City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

July 16, 2017

July 15th

The Homeless and the Canyon

External Link to Image

Bluets on Bulrush in City Creek Canyon at Seep (Lat. 40.8014929, Long. -111.8749328). Author taken July 2017.

3:30 p.m. True summer heat near 100 degrees Fahrenheit returns and the canyon air takes on oven-like qualities of later in the season. While I was born in the cold of the northeast, part of my adolescence was spent under the blazing sun of southern California deserts. My now heated adapted summer body takes the high temperatures easily. The pulse slows; veins and arteries expand; blood flows and cools in hands and legs. Limbs become flexible; muscles relax; and toxins escape through open pores. The mind becomes lethargic and meditative, but with exercise in heat, thinking remains clear.

The heat has emptied the first mile of road, and only a few joggers are present. The road becomes as empty as in the opposite side of the temperature scale, that is in the depth of winter (December 27th). As in winter, I no longer recognize in myself the person who ran through five degree temperatures.

The heat also affects mammals and insects. Counter-intuitively, it makes Rock squirrels active, and I count three in the first mile. Insects begin to succumb. On the road’s surface, Grasshopper (Melanoplus sp.) lays dead, baking on the road, and that carcass is followed by a Giant western crane fly. Next, I find a spent Cabbage white butterfly. This allows me to examine one this usually hyperactive insect with my hand lens. As their name implies, the Cabbage whites are white in color, but close-up their abdomens are jet black. Numerous white hairs cover that segment and make the butterfly appear all-white.

The earth has dried out, and turns the rare cases of stationary surface water in the canyon into oases. The oasis at the seep about 100 yards below picnic site no. 6 (Lat. 40.8014929, Long. -111.8749328) has reached an idyllic peak of diversity. In an ellipsis of sixty by twenty feet, Circumpolar bluets rest on Bulrushes surrounded by Indian ricegrass and fronted by Kentucky bluegrass. These grasses surrounds a water rivulet in which Western Yellowjacket wasps and White Admiral butterflies stop and rest for a drink. Giant cattails are flanked on one side by six foot tall Horsemint (Agastache urticifolia (Benth.) Kuntze), a.k.a. Nettleleaf Giant Hyssop or Nettleleaf Giant Horsemint, covered in Cabbage white butterflies. On the other stands five foot tall blue Chicory. Stands of Starry solomon’s seal are backed by a large grove of Western poison ivy and are intermixed and are intermixed with Common California aster. A cultivar Weeping willow (Salix babylonica) shades the up-canyon end of the glade.

A short-distance downcanyon, three rare butterfly visitors are seen with orange wings, a black circumferential band and white wing spots. These are Mexican queen butterflies (Danaus gilippus strigosus), and they are usually restricted to New Mexico.

Up-canyon, this season’s teasels (Dipsacus sylvestris) have risen to four feet in height below the Red Bridge. For some weeks, the great two foot triangular leaves of the Burdock (Arctium minus Berhn) invasive weeds that line the canyon road have been raising two and three foot vertical stalks, but their purple flower heads have yet to open.

Today, I place three sponges in the lower canyon. The first is in the stream below the pond at picnic site 5. The second is in the seep 100 yards below picnic site 6, described above, and the third in at the watercress stand at the tunnel seep 50 yards below picnic site 6. I will retrieve these in a few days to see what mirco-life has become trapped or grown in the sponge’s cavities.

The intense Sun has boiled huge summer cumulus clouds from the reservoirs that line the eastern side of the Wasatch Front Mountain Range, and the clouds frame the north and eastern ridgelines of the canyon as I reach the Gate. Those reservoirs provide the valley with most of its drinking water. In the parking lot, an elderly gentleman, who each day leaves a homeless concentration zone at 500 West and 200 South in the City to seek the canyon’s cool breezes, sits on a bench eating a sandwich.

