City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

July 18, 2017

July 17th

Seed Dispersal, Porcupine and First Trout

2:00 p.m. Although the canyon is still in the estival and not the serotinal season, I have inadvertently stepped into a patch of common Foxtail barley (Hordeum jubatum L.), and my shoes are covered its spikelets. I pause to remove about twenty out. The serotinal season, which begins on August 15th, is the time of maximum seed production and dispersal. Although a native plant, Foxtail and like the invasive Cheat grass disperse by animals. Dispersal by animals is particularly effective, which explains why many invasive and weeds move their seeds by spikes and velcro-like surfaces that grab onto mammal fur and bird feathers. Others use animals. Along the road today around the cultivar crabapple trees (genus Malus) in the first mile, there are half-eaten rotting fruits. Birds have been pecking at them and consuming both the sweet pulp and seeds. Mule deer have already consumed the fruit on the lower branches. I have often wondered at the inefficiency of other plants like Gambel’s oak and Box Elder trees. Both produce large prodigious amounts of seeds at a great expense of energy, but only an infinitesimal portion of the seeds can ever be reasonably expected to reach maturity. The oak drops its seeds vertically by gravity, where they cannot do not sprout in the shade. Presumably the oaks are helped by Rock squirrels (Spermophilus variegatus) that move and store the acorns in their burrows. The Box Elder is covered in is catkins of helicopter seeds that by its aerodynamics float a short distance from its parent. Cottonwoods, Western salisfy (Giant dandelion), and Fireweed, respectively, produce pollens and seeds that parachute away from their parent suspended below a feathery pappus. Watercress (Nasturtium officinale) fruits and floats down the stream to establish new colonies. How watercress moves upstream is unclear. Perhaps small crushed leaves fall off the lips of deer that browse on it. Dandelions, who favor the stream’s banks, moves its seeds upstream on the wind and downstream by floating on the water. Other plants like the Gambel’s oaks and aspen trees increase their range asexually by extending tubers underground.

6:00 p.m. The heat of the Sun bakes the water out of the land, and afternoon thunder clouds, born from the Great Salt Lake and reservoirs covers the valley. The great cloud tops are only threats, and pass with leaving any life-giving water to the city or to the canyon. It has been several weeks since I last remember any rain falling in the canyon. Checking weather records, the last rainfall above a trace amount was about one-tenth of an inch on June 13th.

8:45 p.m. I take a second late-evening run thorough the cool air and fading light. In the pond at picnic site 5, the first Brown trout (Salmo trutta) of this season has returned to the lower-canyon stream. A brushy tree limb has been removed, so the trout does not have the same cover as last year (Oct. 21st), but there is a bare six inch diameter tree trunk in the pond’s bottom. The trout uses this scant cover and goes for a hiding place in between the bottom of the log and the stream bed. The presence of the trout is related to shade provided by 100 foot canopy trees like Box Elder and Narrowleaf cottonwoods (Lanner 1984). Trout prefer cool water and the exposed stream, the flood retention ponds both below Guardhouse Gate and above at mile 3.0 may have become too warm for them. Now they seek cool pools shaded by the forest and where the stream has deep, vertical banks.

As I pass the watercress field in the tunnel seep below picnic site 6, I notice two eyes starring back from the darkness. A small North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) is sitting at the edge of the seep, contentedly grazing on the watercress. I have not seen a porcupine in the lower canyon for about two decades, and I had thought most of them to be driven out of the upper canyon above mile 4.0 by the increasing drought (Nov. 2nd). This porcupine, like its species, is docile and unafraid. Because of it quills it has few serious natural enemies, although quills have been found in mountain lions, coyotes and bears. Eventually, it becomes wary of me and effortlessly climbs a nearby forty feet tree. They eat green plants, like clover, leaves, and the bark of trees (Hayward 1948 at 494, Spencer 1964). Such discoveries of old animal friends raise my spirits. They have not been driven from Salt Lake canyons. In the fading twilight, bicyclists streak out of the canyon illuminating their way with blinding LED lanterns.

