City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

July 11, 2017

July 6th

Dry Fork Canyon

3:45 p.m. It is the third day of 100 degree Fahrenheit heat as I return to the Bonneville Shoreline Trail behind the University of Utah Hospital. I plan to jog up Dry Fork Canyon at the southeast end of the Salt Lake salient and then west along the Shoreline Trail above the Avenues. The Trails goes up Dry Fork for about one mile, crosses a pass, and then traverses a series of gullies that come down from the ridgeline to the Avenues and city below. The Trail begins in a invasive Cheat grass sea that is typical of the city’s foothills. Here, small light brown House crickets (Acheta domestica), another non-native, infest the Cheat grass. There are twenty or thirty per square yard. I round a corner into Dry Fork Canyon, and quickly its narrow walls close in and shade the canyon. The Fork’s walls are covered in dense Gambel’s oak forest, and this forest broken higher up by fields of the brown sun-dried husks of Arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata). In an example of color adaptation, at the base of the oaks, larger, unidentified grasshoppers live, but unlike the sun-exposed crickets, these are colored green in order to better blend in with their surroundings.

At a seep one-third of a mile up canyon, there is a mini-oasis. In ten feet with Wood’s rose bushes on either side, Common sulphur butterflies, Western tiger swallowtail butterflies, small bluet dragonflies, Common whitetail dragonflies, Western Yellowjacket wasps, and Circumpolar bluets, all compete for space and landing rights around a small ditch of shallow water.

Further up canyon, the oak forest comes alive with sounds of birds: Black-headed grosbeaks, Lazuli buntings and Song sparrows call from the oaks spaced perhaps 100 feet apart on both canyon walls. Their songs are clear and strong, and I estimate there are about 250 birds between the canyon mouth and the upper pass. Unexpectedly, this density exceeds that of the stream areas in City Creek Canyon. The birds here, unlike in the City Creek Canyon, are fearless. I am able to stand only five feet from a Lazuli bunting as it tilts its head back to make a song. I am able to make a good recording and spectral graph. I flush two California quails (Callipepla californica) from the brush.

House crickets may explain the high density of birds in Dry Fork Canyon, where as the name implies, there is no water. Assuming a cricket weighs about one-quarter gram (0.000551 lbs), then there are about 85 tons of cricket mass on the city facing foothills between Dry Fork Canyon and the peak at the top of North Terrace Hills Drive in Valley View Canyon (see June 10th) (3,097,600 square yards per square mile x 4 miles x 1.25 miles x 20 cricket per square yard x 0.000551 lbs. per cricket divided by 2,000 lbs. per ton). The crickets exist at a similar density for another ten square miles between Memory Grove in lower City Creek Canyon and milepost 3.5 above Bonneville Drive. This suggests that there may be about 300 tons of these non-native crickets, and this is more than enough to support the summer bird populations seen in Dry Fork and City Creek Canyon.

As the canyon dries out, purple Bull thistles (Cirsium vulgare) covered with small black ants, a blue-white thin-petaled Eaton’s aster (Aster eatonii a.k.a. Symphyotrichum eatonii), and invasive blue Chicory (Cichorium intybus L.) grow. The roots of Chicory are roasted and ground to make chicory coffee. The white-topped weed Hoary cress (Cardaria draba) is also found.

As I near the upper Trail pass out of Dry Fork, I count two Broad-tailed hummingbirds, and just before the pass, I am treated to a rare display by a pair of Black-chinned hummingbirds (Archilochus alexandri). The male has trapped a female hummingbird at the base of Gambel’s oak sapling. For several minutes the male does its pendulum mating dance. It rapidly flies back and forth in a figure-eight pattern about six feet across, its wings buzzing loudly. Then the male gives up, and he does two high speed runs over the female while making a zinging noise. At the pass out of Dry Fork, I am greeted by expansive views of the city and of the Great Salt Lake, fifteen miles in the distance. The Sun is pounding, but my spirit soars from both the views and the hummingbird’s display.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on July 6th, 1851, he walks by moonlight and again sees it reflected in water. He notes crickets sing with a different frequency at night. On July 6th, 1852, he hears a pewee and a red-eye. He sees tufted vetch, a fern, a tansey, and a parsnip. He watches a pickerel in a stream. He hears a duck on a pond. On July 6th, 1856, he stumbles on a peet-weet with its nest and young. On July 6th, 1858, he hears and sees loons. On July 6th, 1859, he describes heart-leaf.

