City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

June 14, 2017

June 9th

First Tarantula and a Fake Bee

7:45 p.m. The jet stream to the northwest has begun to lower temperatures in the eighties and brings cooling evening breezes to the canyon. On this Friday evening, families seeking release from the days of heat fill the first few picnic sites. The heat wave is starting to end, and invasive Yellow sweet clover lines both sides of the road and waves under the wind. But there is no sign of summer’s yellow sunflowers along the road in Pleasant Valley. More soft tufts of pollen float down from the Rocky Mountain cottonwoods and their white down lines the roadside. Evening Black-headed grosbeak calls predominate in the first mile. A 3 inch unidentified dark blue-black dragonfly sails by. A unidentified light brown beetle, that has the shape of a solider beetle, has been seen on the road over the last few weeks. At the rear tip of its shell, there is a diamond shaped darker brown patch. On the road today, the nymph form of this beetle crosses the road. It is bright lime green. A black ant drags a bug twenty times its size to the side of the road.

Planted squarely across the center of a Wood rose blossom near mile 0.3, a member of the Galphyridae family of Bumble bee scarabs. The Bumblee bee scarab is a beetle, not a bee. Its wing shell has four horizontal white strips on the sides and two vertical white stripes on either side of the centerline. Its bee-like features are the abdomen that extends past the wing shell and is covered in fine yellow-white hairs. Its thorax is also covered with these fine hairs. Male Bumblee bee scarabs are sometimes found in flowers, as this oddly behaving one is. This scarab appears almost intoxicated. It is oblivious to my presence and seems to relish feeding on the rose’s pollen. Given its lethargic ways, the scarab’s mimicry of a bee might provide protection from predators, but given that birds eat bees, what predator does the scarab’s mimicry deter?

Near mile 0.4, the season’s first desert tarantula crosses the road. It is only two or three inches across. By mid-summer, it will grow to 5 to 6 inches across (August 17th).

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 9th, 1850, he notes pitch-pine pollen collected on water. On June 9th, 1851, he observes that signs of the season are grass waving in the wind, new leaves on trees, and increasing louder crickets. On June 9th, 1853, he sees the season’s first lily bud and notes white clover is common. He sees starflowers in a meadow and gathers strawberries. He observes a hawk pair. On June 9th, 1854, he sees a lark and notes that the air has a high density of mayflies. On June 9th, 1857, he sees an indigo bird. On June 9th, 1860, he sees water bugs in a stream.

* * * *

On June 9th, 1915, a new reservoir on Fifth South that holds 10,000,000 gallons was inspected, and it will supplemented by a 5,000,000 gallon reservoir at Pleasant Valley (Salt Lake Herald). On June 9th, 1909, the Intermountain Republican reported that a flooding City Creek stream was still carving “numerous erratic channels down North Temple street”. Sandbags and manure was used by crews working under Street Supervisor J. T. Raleigh to create embankments, but this results in large pools of fetid water forming (id). The Tenth South canal overflowed its banks. On June 28th, 1905, the Commercial Club officially turned over the new Wasatch Boulevard to the City (Salt Lake Herald). The boulevard runs up City Creek Canyon, along 11th Avenue to Popperton Place, and then on to Fort Douglas. The boulevard then descends to Liberty Park (id). The Club plans to line the boulevard with trees and stone walls, interspersed with developed parks every few miles (id). On June 3, 1903, as a result of infrastructure improvements, the City had increased its water supply capacity to 28,000,000 gallons per day (Salt Lake Telegram). One hundred and thirty-one miles of water main pipe has been laid in the city, including City Creek Canyon (id). A city ordinance regulates residents sprinkling their lawns. The High line system in City Creek brings water to Popperton Place. On June 9th, 1877, the Salt Lake Tribune recommended City Creek Canyon Road for scenic carriage rides.

June 7th

Clicking Katydids

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 may be annual Mountain or Canadian cicadas (Okanagana canadensis). They are most probably Mormon crickets, which are katydids and not crickets. Katydids 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.

