City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

June 1, 2017

May 29th

Memorial Day

3:00 p.m. Today, I drive up to mile 4.2, picnic site 20, and jog in the upper canyon to mile 5.1, and the Weeping Rock Cave. While the lower canyon and city are in the summer-like eighties, the upper canyon remains in the low sixties. In the lower canyon, all Gambel’s oaks have leafed out, but at milepost 2.0, most are not leafing. There is distinct band of bare oaks or oaks that have leafed out by twenty to thirty percent, but the canyon’s appearance is still a heavily wooded green, because all of the other deciduous maples, ash, and cottonwood have leafed out. These create an illusion of green around the stream, but the maples, together with Douglas fir and Norway spruce, block the view of the oaks further away from the road. The higher one goes in the canyon, the less leaves that oaks have until a glimpse of slope at milepost 4.5 and Lower Rotary Park shows all the oaks to be leafless. The upper canyon transitions from oak woodland to a mountain fir habit, and by mile 5.0, over half the trees are firs or spruces.

Although the stream is at first wider than the lower canyon, near mile 5.0, the canyon narrows as vertical limestone fins, turned by earthquake faults (Sept 1st). The canyon closes in further and the stream turns into a white, turbulent mass as it crosses younger volcanic rocks. This western canyon feels more like an eastern forest because it is directionless. Green meets the eye in all directions, and only the flowing of the stream gives a sense of location or direction. American wild mint (Mentha canadensis) grows by the roadside, and I gather a few leaves to make tea with at home.

The butterflies have taken refugee here, having followed the thermocline up canyon. Fifteen Desert elfin and Spring azure fly intertwined a dance. Mourning cloaks abound. Blue-eyed barner dragonflies are seen. Unlike the hotter lower canyon, the shaded upper canyon with its step sides is flooded with insect life. Numerous small biting flies and other insects force me to move on after stopping for a few minutes. Picnickers light fires to keep the insects at bay. There is enough life here to keep small birds well fed.

Bird communities along the road are dispersed, homogeneous and larger than in the lower canyon. Warbling vireos dominate near mile 5.1. Song sparrows are at mile 4.8. The large group of vireos allows me to spend sometime listening to their calls with some assurance of matching unusual calls to a species. A bird will make familiar textbook Warbling vireo call, followed by another unrecognized call. I hear three distinct vireo calls that I cannot match with catalogue recordings for this bird. A single female Broad-tailed hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus) hovers a few inches off the ground inspecting a dandelion. A few flashes of blue streaking into the forest reveals Stellar’s jays. A Rock squirrel peaks from around a bush. Returning down canyon, a mallard pair floats in the flood retention ponds below mile 3.0, but I see no chicks.

At Weeping Cave, the stream is split in two. The western stream carries about 12 cubic feet per second of water down-canyon in a torrent. The eastern branch consists of about 2 cubic feet per second of subterranean flow that emanates from a vertical Mississippian limestone fin. The fin itself is distorted into melted lines of red and browns, not from water, but from extreme heat when this outcrop was buried far underground. On one volcanic boulder in the stream’s middle, a Red maple and a Norway spruce shrub are growing from crevasse in the bare rock. Backlit by the southwest sun, the maple casts a reflection of a pure light green on the flat water’s surface.

Returning down canyon, a mallard pair floats in the flood retention ponds below mile 3.0. I see no chicks. The heat, the sunlight, and that it is a holiday, make everyone in the city lethargic. No one is focused, including myself, and a day of relaxation is the rule.

* * * *

All parts of City Creek Canyon function as a place of remembrance and grieving. We connect death with a return to nature, and it is not uncommon to read about, hear of, or pass small informal wakes in the canyon. Memorials are also left by people grieving the loss of loved ones along City Creek Canyon road. Physical memorials typically consist of cards or a handwritten note with flowers left at the base of a tree. A specific part of the canyon, Memory Grove, has been set aside for grieving and formal remembrance of war dead.

