City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

June 23, 2017

June 21st

Growth Spurts

6:45 p.m. In the cool of the late evening, I jog towards Pleasant Valley at mile 1.2. A Lazuli bunting (Passerina amoena) perches near the gate. Near mile 0.3, a flash of bright yellow on the outside of a tree catches the eye. It is a Yellow warbler (Dendroica petechia). At mile 1.1, I mistake plaintive calls for raptor chicks, but it is only the squawking of a pair of Western scrub jays (Aphelocoma californica).

The summer-like heat turns flowering plants. The leaves of Wild carrots (Lomatium dissectum), a.k.a. Fernleaf biscuitroot, are browning, and their seeds are turning a light purple. Curly dock weeds (Rumex crispus) have turned a deep brown. I admire Curly dock. It grows, flowers, and dies over only for a few weeks in the spring, but then its rich brown color accents the canyon throughout the rest of the year. Only in the early spring, does it finally succumb to winter’s weather, and then in a few weeks, it begins to regrow. Even the seeds of yesterday’s Milkweed have turned from a light green to a subtle purple in a single day. Foxglove beardtongues (Penstemon digitalis) that have delicate bell-like flowers have deepened in color from white to streaked pink.

Other plants respond to this initial summer heat with a growth spurt. Starry solomon’s seal plants (Maianthemum stellatum) have reached almost two feet in height. At the seep below picnic site 6, watercress (Nasturtium officinale) has grown four inches in height in just a few days. Scouring rush horsetails (Equisetum hyemale) along the road stand erect and have also reached two feet in height. At lower Pleasant Valley field, Wild bunchgrass (Poa secunda) is two to two and one-half feet high. Heat drives this rush.

Hovering other the Pleasant Valley field, a fleet of twenty Common whitetail dragonflies dart back and forth and play tag in the evening breeze. Their miniature relatives, Circumpolar Bluets (Enallagma cyanigerum) line the first mile roadside. Returning down-canyon, a Pinacate stink bug (Eleodes sp.), a.k.a. the Darkling sting bug, is running down the road. This is the first time that I have seen one fast motion, and usually they standing with their abdomens pointed into the air and ready to launch a chemical spray on predators. When running, its oversized rear legs make its large black abdomen comically waive back and forth. Since cars are banned from the canyon today, many bicyclists streak by heeding on caution for speed.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 21st, 1852, he notes that adder’s tongue, a fern, smells like snakes. He hears a cherry bird. He sees a field with snap-dragon and he notes that lupines have lost their blooms. He hears thunder when there are no clouds in the sky. He collects morning glories. On June 21st, 1854, he notes the many smells in the air, including may-flowers and cherry bark. He compares how a stream bank has grown from a low covering of brown in spring to a thicket of weeds in summer. He finds a small pond with two pout fish and a brood of small fry. He describes a sprout forest – a forest of small sprouts that grows from fallen trees. He sees wild roses. On June 21st, 1856, he sees night hawks, and on June 21st, 1860, he observes pine pollen covering the surface of water.

* * * *

On June 21st, 2000, Mayor Rocky Anderson held a press conference urging Congress to pass a bill that would designate a portion of offshore federal oil revenues to fund improvements in local parks like City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 21st, 1995, Rotary Club members repainted benches at Rotary Park in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 21st, 1994, a 19 year-old man was robbed at knife point by his passenger after they drove to City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 21st, 1934, Street Commissioner Harold B. Lee referred a proposal by former City Engineer S. Q. Cannon to employ road crews to widen City Creek Canyon Road to the Depression Federal Emergency Recovery Act Bureau (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 21st, 1912, City Parks Commissioner George D. Keyser proposed a circular scenic boulevard be created up City Creek, along 11th Avenue to Fort Douglas, then to Sugarhouse, and then returning to the City’s center (Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake Telegram). The route would be lined with trees (id). On June 21st, 1906, City Engineer Kelsey reported that 100 miles of sidewalks will be completed in the City this year and another 25 miles of roads will be paved or graveled (Salt Lake Telegram). A minor $1,000 project will construct a bridge in City Creek Canyon (id).

June 14, 2017

June 7th

Clicking Cicadas

4:30 p.m. This is the fifth day of ninety degree temperatures, and I go for a short jog up to milepost 0.5 and back down the Pipeline Trail. Looking at the jet stream charts at the California Regional Weather Service and National Weather Service maps for the last few days, the jet stream has broken and disconnected over much of the western and central continental United States. A large high pressure zone has disrupted spring’s conveyor belt of cooling ocean air.

Going up canyon near mile 0.4, I check one of the blue paint mosquito tree holes, and inside is a one inch beetle that is colored with Frank Lloyd Wright’s bright Cherokee red. (Later, after checking my insect guides, I am unable to identify it.) Just past the turn-off from the road to the trail, I begin to hear an odd clicking sound coming from the trees, and I stop the Gambel’s oak grove mid-way between road and Pipeline Trail. The sound is all around, but I cannot see its cause. There are also some small birds in the trees that confuse the source, but after a few minutes, I notice two or three insects on the branches that look like a large cricket but they have clear wings. These are probably annual Mountain or Canadian cicadas (Okanagana canadensis). Cicadas come into two forms: annual hatching and the more famous periodic hatching that rise from the ground once every 17 years. I cannot get close enough to identify these tree dwellers with certainty. I suspect that since they are newly hatched, their wings are still too soft to make the loud clicking sounds.

Along the Pipeline Trail, the blossom heads of Arrowleaf balsamroot plants that recently dominated the hillsides (April 29th) are all dried husks and full of seeds. The hot Sun has done more of its work. Along the road, the Western salisfy first seen a week ago (June 2nd) along the road, have exploded into a showy ball of white tufted seed.

Along the powerline, an American robin, a Lazuli bunting, a Song sparrow, and a Black-headed grosbeak, all rest in the afternoon sunlight singing loudly. There are several more buntings replying on the western hillside. Further down trail near mile 0.2, two more grosbeaks call from the oaks, and this corresponds to the position where they are heard when along the road.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 7th, 1853 he records red clover, buttercups, cinquefoil, blueberries, and huckleberries. He hears quail and sees an oven bird and a night-hawk in its nest. On June 7th, 1854, he notes large sized green berries, blueberries, and choke-cherries. He hears honey bees. He sees a yellow-winged sparrow, a night-hawk, and the first fire-flies of the season. On June 7th, 1858, he observes that wind blowing across grass silences crickets. On June 7th, 1860, white clover has bloomed and he again hears honey-bees.

* * * *

In a June 7th, 2005 letter to the editors of the Salt Lake Tribune, Chuck Tabaracci related the saving of his dog after it had been swept away in the high waters of the canyon’s stream (Salt Lake Tribune). Two women lept into the stream to save the dog and where also swept downstream. All were saved and one woman suffered hypothermia and the second a concussion. Tabaracci also noted that people walking up the road refused to help the women and eventually they were transported to LDS Hospital by ambulance. On June 7th, 1913, the Commercial Club in a report, opposed building a highway up City Creek to connect with Morgan County (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 7th, 1893, City Council President Loofbourow proposed banning all of the new bicycles from the City (Deseret Evening News). He stated that, “I would encourage a movement to send them (all the bicycles) to the head of City Creek canyon and keep them there, as they are an intolerable nuisance” (id). A June 7th, 1887 Salt Lake Herald editorial proposed a system of reservoirs in City Creek Canyon in order to solve a shortage in the City’s water supply.

