sego lily which blooms this time of year. One-quarter mile below where the trail intersects the road, I find patches of this Utah state flower (November 30th) among the parched Cheat grass. It is a bulb flower that rises from the hard ground sometimes without any leaves, and its four inch blossoms have delicate cream petals that are yellow at the base surrounded by splashes of dark red-purple. Against this central yellow backdrop, contrasting thick, white-colored stamens rise. I estimate about 80 lilies along are within a 100 feet along the trail for one-half mile below the ridgeline. Like most native desert wildflowers, it is a metaphor for beauty under adversity.

Also along the road are blossoming Canadian thistles (Cirsium arvense). Although a weed, its three inch light purple blossoms are a visually pleasing example of complexity in nature. Hundreds of small, spike like petals surround a central circular whirl of about 150 short, cylindrical, vertical stamens. The whirl pattern in its stamens betrays two counter-spirals of stamens that are arranged in left and right spiraling Fibonacci series.

Near the Sego lilies, there is a 10-inch diameter coyote burrow in the road bank to the west of the trail. That it sits along a heavily traveled mountain biking trail – perhaps between 50 to 100 people traverse this route each day – is unusual. It is not clear whether the burrow is currently occupied. The mouth of the burrow shows no recent signs of entry or exit, but there is contrasting excavated soil radiating below the entrance.

Below the ridgeline back over a mile to the trailhead, Gambel’s oak forest covers most of the land to the west of the trail, but the oaks only cover patches of ground to the east. Birds sing from their hiding places. I see Black-billed magpies at the trailhead and a Green-tailed towhee within the first quarter-mile. Near the ridge, Song sparrows, Black-headed grosbeaks, a hummingbird, and chukars are heard. From their calls within one-third of a mile of the ridgeline, I estimate 150 birds are present. None appear to be flying.

I reach the east-west running ridgeline and begin to climb another 150 feet to a small peak to the east of the intersection of trail and ridge. As with my last visit to this peak (January 5th), wind is blowing strongly from the north. The reason for the song bird’s grounding becomes apparent: in the steady wind, an avian farmer, a Cooper’s Hawk, hovers motionless about 20 feet above the ridge. The low Sun is filtered through clouds to the north, and its light sets the yellow molted breast feathers blazing. The hawk continues for hover for another minute, turns and glides off to the east just below the ridgeline.

From the peak, which bears a concrete and metal Salt Lake City survey corner marker indicating an altitude of 4,905 feet, or about 900 feet above the valley floor, there is a clear view down 20 miles of Wasatch Front Mountain Range from Grandview Peak and Little Black Mountain on the north, to Lone Peak on the south. In the evening light, the two sandstone geologic “U”‘s synclines that define Red Butte Canyon, Emigration Canyon, and part of Parleys Canyon are easily seen (January 9th). These sit on top of a larger deeper “U” shaped syncline of limestone that stretches from City Creek Canyon on the north and emerges again in Millcreek Canyon on the south. Perhaps this geology also explains why the streams in Red Butte and Emigration canyons reduce to trickle. Unlike City Creek and Millcreek with their limestone upper canyons, the surface bedrock of Red Butte and Emigration are porous sandstone. (Parleys Canyon contains two dams that hold back the stream.) Underground water may not be trapped along limestone layers. This is speculation, and another possibility is that Red Butte and Emigration canyons, unlike City Creek, were never reforested after the foresting and mining eras of the last half of the 19th century. Summer surface water may simply evaporate. To the west, the jet stream is marked by a fast moving line of clouds that extends from the southwest to the northeast.

Looking at the lands around the peak, they are one-third green oak forest, one-third dried brown Cheat grass, and one-third still green native brome. It must have been an impressive spring sight of green meadows before the invasive grasses arrived. The peak itself is covered in Cheat grass about six inches deep, and because of this year’s heavy winter snow, an acquaintance reports stands several feet in height along the Bonneville Shoreline Trail below this peak. The cheat grass is read to burn, and within the last week across the state, six large cheat grass wild fires of over 1,000 acres have burned. Several smaller cheat grass fires of a few acres in size also occurred in Salt Lake Valley over the last week, but those were quickly suppressed. Although overgrazing immediately after the Euro-american colonization of the valley in 1847 quickly converted fire resistant native bromes and bunch grasses to non-native adventive grasses spotted with sagebrush (March 13th), cheat grass was not present in the valley or on the Avenues ridgeline. This weed grass was introduced in California in 1870 (id), and the grass followed along the railroads lines east (Monson and Kitchen, 1992, p. 24), but may have also traveled as a contaminant in feed grain (id at 33). Cheat grass was first collected in Utah in 1894 by M. E. Jones on Provo, Utah (Barbour and Billings, p. 264; Monson and Kitchen). How fast it overtook native grasses statewide is unclear, but in 1932, Pickford of the Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station noted that while Cheat grass, which he called Downy brome, was found in all areas of the north half of the state, it was only dominate in the Great Salt Lake area (Pickford, 1932; Monson and Kitchen, 24). Pickford found that Cheat grass was most dense (11 percent coverage) on plots that had been both grazed and then subjected to a grass fire, but it was absent from plots that had never been grazed or subjected to a burn. What makes Cheat grass different is the higher frequency of its burn cycle and the higher temperatures at which it burns (Monson and Kitchen, 24). There is a direct relationship between the level of the prior winter’s precipitation and cheat grass fires in the following summer (Monson and Kitchen, 24). One-hundred and twenty-three years later, this hot burning grass covers the Avenues ridgeline, more than half of the City Creek canyon walls of the Salt Lake salient, and much of the State. The state and federal agencies spend about 83 million USD per year fighting wildfires in Utah (Stambro et al, 2014, Chap. 9), and much of that total is related to cheat grass fires.