The origins of Memory Grove begin in 1912 as a general use park, similar to Liberty Park. On April 14th, 1912, a petition from citizens proposed the creation of a park system for the city, including establishing a park at the canyon’s mouth, now Memory Grove (Salt Lake Tribune). Memory Grove was created in the context of the construction of the State Capitol Building and the aftermath of World War I during the 1920s. In 1920, the Gold Star Mothers of the Service Star Legion asked the city to donate land at the mouth of City Creek Canyon to create a memorial park for their sons who died in WWI (Salt Lake Tribune and Goodman, May 30, 1993). On April 25th, 1920, the Salt Lake Herald published an artist’s rendering of a proposed iron bridge that would cross City Creek at 7th Avenue. A similar proposal was suggested by G. A. Iverson of Northeast Bench Improvement Association on May 24th, 1920 (Salt Lake Telegram). The bridge was to be part of a proposed memorial WWI war dead at what is now Memory Grove. By the end of 1920, the Gold Star Mothers had purchased 300 trees and planted them near the mouth of the canyon (Salt Lake City Tribune and Goodman, July 31st, 1994). On November 5th, 1920, a subcommittee of the City Planning Committee, including Mayor Clarence Neslen, outlined plans to create a new park at the canyon’s mouth (later Memory Grove) and to turn City Creek Canyon into a large park (Salt Lake Telegram). By 1926, Mrs. E. O. Howard, a Gold Star Mother, raised 60,000 USD from private donations, a state appropriation and contributions from the city and county for the park and Memorial House construction (Salt Lake Tribune and C. Monson, Sept. 16, 1994; Salt Lake Tribune and Goodman July 31st, 1994), or about the equivalent of 830,000 USD in 2017. The Memorial House was to be constructed by renovating the abandoned Salt Lake City Waterworks maintenance shed. On December 17, 1926, the Salt Lake Telegram reported that a mature horse chestnut tree, that was being dug up at the corner of 100 South and 300 East, was being donated and relocated to Memory Grove Park in City Creek Canyon. On May 30th, 1927, Governor George Dern (grandfather to actor Bruce Dern and great-grandfather to actress Laura Dern) dedicated a monument to the Mormon Battalion at the southeast corner of the Utah State Capitol grounds that overlooks lower City Creek Canyon and Memory Grove (Monument plaque visited May 2017). The sculpture was rendered by Chicago artist Gilbert Riswold (id).

Memory Grove Park was constructed in increments from 1920 through 1927, and Memorial House served as the meeting place and wedding chapel for the Gold Star Mothers for several decades thereafter (Salt Lake Tribune, July 31, 1993). In 1920 and 1924, trees were planted (Salt Lake Herald, April 16, 1920; Salt Lake Telegram, April 15, 1924). On June 14, 1926, the Memorial House was dedicated (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 27th, 1926, a tablet containing the names of 732 Utahans killed in WWI was unveiled (Salt Lake Telegram, June 24th, 1926). In a March 1927 ceremony, Gold Star Mothers R. W. Fisher and Clesson Kinney noted the contributions of “Mayor Nelsen, Councilman Crabb, Mr. Slater of Liberty Park, Mr. Parkinson of the U.S. Forest Service” to the park’s creation (Salt Lake Tribune, July 31st, 1994). On October 8, 1927, the Austin Artillery Memorial was dedicated (Salt Lake Telegram). The Austin Artillery Memorial, an obelisk to the north of the pink meditation chapel, commemorates Capt. James Austin and three other Utah officers who were killed in the Argonne Forest during WWI (Salt Lake City Tribune and Dawn House, May 26, 2003). During this period, the Rotary Club constructed the related Rotary Club park at miles 4.5 and 5.5 of City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram, August 17, 1927).

Riswold sculpted the art deco female reliefs on the columns at the entrance to the Grove. They set the grove’s tone. In a west relief, a Grecian clothed mother looks over her shoulder to a military cross in the background. Riswold also did the sphinxes on the entrance to the Masonic Temple near 700 East South Temple (Utah Capitol Preservation Board 2017). In 1932, a second round greek style structure was added to the south of meditation chapel. It holds an octagonal bronze plaque that lists about 732 Utahans killed in WWI (Plaque visited 2017).