June 13, 2017

June 2nd

Evolution of Angiosperms

8:00 a.m. Some days are beyond beauty. This is the first official day of the five months in which cars are allowed in the canyon on alternating days, and I have decided to drive up to the end of the road to jog the uppermost canyon. It rained last night, the undergrowth and trees are all covered with thick layer of drops. As I drive up the road, the morning birds are active. With the windows open, I mentally tabulate a count as I slowly travel up the winding road. It comes to about 20 birds within earshot for every quarter mile. This suggests a population of some 800 smaller song birds along the five and three-quarters of paved road and the subsequent 2 miles of trail in a band for 50 yards on either side of the road.

Continuing the drive up canyon, Wild roses are open to Pleasant Valley, mile 1.1, and Wild geraniums are open to mile 5.0. Along the first mile, a new flowering plant, another weed, has sprung up to two feet tall seemingly overnight. It is Western salisfy (Asteraceae tragopogon dupon). Although a noxious invader, it is an admirable plant. To avoid the heat of the day, it folds closed into a pen-like tip, but now in the light morning sun, it shows sixteen thin yellow petals surrounded by hair-thin sepals. The center has a sharply contrasting black band. It lines the roadside and at Pleasant Valley, Utah Conservation Corps treated field, that removed yellow starthistle, is now covered with another invasive – salsify. A purple variant of this plant is also found along the first mile road.

At the water treatment plant at mile 3.4, the canyon narrows, and flashes of blue and black flittering into the Gambel’s oaks reveals a flock of Stellar’s jays. Stellar’s jays prefer the coolness of a montane habitat, and in contrast, their cousins, the Scrub jay, prefers the hotter lower canyon. But the Stellar’s jay is more territorial, and thus, more entertaining. When a hiker enters their territory, one will immediately swoop down to the trail and call with its repetitive “caw” in both curiosity and in complaint. The action of one will others of its tribe, and this provides the walker with an avian presidio under which one must pass inspection. Later in the afternoon, further up the trail at the end of the road, as I walk under a large moss covered log, a Stellar’s jay lands above me, its mouth full of moss intended for use as nesting material. It glances back for a quick inquisitive look and then proceeds on its business.

Resuming the drive up the road and as the walls of the canyon close in, the canyon transitions from Gambel oak forest to deciduous maple and Box elder tree forest. The road becomes a single track. The heavy moisture on the leaves is heated by the first penetrating morning sun, and as a result, the air is thick with mist and dew. Shafts of light peak make it through the dense overgrowth and illuminate the mist into yellow tubes. Here, the canyon feels most like an eastern forest. Although the dense greenery only extends for a few hundred yards on either side of the road, the narrow canyon walls cut off any vistas, and this is what I remember of my boyhood eastern forests. The green goes on forever and the all sense of direction is lost. Here, stream bed widens and the stream slows. But then, near mile 4.5, there is an abrupt transition to a Rocky Mountain forest (Peet 2000) dominated by Douglas fir and Norway spruce. The stream narrows and the stream bed becomes boulders that are angular and freshly honed from bedrock. This change is also announced by great vertically upended limestone fins on the western wall of the canyon that have been turned by earthquake faults (Sept 1st). The Wild geraniums thin out, and the first Mountain bluebells, a cool weather plant, appear and become more frequent. The air thickens more and forest becomes medieval.

Along this stretch of road between Lower and Upper Rotary Park, the bird communities, mostly of American robins, Song sparrows, Warbling vireos, and Black-headed grosbeaks are spread out into distinct communities, unlike in the warmer first mile canyon. The distinct trill call of a community of Chirping sparrows is heard. I also hear a lone Mountain chickadee calling. This is where they have come, since the lower canyon is too hot for them. This segregation of birds into unique groups along the road gives me the opportunity to stop and study the distinct songs and calls of a group of Warbling vireos.

The sun rises further and the mist burns off as I reach the end of the road at mile 5.75, and the old mining road and trail that leads to the Treasure Box mine begins. I have not been here since the end of last summer (Sept. 8th), and it feels restorative to be in the most natural of the canyon’s regions. Leaving the car and proceeding up the trail, where the direct sun penetrates, a green canopy of maples and box elders closes in, while on shaded eastern slope, Douglas firs reach to trails edge. The air is heavy with the smell of wet leaves and chlorophyll. Crossing the first and second red metal bridges affords views up the stream, and it is a torrent of white, with only hints of blue water. The stream has become a silver ribbon. After the third metal bridge, the trail rises, the canopy deepens and the undergrowth becomes impenetrable. This stretch is as the lower canyon appeared around 1900. Shipler’s photograph of the lower canyon road taken around 1903, appears nearly identical to this morning’s rise in the trail (J. Willard Marriott, Id. 459448, see also Salt Lake Tribune, May 24, 1903). The chirping call of a Green-tailed towhee is heard.

For the next half-mile, the trail is about 150 feet east of stream, and the trail consists of sharp rocks that a month ago were another snow-feed branch of the stream. Geraniums and blue bells thicken along with young stinging nettle plants. All are so covered with last night’s rain water that my shoes quickly become soaked, but I do not care. A Mourning cloak butterfly with an odd color variant flies down canyon. Instead of the yellow-white trailing band, its trailing wing band is a dusky orange. Other now common butterflies appear uniformly distributed along the trail: Western tiger swallowtails and newly-hatched smaller Spring azure butterfly butterflies. The Spring azures flock in groups of three to six, and the harsh high-altitude light brings out a new property to their colors. Depending on the sun angle, their wings flash a deep medium blue, their streaked light blue, or flat light blue. The deep blue is new variation to their iridescence. There is a new unidentified one and one-half inch butterfly. It has forewings of patterned medium dark grey and rear-wings that are a grayish black. The colder air at this high altitude, along with their lack of exposure to humans, make insects sluggish. In the lower canyon, the Red-rumped central worker bumble bees are skittish. But here, the bees remain still when approached, and I am able to take a clear pictures of several.

Song sparrows, Warbling vireos, a Spotted towhee, Yellow warblers, and Lazuli buntings, another refugee from the lower canyons, are heard in profusion. But again, they rest in distinct communities in the spacious upper reaches of the canyon instead of being distributed uniformly along the trail. Jogging uphill feels good for the legs, but my progress is slow. I cannot resist the urge to stop and listen to each community of bird and to playback stock recordings of their calls, in part to assure to identification, and in part for the simple enjoyment of somehow communicating with them. At one point, the land between trail and stream widens, but is particularly lush with a low canopy. There I hear a single American dipper, the first of the season.