The peak is also covered in unidentified, one-half inch nymph crickets. When walking forward, every step raises five or six nymphs that jump forward to avoid being crushed. They are marvels of camouflage, and their dark brown, light brown, dusky yellow and dirty white colors perfectly match the surrounding dried grass. They move at the slightest provocation and it takes several attempts to locate one for a photograph. Even knowing where it is, I have to stare at the brown grass for fifteen seconds before I can make out the cricket’s outline.

Despite the invasives, the expansive view of the surrounding hills and mountains is inspiring, and I return home a happy and contented person.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 10th, 1853, he notes honey locust, black willows and blackberries are in bloom. He hears a robin. On June 10th, 1856, he watches a huckleberry bird and finds a pigeon woodpecker nest with young. On June 10, 1857, he sees a snake. On June 10, 1860, he examines a bat suspended in the daytime forest.

* * * *

The Fibonacci series seen in the whirls of the center of a bull thistle plant reappears in many plant contexts, including how seeds are distributed around a pine cone (Klar, 2002) and how branches are radially distributed around on tree (Nelson 2004). The study of the arrangement of leaves on a plant is called phyllotaxis. There are several competing hypotheses for how leaves self-assemble themselves themselves in a Fibonacci series, and the prevailing theory is that these spatial patterns are the result of most-efficient packing solutions (Klar). Hormonal diffusion is also theorized but the actual mechanisms are unknown (id). Limited progress has been made in defining the theoretical mathematics of how a circle of undiffentiated meristem plant stem-cell tissue can transform into a spiral pattern and on identifying candidate biochemicals that control the process (Flemming, 2002).

Restoring areas contaminated with cheat grass has proven difficult and expensive in terms of both capital and labor (Barbour and Billings, p. 264; Monson and Kitchen). Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County have spent over 150,000 USD since 2008 trying to rehabilitate about 180 acres (0.3 square miles) in City Creek and Parleys Canyons that are contaminated with both Yellow starthistle and Cheat grass (see May 21st). The best strategy for restoration is reseeding following a cheat grass fire, but its effectiveness is limited to level areas (Barbour and Billings, 264-265) and not the steep slopes of City Creek Canyon and the Salt Lake salient. Although the city considered a controlled burn program in City Creek in 2010 (Gray and Harrison, 1999; Salt Lake Dept. of Public Utilities 2010, Salt Lake City Corporation 2010a), it was not pursued, and currently the Utah Conservation Corps is using the labor intensive method of manually denuding and spraying fields in lower Pleasant Valley, including along a steep slope (May 17th and May 21st).

* * * *

On June 10th, 2006, students at the Design Workshop recommend daylighting City Creek Canyon stream from the mouth of City Creek, along North Temple, all the way to the Jordan River (Salt Lake Tribune). Daylighting means raising the creek which now traverses the city’s center in underground pipes back to the surface. (Prior U.S. Corps of Engineer and City proposals recommended daylighting City Creek beginning at 700 West.) On June 10th, 1898, the National Guard plan exercises in City Creek Canyon (Deseret Evening News).

May 9, 2017

May 6th

Wizards of the Canyon Soundscape

7:00 a.m. The entrance to the canyon along Bonneville Drive is closed today for one of the many social 5K runs that occur during the summer. This adds an extra mile jogging along the drive to reach Guardhouse Gate. As I start, the sun line is just beginning to descend the snow capped peaks of the western Qquirrh Mountains and the small sliver of the southern tip of the Great Salt Lake reflects slate blue. The clear western sky shows the last vestiges of dark slate band of the Earth’s shadow retreating from the sun. Along the first stretch of road there are many sage brush bushes that provide cover to chukars. I stop to pick and crush a bracket of this pungent bush to remind myself of what Utah smells like during the heat of summer. About one-half mile from the gate and around a bend, the canyon explodes with the sounds of stream and birds. Although hidden, a male Lazuli bunting peaks from behind some red maple leaves, singing loudly. His colors are muted, since he perches in early morning shadow of the canyon’s east ridge. The sound of the stream is overwhelming, and this indicates the vernal season’s heat is melting the high snowpack. At the gate, the parking lot is full, and includes the enormous truck of the wild turkey bow hunter (May 4th). I must have just missed the race organizer’s closing of the road.