On April 2nd, 1935, Gold Star Mother E. O. Howard of the Salt Lake Gold Star Mothers Committee presented the Committee’s opposition to a City Street Department Plan to build a bridge across City Creek Canyon above Memory Grove (Salt Lake Telegram). They supported a plan to build stone stairs on the east side of Memory Grove to the Avenues.

World War II saw the addition of other monuments. On July 28th, 1948, the war dead chapel was dedicated at Memory Grove in front of a crowd of 10,000 (Salt Lake Tribune and John Ure, November 9th, 1997). This is the pink granite chapel in the center of the park. The Memorial Chapel was donated by the family of Ross Beason Jr., a pilot killed off the coast of Italy in WWII, but whose body was not found (House 2003). The Beason family dedicated the Memorial Chapel to all soliders whose bodies were never found (id). A step leading to the Chapel reads “In memory of 42 brave sailors who followed me to their death. C.A. ‘Red’ Beam, USN (ret.).” Beam dedicated the step in memory of his platoon that was wiped out, except for himself, during a WWI raid on Tarawa Island (House 2003). This step could not be found in 2017. 1,405 Utahans died or were missing in action in WWII (United States Military Archives 2017).

In May 1983, the park was damaged during a 100 year flood of City Creek. On February 3, 1991, the City Parks Department considered proposals to renovate the then abandoned Memorial House in Memory Grove (Salt Lake Tribune). On October 4th, 1994, the Utah Heritage Foundation reopened the renovated Memorial House, where its offices remains today (Salt Lake Tribune, October 16th, 1994). On November 9th, 1997, the Memory Grove Foundation announced its plans to raise $500,000 to renovate war memorials in Memory Grove (Salt Lake Tribune). On May 9th, 1999, the successful completion of the Memory Grove Foundation’s program to repair monuments in City Creek Canyon was reported (Salt Lake Tribune). On August 11, 1999, trees in the park were substantially destroyed by a tornado (Salt Lake Tribune, August 18, 1999).

On September 24th, 1999, Rep. Ralph Becker announced a $250,000 grant from the Metropolitan Water Conservancy District to rehabilitate Memory Grove following its destruction by a tornado (Salt Lake Tribune and Jim Woolf, Sept. 24th, 1999). On September 30th, 1999, City Director of Public Utilities LeRoy Hooten, Jr. announced the construction of a six-by-six foot concrete pond near Memory Grove in which dogs can wade (Salt Lake Tribune). Dogs entering City Creek’s stream have quadrupled the coliform count. On July 20st, 2001, City Planning Director Stephen Goldsmith noted that a gate had been added at Memory Grove to control traffic (Salt Lake Tribune).

In 2003, a Korean War Dead monument was added to the park (Plaque visited 2017). (The Vietnam era memorial is on the west capitol lawn. The Iraq Afghanistan war memorial is in Cedar City, Utah.) 141 Utahans died in Korea (Salt Lake Tribune. Apr. 25, 2013). 370 Utahans died in Vietnam (Virtual Wall). Through 2010, an unofficial count for Iraq and Afghanistan was 39.

A stone monument listing 6 Utah Medal of Honor recipients was also added. Recipients include George E. Wahlen, after whom the Salt Lake Veteran’s Hospital is named. Medic Wahlen was shot several times during the Battle for Iwo Jima such that he was unable to walk. Nonetheless he crawled across a battlefield under enemy fire to give assistance to other wounded soldiers. Whalen survived. George T. Sakato, a member of the WWII Nisei battalion led a charge against repeated enemy attacks. Brian Miles Thacker, still living, defended Firebase 6 in Vietnam as it was being overrun by North Vietnam regulars. He stayed behind and provided cover fire that allowed all other base members and wounded to evacuate. He evaded the NVA as the base was overrun and made his way back to US held territory through hostile ground. Jose F. Valdez’s WWII platoon of six was attacked by German tank. Valdez drove the tank off using only a carbine. The German army counter attacked with two companies (160-500 men). Valdez volunteered to and stayed behind to hold off the attack, allowing his platoon mates to escape. He was shot more than once, but still managed to evade capture and return to US lines. Valdez later died from his wounds sustained in the counter attack.

