City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

February 20, 2017

February 20th

Filed under: Bald-Faced Hornets, Blacked-Headed Chickadee, picnic site 4, Wasp — canopus56 @ 1:57 pm

Hornet Nest

Opened Hornet Nest

External Link to Image

Source: Author. The nest is rotated 180 degrees and in nature points down.

10:30 a.m. It is a very windy day, and a holiday. The wind blows leaves on and by the side of the road in two patterns. First, is a widening v-shaped spray. Second, the brown leaves dance together in a circle and are driven by a hidden dust devil. The canyon is again full of strollers, runners and bicyclists. The Black-billed magpies have come around the ridgeline from Ensign Peak (Feb. 15th), and taken up residence near picnic site 2 and down canyon from the Black-capped chickadees.

Near picnic site 4, I peel back the bark of a horizontal fallen snag. Underneath the bark are no insects, but there are long strands of a fungus sticking between the trunk and the bark. Hidden well up under the bark is a Paper wasp nest. The wasps carefully choose this place. Only a small opening in the bark leads down a tunnel to their hidden fan shaped nest. This is the natural version of their human adapted nests at the Red Bridge and in the natural gas pipeline valve station tubes (Dec. 10th). At those sites, the Paper wasp nests are inside metal fence hangers and bridge tubing. At picnic site 9, the hornet’s nest that I discovered on September 27th, long abandoned, has finally fallen from its tree. Inspecting the nest, it is apparent how the Bald-Faced hornets, who are a more social form of wasps, have engineered an evolutionary improvement in home building over their cousins, the Paper wasps. The Bald-Faced hornet nest also contains fanned shaped crèches that hang down from an attachment point. But in the hornet nest, they have constructed apartment style tiers. From the middle of the first, largest tier, a stack protrudes and on the bottom of that stalk, a second tier hangs. The third smallest tier hangs below. The diameter of the respective tiers contain 17, 12, and 9 cells, and this suggests that this compact eight inch high colony contained about 380 individuals. It is around this that the hornets build a thin multi-layer shell about two to three times the central colony. The shell contains air gaps that provide ventilation and natural cooling. The nest’s core colony is a marvel of insect engineering and the broken outer paper shell an artistic swirl of gray toned bands. That such beautiful complex construction can arise from simple, almost robotic insects is inspiring.

On my way down-canyon, I check the five hornet nests that I inventoried on December 10th. Winter weather has blown all from the trees. In a few months, will they will rebuild at the same locations?

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on February 20th, 1856, he finds otter tracks.

On February 20th, 1909, City Engineer Louis C. Kelsey reported on infrastructure accomplishments across several years of his tenure (Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake Herald). He recommended the replacement of the wooden flume below the City Creek Brick Tanks reservoir be replaced with a concrete flume and that water mains be extended into the business district.


January 10, 2017

January 10th

Wooden Noises

3:00 p.m. Last night media was concerned that flooding may occur because of the heavy rain and continuing high temperatures. Most of the snow is gone from south facing slopes and the snow left along the road is saturated with water. It has remained warm, so no crust has formed on the snow’s surface, but everywhere the snow is covered with bits of bark, leaves and dirt from a high wind. There is no sign of the potential flood; the stream has not risen; but, for the remainder of the season the risk of avalanche in the high Wasatch Front Mountains will be high. At higher elevations, this water soaked layer will form a base on which further snow layers will accumulate, and this can form a fracture zone in which back country skiers can be swept to burial. At Guardhouse Gate, a chickadee is sings a bright note. The sky is overcast and gives off a uniform diffuse light. For some stretches of the stream, I see hints of the silver ribbon (Dec. 26th).

Where the snow bank is partially eaten away, the bunch grass is exposed, and the dried tan grass is mixed in with still growing green shoots. Although recently soaked in water, this time the tips of the oaks and maples do not turn red-tinged (Dec. 11th), and the trees make no start at growth in response to the water. Although I had thought that mosses had stopped growing, at the down-canyon end of picnic site 4, I find two trees where on the west side, they are covered in bright orange lichen and on the east side, they are covered in a thick mat of dark-green moss.