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On July 6th, 1905, the City passed Councilperson’s Woods proposed ordinance banned automobiles from City Creek Canyon. On the same day, the Salt Lake Tribune urged that the road should be sprinkled with oil to keep dust down. Also on July 6th, 1905, the City Council held a heated debate on whether a bridge should be constructed over City Creek Road in support of the Commercial Club’s proposed scenic boulevard (Salt Lake Tribune).

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June 23, 2017

June 22nd

Day of the Butterflies

Day of the Butterflies

1:30 p.m. In the heat of the afternoon, the first mile canyon road is lined with butterflies, and in total there are about thirty in the first mile. A large Red Admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta), a black butterfly with contrasting red-orange chevrons, slowly moves up canyon. The Red Admiral is hawk of butterflies. Unlike most butterflies, that frenetically flap and change direction, the Red Admiral moves it wings in great, slow soaring motions. Cabbage white butterflies (Pieris rapae) play in the hot sun as western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) also pass by. Two Common sulphur butterflies (Colias philodice eriphyle) chase each other. Two unidentified butterflies fly by. One is the bright yellow with a trailing black wingbar. The second is a small orange.

Large Common whitetail dragonflies patrol overhead. In the Yellow sweet clover (Melilotus officinalis) weeds that lines both sides of the road, Western Yellowjacket wasps (Vespula penslvanica) feast.

At Pleasant Valley, city watershed crews are mowing the sides of the Pipeline Trail.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 22nd, 1851, he sees blooms of yellow loose strife and bladderwort. On June 22nd, 1852, he sees a rainbow after a thunderstorm. He observes that fireflies are numerous. On June 22nd, 1853, he notes that even night air is warm. During an evening walk, he notes that blueberries are coming in.

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On June 22nd, 2014, Nathan Peters set a new course record in the 35th annual Wasatch Steeple Chase, an annual running race that goes for 17 miles up City Creek Canyon, that gains 4,000 feet while going over Black Mountain, and end back down at Memory Grove (Deseret News). Two-hundred and forty runners participated. Peters finishes in two hours and eleven minutes (id). On June 22nd, 1996, Mayor Deedee Corradini temporarily ordered suspension of construction of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail due to complaints from Avenues’ residents (Salt Lake Tribune). Planning Commission Chairman Ralph Becker noted that that a controversial trail alignment near Ensign Peak was a condition of the developer receiving approval for a luxury subdivsion (id). On June 22nd, 1906, an Intermountain Republican editorial accused the Salt Lake Tribune of spreading lurid lies about Mormon culture in eastern newspapers, including that “Utah is steeped In lawlessness; that depravity runs riot; that the waters of City Creek canyon going down our gutters [are] tinted with the ruddy flow from blood atonement; that all Mormons are polygamist; and that a presentable woman is in peril of than her life . . .”

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).

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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).

May 7, 2017

May 4th

Cultivars with Butterflies

3:00 p.m. The temperature switch has flipped and the canyon reaches into the seventies today. Several days of seventy and eighty degree weather is forecasted. This has an immediate effect on the canyon. The first one-third of a mile is almost fully leafed out, and along the road, there are about forty butterflies. They are usual cast of characters seen in the last two weeks, except more concentrated:

• Mourning cloak butterfly.

• White cabbage butterfly.

• Painted lady butterfly.

• American lady butterfly.

• White-lined sphinx moth.

• Zerene fritillary.

• Spring Azure.

• Common sulphur butterfly.

A new character, a Julia Orangetip butterfly (Anthocharis julia browningi), appears for the first time. Between mile 0.3 and mile 1.0, there are another twenty butterflies, but they are less densely distributed. There is a wall that holds them to the lower canyon; the temperature abruptly drops by ten to fifteen degrees at mile 0.3. Ants are active again, Stink Beetles are busy crossing the road, and the air refills with gnats. As this thermalcline rises up the canyon over the next few days, I am hopeful for these many changes will also move upcanyon and intensify with the warm air.