For the next half mile, the trail begins to narrow travels next to the stream, and the trail crosses a series of rock outcrops. There the trail becomes broken rock interspersed with patches of stream feed marsh, and the stream water itself is so pure that individual rocks can be seen distinctly on the stream’s bottom. A few Spearleaf scorpionweeds (Phacelia hastata) that have delicate light purple, fuzzy blossoms, hide in sun sheltered spaces. Along the broken rocks, I notice the small, 5 millimeter, dried-out shells of snails covering the trail. Over a 100 feet of trail, I count about the same number of shells. On picking one up and to my astonishment, there is a miniature live snail in each shell. I am unable to identify them.

Next, the trail starts to rise towards the first of four hanging meadows, and in the first of which stills with Louis Meadows SNOTEL weather station. Aspen trees first appear, a sure sign of a Rocky Mountain meadow ahead. Mountain bluebells surround the trail on both sides, and a few Western blue elderberry trees (Sambucus nigra ssp. cerulea) rise from the surrounding bluebells. Each elderberry is heavily festooned with white, lacey panicles. In the autumn, as their dark fruit ripens, these are a favored trail snack.

As I crest the lip of Louis Meadows hanging valley, the SNOTEL station comes into view. It sits in the middle of field of Mountain bluebells the size of two football fields, and the field is surrounded by a grove of waving aspen trees to the west and Douglas firs to the east. It is an idyllic sight; one that I feel privileged to experience. I begin to feel giddy and overwhelmed by biophilia.

While my heart feels love, my intellect says my expansive feelings are not the effect of altitude at just 6,700 feet (2,042 meters), but of ultra-violet radiation. The 10 a.m. summer Sun is high in the sky, and its warmth penetrates all clothing. The exercise of hiking in Western summer mountains is a relaxing experience. The cool air makes hard, fast hiking enjoyable, but at the same time ultra-violet relaxes the muscles and the mind. Pictures taken here today all are blue tinged from the uv light. With every 1000 meters in altitude, uv light increases in intensity by 10 percent. An internet uv intensity calculator suggests this morning’s ultra-violet index is 12.

As I nearly reach the trailhead and the car, the only other hiker in the canyon today, a young man in his twenties, overtakes me, and he can only mutter, “That is so unbelievably beautiful!” as he passes by. Words escape us both. We have been closer to creation and the other world of the upper canyons of the Wasatch Mountain Range.

Driving out the lower canyon and back to that other reality of my human social and economic existence, the Mosquito Abatement District surveyors are examining their blue painted tree holes (November 7th). They are taking a census in order to estimate the canyon’s mosquito population.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 2nd, 1853, he travels through a thick fog and notes that birds are still making song. He sees cherry birds and yellow bluebead lily, an eastern plant, and red sorrel. On June 2nd, 1855, he describes a moth cocoon opening. On June 2nd, 1858, on a camping trip to a mountain top, he examines a snow bird nest, and hears a chewink, a wood-thrush, and night-hawks. On June 2nd, 1859, he finds a grossbeak nest in a blueberry bush. On June 2nd, 1860, he sees bats and a king-bird.

* * * *

Fully preserved angiosperms first appear in the fossil record about 130 million years ago and by 90 million years ago, flowering trees had dominated the forest canopy. Pamela and Douglas Soltis at the University of Washington with Mark Chase at the Royal Botanical Gardens used modern gene mapping to reconstruct the evolutionary phylogenetic clades of flowering plants (Soltis, Soltis and Chase 1999). Soltis and Soltis review state-of-the-art flowering plant clades as of 2004 (Soltis and Soltis 2004).

Magallon and Sanderson at the University of California at Davis used the rate of diversification of woody plants in the fossil record to estimate the age of the major families (Magallon and Sanderson 2001, Fig. 4). Members of the Sapindales family, which includes maples seen in the canyon, appeared about 60 million years ago. The Rosaceae family members in the canyon, which include Western serviceberry, apple trees, chokeberry, ash trees, and Woods rose, evolved relatively recently, about 45 million years ago (id). Modern oaks appear about 35 million years ago. In Utah around 35 million years ago, the Farallon Plate had passed through Utah, crustal spreading behind the plate cracked Utah’s surface, and the spreading generated Utah’s volcanic era (January 7th). The volcanic breccia at milepost 1.0 of the canyon was forming (id).

* * * *

On June 2nd, 2002, teenager Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped from her Federal Heights home and was hidden on the south slope city side slope of the Black Mountain-City Creek ridge for two months (Salt Lake Tribune, March 15, 2003). The hiding place was not found by a 2,000 person search organized by the Laura Recovery Center (id). On June 2nd, 1915, the City Commission approved plans to build a 5,000,000 gallon reservoir at Pleasant Valley (Salt Lake Herald). On Decoration Day (May 30), a picnic was held in City Creek as reported on the social page of the Deseret Evening News.

May 25, 2017

May 23rd

Continental Scale Bird Population Trends – Part II

3 p.m. Unwittingly, I disrupt the community of birds just north of Guardhouse Gate. It is another warm, clear day, and I plan to spend this afternoon’s run developing my novice song bid, soundscape skills (May 6th). Over the weekend, I have assembled recordings of about forty-five birds from the Cornell Laboratory observing lists (May 20th), and they have been transferred to my telephone. The songs are sorted in order of similarity. Thus, I hope to learn the songs by listening to them throughout my day and by replaying the recording to identify unseen birds from their sounds alone. But this is not an easy skill to acquire. Some birds caw, others have warbling songs, and still others have four or five beat calls. The variations are endless: some warbling songs end on a high note, others on a low, some are long, others are longer. Call-like songs begin on a low-note, followed by a three or six beat high tone; others begin on a high-note, followed by a five count low-note. Others have a rapid trill. Nor is there much organization by either genus of bird or its outward appearance. The Black-headed grosbeak has song similar to the smaller Song sparrow, but the Rufous-sided towhee, which looks very similar to Black-headed grosbeak, has a two-beat call followed by a rapid, machine gun trill. The Lazuli bunting, which has a seed-crushing mouth sounds like the grosbreak and towhee, has a song that is a deeper throated version of the smaller Warbling vireo which has a mouth shaped for catching insects. Conversely, similarity of form can imply similarity of call. Some of the most colorful songbirds in the canyon are insectivores. The Warbling vireo, the Yellow warbler, and the Virginia’s warbler are similar in form and have variations on the same song, like some avian version of humanity’s proto-Indo-European language, but they do not all share the same family in the binomial nomenclature system. The Song Sparrow and House Sparrow are similar in form and voice tone, but their songs are very dissimilar.

Song birds along the first mile can be roughly divided into four communities: there is cluster between the Gate and mile 0.1 and picnic site 1 along both sides of the stream. A second group collects around the bend above picnic site 3 on the east side of the stream. A third is in a hollow below picnic site 5 on the west side, and a fourth along the western oak-covered slope near mile 1.0. These cluster at every 0.2-0.3 miles are connected by loose strings of individual avians. To these four neighborhoods, a five lays to the west of and along the Pipeline trail where the Gambel oak forest gives way to open grass and brush lands. The predators – Peregrine falcons, Red-tailed hawks, Cooper’s hawks, and American kestrels (Falco sparverius) – form their own neighborhood hovering in the sky over the song birds.