From this weather, at picnic site 9, the Bald-Faced hornet nest is reduced to the size of a large grapefruit. At picnic site 1, the hummingbird nest is dissipating. I can partially see through its weaving.

Another storm front is approaching, and at mile 1.3, the wind gusts at 30 miles per hour while six anterless elk graze on a west hillside about three hundred feet away. The Gambel’s oaks creak and groan. Leaves rustle, and a single leaf loudly tumbles across the surface of the snow. There is a fourth sound. Where the wind causes two small branches to collide, they make a subtle dull and hollow thud sound, similar to tone of musical wooden xylophone. In their resting state, it sound as if the branches of trees are empty of water.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 10th, 1957, he records a -8 degree F. temperature with heavy snows that have trapped him at home. He recalls summer. On January 10th, 1858, Thoreau prescribes the snow-covered beauty of catkins as a remedy for winter seasonal affect disorder. He notes that any sight of “catkins, birds’ nests, insect life” is welcomed in winter. He observes a sunset in which pink light is reflected off of snow.

December 21, 2016

Winter: December 21st

Death and Resurrection

7:00 a.m. The cold has reached sub-freezing depths this morning as I jog along the canyon road our latitude reaches its furthest tilt away from the warming Sun. It is the first day of winter, and now the Earth will begin to point its northern latitudes and the canyon back towards the Sun and summer. For many cultures, the winter solstice marks a point of rebirth, and rituals such as the Christianized birth of the Jesus figure embody celebration of this seasonal change. During the northern solstice, people feel nearest to death and seek refuge in the belief of an immortal soul that exists after physical death. It is difficult for me as a product of a modern scientific culture to believe in that notion. Azevedo and colleagues found that there are about 84.6 +/- 9.8 billion neurons in the human brain. What I experience as me is the result of connections between some 8.6 billion neurons in my brain, and each of those neurons can have connections with another 14,000 other neurons. This means that my brain can have 8.6 billion to the 14,000th power potential states or 10 to the 11,200,000th power states. This is far more than the estimated 10 to the 82nd power atoms in the visible universe. Thus, it seems impossible that once the biological support for those connections ends that some independent entity can continue in the form of a soul. However, my experience of “me” is my experience of an ego that surrounds an unconscious mind capable of many things that I cannot achieve by my conscious mind alone. This everyday experience of “me” suggests and re-enforces the feeling that some independent entity might continue in whatever form.

But nature generally and the canyon specifically provide alternative examples that confuse the boundary between life and death. Here, under the snow and leaf liter and in underground burrows, impregnated wasp and bee queens lie frozen solid. Although science does not describe it as such, but for all intents and purposes they are dead. Not here, but in other northern parts of the United States, similarly, there are frogs that are frozen solid during the winter. When the warming spring comes, these seemingly dead wasps, bees, and frogs simply thaw and come back to life, apparently unharmed by the experience of being dead for several months. What then is the boundary between life and death and how can we say that life and death are permanent states?

In a few months, when the wasp and bee queens revive, the canyon will host a true, annual reoccurring resurrection.

Compare to Thoreau’s journal entries of January 8th, 1857 and January 24th, 1858, where he finds caterpillars frozen solid that revive when warmed. In Thoreau’s “Journal” on December 22nd, 1859, he observes watercress in the bottom of a stream. He notes empty chestnut burrs at the base of a tree where squirrels have collected, opened and removed the nut inside.

On December 21st, 2012, the Salt Lake Tribune reported on the passing of a surgeon born in 1932, and who, developed a life-long passion for the outdoors as the result of spending much time in City Creek Canyon as a boy living in the Avenues.