* * * *

There are four primary methods of seed dispersal: by wind, by water, by gravity, and by animals. Animals move seeds by several methods. Epizoochory is the movement of seeds, like the Foxtail, by attaching to the outside of an animal. Endozoochory is the movement of seeds by animals internally, i.e. – eating of seeds by birds and mammals followed by the seed’s excretion distant from the parent. More recently anthropochory, the movement of seeds by humans, has radically changed the canyon and western habitats, by moving seeds across oceans and continents.

In 1993, now Utah State University of Utah botanist Eugene Schupp noted that the benefit to a plant that an animal disperser provides is a probability function of the quantity of seeds dispersed and the quality of the seeds produced (Schupp, Jordano, and Gómez 2010, Schupp 1993). Quantity of dispersal depends on the number of disperser visits and the number of seeds dispersed on each visit. The quality of seeds produced depends on either its treatment in an animal’s digestive tract or quality of seed deposition, i.e. – some animals are sloppy eaters and drop seeds close to the parent and others efficiently eat all seeds and move them a significant distance from the parent. Combining these factors gives a seed dispersement effectiveness index, and that single dimensional index can be used to relatively rate the importance that the many animals that consume a plant’s seeds contribute to the plant’s reproduction. For example, any single tree species many have five or ten bird species that eat and disperse its seeds.

Seed dispersal matters to the recuperation of forests. Where forests, like the canyon’s Gambel’s oak chaparral or stream-side association, are long-lived and mature, bird dispersers have little effect on a forest’s health. But when a forest is disturbed, for example by fire or clear-cutting, a forest cannot re-colonize unless it also supports a healthy bird population that can distribute its seeds (Howe and Miriti 2004, Martínez and García 2017). This process works in reverse. Bird dispersers can be lost, and eventually this may lead to the loss forests that they visit (Howe and Miriti). This underscores the need to preserve bird habitats on a continental scale, since the avian distributors of seeds that will help City Creek Canyon’s oak and montane forests recover from a future fire, may overwinter in Central American forests (May 22nd, May 23rd and May 24th).

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On July 17th, 1915, the U.S. Weather Bureau installed an advanced stream flow measuring gauge at the High Line Water Tanks in Pleasant Valley (Salt Lake Herald). On July 17th, 1908, the Salt Lake Telegram reported that the city prison road work gang had labored for 18 months to improve City Creek Canyon Road. On July 17th, 1888, ten families had set up tents for cool summer camping in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald). On July 17th, 1887, the Salt Lake Herald reports that several families have moved into tents in and for the cooler air of City Creek.


November 12, 2016

November 12th

Filed under: Brown Trout, Fish, Flood retention pond, Stream, Water Treatment Plant — canopus56 @ 3:23 pm

Trout Vision

10:30 a.m. On this warm weekend day, the canyon is again full with twenty to thirty people, and I stop at picnic site 6 to look at the trout in the stream pool (Oct. 21st, Nov. 4th, Nov. 10th). Today, there is a large brown trout in the middle of the pool facing away from me. The line of sight from his nose to my position subtends 150 degrees. Nonetheless, the trout immediately spots me and bolts for cover. Thomason explains that trout not only have color vision, but they also have a 180 degree field of lateral vision, 10 degrees of which is forward-looking over-lapping binocular vision (id. 184-187). The trout can see 170 degrees on each of its sides, and has only a blind-spot around its tail. This is why the smart trout in the pool today apparently, like your mother, has eyes in the back of its head. But its vision for distant objects is poor, and for far objects, it can only see moving shapes. The true size of those shapes are also distorted by the refracting property of the stream’s surface. The trout’s eye is remarkably different from our own. The human eye is egg-shaped and we focus by using muscles to distort the eye’s lens. The trout’s eye is a circular affair with a circular lens, and it focuses by using muscles to move the entire lens backwards or forwards. This also allows the trout to see nearby objects in great detail. Thus, the trout’s vision is well-adapted to its needs. It has a wide field-of-vision necessary to quickly avoid predators, good close vision to identify both nearby water-dwelling insects and land-insects that have fallen into the water, and narrow forward-looking binocular vision to direct the final strike on its insect prey.