* * * *

The homeless have long had a relationship with City Creek Canyon. In addition to the homeless person who spends the day at a picnic parking lot, another homeless individual frequents the canyon during the winter, but spends cold nights in a local supermarket. Sometimes in the depths of winter, I have taken the homeless who come to the canyon with the intention of camping overnight back to the city and advise them that they have underestimated the sub-zero temperatures of canyon winter nights. Some are obviously mentally ill. They talk to themselves and their mental illness is either the result of the stress of becoming homeless or an effect of their pre-existing mental illness. For many years, there was a small homeless tent city near the parking lot gate off the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, but in recent years, the County and the City cleared the camp out. Now the watershed patrol vigorously patrols the canyon and takes any homeless citizens back to the concentration zone on the valley floor citing the fear that persons in a homeless camp might set the canyon’s grasslands on fire. While that is a legitimate concern, I suspect the City also quickly acts to remove any homeless from the canyon in part because middle-income citizens simply do not want the homeless there. They fear the homeless as potentially violent and secretly they fear becoming homeless themselves in an uncertain economy.

Salt Lake citizens struggle with the moral ambiguities created by their city’s homeless concentration zone. City residents have long resisted building sufficient facilities to house the homeless on the unsupported theory that building more beds will attract more homeless, and residents, like most other major United States cities, have long avoided building enough affordable housing. The City also struggles with the practice of surrounding communities and hospitals shipping their destitute and ill residents to into the City’s concentration zone. In the 1980s, Salt Lake City took the lead on homelessness by opening Utah’s first homeless shelters. Rather than expending monies addressing their own homeless problem by building their own shelters, for years, neighboring cities have shipped their destitute to the concentration zone citing that Salt Lake City was the only municipality with facilities to house them. Although the concentration zone has become a state and national embarrassment, city residents prefer to keep the homeless out-of-sight and away from other areas of the city, including out of the canyon.

The homeless’ relationship with the canyon goes back farther than this: the homeless built the canyon’s infrastructure. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the City dealt with its homelessness problem by shipping the destitute to the canyon. An early Utah statute permitted cities to impress the destitute and mentally ill convicted of the crime of vagrancy into road work gangs (Utah Code Ann. 10-8-85). In the early 1900s, when the City wanted to build a wider, graded road up City Creek Canyon to promote the new automobile tourism, it began systematic sweeps of the city, arresting the homeless for vagrancy as needed to supply laborer for building the canyon’s road (e.g., Salt Lake Herald, Sept. 26, 1910; Salt Lake Telegram, Nov. 11th, 1913). The city police were sophisticated in their sweeps. For example, in 1908, the road gang needed an experienced “dynamite man” to handle explosives used to break up rock ledges along the canyon road’s path. The Police Department did a sweep of vagrants seeking to arrest one with necessary skill (Deseret Evening News, April 24th, 1908). Unemployed miners got wind of the scheme and fled the city. A particularly racist cartoon, by modern standards, in the August 14th, 1904 Salt Lake Tribune shows who was working on road gangs and what residents’ attitudes were towards the poor. The gangs consisted of elderly unemployed men, persons with alcohol addiction, and minorities. On April 28th, 1908, Mark Aaron, a prisoner serving a 90 day sentence for vagrancy, was shot to death in the canyon will attempting to escape the road gang (Deseret Evening News). The officer claimed that he was aiming for Aaron’s legs, but missed and instead the bullet entered Aaron’s head. In 1972, the United States Supreme Court declared vagrancy laws unconstitutional.

This darker era in Salt Lake’s past provides some instruction for the City’s modern homeless problem. What the destitute need to restore their dignity is a roof over their heads and paying employment, even if that means government provided make work. If at night there are any ghosts wandering the canyon, they are probably of homeless men rattling their work gang chains.

* * * *

On July 15th, 2015, Mayor Ralph Becker proposes a “Connecting to Nature” plan in which $125 million USD bond would fund park renovations and new land acquisition (Deseret News). On July 15th, 1938, hard oil surfacing of the scenic drive along Bonneville Drive and 11th Avenue was nearly complete (Salt Lake Telegram). 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 15th, 1891, the Red Bird Mine reports opening a four foot wide vein that may contain 1,000 ounces of silver (Salt Lake Times). Fifteen men are working at various prospects in City Creek Canyon (id).