December 8, 2016

December 9th

Counting Nests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 6, 2016

December 6th

Filed under: Bald-Faced Hornets, Gambel's Oak, Nests, Starthistle, Weather — canopus56 @ 8:07 pm

Orange Lichens

1:30 p.m. The cold pocket of arctic air has dropped temperatures into the low twenties and with canyon winds down into the teens. The flood retention pond at Bonneville Drive has started to freeze over, and the effect on the cattail patch that grows in the pond is immediate. Previously, the dried cattails stood erect, and now they have fallen over.

As I jog up canyon, the sky is overcast with the cloud bottoms only a few hundred feet overhead, there is a wind driving light snow out of the north. By the time I reach milepost 1.0, this changes and the snow drops vertically. This kind of overcast with falling snow and cold changes perception of the canyon; it makes the canyon seem more dramatic. A buttress that sticks out on the north-west canyon wall at mile 1.1 normally looks insignificant. In the diffuse overcast light, falling snow and severe cold, it looks like a grand mountain. Four mule deer are seen on the high on the south canyon wall; three more are seen back at mile 0.2.

Between mile 1.2 and mile 1.6, lichens (Xanthomendozaon species.) growing on the Gambel’s oaks have turned from green to a dull and bright orange. With the falling snow and overcast light, this orange contrasts greatly with their host tree trunks. This color change can occur when lichens are exposed to nitrogen rich, polluted air, and such changes are used to track air pollution over time in over cities. Salt Lake City has some of the worst air quality in the nation, and the U.S. Forest Service surveys lichens at 128 plots throughout Utah, including one plot in upper City Creek Canyon. But Werstack et al (2016, pp. 43-44), researchers with the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, conclude that Utah’s lichens probably overstate air pollution. This is because orange-turning lichens are also correlated with drought tolerance (id). The lichens may be turning orange because they are in a drier climate and not because the air contains more nitrogen dioxide. The Rocky Mountain Research Station is currently conducting studies to calibrate the density of orange lichens by precipitation, thus allowing western researchers to use these epiphytes to monitor air pollution.

At mile 1.6, the snow on the north-west hillside emphasizes yellow star-thistles. Dried tall grasses and the star-thistles have the same hue, and I do not ordinarily perceive them in the meadows. But the ground snow makes for a differing background that allows one to distinguish between hills that are covered in grass and those that are covered in these invasive thistles. It was undesirable plants that the Utah Conservation Corps are trying to eradicate from the meadow one-quarter mile down canyon from here (October 16th).

I take my time jogging back down the canyon. I have been inventorying bird and insect nests in the canyon since December 2nd, and today I am marking each nest’s location using the global positioning system. Hornet’s nests are temporary constructions meant to last a single season. On December 2nd, I find and photograph the largest in the lower canyon between picnic sites 4 and 5. It is twice the size of a basketball, and it precariously sits intertwined with the smallest upper branches at the top of a 100 foot tall Rocky Mountain cottonwood. After three days of snow, rain, and freezing temperatures, I cannot find it again. Apparently, winds have blown it out of the tree or ice formed on it, and the weight of the ice pulled the nest from the heights.

December 1, 2016

December 1st

Filed under: Bald-Faced Hornets, Gambel's Oak, Insects, Nests, picnic site 4, Seasons, Weather — canopus56 @ 10:13 pm

Another Wasp Nest

1:30 p.m. It is the third day since the last major storm; temperatures have remained low; and as a result the trees are still covered with unmelted snow. Where the Sun does come out from behind scattered clouds, the melting process only just begins: it is so cold that a few isolated clumps of snow drop from tree branches. This is another marker for Fall: when it becomes so cold after a storm that snow does not melt from the trees for several days. Even though it is cold, a group of about 50 middle school children are on a field trip up the canyon.