Battle deaths, meaning military deaths on both sides of a conflict plus collateral civilian deaths, were: WWI, 17 million; WWII, 60 million; Korea, 1.2 million; and Vietnam, 2 million (Lacina and Gelditsch 2005), or a total of about 80 million persons.

On February 1st, 2011, the Salt Lake Rotary Club, who built Rotary Park in upper City Creek Canyon in 1921 and who renovated the Ottinger Hall in 2005, the former fireman’s association meeting house near Memory Grove, celebrated its 100th anniversary (Salt Lake Tribune and Mike Gorrell, Feb. 1st, 2011). Ottinger Hall is now a youth center.

In counterpoint to the Memory Grove memorial to war dead, Salt Lake City hosts another unique memorial indirectly related to the non-combatant victims of war: the International Peace Gardens in Jordan Park at 1000 South and 900 West. The Peace Garden was conceived in 1939 by Mrs. Otto Wiesley and the Salt Lake Council of Women as a beautification project for the 1947 Utah Centennial (Salt Lake Council of Women 2017). Construction was halted by WWII, resumed in 1947 after the end of WWII, and the peace garden was dedicated in 1952. The garden contains monuments donated by 28 different countries. The United States’ “Peace on Earth” statute in the gardens features heroic images of mothers that was created by Mormon sculptor Avard T. Fairbanks. The statute is dedicated to “the hope we can leave a more peaceful future to our children.” Inscriptions on the statute read “Our Hope to the Children”, “Peace on Earth”, and “The Dawn of a New Era”. After the 2002 Winter Olympics, 84 “Peace Poles” were installed at the entrance to the gardens: one for each country participating in the winter Olympics. (Other sources list 78 countries as participating in the 2002 olympics.) There are about 156 similar peace gardens and another 146 larger peace parks around the world (peace.maripo.com)

Political scientist J. R. Rummel of the University of Hawaii (d. 2014) specialized in systematically counting civilian non-battle deaths – those deaths in conflicts not between two states – and he total an astounding 262,000,000 losses from 1900 to 1999 (Rummel, 1994, 1997, 2002). Examples include the Khmer Rouge in the 1970 and Stalin in the 1930s. The world population increased by 5.5 billion persons between 1900 and 1999, that is the net of live births less deaths. Therefore, Rummel’s 262 million represent at at most 5 percent of all persons alive during that century. Using more sophisticated estimates, some experts place the figure at less than 1 percent of all persons who were alive during the twentieth century.

Many more days are devoted in the United States to remembering military battle dead as compared to civilian battle dead, other civilian victims of conflict violence or life in general. Memorial Day is one of the three official United States’ holidays that are related to war and the solemn remembrance of war dead: Memorial Day (May 30th), Independence Day (July 4th), and Veterans Day, (November 11th). Veteran’s Day was originally Armistice Day that remembered the war dead of World War I, and four other days are now observed primarily by the United States military: Pearl Harbor Day (December 7th) marks the beginning of World War II; the less well-known Armed Forces Day (May 21st); D-Day (June 6th) marks the landing of allied forces on the French coast; and V-J Day marks the end of World II (September 2nd). German Remembrance Day, the German day for remembering war dead, is observed annually around November 14th at Fort Douglas cemetery at the monument to 41 German WWII prisoners of war who died in Utah. From the view of First Peoples, Columbus Day (October 9th) marks the beginning of Euro-American genocide against native Americans and is also a day of remembrance. From the view of United States working people, Labor Day (September 4th), celebrates a compromise that ended violent conflict between labor and upper classes. Although not widely observed in the United States, International May Day celebrations began in Chicago in 1886 with celebration of labor’s declaration for the eight-hour work day, but was quickly followed by the violence of the Haymarket Massacre on May 4th. Today, it is observed worldwide as a day commemorating the struggle between labor and capital.