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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 18, 2017

May 14th

Filed under: Ants, Cricket, European earwig, Maple tree, People, Pleasant Valley, Raptor, Spider, Unidentified — canopus56 @ 4:32 pm

First Cricket

2:30 p.m. In the lower canyon, there are no butterflies except for one dusky brown and no songbirds. The song birds have moved to the warmer air at Pleasant Valley, and there I hear six or seven calling unseen from the groves. The first cricket of the season is heard at the lower field in Pleasant Valley. In two months, their chorus will be as loud as the song birds. Near mile 0.4, in the disease hollowed-out base of a 50 foot tall Red maple tree, a 1.5 millimeter black and brown spider has spun a web over the hollow’s entrance. A live victim struggles in its web. At the edges of the road, several one-half inch odd black bugs are active. They have a many-segmented abdomen and small pincers near their tails. These are immature European earwigs (Forficula auricularia). At the slightest disturbance, they bolt beneath rotting leaves. They have come to feed on smaller insects, like aphids. Three small black-winged ants are also dispersed evenly along the first mile. These may be male Carpenter ants searching for a new queen.

It is Mother’s Day and the canyon road, normally frequented by runners and ultra-bicyclists, is full of the unfit. The obese and elderly enjoy the canyon with more attention to their surroundings than the racers. After a clear and sunny morning, the evening canyon is overcast. The stream runs at maximum; the flood retention pond is within four feet of cresting the road even though this is not a flood year; and water streams five or six inches smoothly above the rock barrier that makes the pond at picnic site 5. As an experiment, I through progressively larger junks of wood into the swift moving waters, and from this the stream moves at an estimated twelve to fifteen miles per hour, about the speed of a bicycle on flat terrain. A bicyclist returning at a leisurely pace from the end of the road at mile 5.75 can run parallel to the same drop of stream water for one-half hour. On my United States Geological Service map for the canyon, the two ridgelines on either side of the canyon are collectively labelled the “Salt Lake Salient”, i.e. – a piece of land that juts out at an angle. In this case, the canyon and its two ridgelines jut out a forty-five degree angle from the larger wall of the Wasatch Front Mountain Range, and this northern salient defines the upper end of the Salt Lake Valley. At its southern end, another salient, the Traverse Ridge, juts out at a right angle, and it marks the valley’s lower end. Both are generated by earthquake faults, but in the case of City Creek, the fault line partially runs down the middle of the salient. Unlike Traverse Ridge, this allowed water to gain a foothill, to split the salient in two, and to crave out the cooler canyon below.

This evening, along the western ridgeline about a third of a mile away, a flock of 10 unidentified raptors are soaring on the wall’s updraft. They are two distant to identify, and over the next ten minutes, the recede up-canyon until the small points of their bodies can no longer be seen against the grey sky.

On May 14th, 1903, E. H. Airis sued the City to prevent it from diverting City Creek Canyon water such that Airis would not longer have irrigation water (Salt Lake Tribune). On May 14th, 1896, the Salt Lake Herald reported several active mines in City Creek Canyon (May 14, 1896).

September 29, 2016

September 29th

Filed under: Cricket, Northern flicker, People, Sounds, Stream — canopus56 @ 8:53 pm

The Sounds of Solitude

Noon at mile 0.5. Stream bubbles with random plonks and trickles. Crickets make a relaxing, rhythmic pulsation. Wind ebbs and flows through the trees, and it dislodges leaves that silently fall to the road. Wind whistles through spokes as a bicycle whizzes by. Crackling noises as leave are underfoot. Voices of couples walking and talking makes its own musical rhythm. Muffled footsteps of runners. A sole Northern flicker (Colaptes auratus) makes a plaintive cry seeking its mate. Joy ensues, and I seek out clumps of leaves just to listen to their crackling sounds as I sluff through them.