I begin at the first group near mile 0.1, where yesterday there was a riot activity. Since today, it is later in the afternoon, things are more subdued, but I can still distinguish six or seven different, unseen bird voices. Initially, I struggle with making any identification, and I become absorbed in loudly replaying about ten songs that represent the voices at mile 0.1. I listen to one song, and then try playing the two or three best candidate recordings to select the best match. After five minutes, I look up, and three birds have come out of the nearby screen of green. A Lazuli bunting perches on the top branch of a thirty foot Box Elder tree. On a nearby Gambel’s oak, a female House finch perches and stares. Across the road in the Box Elder, there is a bright flash of red and yellow midway down the tree. It is a male Western tanager in full breeding plumage, and I start replay a recording of his species in order to keep his attention. For the two months of its breeding season, the head of the tanager turns a brilliant red, and this contrasts with its vivid yellow underplumage and black back. This male has caught the lengthening rays of afternoon sunlight that is softened by moisture in the air, and its red iridescent plumes blaze.

After working with the recordings for one-half hour, I am able to make rudimentary identifications by sound alone of the the Western tanager, a Lazuli bunting, a Warbling vireo, a Song sparrow, and American robin. What strikes me about this lower community is its heterogeneity. There are perhaps seven species all sharing the same one-quarter square mile. They cooperate in sharing the space. Birds are known to share the same forest space by specializing in different food niches, it is early in season and food may be plentiful, and territorial nest building may not have been completed.

Traveling up canyon, the bird community in the hollow near picnic site 5 is populated by only Warbling vireos. Further up canyon, a lone Spotted towhee caws and trills. American robins are dispersed along the first mile road.

Spring Azure butterflies have had a mini-R reproductive explosion. Usually there are three or four larger adults along the first mile road. Today, I count 20 smaller streaked blue versions only three-quarters of an inch in size. The next generation has hatched, and they play among newly cut grass. The City has come through the canyon, and as a fire prevention measure, it has mowed down the two and three foot grass around each picnic area. The air is sweet with cut-grass smell, and further back from the sickle’s cut, the green grass is interrupted by the first loud yellow of newly opened Toad flax (Linaria vulgaris), also called Butter and Eggs plant. This common roadside noxious weed has a beautiful, intensely yellow and orange, orchard like bloom.

Coming back down canyon close to six in the evening, these bird communities are silent, and only the evening town criers of the canyon, the House finches, repeat their their one-high, two low, call of three notes. Near mile 0.5, an immature Terrestrial gartersnake (Thamnophis elegans) crawls across the road. The garter eats insects, e.g. – the Stink bugs that rest along the roadside and snails (May 16th).

Incongruous to this serenity, a group of ten people walk up the road, and two have small caliber handguns strapped to their sides. These “open carry” gun rights advocates, whose right to openly carry guns is sanctioned by the state legislature, have no need for these weapons. Discharging them in the canyon below mile 0.4 violates city and county ordinances, and regardless of the legality, their attempt to drag society back into uncivility and barbarism of some imagined historical western landscape is uniformly disapproved of by the majority of members of the surrounding neighborhoods. Regularly, such displays or the discharge of firearms results in canyon walkers making worried telephone calls to the police, and the police do respond to hand out tickets. While I have some appreciation of how individualism and capitalism can drive people into a mindset that perpetually fears others, this group is not in any danger in the canyon this evening. No one is hiding in the bushes ready to rob them, and their flashy presence in the canyon is an unwelcome intrusion. Like the songbirds around them and the red blaze of the tanager, their weapons are an overstated claim for social attention and of personal territory.

* * * *

The National Audubon Society recently has become a leader in continental scale studies of populations and of future threat forecasting. In 2013, the National Audubon Society released their report titled “Developing a Management Model of the Effects of Future Climate Change on Species: A Tool for the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives” based on its Christmas Bird Count (discussed below) and BBS data (National Audubon Society, Schuetz, Distler, Langham, 2013). Coupled with global climate models, the Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count data allowed the Society to model changes in bird summer and winter ranges, summarized in national maps, based on varying degrees of global warming. In the Great Basin (and in the canyon), their model predicted increases in bird species richness during the winter season and declines in bird species richness during the summer season (id, 27-29, Figs. 2.8-2.9). In an updated study, Langham and colleagues from the Society used further advanced modelling techniques with respect to 588 North American continental birds, and they forecasted that by 2080 under a high-emissions high-warming scenario, about 53 percent of the 588 species would find that 50 percent of their current range, particularly for summer breeding, would become unsuitable (Langham et al. 2016).

With respect to continental-scale population trend studies, the Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count has collected bird counts since 1901. Unlike professional studies, the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) suffers from a number of inherent design controls. CBC bird identifications are made by error prone amateurs at differing locations and differing types of locations, e.g. – in the field or at feeders, between each annual sampling. Fluctations in the number of observers between years can introduce observation bias. Those characteristics limit the ability to use CBC data to predict trends in bird populations using traditional statistical techniques. Conversely, the CBC has been the collecting massive amounts of data from numerous amateurs around the country for more than a century. For example, in the 2016 count, over 56 million birds were manually counted. Increases in inexpensive computing power and application of advanced statistical techniques eventually allowed for the use of this citizen science data to make reasonably statistically confident statements of about trends in bird populations sampled from a wide variety of habitats. In particular, the mathematical techniques of multi-level regression, also called hierarchical modelling, allows for the extraction of bird density trends over time from the massive, but uncontrolled, data sources collected by the Audubon Society. Since 1990, habitat change from climate warming has become an important issue. Application of these analytic improvements also allow trends to be examined in the context of varying habitats, and thus, making the CBC data useful for exploring trends in habitat change from development and climate warming affects bird populations.

Soykan and colleagues with the National Audubon Society estimated North American continental populations of 551 North American bird species and for a subset of 228 species that do not frequent bird feeders using the Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count data (Soykan et al. 2016). They found that for all 551 species, 68 percent had increasing density trends from 1966 through 2013. Thus, 32 percent have a declining trend, a fact exploited in NACBI glosssy annual “State of Birds” reports. For the subset of 228 species, Soykan et al found an 0.9 percent growth trend across 1966 to 2013. They noted the geographically, declining species were concentrated at lower latitudes and increasing species were located at higher latitudes (id), and this suggests that generally, bird populations are shifting their ranges northward. For the future canyon, this is consistent with Schuetz, Distler and Langham’s 2013 modelling suggesting that warmer climates would increase winter species diversity in the Great Basin as birds move their ranges north (above).

Soykan et al’s supplemental data provides further insight into Utah trends (Soykan et al. 2016), but it also underscores the problems and differences of professional verses amateur data collection. Conflicting with the Parrish, Norvell and Howe declining Utah trends for 1992 to 2005, Sokyan and colleagues found from CBC counts for 1966 to 2013, an increasing bird population trend of 2.7 percent for Utah (Table S.4) and 2.8 percent for the Great Basin region (Table S6). Students of introductory statistics will recall the Rule of 70: the doubling time or halving time of a population can be estimated by dividing 70 by the annual rate. Thus, the CBC trend suggests that Utah bird populations will double in 25 years, while the Parrish, Norvell and Howe rate suggests populations would halve in 70 years.