May 10, 2017

May 7th

Iridescent butterflies

4:00 p.m. Red-ozier dogwoods are blooming. Gambel’s oak trees at picnic site 1 have leafed-out to between two and four inches, but some of these oaks higher at mile 1.0 have no leaves. At Pleasant Valley, grasses are twelve inches high and move in waves in response to breezes. The high canyon walls are all covered in these green waves. Along the Pipeline Trail, red maples have leafed out to four inches. Mullein stalks are beginning to rise. Along the Pipeline Trail, 20 or 30 birds can be heard, but only yesterday’s male Black-chinned hummingbird puts in an appearance at its usual post on the powerline. No soaring raptors are seen today.

The thirty or forty butterflies in the first mile are dominated by Orange Sarah tops and Desert Elfin (Incisalia fotis fotis) butterflies. Below picnic site 1, an unidentified red-brown caterpillar hangs from a Box Elder tree by a twenty-foot long silk thread, and as the wind blows it sways back and forth in large five foot arcs. It does not know whether to go further down or up. At picnic site 3, an unidentified beetle lites onto a table, and in a ray of sunlight, a patch on its back radiates a bright lime green. Near mile 0.5, a small black ant drags a dead lime green caterpillar back to its nest. Along the Pipeline Trail, a Common sulphur butterfly moves between and drinks from Arrowleaf balsamroot blossoms, and more than ten Stink bugs are active on the trail. I miss nearly stepping on one that is laid out, legs splayed wide, on the trail. My foot alarms it and it springs up and lands in a defensive posture. Back at the Guardhouse Gate, I notice a Cabbage white butterfly fly into a bush, inexplicably struggle, and then frenetically fly off. Close examination shows the circular web of an orb weaver spider (Araneus sp.). This unidentified spider has wonderful orange, white and black spotting on its abdomen, but I am unable to photograph. My autofocus camera only sees the background and refuses to make a sharp image of the tiny spider in the foreground.

Just before Guardhouse Gate, two mallards, one-male, one-female, are standing right next to the road unafraid of humans. The male is half-asleep and appears contemptuous of people. The female is feeding on roaches under the leave litter. She digs through the leaf litter and rapidly opens and closes her beak. This separates the chaff of the dead leaves from the wheat of the small bugs. In the Guardhouse Gate parking lot, an immature Rock squirrel is browsing in the middle of the road. I pull out the car and chase him back into the brush with flashing lights and a honking horn. I am teaching the squirrel to be afraid of cars. For this squirrel, there will be no repeat of finding it dead on the road, as seen last summer.

* * * *

Butterflies also have ultra-violet vision used in differentiating flowers, but some may use iridescence and the uv spectrum to communicate between themselves (Doucet and Meadows, 2009; Buront and Majerus, 1995). Butterfly wings are covered in miniature scales that like the feathers of birds make colors have diffraction. In 1968, an experiment of Obara and Hidaka at the Tokyo Institute of Agriculture and Technology demonstrated that male Cabbage White butterflies locate their mates primarily by visual clues (Obara and Hidaka, 1968). They sealed females and male dummy butterflies in Petri dishes in order to prevent the males from finding their mates by smell. Since male and female Cabbage whites look nearly identical in the visual spectrum, how could the males tell them apart? Ultra-violet photography revealed that the wings of female Cabbage whites are white or patterned and the males are totally dark. On 2008, Obara and colleagues repeated this experiment, but noted that females have subtle changes in their UV color during the summer, and males preferentially mate only with the summer-colored females (Obara et al 2008). In 2000, Knuttel and Fiedler at the Universitat Bayreuth suggested that this was not a universal principle. They found that many species of butterflies appear different in the visual and uv light, but the variations within species where larger than between species and were not so great as to be a means discriminating between or within species (Knuttel and Fiedler, 2000; Buront and Majerus, 1995, same). Iridescent differences in the visual spectrum is dominant in butterflies when distinguishing between individuals (id). Butterflies also have iridescent colors in order to confuse predators or to warn them that the insect is poisonous (Doucet and Meadows, S124).

* * * *

On May 7th, 1996, Utah Partners in Flight plan migratory bird watching in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On May 7th, 1910, the Salt Lake Telegram published a photographic spread on City Creek Canyon and extolled the canyon’s virtues. The Telegram argued for a City Commission proposal to widen the road using prison labor and to make other park improvements (id).

Blog at WordPress.com.