A man-made obstacle prevents the trout to moving above the flood retention ponds at mile 3.1 (Sept. 10th). There a sluice gate prevents their travel upstream into the remaining 11 miles of canyon stream. Perhaps there is some reason for this, i.e. – the need to protect machinery at the water treatment plant or the desire to have the highest quality water above the plant’s intake by banning defecating trout. But I cannot imagine that the trout would generate any more bacteria than the hapless insects who drown in the stream and on whom the trout feed. The sluice gate could be easily modified to allow the trout into the upper reaches of the canyon. It is a simple concrete box about thirty feet long across which water moves spread out at a depth of about 1 inch. One-half the sluice ramp could be changed into a series of steps and pools that the trout could easily traverse. I forward my idea for a fish ladder at the sluice gate to the City through one of its many websites (Nov. 10th), but I expect no reply. Such governmental websites are meant only to provide the appearance of responsiveness to citizens. No one actually reads or replies to them, and if a reply is received, it is usually a well-written note by a communications major who does not know anything about the topic, who has no power of decision-making, and who is practiced at deterring citizen involvement with a template response stating that of course nothing can be done.

November 10, 2016

November 10th

Filed under: Avenues, Brown Trout, California gull, Fish, People, picinic site 5, Places, Plants, Seasons, Tamarisk — canopus56 @ 5:24 pm

Last Falling Leaf Day

9:30 a.m. On October 21st, I noted that there are various markers of Fall seasonal change, e.g. – the last flying insect, the last crawling insect, the first freeze, the first leaf fall, etc. Today is the day of the last falling leaf below mile 2.0, or nearly so. There are maybe one-quarter of a percent of leaves left to fall and tamarisks at picnic site 10 still need to loose their top leaves, but I will call it as done and over. The trees are now all bare, and it is the day of last leaf fall. Even so, a canyon of grey, brown, red, and tan sticks has its own appeal. This is especially so, because it is just over a week since cars (except for those of a few water treatment plant workers) have been banned from the canyon. If solace could be quantified or was one of the ancient Greek’s four humours, there is more of it in the canyon’s air.

It is a another beautiful warm, fall day, and I have taken to jogging in the frosted mornings to get some cold conditioning. The warm afternoon weather is making me too susceptible to catching a cold. In the lower shaded canyon, my breath is visible with each step. A professional ski team is doing pre-season conditioning in the canyon, along Bonneville Drive and along 11th Avenue. They are “double-poling” up the two to four percent grade of the canyon on roller-ski blades. This makes each skier do several hundred crunches per canyon mile. I am sure that it hurts as much as doing several hundred sit-ups, but the scenery provides some compensation and must take their minds off of the pain.

As is my usual practice, I stop at those locations that might feature notable insect or animal characters in the canyon, to see what is new with them, and today, at picnic site 5, I am rewarded by seeing trout jumping upstream over rocks. We have all seen representations, that is images on television, of salmon fighting their way upstream over natural rapids or man-made fish ladders, only to plucked from the air by a waiting bear. A miniature version of this occurs at picnic site 5, where the pool has been created by a man-made twelve inch line of rocks. Water pours over the rocks on the down-stream end and makes a mini-water fall. I notice a small splash at the rock pour. A small brown trout spelt is swimming furiously just on the upstream side of rocks. Then a nice 6 inch trout leaps over the rocks and lands next to the spelt. The spelt is swept back over the rocks, and a few moments later, tries again and lands in the pool. This time its vigorous swimming pays off, and it breaks free of the fast moving water near the falls into the calm water at the center of the pool. Although this is a trivial experience, I realize that I have never seen this before in person, but only through media, and it is all the more satisfying because it is a personal and not manufactured experience.

Two California gulls soar above the canyon at milepost 1.5. They are either going from their nesting grounds at the Great Salt Lake for a breakfast of scavenging in the dumpsters of restaurants in Salt Lake City, or they have finished breakfast and are going back to the lake.

In “Four Seasons” on this date, Barnes while describing a walk to the end of the road, provides an extensive list of flowers and weeds in City Creek that bloom during the spring through autumn (id. Nov. 10th).

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on November 8th, 1850, he records the increase in stillness during the Fall.