Along the road, the grasses are now twelve to eighteen inches thick, and the first quarter-mile is nearing full leaf out. Near mile 0.3, I look up through the trees to the step slope above, and there a young female mule deer idly grazes on the new grass. I stop to watch and after some minutes, she takes notice of me, stares back, and knowing that it is not hunting season and she is in no immediate danger, she slow walks and disappears into the Gambel’s oak forest. A bird loudly chirps from a nearby tree, and I catch a fleeting glance of black, white and red-brown from below. It is probably a Rufus-sided towhee (Pipilo maculatus). I count about forty or bird separate birds calling the forest thickets in the first mile.

I am not a morning person, most of my daily observations are in the afternoon, and the morning spring canyon is a new place. The warm morning light crawls down the western ridge of the canyon, and makes the thick grasses of spring bathed in an inviting green light. Although it is a pleasant high fifties along the road, one can feel the advancing daytime heat in the seventies approaching. Between mile 0.5 and 1.0, large overhanging trees in partial leaf-out form a series of green tubes through which the rising south-eastern sun penetrates. The lighted end of these tubes with the darkened green leafed foregrounds reminds me of the religious ceiling paintings of European cathedrals. I am overwhelmed by the beauty of it all.

In this half-lit morning reflected light, the canyon has a different character. I have misjudged the Starry solomon’s seal. In the afternoon, I have found two or three open out of an estimated 20,000 plants (May 4th). This morning, most are open, and I easily count 200 open blossoms in the solomon grove surrounding the seep below picnic site 5. The number of active birds is astounding, and a multiple of several times over my afternoon encounters.

At the entrance to Pleasant Valley, I run into the Tracey Aviary sponsored birding, a course directed by and led today by aviary biologists Bryant Olsen and Cooper Farr. I am happy to find the group; I have followed their Cornell birding logs in the canyon for some years; and in the spring, they regularly return to the canyon. Other seasons draw them to other habitats. Traveling down canyon, there seven group members including the leaders, and their five students are a diverse group that range from their thirties to eighties. They allow me to tag along as they proceed down the Pipeline Trail for the one mile walk back to the parking lot. Since I have been frustrated for some years in identifying the thicket hidden birds by sound, and I hope to gain some insight into the process by watching and learning. I quickly learn that I am in the presence of masters. Many birding skills quickly become apparent that explain the large number of birds that they record each week in the Cornell University E-bird log system (Cornell Ornithology Laboratory 2016).

First, birding in groups greatly increases detection. I first encountered this in amateur astronomy. Looking for detail in nature, which involves rare events, is more likely with more eyeballs that can cover the whole sky. In addition to the chance of making a sighting, the ability to perceive rare events also differs greatly by both the ability to perceive and by the knowledge to understand what one is seeing or hearing. The seven of the birders stare intently towards a sound coming from a clump of leaves, and one or two of the seven will first detect the bird, and then direct the others to it. Seven sets of eyes scanning the sky’s dome catch fleeting glances of bird movements in opposite directions, and this greatly increases the number of exclamations that one or another of some species has been seen.

Second, time explains the groups many sightings. As we descend the trail, younger runners and bikers wisk by at six to fifteen miles per hour. They traverse the mile of Pipeline trail in five to ten minutes. When I was younger, I has one of these. They smile as they pass, confident in their belief that in their superiority that their youthful ability to exercise makes them the most important denizens of the canyon. My slow jogging takes twenty minutes, but the birding group takes about one and one-half hours to walk this mile. Perception and time are inversely related. The slow see more; much more. Chance visual sightings reveal common sightings such as the cliff-soaring Red-tailed hawks. In this way, the group quickly seeings a Peregrine falcon resting on the top of the western massif at the entrance to Pleasant Valley and a brood of cliff dwelling Violet-green swallow (Tachycineta thalassina) living nearby in the crumbling deposits of Van Horn and Crittenden’s Triassic conglomerate No 2. sandstone. Are these the peregrine’s prey? Peregrines prey on many of the plentiful birds and mammals in the canyon, including mallads, swallows, Mourning doves, Northern flickers, starlings, American robins, Black-billed magpies, American crow, hummingbirds, owls, mice and Rock squirrels. Thoreau used the Peregrine’s historical name – the duck hawk – and Audubon memorialized this predator-prey relationship in a noted 1827 oil painting (Audubon 1827). The peregrines are in turn fed upon by larger birds of prey like Bald eagles and Red-tailed hawks. The birding group has great interest in following the falcon back to its nest, since these birds, although removed from the United States endangered species list in 1999, remain popular and are known to raise young near Pleasant Valley.