Although overall, Soykan et al’s continental population trends derived from CBC counts were statistically similar to 228 professional BBS specie trends, for a small subset of 33 species, CBC and BBS trends significantly differed (Table S.9). Some of the differences involve species frequently seen in the spring canyon. For two species, Swainson’s Hawk and the Black-headed Grosbeak, the CBC found continental declines around 3 percent per year, while the BBS surveys found increases of less than 1 percent per year. A three percent decline suggests populations will halve in about 25 years. For eight other species found in the canyon, the CBC found a slight increasing population trend, while BBS found populations declining at more than 1 percent per year: Song Sparrow, American Kestrel, Belted Kingfisher, Mourning Dove, Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, and the Broad-tailed Hummingbird.

Again, overall bird population studies continue to indicate that currently and for the near future, bird specie diversity and bird populations should remain stable or have a slight decline, as indicated by the Parrish, Norvell and Howe studies (Parrish et al. 2007). Soykan et al and Langham et al conclude overall birds are moving their summer ranges northward and they are decreasing the area of the summer and winter ranges around the best habitats in response to a warming climate, and under that scenario, Utah bird populations would increase as birds move further north. But whether population trends will decline in a severe global warming occurs scenario, whether they will increase as more birds move their ranges north in response to southern latitude warming, or whether Utah bird populations will increase after the reversal of the current Intermountain drought phase of the Pacific Quasi-Decadal Oscillation (February 7th) remains to be seen. Continued monitoring, such as that occurring through professional and citizen science surveys, is the only means to have a definitive early warning of any dramatic change, for better or worse. Other unanticipated changes, both good and bad, may also occur.

These mathematical models of bird populations, as with proof of biophilia studies, provide only the most general of signs and no clear answers. Proof to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty cannot be found in the statistics of bird populations, and thus, we are forced to fall back on human values and human judgment in deciding what to and how to protect nature. But as with local weather and the Pacific Quasi-Decadal Oscillation, it is only by looking on a continental scale that over-arching patterns in nature can be seen. A local-only perspective, like Plato’s prisoners in his allegorical cave, can give us a limited, uninformed, and wrong view of the world.

There is a further brilliance to the CBC data and Schuetz, Distler and Langham’s 2013 study. They provide detailed ranged summer and winter maps for 36 bird species of concern (id, 114-181) on a continental scale and with previously unseen fidelity (Schuetz, Distler and Langham’s 2013). Presumably, such maps can be generated for all birds in the CBC study. Previously, bird summer and winter range maps were rendered with broad colored areas across a U.S. map with northern and summer range lines, e.g. – those seen in my old 1990 Peterson’s Western Birds guide or my favored, dog-earred 1966 Guide to Field Identification of North American Birds, illustrated by Arthur Singer. The ranges of migration were indicated by broad directional lines. By combining CBC bird observations with satellite habitat data, Schuetz et al render detailed core range maps.

* * * *

On May 23rd, 2012, Lowell Bodily, Salt Lake Valley Health Department, again reported on homeless tent camps in the valley, and he notes that some homeless camp along the Bonneville Shoreline Trail in and near City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On May 23rd, 2006, the Lion House reports that it hosts about 82,000 visitors per year (Salt Lake Tribune). (In the 1850s, the Lion House sat next to the tollgate that controlled access to City Creek Can yon.) On May 23rd, 2002, in a letter to editors of the Salt Lake Tribune, a Sandy resident decries how a new luxury home has defaced the beauty of Ensign Peak and City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On May 23rd, 1996, Anschutz Ranch East Pipeline Inc. proposes to build a crude oil pipeline from Park City that would cross through City Creek near the water treatment plant (Salt Lake Tribune, June, 24, 1996). On May 23rd, 1914, the Salt Lake Telegram published a photograph layout and description of driving the new scenic boulevard up City Creek, along 11th Avenue and down 1300 East (Salt Lake Telegram). On May 23rd, 1905, Land and Water Commission Ben D. Luce requested that the City council to ban automobiles from driving up City Creek Canyon due to the possibility that they will cause accidents by frightening horses (Salt Lake Herald).

May 20, 2017

May 20th

Spring Bird List

3:30 p.m. In the morning I am woken by the cawing of an American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) standing outside my window, but then I drift back off to sleep. Around noon, neighbors are buzzing over their photographs of a common Red fox (Vuplus vulpes) hunting mice in the city cemetery about one-third of a mile from my home and on the south-City side of the east-south canyon ridgeline.

In the afternoon, the cold snap of the last few days has ended and the canyon is again warming into the sixties under blue, ideal spring skies. Driving into the canyon along Bonneville Drive, the grasses have reached up to three feet high, but in the canyon they remain between one foot to eighteen inches in height. Along Bonneville Drive, young Curly dock plants rise, but there are none in the fields at mile 1.5. Arrowleaf balsamroot has noticeably disappeared from the surrounding hillsides through mile 1.5, and its yellow color has been replaced by the duller yellow of fields of Dyer’s woad. Along the first mile, where a few days ago there was a single Sticky Wild Geranium, there are now ten, and four blue penstemons are blooming. The other major blossom are the white inflorescences of chokecherry bushes or trees. Blue is the color of canyon near the stream, but at the Pleasant Valley lower field, I scan the surrounding hillsides for a hint of Arrowleaf balsamroot. There is none, only the green of the balsamroot’s wide bases surrounded by wide swaths of Dyer’s woad. A pattern repeats in the many sun-exposed small gullies that lead to the western salient’s ridgeline and below the eastern salient’s cliffs: Groves of green Gambel’s oak or Red Maple fill the damp soil or seeps along side canyon gullies, but where the side canyons begin to flare out, the dryer soils, formerly covered with balsamroot, are now covered in Dyer’s woad. At lower elevations along the western slope above the Pipeline Trail and above Bonneville Drive, some balsamroots remain in bloom, but their numbers are rapidly dwindling from their shriveling flowers.

Butterflies are recovering in the rising heat. Yesterday’s Western tiger swallowtail and Desert Elfin butterflies are joined by a few Spring Azure and White cabbage butterflies. About eight new, small and black unidentified butterflies appear. They move too fast to see any detail. Two examples of a new unidentified small black spider are on the road, and a small black ant is carrying a whole insect pupae, about eight times it size, back to its underground ant lair. Common houseflies are active on the road, and a larger Blue-eyed darner dragonfly patrols up and down the road. Along the Pipeline Trail, I flush out two Mormon crickets. Instead of red underwings (May 8th), they now flash muted orange underwings.

Where the chokecherry bushes are warmed by the sunlight, they are the buffet for the insects. The best of these is along the Pipeline Trail near mile 0.9, and the chokecherry bush is covered in about seventy bees, flies and a American Lady butterfly. The bush sits near a seep in a bend in the trail. It is in a large-tree shaded area, but a single shaft of light penetrates and warms the bush and its nearby air to fifteen degrees more than its surroundings. Another shaded chokecherry bush about fifteen feet away is ignored by these flighted insects. On the chokecherry inflorescences there are also two types of flies, one large and one small, and three types of bees, including a red-rumped worker bumble bee, wild common honey bee (Apis var.) and one of two Utah varieties of the Carpenter bee (Xylocopa californica) (Hodgson and Trina 2008). Near this seep, a tiny unidentified slug, about 1 centimeters by 3 millimeters in diameter crawls up the trail, and I help to the mud next to the seep. Three other chokecherry bushes fifty yards up from Guardhouse Gate and a full chokecherry tree at picnic site 4 are similarly covered, but to a lesser degree. These are also sunbathed.