November 4, 2016

November 4th

Filed under: Brown Trout, Flood retention pond, People, picnic site 1, Stream — canopus56 @ 7:05 pm

No Where to Hide

4:00 p.m. Today, the lower canyon is without leaves. The chestnuts have dropped almost all their leaves, and The Golden Living Room at picnic site 1 is gone (Oct. 29th). Except for one or two shoots, in the flood retention pond at mile 0.0, the cattail grove has turned completely brown.

During the spring and summer, the stream is illuminated only by indirect light, and without polarizing glasses, the stream presents a blue reflective surface. Trout can easily hide in under this reflective surface. But today, most of the undergrowth foliage has also died back, and the stream is now exposed to shafts of low-angle sunlight, and this light makes the stream transparent. From thirty-feet away, I can seen into the stream clearly, and trout are easily visible. Instead of running up the road on the pavement, I jog along its dried leaf covered shoulder, while peering into the stream whenever possible. In the first mile, I look into the stream at seventeen locations. Of those seventeen, ten locations meet all three of the following criteria: at least six inches deep; contains slack water; and, is illuminated by low angle light. Of those ten, eight pools contain ten brown trout. Previously, I had thought that were perhaps one to three trout in the first mile of canyon stream. During the summer, many anglers can be seen along this first mile of stream bed, and these trout are what they have been chasing with their expensive sunglasses and fly rods.

October 21, 2016

October 21st

Smart Trout

1:30 p.m. At the water striders’ pool at picnic site 5 (Sept. 12th), I see the first brown trout in the canyon for over a month. The light filtering through the trees brings out the molted spotting on its upper skin. This trout hides in the pool under a branch that dips across the pool’s middle. I remain motionless for a minute and in reply it station-keeps with one eye gazing at me. When I make a sudden move by taking one quick step the right, the trout frantically swims under a stream-cut overhang that is covered by dense foliage. It has excellent eyesight even through the water’s surface. In one corner of the pool is a single water strider, and these are what the trout has been feeding on. Later, the trout is joined by two smaller companions.

Today, the yellow tube of falling leaves (Oct. 11th) is over and temperatures have risen into the sixties. The predominate colors between mile 0.0. and mile 2.0 is brown and grey. Like the last sunflower (October 14th), this is another marker of seasonal Fall change. Because of the temperature, insects have again become active, but I count only thirty on the road, including possibly two Yellow-head bumble bees with black rumps, a Variegated Meadowhawk dragonfly, a large unidentified blue dragonfly, and, in the box at picnic site 11, a sole European Paper Wasp (see Oct. 11th). These rare late season insects are now more visually striking; they provide the only accents of bright colors now that the leaves have fallen. Crickets are still heard in meadows and forest undergrowth and some have come to die on the road. At picnic site 12, a woodpecker can be heard but not seen. Common woodpeckers in the canyon that drum on trees are the Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) and the Northern Flicker.

Together, they will swim upstream to join their mates at a shallow fifteen by twenty foot pool below an outdated flood gate at mile 2.8. A regulatory “no fishing” sign on the sluice box protects them from humans. During the winter, ten or fifteen trout can be found there, resting in water so cold that it would kill a person in two or three minutes.The next marker of the seasons, as winter storms reappear at the beginning of November and December, will be season’s end for the flying insects, season’s end of the crickets, and the falling of the last remaining leaves during a heavy snow storm.

September 20, 2016

August 4th

Filed under: Brown Trout, Fish, Stream — canopus56 @ 10:43 pm

Trout Hideout

3 p.m. When the spring warm up first came to the canyon, it was common to see one or two brown trout in the stream with the aid of polarized sunglasses. Now it is rare to see any trout. For the last month-and-a-half, recreational fisher-persons have prowled the lower stretches of the stream. Are the shallow holes of the lower canyon stream fished out? Near campsite XXX there is a short stretch where the stream is constrained by a rock and bail wire flood control wall, that was installed after the hundred-year flood of the mid-1980s. The stream narrows to 3 feet in width and on the east side is over hung by bushes. This forms deep narrow pools of cool water that are shaded from the Sun. A tight school of 10 trout are hiding here. The catch-and-release anglers have not fished the stream out. The trout have become more skilled at evading their pursuers. Since the trout do not use the internet and to keep the game fair, later I decide to redact the campsite number in this note that discloses the location of their hiding place.

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