Third, these are the wizards of the canyon’s bird soundscape. Raw knowledge, expertise, and practice allows the group to identify many birds by sound alone or first by sound and then by sight. A member will hear a call of interest, and all will stop intently listening while leaning in one direction; some cup hands around their ears. Someone will call out a name, there is a discussion, and then a final determination is made as to the species. Sometimes, this is accompanied by a pointing figure and the exclamation “There it is!”, and all binoculars are raised in unison. I humbly learn the calls of one or two common canyon residents, like the chirping of the Rufus-sided towhee, and can notice distinct obvious sounds, like the wing-beat of a passing Broad-tailed hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus) and the obnoxious squawking of the Red-breasted nuthatch (Sitta canadensis). But the group’s ability to identify unseen colorful birds by sound alone is astounding. They hear a Green tailed towhee (Pipilo chlorurus), an Orange-crowned warbler (Vermivora celata), and a Western tanager (Piranga ludoviciana).

The group’s ability is distinguish between similar calls is uncanny. I have a particular interest in the rapid chirping call of the Rufous towhee. Later at home, I compare audio recordings and spectrographs of several species found along the trail that all include to my uneducated ears, subtle variations on a series of four to six rapid fire trill chirps, preceded or followed by two tones. The songs of the Rufous-sided towhee, the Green-tailed towhee, and Orange-crowned warbler, are all variations on a theme.

The group continues down the trail as the bright line of sunlight engulfs them. The celebrity bird of the afternoon are many Lazuli buntings. On the western brightly lit slopes, perching on a Gambel’s oak, several of these buntings are seen. They males are aflame in their cloaks of brilliant iridescent blue. Bryant notes that a bird’s coloring are the result of their feathers refracting sunlight. The explains why colorful birds have dulled colors in diffused light, but radiant colors in full sun. Near trail mile 0.5, a Black-chinned hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri) sits on a powerline and obligingly ignores the birders as they take photographs. In the last third of trail mile, the sun and temperature has risen, the birds are less active, and the group quickly exits back to the road. A mallard rests in the flood retention pond.

I point out the cliff nest site that I followed last spring near mile 1.0 (Dec. 9th, 40°48.227 N, 111°52.204 W), but only about one-half of the group can see the nest. I had previously thought it was built by Peregrine falcons or Cooper’s hawks, but Bryant notes I am mistaken. Peregrines and Cooper’s hawks do not build stick nests, he says, a point supported in literature (Utah Legacy Raptor 2011). A later search on the internet returns many photographs of peregrines nesting in nearly identical stick nests. A probably resolution of the difference is found elsewhere: peregrine falcons sometimes will take over the stick nests of other raptors like eagles (White et al 2002).

Comparing the group’s Cornell Ornithology Lab birding logs for the canyon since April 30th reveals the arrival of many small migratory song birds with the abrupt rise in temperatures and the arrival of the vernal season (April 29th and May 1st). Common canyon birds in their logs in April through May 6th include mallards, European starlings, American robins, House finches, Song sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, Black-billed magpies, Mourning doves, Ravens, American crows, Red-tailed hawks, and Cooper’s hawks. New spring heat-seeking migrants that arrived just as the temperature switch tripped two or three days ago include the Peregrine falcons, Plumbeous vireo (Vireo plumbeus), Warbling vireo (Vireo gilvus), Orange-crowned warbler, Yellow warbler, Virginia’s warbler, Chipping sparrow (Spizella passerina), Green-tailed towhee, the Western tanager (Piranga ludoviciana), Broad-tailed hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri), Black-chinned hummingbird, Lazuli bunting, the Lesser Goldfinch (Spinus psaltria). These new colorful arrivals have followed the north running heat wave from the southern states and Mexico for a thousand miles to this northern canyon, and now that they have arrived, their next tasks will be mating and beginning the construction of nests.

I ask a question about what some of the most common canyon birds eat. I am interested in not only the simple phenological list of what bird species arrives when (this is what Thoreau did), but also how the web of insects, plants, and birds link together. The aviary experts’ answers are general and unsatisfying. “Seeds” (there are none), “grass” (they have not developed grains), and “insects” (there are still few, given the newly higher temperatures). The same vague discussions are found in my various paper and internet birding guides. I have witnessed a few instances in which canyon birds actually eating something over an entire year. A scrub jay ate acorns in the fall (Oct. 6th); wild turkeys ate winter acorns (Dec. 29th); chickadees ate winter fruit; spring kingfishers fish along the ponds and stream, although I have never seen them catch anything (March 19, April 6, 11, and 18); in the mallards eat spring algae from the stream; hummingbirds and dragonflies feasted on summer gnats (August 1st and August 11th), and a few days later, cliff swallows gorged on the dragonflies (August 22nd). In the spring of 2015, two falcons ate a mouse. But what are they, in particular the new arrivals, eating now? After this morning with the soundscape wizards and a subsequent literature search, I am struck both about how much science knows about the birds and how little science knows about birds. All things cannot be known, and I suspect there is little grant money available to fully construct and quantify the ecological relationships of even close natural areas, since minerals, logs, and skiers only have economic value and iridescent sheen of the Lazuli buntings do not.