A flock of four distant raptors circle and glide up canyon. Birds along the first 1.5 miles of road can be divided roughly into seven neighborhoods or groups: at Guardhouse Gate, at road mile 0.4, at road mile 1.0, the lower half of Pleasant Valley, mile 1.1 to 0.9 of the Pipeline Trail, the Trail between mile 0.9 and 0.5, and the Trail between mile 0.5 back to the Gate. There are more calls than yesterday, with between 5 to 10 birds in each neighborhood. By sound alone, I can pick up a few of the easiest out of a chorus of ten different songs: the Lazuli Bunting at the Gate; a Song sparrow and an American Robin near mile 0.5; a near road mile 1.0,; and a Black-chinned hummingbird flying near Trail mile 1.0. I have gathered recordings of about 40 spring birds on my smart telephone, and have begun to replay them constantly in the hopes of building a beginner’s skill for distinguishing their songs. The avian soundscape is being to make more sense to my untrained ear.

As I reach Guardhouse Gate, there is a young woman standing 50 feet from the road, half obscured by blinds made leafed branches of Gambel’s oak, and she is singing gospel and folk songs in a loud but beautiful voice. She has long-black hair, is wearing a short, summer dress of yellow printed ethnic cotton, and is illuminated by that special warm light before dusk. Several strolling couples and myself discreetly walk up to the side of the road for an impromptu concert. For a moment, my mind is momentarily transported back to my adolescence and a similar scene from 1971. After a few minutes, everyone wanders away, leaving her to practice her singing without disturbance, but grateful for a unique moment.

* * * *

The slate of spring canyon birds for this year has sufficiently filled out that a list is timely. The 54 species represented shows the diversity of bird life that is finding living niches in the canyon and making connections between its plants and insects.

List of Spring Birds in City Creek Canyon March through May, 2017 by Order and-or Family (N=54)

Orders Accipitriformes and Falconiformes – Hawks, Eagles and Falcons – Birds that Hunt Other Birds

• Bald Eagle (immature) (Haliaeetus leucocephalus).*

• Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii).

• Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos).

• Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis).

• Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus).

• Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis).

• Sharp-Shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus).

Order Anatidae – Ducks

• Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos).

Order Apodiformes – Swifts and Hummingbirds

• Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilocus alexandri).

Order Galliformes – Pheasants and Guineafowl

• California Quail (Callipepla californica).

• Chukar (Alectoris chukar).

• Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo).

Orders Piciformes and Coraciiformes – Woodpeckers and Kingfishers

• Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon).

• Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens).

• Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus).

Order Strigiformes – Owls

• Western Screech-Owl (Otus kennicottii).*

Order Passeriformes – Larger Perching Birds

Family Corvidae – Crows, Jays and Magpies

• American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos).

• Black-billed Magpie (Pica pica)

• Common Raven (Corvus corax).

• Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri).*

• Western Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica).

Order Passeriformes – Mid-sized and Smaller Perching Birds

Family Cardinalidae – Cardinals and Grosbeaks

• Black-headed Grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus).

• Lazuli Bunting (Passerina amoena).

• Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana).

Family Columbidae – Pigeons and Doves

• Eurasian-collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) (invasive).

• Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura).

Family Emberizidae – Sparrows and Buntings

• Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina).

• Dark-eyed Junco, Slate type (Junco hyemalis).*

• Green-tailed Towhee (Pipilo chlorurus).

• House Sparrow aka European Sparrow (Passer domesticus) (invasive).

• Rufous-sided Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus).

• Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia).

• Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus).

Family Fringillidae – Finches

• House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus).

• Lesser Goldfinch (Carduelis psaltria).

Family Hirundinidae – Swallows

• Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia).

• Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota).

• Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis).

• Violet-green Swallow (Tachycineta thalassina).

Family Paridae – Chickadees

• Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus).

• Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli).

Family Parulidae – Wood-Warblers

• Orange-crowned Warbler (Oreothylpis celata).

• Virginia’s Warbler (Oreothylpis virginiae).

• Yellow Warbler (Dendroica petechia).

Family Turdidae – Thrushes

• American Robin (Turdus migratorius).

• Townsend’s Solitaire (Myadestes townsendi).

Family Tyrannidae – Tyrant Flycatchers

• Dusky Flycatcher (Empidonax oberholseri).

• Olive-sided Flycatcher (Contopus cooperi).

Family Vireonidae – Vireos

• Plumbeous Vireo (Vireo plumbeus).

• Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus).

Family – Other with Family Name

• Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptilidae Polioptila caerulea).

• European Starling (Sturnidae Sturnus vulgaris) (invasive).

• Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sittidae Sitta canadensis).

• Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulidae Regulus calendula).

Sources: Cornell Lab. 2017 Ebird Observation Lists by Bryant Olsen with Joshua Hunt; Author’s Observations. * – Author only sighting claimed.

* * * *

The Wasatch Front Mountain Range has not seen a decline in the number of avian species since the Euroamerican arrival, but no opinion is expressed on any decline in the population of these birds. As noted before (March 4th), ornithologist Robert Ridgeway conducted a survey of birds in Parley’s Park at the summit of Parley’s canyon about ten miles from City Creek Canyon between June 23rd and August 16th, 1869 (Rawley, 69-79). He found 116 bird species. Comparing Ridgeway’s list with Cornell Ornithology Laboratory’s Ebird List for City Creek Canyon for 1900 through 2017 shows 149 species (Cornell Ornithology Lab. 2016, Cornell Ornithology Lab. 2017). For the years 2000 to 2017, 147 species are listed, and for 2012 to 2017, Cornell totals 143 species (id). There are some minor non-duplicates between the historical and modern lists. The Yellow-bellied sapsucker is not currently found in City Creek, and the range of other birds has changed. Birds such as sandpipers and Sandhill Cranes do not presently frequent City Creek but can still be found at the Great Salt Lake’s beaches and marshes. But essentially, the avian diversity of Ridgeway’s 1869 mountain birds is still intact at City Creek Canyon after 148 years.

That the diversity of Utah’s many migrant birds is stable is also shown by Parrish, Norvell, and Howe of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources in a multi-year study from 1992 to 2005 (Parrish et al. 2007; Norvell, Howe and Parrish 2005). Examining 202 statewide bird species over 12 years at 37 Utah sites, Parrish and colleagues found no significant trend in mean annual species richness (id, p. 27, Fig. 4).