Today, for the first mile, I travel slowly and systematically scan the leafless trees for birds nests. I find no additional nests beyond the hummingbird nest at mile 0.25 (October 27th), but I am rewarded by finding another large Bald-faced Hornet nest, about one and one-quarter the size of a basketball, across on the west canyon side from picnic site 4 at mile 0.5. Unlike the nest at picnic site 9 at mile 1.2, this nest is in an oak on the slope about forty feet above the road, and since it cannot be easily reached by people, the nest is still in excellent condition. This nest was probably the source of the carnivorous wasps seen feeding on a snake carcass near this location on August 20th.

I take the temperature of the stream in order to see what the trout must contend with. The air temperature is about 31 degrees Fahrenheit, but after immersing the inexpensive mercury thermometer into the stream, the mercury rises to 42 degrees Fahrenheit. In such water, a human would loose dexterity in less than five minutes and would become unconscious in more than thirty and less than sixty minutes.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on December 1st, 1850, he dissects a hemisphere of moss and describes its growth layers.

November 28, 2016

November 28th

Insect Death; Winter Storm

3:30 p.m. It has rained most of the night; in the afternoon, a major winter storm comes through the valley; and there is six inches of snow in the canyon, as I begin my jog into moderate falling snow blown by a strong wind. The stream is swollen and watercress formerly along the stream bank are now all waving from under water. A squall line is crossing the canyon, and even though the road is newly plowed, a fresh layer of snow covers it. My footsteps are soft and muffled. But the jog is not a cold one. Clouds, which allow only a third of a mile in visibility, make a roof over the canyon, and this keeps the what heat there is in.

Even in this near white-out, there is color, and the white snow emphasizes color where ever it can be found. At two water seeps on the west side of the canyon, the green of the watercress more vibrant. The light brown of the catkins hanging from Box elder trees are radiant. By the time I reach the Pleasant Valley meadow, snow is falling vertically. All is quiet with solitude. The tan of parched summer grasses contrasts with the newly fallen snow. One or two chickadees are heard in the distant trees.

I am not alone. A regular runner is exiting the canyon as I arrive. A lone man strolls using an umbrella to keep the snow at bay. Although I am alone for almost a mile, as I go down canyon, a young confident runner speedily goes by and disappears into the falling snow.

It is the third day of low temperatures with some snow on the ground. Today is or yesterday was the next marker of the change of seasons of Summer to Fall: the insects are gone. Other markers were the peak of leaf turning (September 13th), the first light snow (September 22nd), the Yellow Tube of leaves (October 11th), the Brown Tube of leaves (October 21st), the day of last leaf fall (November 10th), the first major snowfall and the White Tube (November 24th). This second major storm is a killing storm. There is no freeze, but insects will not survive. The nest of the Bald-faced Hornets at picnic site 9 is in tatters. It has lost one-half its volume as the rain and snow have progressively removed its outer layers.

November 3, 2016

November 3rd

Helicopter Seeds

5:00 p.m. After a major storm on October 31st that involved wind gusts up to thirty-five miles per hour, today parts of the road are still covered in the lobe shaped seeds of Boxelder trees. The seeds are about three-sixteenths (4mm) in diameter, but are attached at the end of a half-inch “wing”. Overall, the seed and wing give the impression of a musical note. The seeds hang in symmetrical pairs on a catkin, a collection of about twenty seeds. Along the road in the first mile, there are many of Boxelders up to fifty feet in height that are covered in catkins. I walk up to one to pull a couple of seeds off, and each seed is surprisingly still strongly attached to its catkin, even though the tree is leafless. I can see why it took thirty-five mile per hour winds to dislodge the seeds that are on the road. I raise one above my head let it go. It starts to rotate quickly and like its cousin, the maple seed, it “helicopters” down to the ground. Testing several Boxelder seeds, they travel an average trajectory at about thirty degrees from vertical. As any middle or high school geometry student can tell you using a 30-60-90 degree right triangle, this means that a seed released from the top of a fifty foot tree might travel twenty-five feet horizontally from its parent tree. This is just enough to land outside the canopy of the mother tree.