A lone mallard sleeps near the shore of the flood retention pond. Jogging out of the canyon, the social-cause, 5k fun-run has begun, and three or four-hundred joggers are going towards milepost 0.5, along the opposite western leg along Bonneville Drive. A loudspeaker blares out popular music. Groups of racing bicyclists stopped by the police to allow the race to pass joke about blindly coming around a curve into such a mass of humanity. Their focus on life is different from mine, and neither, as they go about their respective enjoyment of the canyon, will perceive the dazzling blue of the Lazuli buntings seen by the wizards of the canyon soundscape.

* * * *

Iridescence in birds is caused by both pigments and the refracting structure of their feathers (Doucet and Meadows 2009; Rajchard 2009), and many birds also perceive light, including the iridescent refraction, in the ultra-violet spectrum (id). The view that humans see of birds is not what they see of each other. The blue feathers of birds, like the Lazuli bunting, may be hint that a bird can see ultra-violet light (see Doucet and Meadows, S118). Falcons use the ultra-violet reflection of mole and mouse urine to determine the density of their mammalian prey in fields (Rajchard). Fruit seeking birds like crows better see mature fruits because the ripe fruit better reflect ultra-violet light (id). Blue tits switch to the ultra-violet spectrum to see insects against non-contrasting backgrounds (id). The iridescent patches also help birds to distinguish their sexes, just as human birders do, but in some birds, the ultra-violet spectrum of their iridescent patches enhance the sex difference of their pigments seen in the human visual spectrum (id). Another study suggests that in the ultra-violet spectrum, some birds find it easier to distinguish eggs (id). Iridescence can also be an indicator of fitness to breed. Male birds lose iridescence as they age and when they are sick (Doucet and Meadows, S120-S121).

The iridescent patches of birds involve a trade-off. Iridescent patches, like those of the front-chin of the Broad-tailed Hummingbird and the side-neck of the Black-chinned hummingbird seen today, may be more visible to their predators, but they are also more visible to their potential mates (Doucet and Meadows). To reduce the predation cost of these patches, some patches are directional. A bird living in a diffusely, dark lit forest can perch in a ray of sunlight and send a narrow beam “flash” to other members of its own species and to potential mates (id). Predators circling above will not see this visual chatter. Conversely, the bright Lazuli bunting simply shines like a beacon. What do the hawks and falcons circling above see of these beautiful song birds in the shorter-bands of light that we human birders are unaware of?

* * * *

On May 6th, 1899, work to replace the City Creek water main with a larger diameter pipe was underway (Salt Lake Herald), although a suit seeking an injunction against the construction had been filed. On May 6th, 1888, Z. Jacobs canvassed citizens for suggestions on how to increase the city’s water supply, including Fire Chief Ottinger (Salt Lake Herald). Jacobs argued against building a dam in City Creek Canyon, since failure of the dam would destroy the downtown (id).

April 20, 2017

April 19th

Filed under: Butterfly, Cooper's Hawk, gnats, People, Sounds, Stream, White cabbage butterfly — canopus56 @ 3:06 pm

Biophilia – Part I – Water Meditation

2:00 p.m. Stream water is at its highest under a bright sun with cold air. The loud white noise of the snow-melt engorged stream has remained a constant companion that has dominated the canyon since March 12th. Combined with today’s bright sunlight, these two forces of nature, light and water sound, drive me into a restful sleepy state. Over the last month, I have developed an involuntary reaction to seventy decibel sound of mountain water. Stegner noted that next to the loud sound of mountain water, “it is impossible to believe that one will ever be old or tired” (Stegner, 41), in part, because such water is embodies a continuing renewal of force (id). In its grasp, I must sit in the sun at one of the many benches in the canyon, close my eyes, and slowly drift and meld with its noise. It is a restorative experience. I feel the energy of the stream and sunlight flow through me while at the same time my sense of body and self dissipates. This is how the earth heals both a person’s body and soul. It is in this way in which the life-giving sun and the canyon draws one towards life and away from human activities of city life. I rise filled with love towards nature, and I am not the only one. Two others are sitting on benches near the stream with half-closed eyes.

I have always had an innate drive to be at one with nature, and some of my earliest childhood memories are related to that experience. But where does that inherited drive in me and in others who visit the canyon come from?

Yesterday’s cold rain has set the insects back, and only a few are seen this afternoon. White cabbage butterflies feed on the wild carrots heads that line the road. Two new small butterflies appear, along with some gnats and a small bee that moves to fast to identify. There is new one and one-half inch orange butterfly with subtle black marks and distinct ends to its antennae, possibly a type of fritillary. The second unidentified butterfly is a small black butterfly with jet black wing and a subtle blue-black tinge to its abdomen.

I stop at picnic site 1 and again stare transfixed staring into the water as it speeds by. Suddenly, two Cooper’s hawks land in a tree next to stream. These are the two fast fleeting shapes that I saw skimming over the road a few days ago (April 15th). They are maybe fifty feet away; this is the closest that I have ever been to these raptors; and they have also come to sun themselves. The sit motionless in the high branches lazily opening and closing their eyes. The Cooper’s hawks have a grey backs, molted-brown breast and body feathers, bright white rump feathers and a banded tail. One of this pair has piercing red eyes. It’s companion teases the other, and in response the first plumps up its white rump feathers in agitation. I stand their motionless and have a good ten minutes sharing the sun with these residents.