In the first one-third of a mile, I hear about twelve birds in the now leaf obscured forest with three different calls. In the lower one-third, the Gambel’s oaks are mostly filled out with small, still growing leaves, and between picnic sites 3 and 4, a flat area is now green with small red maple tree leaves. Across from picnic site 3, a bird loudly calls from a tree not twenty feet away, but still it is unseen. After some minutes, I discover it neatly hiding behind a natural cave of screening leaves. Through my monocular, one eye, with a grey eye streak bounded by white above and below, stares back at me across a slate back and white rump. It is an immature Black-throated gray warbler (Dendroica nigrescens). The density of these migratory birds also declines beyond the first one-third mile.

On a slope above the Pipeline Trail, I find several Death camas (Toxicoscordion venenosum) plants in bloom. It has a complex inflorescence with white flowers arranged in a conical shape. Chokeberries at mile 0.2 are in full white and yellow flowering bloom. Along the first-mile of road near the stream’s water, I look closely at the Solomon’s seal plants. I estimate that Solomon’s seals cover about one-fifth of the first mile on either side of the road, and for each foot of road, there are about twenty plants. This implies that there are about 20,000 Solomon’s seals in the first mile. Looking closely, I count exactly three plants that show their characteristic exploding-star blossoms.

Over the last few days, I have collected the location of flowering trees, mostly green crab apple and plum trees, along the first two miles of road. These are cultivars, planted for their fruit, between 1847 and about 1920. Their early, bright flowers, that risk freezing from Utah’s late season cold, distinguishes them from the native plants. Although I do not know the identity of each, I will use the list to revisit them later in the season to see which have fruited.

List of GPS Locations for Flowering Cultivar Trees for Miles 0.0 to 2.0 (N=17) (Apple and Plums) dated April 27 to May 2nd, 2017
• 40°47.463 N 111°52.730 W, Near flood retention pond, east side of road.

• 40°47.501 N 111°52.701 W, Below parking lot, east side.

• 40°47.501 N 111°52.701 W, Behind first line of trees, above parking lot, west side.

• 40°47.629 N 111°52.597 W, Near picnic site 1, east side.

• 40°47.666 N 111°52.573 W, Near picnic site 1, west side.

• 40°47.762 N 111°52.516 W, Near picnic site 1, west side.

• 40°47.777 N 111°52.511 W, East side.

• 40°47.811 N 111°52.440 W, East side.

• 40°47.826 N 111°52.434 W, West side.

• 40°47.863 N 111°52.424 W, East side.

• 40°47.899 N 111°52.401 W, East side, next to far stream bank.

• 40°48.071 N 111°52.329 W, East side.

• 40°48.123 N 111°52.324 W, East side.

• 40°48.283 N 111°51.949 W, West side.

• 40°48.387 N 111°51.356 W, East side, Pleasant Valley apple tree.

• 40°48.394 N 111°51.306 W, East side.

• 40°48.408 N 111°51.220 W, East side.

The parking lot is overflowing and there are about thirty people and bicyclists on the road. But they are spread out, and canyon still retains its quality of solitude. At the parking lot, there is bow hunter gearing up for theevening. I ask him what is in season, he enthusiastically responds “Wild turkeys!”. I have heard no turkeys in the canyon since last December, and this hunter may only find empty scrub oak thickets and the reward of exercise.

The stream still runs strong, and checking the SNOTEL station on Lookout Peak, I find that there is still thirty-five water equivalent inches of high-snow pack left, or more than ten inches more than average. By this time of year, the high-elevation pack begins a steep decline such that by June 1st, it is gone. This year, I feel it will last into the middle of June.

* * * *

On May 4th, 2011, National Weather Service Brian McInerney estimated using NWS computer models, a 50 percent probability that City Creek would flood (Salt Lake Tribune). On May 4th, 1920, a citizens committee met to urge the construction of a Brigham Young memorial bridge across City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram, Salt Lake Telegram). On May 4th, 1916, the City passed an ordinance, authored by Commissioner Heber M. Wells, to further protect the City Creek watershed (Salt Lake Tribune). Measured included prohibiting tethering a horse within 100 feet of the stream, building campfires, allowing stray animals, or speeding in an automobile (id). On May 4th, 1913, George M. Ottinger, former Water Superintendent and the first Fire Chief of Salt Lake City, reviewed his life. He constructed the reservoir at Pleasant Valley, and noted that it had a concrete lid because originally, the City planned to construct an electric power plant on top of the reservoir (Salt Lake Tribune). (Ottinger also was an amateur painter. His painting of Pleasant Valley and its reservoir is in the archives of the Utah Museum of Fine Art. He was also present at the last lynching in Salt Lake City in 1887.)

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.

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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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