During a wind gusts on October 27th, as I jogging past Boxelders near picnic site 6, a few of these “helicopters” would dislodge and float down will a light rain. One was freed from the highest branch by a first gust of wind, and as it floated to eye level, a second wind gust blew through. With that burst of wind, the helicoptering seeds stopped in mid-air and rose slightly, but as the gust diminished, it resumed its descent to the road.

Until relatively recently, the aerodynamics of these flying seeds was a mystery. Using the same principles of flight that govern birds and jetliners, the seeds should technically not float or “helicopter” slowly to the ground. The seeds should drop like a stone. Solving that mystery also explained other instances of creatures that should not fly and should not be able to hover, including several found in the canyon, i.e. – bees, dragonflies and hummingbirds.

In 1991, Lentink at Wageningen University of the Netherlands, Dickson and their colleagues determined that helicoptering maple seeds had a different mechanism of flight than that used by bird or man. As the seed helicopters, the leading edge of the seed’s wing generates a small, horizontal tubular vortex over the wing. This generates a low-pressure vacuum that lifts or sucks the seed upward. Unlike a bird, the wing has no familiar aerodynamic lifting shape. In normal flight like that of a bird or airplane, a smooth laminar flow over a wing’s special shape, similarly generates low-pressure above the wing, and the relatively higher pressure under the wing then lifts the wing and plane or bird into the sky. These horizontal vortices are called leading edge vortices or LEVs.

You may have seen analogous vortices when using a paddle in the water, when moving your arms while standing a pool, or when a plane lands through fog. Horizontal vortices form off the tips of paddles, your arms, or the tips of an airplane’s wing. In the case of the seed, a spinning vortex forms over the entire length of the wing’s flat surface.

In 1996, Ellington of the Vrije University in the Netherlands and his colleagues extended this concept to explain how many insects, like bees, moths and butterflies, can fly when aerodynamically, they should be unable to do so. They found the beating wings of moths generating the same leading edge vortices seen in helicoptering maple seeds. In 2000, Z. Jane Wang at New York University modelled flapping insects wing and noted that for some insects, two counter-rotating vortices are formed. One is a higher pressure vortex under the wing and it pushes up, and the second is a lower pressure vortex that “sucks” the insect up. In 2001, Lauder at the Harvard University built mechanical insect wings in order to better model the leading edge vortices. In 2004, Adrian Thomas at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and colleagues studied dragonflies tethered inside wind tunnels, and they imaged the counter-rotating leading edge vortices (id. Fig. 11). In 2011, Liang and colleagues at Purdue University built mechanical wings with rigid veins similar to those seen in both Boxelder seeds and dragonfly wings, and they found that the ridge veins increased flight performance.

Wasps, bees and dragonflies have a different number of wings. Wasps only have two wings; dragonflies and bees have four. Bees have smaller fore-wings that lock into the larger back wings to form a single wing surface during normal flight. Only the dragonfly has two sets of independently moving wings, and only it moves the wings out-of-phase: while one wings goes up, the other flaps down. The dragonfly can rotate the angle of attack for each wing independently. In 2008, Z.J. Wang noted that the out-of-phase beating gives the dragonfly additional-enhanced lift. These results of Ellington, Lauder, Wang and Thomas give a clearer picture of how the dragonflies seen in the canyon hover and do their amazing acrobatic maneuvers (August 11th).

In 2005, Warrick at the University of Oregon and colleagues showed how hummingbirds also use leading edge vortices to feed while hovering in front of flowers.

In conclusion, the canyon currently hosts many examples of where nature has solved the problem of flight and hovering using leading edge vorticies instead of a bird’s flapping aerofoils or man’s propellers: Boxelder seeds, maple seeds, Variegated Meadowhawk dragonflies, red-rumped central bumble bees, Bald-faced hornets, Black-chinned hummingbirds, and several moths, butterflies and other flying insects. The first dragonflies, the massive Protodonata with 30 inch wingspans, appeared in the fossil record 325 million years ago. Flowering trees first began to dominate forests in the Cretaceous period beginning 145 million years ago, and they co-evolved with bees. Hummingbirds appeared 22 million years ago (McGuire et al. 2014).