A group of three mothers are pushing baby carriages down the road. Between the motion and deafening white noise of the stream, the babies are all quiet and content. What impression does the sound make on their unformed, young minds? It has become the fashion to purchase technology enhanced bassinets for infants. At night, sensors detect the infant’s motion automatically rocks the bassinet and floods it with stream-like white noise. Like me, the simulated stream sound sends the infants back to sleep.

* * * *

In 1964, psychoanalyst, humanist and cultural commentator Eric Fromm termed biophilia as one of two competing forces within each of us:

“There is no more fundamental distinction between men, psychologically and morally, than the one between those who love death and those who love life, between the necrophilous and the biophilous. . . . . The full unfolding of biophilia is to be found in the productive orientation. The person who fully loves life is attracted by the process of life and growth in all spheres. . . . . Good is all that serves life; evil is all that serves death. Good is reverence for life, all that enhances, life, growth, unfolding” (Fromm, 37, 47. emphasis in original).

Fromm warned that modern bureaucratic-technological society by separating humanity from nature was driving humanity towards a necrophilous or death orientation. Homo sapiens has become what Fromm called homo consumens (Fromm, 57). Fromm’s notion of homo consumens is analogous to what modern economists call homo economicus, a idealized human who makes decisions based only on rational economic basis concerned only with the experience of life as the act of consumption. Symptomatic of homo consumens is homo mechanicus or gadget man (Fromm, 58), a person obsessed with a life-view defined by manipulation of dead machines rather interacting and participating with life (id).

Fromm viewed humans not as an essence, but as a process flowing from two contradictory facts (Fromm, Chap. 6). First, humans are animals that are part of nature. Second, humans are self-aware beings with reason. The rightful use of reason to satisfy our material needs and psychological motivations in a contradiction draws us away from nature, and this creates biophilous and necrophilous tensions within psyches. Since many of our motivations are unconscious, we can never be fully sure whether reason in service of unconscious desires are destruction or healthy. The best free choice that a man, a woman or a society can exercise is to be aware when making decisions is whether they foster the tendency toward development and life or toward of anal-narcissism and death (id).

Fromm reviews how these two forces have a long history in religion, philosophy and psychoanalysis (id). The Judeaic Genesis narrative is of separation from nature by the exercise of free choice. Adam and Eve did not sin by choosing knowledge, they where given both knowledge and free choice by a creator, and as a consequence there were sent to a life of choices that drive either towards or away from life and development as a full human being (Fromm, 19-20). The Genesis narrative has its parallel in the Greek myths. Recalling that the Greeks viewed the universe as Earth-centered, Gaia was the creator not of the Earth, but of the entire universe, including their cosmology of heavenly Gods that we retain as markers of the constellations. Humans were separated from Gaia by the first female human’s (Pandora’s) exercise of free will in choosing to open the pithos, thus separating humanity from nature.

What draws me back to reunite with nature? Enjoyment of nature is a reminder, in those several decisions that we all must make on a daily basis, to try to choose as much as is practicable that which fosters all life.

* * * *

On April 19th, 1982, Salt Lake City officials declined to act on a Davis County proposal to create a commuter connector road around Ensign Peak and City Creek Canyon (Davis County Clipper). On April 21, 1914, work on widening and improving City Creek Canyon Road was completed to Pleasant Valley (Salt Lake Telegram), but Mayor Heber M. Wells restricted the use of automobiles only up to Eleventh Avenue (id). On April 19th, 1911, City Councilperson J. W. McKinney introduced a resolution to end gravel pit operations in City Creek Canyon in order to improve water quality (Salt Lake Telegram). On April 19, 1907, the City adopted an ordinance establishing a dedicated patrolman for City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). The patrolman would be provided a horse and a salary of $2.75 per day. Duties included clearing rubbish from the canyon. Patrolman positions were also established for Parleys and Big Cottonwood and a ranchman was hired for Mountain Dell. On April 19, 1898, the City Engineer, Waterworks Superintendent, the Mayor and four citizen council members toured City Creek and recommended improvements, including repairing caved in seep tunnels and clearing and rip-raping the stream bed (Salt Lake Tribune). In 1898, there was a drought and the city officers were seeking to increase the water supply. On April 19, 1897, Mayor Glendinning toured City Creek Canyon due to flooding of Central City Neighborhoods (Salt Lake Herald).