One of the most enjoyable experiences when jogging or walking in the canyon is the sounds. My favorite sounds come from the stream combined with the rhythmic pulse of the crickets. Today, both are loud because the stream is running higher from recent rain and the crickets now dominate canyon insect life. These sounds form a relaxing, meditative white noise. These sounds make jogging in the canyon a form of moving zen meditation.

The purpose of zen and other forms of mediation is discrimination, i.e. – the discrimination of the mind from the world, thus, freeing consciousness to fully appreciate the world as it is and not as the mind distorts it. Some choose to consider this as a religious and others as a psychological practice. However it is viewed, the experience of walking and jogging in the canyon is about quieting the mind and enjoying the natural surroundings. It is not about note-taking, observing, and writing about it.

At the portion of the road between mile 1.7 and 2.0, the stream makes the best noise. Here, the stream is immediately next to the road and is fast moving, but it has cut deep into a ravine that is in perpetual shadow. The plonk sound of water as it travels from pool to pool is particularly crisp and deep as it echos of the stream’s walls. At the coldest of winter and for just one week, this is the only part of the stream in the entire canyon that completely freezes over.

Paul Simon in his classic folk song the “Sounds of Silence” reminds us to occasionally be still and to look inward. The canyon produces sounds of solitude that also remind me to be still.

September 24, 2016

September 24th

Recovery

4:00 p.m. In the afternoon, the storm moves on, the clouds become broken, the air warms, and where the broken clouds create windows, beams of sunlight illuminates individual trees into beacons of color. Which part of the canyon and which tree is featured changes constantly. After an hour, the broken clouds end, the sky clears, and the canyon is bathed in the soft sunlight of Fall. The The ground dwelling crickets seem unaffected by the storm, but only the hardiest individuals of each type of flying insect is out, and this makes it a day of ones. I see exactly one of the entire cast of flying insect characters that are common to the canyon: one gnat, one dragonfly, one red-rumped central bumble bee, one white cabbage butterfly, and one jet black wasp with yellow-tipped tail. Five hundred feet above, a lone raptor that is to far to away to identify soars. As a finish my jog, the lowest part of the canyon is much warmer, and more gnats have returned. It will take a few days of warm weather for the flying insects to fully recover.

Because of the fall colors and because the canyon will be closed to public automobile traffic for six months in another week, city residents have turned out for automobile touring. I stop counting after the fiftieth car has passed. This annual automobile closure restricts the canyon only to pedestrians, bicyclists, and an occasional hunter, and during its winter sleep, the closure allows the canyon to recover.

September 21, 2016

September 13th

Filed under: Colors, Cricket, Gambel's Oak, Insects, Meadow Mile 1.3, Places, Plants, Seasons, Weather — canopus56 @ 1:20 am

Cricket Songs At Dusk

8 p.m. While jogging up canyon to the meadow at mile 1.2, The crickets are singing loudly. There is a distinct difference between the song of the crickets in the open meadow and those underneath the Gambel oaks. In the middle, their song is a constant trill of eight or nine cycles per second. Those underneath the oaks have a much slower song at about two or three cycles per second. Perhaps I’ve misinterpreted what I heard on August 15th. Then I attributed the slower song to a lower temperature. Perhaps there are two different insects involved: one in the meadow and one underneath the oaks. Or there could be just one type of cricket, but they sing differently based on the lower level of light underneath the oaks.

The turning leaves have reached their maximum colors, but this year although still dramatic, the colors are not rich. They are faded and muted. To have bright red and orange leaves, two things must happen. First, it must become cold overnight beginning in the last week of August. Second, there must be consistent rainfall. Last night was the first night that temperatures fell into the 50s. This evening the sky is overcast, and as I finish jogging out of the canyon, the first raindrops begin to fall. By the time I reach home, a proper downpour is in progress. This is the first significant rain that the lower canyon has seen since August 12th.

September 9th

Filed under: Colors, Cricket, Golden Digger Wasp, Insects — canopus56 @ 1:08 am

Alien!

