City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

April 15, 2017

April 15th

More Blossoming

2:00 p.m. Several cultivar cherry trees blossom. They range in size from small bushes to two specimens with the first quarter-mile that are between twenty and thirty feet tall. In these larger trees, the gray birch-like pattern to their bark in addition to their bright white flowers are the keys to identification. More Box Elder shrubs have bloomed. One of the three horsechestnut trees at the Guardhouse gate parking lot have exploded, and each bud reveals a radial pattern of leaves surrounded by a cone-shaped green compound set of ovaries. Red ozier dogwood bushes that have leafed out have grown small compound blossom heads that look like heads broccoli. Chokeberries have resumed blooming and one near mile 0.2 is festooned with hanging flowerless blooms at the end of multiple heads at the end of long thin stems. Two immature rock squirrels betray themselves as their run over dry crackling leaves above the roadbank. A shadow across the road reveals to small hawks racing over the road. Their flight is so fast that identification is not possible, but front-wing line has a rounded shape. One seeking to increase its diving speed, folds its wing in to transform itself into a bullet shape. In an instant, they are gone around a ridge. Painted Lady butterflies are joined by a another cousin: a small dusky black butterfly that deep black triangular wing-tips with white spots. After yesterday’s warmth, the snow-melt fed stream today flows at it highest level.

The parking lot is overflowing with cars and their are sixty or seventy people along the road. The watercress gleaners have returned (October 16th) and they are carrying out bags of this edible that they removed from the seep below picnic site 6. I have changed my opinion on this practice: watercress is an invasive that chokes the stream, and if it is overharvested to the extinction, the stream may improve for native fish.

As I jog up-canyon, two young men bicycle down-canyon. They are wearing packs with hi-tech two-part snowboards strapped to the back in a triangle formation. They have ridden to the end of road and then hiked up to Grandview Peak for spring skiing. I did a similar 17 mile road trip ski tour and hike in the 1980s, and it is heartening to see the next generation of young men who would test themselves not in the arena of commerce or in sports against other men, but against the power of the nature. I give the trailing rider a big thumbs up, acknowledging what they have done. But he sees not as a kindred spirit, but only an old man on the lower road to which he gives no return glance.

* * * *

On April 15th, 1909, a brush fire broke out at four miles above Eagle Gate in City Creek Canyon (Deseret Evening News). On April 15, 1906, boxer Young Corbett trained in City Creek (Salt Lake Herald). This was probably Young Corbett II, who later became the world Featherweight boxing champion. On April 15, 1898, the Utah Forestry Association planned to assist in planting trees in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald). On April 15, 1896, negotiations between the City and the Salt Lake and Ogden Gas and Electric Light Company broke down, prompting the City to further consider constructing an electric power station in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune).

September 24, 2016

September 24th

Recovery

4:00 p.m. In the afternoon, the storm moves on, the clouds become broken, the air warms, and where the broken clouds create windows, beams of sunlight illuminates individual trees into beacons of color. Which part of the canyon and which tree is featured changes constantly. After an hour, the broken clouds end, the sky clears, and the canyon is bathed in the soft sunlight of Fall. The The ground dwelling crickets seem unaffected by the storm, but only the hardiest individuals of each type of flying insect is out, and this makes it a day of ones. I see exactly one of the entire cast of flying insect characters that are common to the canyon: one gnat, one dragonfly, one red-rumped central bumble bee, one white cabbage butterfly, and one jet black wasp with yellow-tipped tail. Five hundred feet above, a lone raptor that is to far to away to identify soars. As a finish my jog, the lowest part of the canyon is much warmer, and more gnats have returned. It will take a few days of warm weather for the flying insects to fully recover.

Because of the fall colors and because the canyon will be closed to public automobile traffic for six months in another week, city residents have turned out for automobile touring. I stop counting after the fiftieth car has passed. This annual automobile closure restricts the canyon only to pedestrians, bicyclists, and an occasional hunter, and during its winter sleep, the closure allows the canyon to recover.

September 20, 2016

August 11th

Filed under: Birds, Dragonfly, Hawk, Insects — canopus56 @ 10:50 pm

Dragonfly Feast

5 p.m. The Sun is lower in the sky at 5 p.m. and is less fierce as compared to the summer solstice over 45 days ago. At mile 0.3 at a bend in the road, the group of about 15 dragonflies are doing dramatic acrobatic maneuvers. They’re doing rapid right angle turns, barrel rolls, and inverted loops. Because they are back lit against the low Sun on the western ridge, the cause of their gyrations is also visible. The air is filled with small gnats. Each gnat is barely one fiftieth the size of a dragonfly and if not back lit, they would be invisible. The wild flight of the dragonflies are attempts to catch the gnats in flight. The dragonflies wait for the gnats to fly up towards the Sun and then streak in from behind or below. At the last second the dragonflies flip over and try to catch their prey. Presumably, the dragonflies are waiting for the gnats to be blinded by the Sun as they fly upwards. But the physics of the matter is against the dragonflies. Being so much smaller and lighter, the gnats can make instantaneous right angle turns that the dragonflies cannot match. Being much smaller, the distance between the brain and muscles of the gnats is so much less that their reaction time is much faster than the dragonflies’. As a result, the dragonflies are rarely successful. I follow one dragonfly who manages to catch a meal on its sixth attempt. When I run past this spot again on my way out of the canyon, it is in complete shade, but now the swarm of dragonflies has grown to about 50 individuals. High above, a hawk circles.

August 5th

Filed under: Bicyclist, Birds, Hawk — canopus56 @ 10:44 pm

Surfing Hawk

4 p.m. I reach the 1.5 milepost sign where the canyon first opens up. A summer storm front has moved in and there is a stiff breeze blowing up canyon. About a hundred and fifty feet up, but too far away to identify, a hawk is surfing the wind. He or she is flying a wide circle, perhaps three quarters of a mile in circumference, by making only subtle changes in its trim feathers. I watch for about 4 or 5 minutes, transfixed, and during this time, it only flaps its wings two or three times. Angling its wings to the wind to form a sail, the hawk gains altitude quickly. As it is about to disappear over the ridge line, a bicyclist whizzes by loudly playing, on a digital device affixed to their machine, a news report about another attention-getting statement by one of our presidential candidates, this being an election year. The broadcast breaks my meditative hawk-watching state and brings me back into my daily life of those things that my friends tell me should really matter. I am glad to have a refuge like the canyon a few minutes from home where such things are, temporarily, trivial and unimportant.


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