December 8, 2016

December 9th

Counting Nests

8:00 a.m. On December 8th, I completed an inventory of nests in the first two miles of the canyon done on December 1st through the 7th, and the results are not what I expected. I had thought that small birds would prefer to nest away from the road and expected to find more nests along the trails, but they predominantly nest close to the road and stream. I count thirty-nine nests in the first two miles. For insect nests, two are Paper wasp nests and six are Bald-faced Hornet nests. The remaining thirty-one are birds’ nests. Of the thirty-one bird nests: nine are delicately woven bag nests for small birds such as hummingbirds; four are hanging and finely woven grass nests suitable for small and medium sized birds; one is a cliff stick nest of the falcon pair; five are snag nests in drilled into hollow cavities of snag or dead tree trunks; and the remainder are circular or platform twig nests.

All but one falcon nest is along or adjacent to the paved road. Initially, I thought that there would be many small bird nests along the Pipeline trail in the scrub oaks, but there are none. Checking the trail a second time, I realize that the Gambel’s oaks on this west side of the canyon would be too hot in late May and early June for fledglings. Birds are nesting in the coolest part of the canyon, next to water. Mountain chickadees and Black-hooded chickadees both use snags for nesting and do not build twig nests (Hutto, p. 34-35).

There are many snags, i.e. – dead trees, in the first two miles of the canyon. In addition to the chickadees, the Hairy woodpecker (Picoides villosus) and the Northern flicker rely on snags for shelter and nesting (Hutto 34-35, Werstack, 49-50). At picnic site 7, a good example is in a 40 feet vertical snag on the other side of the creek. At its top is a tear shaped excavation that indicates there is a nest in the hollowed out tree. It is possibly the primary or secondary nest of the Northern flicker seen in this area. A second snag at the up canyon end of picnic site 9 has many smaller holes drilled in it, and these may be suitable for chickadee nesting. Birds prefer snag trunks between 10 inches to 14 inches for making a hollowed-out tree nest. In 2016, Werstack et al estimated that there are 149 million snags in Utah suitable for bird nesting, but I estimate that there are probably about 20 to 30 suitable snags in the first two miles of the canyon.

Where the Pipeline Trail skirts the based of cliffs on north side of the road near mile 1.0, a Peregrine falcon pair has a large stick nest. The nest is perched on a rock ledge about 300 feet from the trial. It cannot be accessed either from above or below by predators, and it is only faintly visible with the naked-eye. Binocular or a monocular magnification is needed to see any detail. Although the nest is currently empty, from April to June, I watched the pair and fledglings almost every day. Not in this survey, but seen last year, is a large circular stick nest in the top of an eighty foot fir tree near mile 2.4. That nest was occupied by a breeding pair of Cooper’s Hawks.

Goodfellow and Hansell describe the architectural skill that birds use to construct the many woven grass and smaller twig nests. When making hanging-basket grass or circular twig nests, some birds will use a hook technique similar to Velcro. As noted on September 5th, the design of Velcro was inspired by the burrs of the burdock plant. Birds also mimic the burdock burr. They choose twigs with small hooks near the ends or twist grasses to make hooks and as they weave a twig into the nest, they secure the twig by hooking the end around an earlier placed twig.

My instinct is that there are too few nests for the volume of birds seen during the March to May nesting season, but my bird count data suggests the number is about right. My birding log between March 2015 and May 2015 of last year (Fisher 2015) shows 166 bird sightings. Given that these involve resighting the same birds multiple times, 39 nests is reasonable. During the winter and spring, small Black-hooded chickadees, Mountain chickadees and Stellar Jays are the most prevalent bird in the canyon. Other birding logs made by Tracey Aviary professionals are stored at the Cornell University’s Ornithology Laboratory’s eBird database for the “Bonneville/City Creek” observing area (Cornell 2016). Are there and where are any missing birds’ nests?

Hornets were far more common than I had previously thought. A nest down canyon of picnic site 6 is notable. The late afternoon Sun makes it glow. It is twice the size of a basketball, and it precariously sits intertwined with the smallest upper branches at the top of a 100 foot tall Rocky Mountain cottonwood. The nest sways back and forth in the wind, but it is the most secure of the five hornet nests in the lower canyon. Although I see and photograph this nest

These hornet nests provide another link in the food chain. The hornets drink nectar and eat other smaller insects. In turn, hornets are the another food source for the many small birds seen in the spring in the first canyon mile.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on December 9th, 1855, he visually observes his first owl in ten years, having only their heard their calls during that period.

September 21, 2016

September 15th

Filed under: Birds, Blacked-Headed Chickadee, Cooper's Hawk, Mountain Chickadee — canopus56 @ 1:23 am

Cooper’s Hawk Takeout

5 p.m. It is still overcast and raining during the morning, but the weather clears in the afternoon. A Cooper’s hawk soars above and in the trees, I hear the Black Hooded chickadees. In the past, I always envisaged Cooper’s hawk as feeding on squirrels or deer mice. Checking some guides, hawk’s expertly fly through forest branches and snatch up small birds. Gardeners often call aphids ladybug “juice boxes”. Perhaps my favored Mountain and Black Hood chickadees are this Cooper’s hawk’s idea of “take-out”.