4:30 p.m. Near mile 0.5, there is a wasp about two and a half inches long resting on the ground. It is jet black except for its bright orange abdomen that is black tipped. Then it disappears down a hole in the ground. Moments later the wasp reappears carrying a chunk of dirt in its mandibles. This it discards and then it disappears down the hole again. The process repeats. The wasp is making a winter burrow in which to deposit a next-generation of eggs.

A field guide indicates that this is a golden digger wasp. It is a solitary wasp that feeds on nectar, but to reproduce it paralyzes one of the plentiful crickets in the canyon. The cricket is stuffed down the hole, and over the winter, a wasp larva feeds on the living but paralyzed and then deceased insect. Each burrow can have five or six chambers with a cricket and larvae in each room.

September 20, 2016

August 20th

Filed under: Cricket, Insects, Praying Mantis, Reptiles, Snake, wasps — canopus56 @ 11:15 pm

Carnivorous Wasps

6 p.m. It is Saturday, the canyon has grown cooler in the evening, and as a consequence there are more car picnickers this evening. The cars take toll on wildlife. Today you too small, there is a crushed praying mantis and two or three crushed snakes. The praying mantis and one of the snakes are covered in wasps. When I jog past these corpses on the way out the canyon, the edges on both are covered half-seashell cutouts. Later I check my insect guides. Wasps are omnivorous. The wings of a praying mantis will be used in the construction of their nests. The adults cannot digest the protein of the snake, but they feed it to their pupae. Last week, a wasp was struggling with a flying beetle on the roadway. They’re so small that was difficult to see what was occurring. The wasp flys off. The beetle has been dead for some time. The wasp was feeding by sucking out the contents of the beetle’s abdomen. There was no fight. The wasp was having difficulty in finding a leg hold on the broad wings of the beetle, and as a result the pair was constantly rolling around. Pollen and mantis into wasps homes. Snakes in to baby wasps. Wasps into birds. Birds in trees. The cycle continues.

August 18th

Filed under: Cricket, Insects, Weather — canopus56 @ 11:07 pm

Bernoulli Katabatic

6 a.m. Although the days are hot, as we move towards the equinox, the mornings have become cooler. This morning jogging up the canyon, the air has become truly cold. It is not a simple invigorating cold that chills the skin. This cold penetrates and reaches the bone. After so many days of endless summer heat, it is a welcome, refreshing change to be truly cold and it is a reminder of the winter to come. Two factors combine to make it this cold in the lower mile of a canyon. The first is the Bernoulli effect. To mile post 1, the canyon narrows and as winds come down canyon, they are constricted and pick up speed. The second cause is the morning, descending katabatic wind. Both of these increase wind speed and raise the wind chill factor. The lower temperature also affects the insects. During the heat of the day the canyon is a buggy place. It is better to keep moving and not give flying insects a place to land. But in the cold morning air, there are no flying insects. In the morning twilight, crickets have not finished their nightly chorus, but their song is oddly slowed down. Counting “one Mississippi”, “two Mississippi”, you can time the cycle of their croaking. During the hot evening, it lasts a half-second. Now it is stretched out to just short of a full second.

August 15th

Filed under: Avenues, Cricket, Insects — canopus56 @ 11:02 pm

How Many Crickets?

5 p.m. It has been overcast all day. The darkened sky has fooled the crickets. About one in four have begun their evening song. On a normal evening usually around 7 p.m., the crickets begin their full chorus. In the canyon the sound is loud: 20 or 30 decibels. A half hour later the sun comes out and the crickets fall silent. Today was the opposite scenario from the summer storm on August 7th. Then it was a sunny all day and in afternoon a thunderstorm backed up against the Wasatch. The canyon abruptly darkened at 5 p.m. as the thunderstorm moved in front of the sun. The crickets were deceived and began their nightly song early. At 2 a.m. in the Avenues, crickets continue their loud song. Walking outside I estimate that there are 2 crickets for every 500 square feet of green space. The Avenues consist of about 6 square miles or about 1.7 million square feet. I estimate about 12% of the Avenues use green space. This works out to about 800 crickets living in the Avenues. This is a small number compared to their contribution to the night’s soundscape.


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