Today in the canyon, even though the Boxelders where hammered by the strong winds, only a small fraction of their catkins were dislodged. Most Boxelders are still thick with seeds, and I can still look forward to more future showers of helicoptering seeds on windy days.

November 1, 2016

November 1st

Filed under: Bald-Faced Hornets, Gambel's Oak, People, Picnic site 9 — canopus56 @ 10:46 pm

Will the Bald-Faced Wasps Return Next Year?

4:00 p.m. Back on October 24th, a couple, one in their fifties, is at the picnic site 9. The nest of the Bald-Faced wasps (Sept. 27th) is easily visible from the road, since the Gambel’s oak leaves have fallen. They have assembled a pile of rocks and for entertainment, they are using the nest for target practice. The nest has deteriorated in the rain and cold over the last three weeks. It outer layers have begun peeling off, and having no worker residents, it is not being repaired. I check back later, the couple found a two foot stick, and managed to hit the nest with it. The nest is still on the tree, but it is ruptured. It has been sufficiently cold that the workers and males in the nest have died. As a last gesture before dying, males impregnate the queen, who will take to the leaf litter and hibernate over the winter. Hopefully, she has already left or is still safe within the nest, waiting for a signal from the first snow. If not, there may be no bald-faced wasps in the canyon come summer. On October 29th, there is young man illegally practicing target shooting at picnic site 1. Hopefully, there are no squirrels about which are about the size of the cans that he is shooting at.

While these are insignificant events, they are also a metaphor for the larger global issues facing nature. Currently, there are about 7.4 billion people alive on the Earth, and when I was born in the 1950s, there were about 2.8 billion. If one out of every 7,500 of those 7.5B people do an unthinking act each day like the one above, how can nature heal from one million such cuts each day? While we often look to industry as a cause of nature’s decline, another significant contributor is the collective, unintended result of our individual actions. This illustrates the need to not act unthinkingly in our daily lives and to act consciously and with intent. Also on October 24th, the World Wildlife Federation and the Zoological Society of London released an advocacy report estimating that since 1970, the population of wildlife on the Earth has declined by fifty-eight percent.

September 28, 2016

September 27th

Filed under: Bald-Faced Hornets, Insects, Picnic site 9, Uncategorized, wasps — canopus56 @ 1:21 am

Some Hornets Tell a Bald-Faced Lie

2:00 p.m. Identifying insects is tough for an amateur. I always struggle with it. There are so many types of species and so many varieties of each insect, and for bees and wasps, each species may also look different depending on their role as queen, solider, or worker. No one book or online database can cover them all, and this makes classifying an insect seen in the canyon a difficult and time-consuming task. As an example, there is a wasp nest at mile 1.2, picnic site 9 (see September 16th) and, it is populated by a jet-black wasp with a yellow-tipped abdomen (see August 20th). Hornets are wasps that live in large social communities, that is in nests. The nest at picnic site 9 appears to have been built by Bald-faced Hornets (Vespula maculata). After standing in front of the nest with my monocular fixed on the nest entrance for a few minutes, I am able to see the characteristic white face markings of its inhabitants that classify this as a nest of Bald-faced hornets.

I still am unsure if these are the same wasps that I saw on August 20th. Those had yellow tips, but were jet-black and did not have the characteristic white markings found on the face of the Bald-faced Hornet. Were those earlier wasps just an immature phase of or a special worker class of the Bald-faced Hornet, or were they a completely different wasp specie? There are jet-black wasps such as cricket hunter wasps, and the meadow at mile 1.3 is full of crickets. But cricket hunting wasps generally are solitary, build underground nests, and do not have yellow tips. For now, I just continue to describe those earlier jet-black wasps with yellow tips as “unidentified”.

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