* * * *

On May 20th, 2014, Salt Lake Fire Captain Scott Winkler reports that the City has spent $650,000 on six new firetrucks specialized from fighting fires in grass brush areas around luxury homes near Ensign Peak and in City Creek Canyon (Deseret News). On May 20th, 1903, the City Council and Mayor considered issue bonds to construct reservoirs including a 5,000,000 gallon reservoir at Pleasant Valley (Salt Lake Telegram). On May 20th, 1901, an estimated three-hundred people went up City Creek Canyon, one-thousand to Liberty Park, and three-hundred for recreation (Salt Lake Tribune). On May 20, 1896, the City council considered moving the responsibility for maintaining City Creek watershed protection to the health department and the duties of the City Creek Canyon patrolman were described (Salt Lake Tribune). There were five full-time patrolmen. Three men are employed at the lower Brick Tanks keeping the screens clear of debris. Two men are employed for 12 hours per day to service the upper high-line tank screens and to patrol the upper canyon to prevent sheep grazing. Two other men service the Twentieth ward tank and the Capitol Hill Reservoir (id). City Creek has been rip-rapped for two miles above the lower Brick Tanks. On May 20th, 1896, high spring run-off has turned City Creek into muddy water and the water is clearing (Salt Lake Herald).

May 19, 2017

May 19th

Sun Dappled Stream and Butterfly Hosts

5:15 p.m. The first mile is almost fully leafed-out and the understory is well-developed. The stream, which throughout the winter is fully visible, can now only be caught in partially obscured glimpses where the trees and underbrush break. Through those screens, the low, warm, yellow light of the falling Sun glides and lands on clear surface of the stream in round dapples. Today is an advance hint of the stream during the summer canyon summer which is now one month away. The key today difference is the stream runs high, but like the summer it has turned transparent. The stream has fallen about four inches overnight, but the water is pure. The spring period in which the stream runs, according to the City’s 1895 Mayor Baskin, as “very muddy, unwholesome and unpalatable water” (Feb. 6th) has passed. Rocks can clearly be seen through the rushing waters between its windowed surface.

It remains unseasonably cold – in the low fifties in the canyon and near freezing overnight – from the passage of the last storm. People in the city complain about it constantly having wearied of prior long winter season, and in the canyon, this has emptied the road. The cold has also suppressed the birds and the butterflies. A lesser total of 15 birds are heard along the road and the Pipeline Trail. Only a single Western tiger swallowtail and some gnats make an appearance.

A single Red-tailed hawk floats one hundred feet over the parking lot. At picnic site 1, my evening Lazuli Bunting is perched on the tallest tree. Along the Pipeline Trail using audio recordings and spectrograms, I am able to identify the songs of three of the some ten song birds, i.e. – a , a Warbling vireo, and a bleating evening “keah” from a Northern flicker. I have begun to make some progress into understanding the canyon birding soundscape (May 6th).

When the butterflies rally in next week’s rising heat, what will the adult butterflies and their caterpillars eat? I can find nothing specific for Utah, and therefore, using sources for other States, I compiled a list of possible hosts and food sources for some of the recently seen butterflies. It is a starting point, suggestive, and not authoritative. Although the butterfly spring peak has passed, I will have to take better notes on which butterflies are associated with which plants.

List of Possible Plant Hosts for Butterflies and Their Caterpillars in City City Creek Canyon
• Mourning cloak butterfly. Adult: Tree sap from Gambel’s oaks. Willows, elms, maple and ash trees. Caterpillar: The same plus aspen and river birch.

• White cabbage butterfly. Adult: Nectar from mustards, dandelion, asters, clovers and mints. Caterpillar: Same. There are various analogs to these plants in the canyon.

• Painted lady butterfly. Adult: Yarrows, thistles, sagebrush, sunflowers, milk-thistle, stinging nettle. Caterpillars: Same plus milkweed.

• American lady butterfly. Adult: Sagebrush, thistles, Wood’s rose and vetches. Caterpillar: Sunflowers, burdock, milkweed and aster.

• White-lined sphinx moth. Adult: Nectar from columbines, larkspurs, clovers, and thistles. I have seen Giant sphinx primary feed in the spring on dandelion. Caterpillar: apple and elm trees.

• Spring Azure. Adult: Dogwood, and berry plants.

• Common sulphur butterfly. Adult: Clovers and vetches and nectar from many plants. Caterpillar: Clovers and vetches.

• Sara Orange Tip butterfly. The Sara Orange tip is similar to the Julia Orangetip butterfly (Anthocharis julia browningi). For the Julia – Adult: Flower nectar from rock cresses, violets, and mustards. Caterpillar: Rock cresses.

Source: Dallas County Lepidopterists’ Society (2008). Host Plants by Butterfly (Web).

* * * *

University of Utah Meteorology Professor James Steenburgh recommends a new climate change application to examine whether local daily weather patterns are unusual. People tend to mid-interpret unusual cold and hot seasons as indications either for or against the existence of global warming, regardless of the separate issue of whether it is human-caused or not. The University of Maine and its Climate Change Institute has deployed an internet application that shows each day, a map of the globe and how surface temperatures at each point on the Earth differs from the average temperature at that point for that day over the last seventy years (University of Maine 2017a). A large dark blue spot on the map hovers over Utah, Colorado and Wyoming, indicating that the Intermountain West is 18 degrees Fahrenheit cooler that normal. The coldspot sits in the cradle of a “U” shaped dip in the jet stream. Overall, the globe is about 0.5 degrees warmer. The lesson to be learned from the map is even when their are local anomalies in weather, such as in the canyon today, the world average remains steady. The world average is the indicator of global warming and not local conditions.

* * * *

On May 19th, 2008, the City closes City Creek Canyon to spray herbicides on the invasive Starthistle plant (Salt Lake Tribune, May 20, 2008). On May 19th, 1906, the City tankman and former city councilman George D. Dean, was found dead at the Water tankman’s house in City Creek Canyon (Deseret Evening News, Salt Lake Tribune, May 20th, 1906). On May 19th, 1875, seminary students went picnicking in City Creek Canyon (May 19, 1875).

May 13, 2017

May 10th

Flies

Midnight. In the valley, temperatures are in the low sixties, and this means overnight temperature in the canyon is in the fifties. Everything is in place – water, soil, nutrients, leaf, flower, and life – and the great vernal explosion of growth has begun. My pen and typewriter feel inadequate to the task. With the vernal explosion, everything in the canyon is changing so rapidly, and it is possible only to record a fraction of and a general impression of what is occurring.

4:00 p.m. As I exit the car at the parking lot, a Peregrine falcon zips overhead traveling west to due east. As I start up the road, a Red-tailed hawk is soaring overhead, hovering effortlessly and then moving to the west at a few miles an hour. A down canyon wind just balances it needs for lift and forward propulsion. There about thirty bird calling and singing in the first mile. I can hear the songs of the Dark-eyed Junco, a Western tanager, and the Lazuli Bunting. The bunting also makes separate chirping call. All the song birds are unseen and hidden in the forest.

Woody shrubs are the most prominent flowering plants, and along the first road mile simultaneously, Red-ozier dogwood, serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.), and chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) bushes are blossoming. When heated by sunlight, chokecherry blossoms give off an enticing vanilla odor, but it is not produced when the bush is in shade. On a dogwood complex funnel-like inflorescence, a Western honey bee (Apis mellifera) feeds. At Guardhouse Gate and at the Red Bridge, below Horsechestnut inflorescences, waxy seed pods form. River birch leaves have grown to two or three inches and with hot sun, now are covered in a shiny, wax layer. This may be an adaptation to retain water. At picnic site 1, a pretty flowering invasive, the Star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum L.), has about ten blossoms close to the ground. This bulb perennial has small white star-shaped petals that surround a green rim and a set of second interior white petals.