September 8th

The Mountain Who Lost It’s Backside

4 p.m. Today I decide to drive up to the end of the paved road and trail jog to the end of the canyon. The canyon will be closed to cars at the end of September, and I usually do one of these trail runs at this time. (A second is done in early June.) The paved road ends at mile 5.75 and the trail continues for another 4.25 miles before it descends into Wasatch County. But today I decided to only go to trail mile 3.5 where one can see that part of the backside of Grandview Peak is missing. It is the sheer vertical cliff about 200 feet high.

Through trail mile 1.0, the stream is wider and flat. The trail is about 100 feet off to one side and passes through box elder and maple groves. The trail, actually a dirt road that is fading away, crosses the stream at two iron bridges and passes the Smuggler’s Gap trailhead. Then the trail changes character. The trail becomes a disused single track that sits two or three feet to the north of the small fast-moving creek. The creek flows over a series of algae covered rock jumbles into small pools. Both the stream and the floor of the trail are broken Mississippian and Permian slate. At times the stream and trail wind through boughs of river beech trees. Here, a red Admiral butterfly floats between the stream, bushes and the shade of the trees.

Grandview Peak is to the left and the north, but its view is blocked by the steep v shape of the creek gorge and by stands of aspen. To the right and south is the ridge between City Creek and Red Butte canyons. On the city side the ridge is a near-vertical wall that sits in perpetual shadow. Thus, it is covered in the thick healthy stand of cold tolerant Douglas fir. In contrast, the Sun exposed Red Butte side is a thick drought tolerant Gambel oak forest.

I round a bend near trail mile 1.6 and startle a Cooper’s hawk that is napping in a tree grove. Attempts to fly away but is trapped in the tangle of branches that it is resting in. It waits anxiously for about 30 seconds. Seeing that I am no threat, it picks a route out of its lair, and then like an owl, expertly flies through the forest understory to freedom.

At trail mile 2.1 the canyon opens into the first of four hanging meadows. Each is divided by gradual inclines. This first meadow hosts a SNOTEL weather station, and in the second at trail mile 2.6, the bushes are flattened in a series of circles. Here a moose can usually be found, and today is no exception. As I am exiting the meadow, I hear something crashing through the brush, and turning around, a frightened female moose is careening into the safety of the forest. There is little sign of deer in this part of the canyon because there is little grass forage to support them. In each of these hanging meadows there are bushes of mountain blueberries that provide refreshing forage for me.

The character of these meadows has changed dramatically since I last ran through them in June. Then the brush was so profuse that it reached my neck and overhung and obscured the trail. Jogging was an act of faith and was more like swimming through a sea of green. You hoped that the trail was underfoot and sometimes it was not. Now the meadows are a sea of tan. The trail is plainly visible, but the trail floor is a pallet of dark browns and tans from dried and crushed brush punctuated by accents of fallen bright and muted red-orange aspen and maple leaves. I am jogging over an 18 inch by 300 foot canvas painted by the randomness of nature.

At trail mile 3.6, I am climbing past the last meadow and towards the ridgeline at the end of the canyon. My goal for the day is visible on the north side of canyon. Here a series of spur ridges come down from Grandview Peak and end in rounded noses, but one nose is cut off. It ends in a sheer vertical cliff about the size of two or three football fields. At its base is a 200 foot tall talus field. Here, some geologists believe an ancient earthquake may have shorn the mountainside away. One can see other examples along the Wasatch Front. The shear north face of Mount Olympus has a rubble pile at its base which is now the Mount Olympus subdivision. This reminds us that the West is earthquake country and there work 14 earthquakes in Utah of greater than magnitude 5 during the last century. In 2008, geologists Francis X. Ashland and Gregory N. McDonald investigated the Grandview Peak landslide in order to determine the most cost-effective method of dating the mountainside’s failure. They concluded that the remoteness of the site and the depth of the talus field made it impractical to retrieve rock samples from deep underneath the talus field in order to accurately date when the slide occurred.

September 20, 2016

August 3rd

Filed under: Birds, Cooper's Hawk, Peregrine Falcon — canopus56 @ 10:42 pm

Hawk Battle

Noon. The road is being paved, so there are no cars on Bonneville Drive. At the entrance to Upper City Creek Canyon at the top of a 100 foot tall dead tree, an immature Cooper’s Hawk is perched and acts as a sentinel for the canyon entrance. I get a good five minutes watching him with a 10x monocular before he flies off. Further up the canyon at milepost one, I hear the familiar screeching of a peregrine falcon. This falcon has been a regular in the canyon for the last 4 weeks. It is nesting in the trees high up on the eastern slope near milepost 1.25. I’ve never gotten a close look at this bird, but I suspect it is immature. It is very territorial. On several occasions when I have seen other raptors pass over its nesting site, this aggressive bird flies out and chased the intruder off. At times, it approaches speeds of 50 and 60 kilometers per hour. On another occasion, it flew up several hundred feet to rendezvous with two crows soaring on the thermals high above the canyon floor. The brave smaller bird repeatedly dive-bombed the much larger crows and urged them to not rest in City Creek.

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