There are about twenty recently common butterflies in the first mile: White cabbage; Painted lady; Zerene fritillary (doubtful); Desert Elfin; and, Western tiger swallowtails; and, Spring Azure. Three examples of new unidentified moth appear. Moths are distinguished from butterflies as they rest. Butterflies fold their wings vertically after landing; moths spread their wings horizontally flat. This small one to two inch moth is light brown, but has a rectangular medium dark brown bar above the trailing edge of its wings.

Ants are active on the road: a tiny black species and larger Carpenter ants (Camponotus sp.). One of the tiny black ants crosses the road carrying a transparent fly wing in its mandibles.

Over the last week and again today, I see a small furry brown bee hovering over the road. To my eyes, it is suspiciously off somehow; the “bee” only has two and not four wings. This is the Black-tailed bee fly (Bombylius major). This fly also has a distinctive long-straight proboscis for sipping nectar, and it lays eggs on bee larvae. I am feeling ill and diarrhetic, and today, for the first time in over two decades, I am compelled to run into the bushes to defecate. Bags that I use to pick up dog droppings from the road are used to remove the mess from the watershed. While this in the category of too much personal information, there is a lesson to be learned. Within less than a minute, the waste mound is covered in over seventy-five flies of three different types, but I make no attempt to identify them. Normally, bees are unseen along the canyon roads and trails, except near waste containers or deer dung piles, but today’s accident reveals that there are hundreds of flies hiding in the bushes and leaf litter. They are both pollinators and nature’s important garbage collectors. Although they favor mule deer and my human droppings, they are less quick to visit canine waste piles left along the road. The flies in turn become food for birds. About ten miles to the west at the Great Salt Lake flats, brine flies fuel the Utah portion of the Pacific Flyway of migratory birds. In a month at the Lake, beaches and lake bed flats will covered in brine flies such that the surface appears to move. Birds wade through the living mass, gorging themselves. In the canyon, the flies restrict themselves to the cool forest understory, and hopefully they feed the Lazuli buntings, warblers and other song birds.

While the flies in the marshes and beaches of the Great Salt Lake support millions of birds, the density of flies in the canyon may be too low, and canyon flies can only supplement canyon the birds’ diets. Assuming based on my accidental experience that there is about one fly per square foot to a depth of fifty feet on either side of the stream and that each fly weighs 12 micrograms, then the first mile holds about 6.3 kilograms of flies (0.12 x 2 x 5,280 x 50). If there are about 50 small birds living in the first canyon mile and each weigh about 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces), then the bird’s mass is about 5 kilograms. Flies alone are insufficient to support the small birds’ higher trophic level.

* * * *

A 2010 Tibetan study of the ecological role of flies and beetles quantifies their effectiveness in removing animal waste from prairies. Wu and Sun placed 248 gram patties of yak dung under screens that allowed either flies alone, beetles alone, or flies with beetles in Tibetan alpine meadows for thirty-two days. Over one month, the beetles removed sixty-seven percent (168 grams) of dung and the flies removed fifty-one percent (127 grams) of the waste. Using Black solider flies, similar results have been obtained by farm management scientists who have used the flies to reduce the volume of livestock waste by 42 percent (Diener, Zurbrugg and Tockner 2009). In the canyon, I have anecdotally noticed similar rates of removal of Mule deer scat by flies and beetles.

What ornithologists know about what birds eat comes in part from a remarkable series of studies by F. E. I. Beal of the United States Department of Agriculture from the first half of the twentieth century in which birds were actively killed and then the contents of their stomachs were examined (Beal 1900, 1911, 1915, 1918). For example, ten robins were taken alfalfa fields in Utah, presumably in the valley and in the region of the canyon, and twelve percent of their stomach contents were beetles (Beal 1915, 6). Thoreau also recorded bird stomach contents. Although he would not kill himself, when his neighbors shot local birds, he sometimes examined the contents of their stomachs (e.g. Thoreau, Journal, January 11, 1861). In a more humane era, non-destructive direct observation of feeding habits and bird feces are studied (e.g. White and Stiles 1990).

* * * *

On May 10th, 1910, the City Commission argued over Chief Engineer’s expenditures to study how to increase the city water supply, and the Commission order all work to stop on waterworks improvements in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald).

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).

May 6, 2017

May 3rd

Lazuli Bunting

2:30 p.m. The first day of hot weather and the rest of the week is forecasted with increasing temperatures. For change, I go up the Pipeline Trail. Although it is only three days since the peak of Arrowleaf balsamroot, in the sun drenched fields along the trail, the balsamroot flowers are beginning to wilt. This change in season also brings the first migratory song birds. A small patch of Purple milkvetch flowers, which are usually light purple, are a dark rich purple. A set of powerlines parallels the trail, and small migrating birds like to perch on the lines for the first half-mile. The Gambel oak forest provides excellent cover, it is a favorable locations for building nests, and as the heat of summer approaches, the nearby stream provides relief and food. A male Lazuli bunting (Passerina amoena) perches on a wooden line tower; a second forages from the tallest tree; and both exchange calls with two other unseen pairs. This is sign that true spring has arrived. Two large raptors, probably Red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) float above using the cliff updrafts for power. White cabbage, Mourning cloak and Painted lady butterflies feed on dandelions that line the trial. A new bright yellow butterfly, the Common sulphur butterfly (Colias philodice eriphyle), appears. A small unidentified bee also feeds on the dandelions, and then a large black and white bumble bee circles around me. I have a difficult time making an identification, but my guides suggests the Cuckoo bumble bee (Bombus insularis).

Gambel’s oaks have leafed-out with growing two-inch leaves to about mile 0.5 along the Pipeline Trail, but then there is a curious pause. None leaf for the next 100 yards, before oak leaf-out resumes.

Today, I walk with a friend and two dogs, and in the multitude of spring scents the dogs are in constant motion on, off and around the Pipeline Trail. We are a pack of four, and in their mind, they are the leaders. The two dogs look back and aside at us lagging humans with an expression that says we surely are the most stupid of dogs. But their amicable dog nature shines through, and they each occasionally bound up to us, and their infectious enthusiasm encourages us to follow faster.

* * * *

On May 3rd, 2007, the Utah Rivers Council plans to hold a clean-up of City Creek Canyon’s stream bed (Deseret News). On May 3rd, 1994, Utah Partners in Flight plan migratory bird watching in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On May 3rd, 1919, the road into City Creek was closed for several weeks to allow for repairing the water main (Salt Lake Herald). On May 3rd, 1916, the City commission passed an ordinance for water protection in City Creek Canyon, including prohibiting dogs from running loose, discharging firearms, and speeding in automobiles (Salt Lake Telegram). On May 3rd, 1909, residents were reported enjoying City Creek and other parks during good weather (Salt Lake Tribune). On May 3rd, 1890, the Salt Lake Times, in a travel article, describes City Creek in glowing terms and poetry. On May Day, 1881, University of Deseret students went for an outing to Pleasant Valley in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald, May 3rd, 1881).

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