In contrast to the seven days commemorating war dead, two unofficial and one official United States holiday celebrates life and nature: Earth Day (April 22nd), Arbor Day (April 27th), and Christmas near the first day of winter. These are supplemented by two other unofficial days related to the movement of life through the seasons: the first day of spring and autumn. No official United States holiday commemorates civil battle dead or other civilian victims of conflict violence. In 1981, the United Nations established the International Day of Peace on September 21st of each year (United Nations, 1981). Small observations around the globe are coordinated by the International Peace Day organization.

* * * *

On May 29th, 2009, Utah Governor John Huntsman, county Mayor Peter Corroon and Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker held a press conference in City Creek Canyon to announce a new planning process administered by Envision Utah called “Wasatch Canyons Tomorrow” (Salt Lake Tribune). On May 29th, 1993, James R. Cook, in a letter to the editors of the Salt Lake Tribune, proposes to transform Traverse Ridge at the south end of Salt Lake Valley into a nature reserve similar to City Creek Canyon at the north end of the valley. (By 2017, Traverse Ridge was transformed in a luxury subdivision). On May 29th, 1914, City officers visited the newly completed City-Creek Wasatch Boulevard in anticipation of its opening on May 30th (Salt Lake Telegram, Salt Lake Tribune). City Creek Canyon Road has been widened to Pleasant Valley (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 13, 2017

May 10th

Flies

Midnight. In the valley, temperatures are in the low sixties, and this means overnight temperature in the canyon is in the fifties. Everything is in place – water, soil, nutrients, leaf, flower, and life – and the great vernal explosion of growth has begun. My pen and typewriter feel inadequate to the task. With the vernal explosion, everything in the canyon is changing so rapidly, and it is possible only to record a fraction of and a general impression of what is occurring.

4:00 p.m. As I exit the car at the parking lot, a Peregrine falcon zips overhead traveling west to due east. As I start up the road, a Red-tailed hawk is soaring overhead, hovering effortlessly and then moving to the west at a few miles an hour. A down canyon wind just balances it needs for lift and forward propulsion. There about thirty bird calling and singing in the first mile. I can hear the songs of the Dark-eyed Junco, a Western tanager, and the Lazuli Bunting. The bunting also makes separate chirping call. All the song birds are unseen and hidden in the forest.

Woody shrubs are the most prominent flowering plants, and along the first road mile simultaneously, Red-ozier dogwood, serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.), and chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) bushes are blossoming. When heated by sunlight, chokecherry blossoms give off an enticing vanilla odor, but it is not produced when the bush is in shade. On a dogwood complex funnel-like inflorescence, a Western honey bee (Apis mellifera) feeds. At Guardhouse Gate and at the Red Bridge, below Horsechestnut inflorescences, waxy seed pods form. River birch leaves have grown to two or three inches and with hot sun, now are covered in a shiny, wax layer. This may be an adaptation to retain water. At picnic site 1, a pretty flowering invasive, the Star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum L.), has about ten blossoms close to the ground. This bulb perennial has small white star-shaped petals that surround a green rim and a set of second interior white petals.

There are about twenty recently common butterflies in the first mile: White cabbage; Painted lady; Zerene fritillary (doubtful); Desert Elfin; and, Western tiger swallowtails; and, Spring Azure. Three examples of new unidentified moth appear. Moths are distinguished from butterflies as they rest. Butterflies fold their wings vertically after landing; moths spread their wings horizontally flat. This small one to two inch moth is light brown, but has a rectangular medium dark brown bar above the trailing edge of its wings.

Ants are active on the road: a tiny black species and larger Carpenter ants (Camponotus sp.). One of the tiny black ants crosses the road carrying a transparent fly wing in its mandibles.

Over the last week and again today, I see a small furry brown bee hovering over the road. To my eyes, it is suspiciously off somehow; the “bee” only has two and not four wings. This is the Black-tailed bee fly (Bombylius major). This fly also has a distinctive long-straight proboscis for sipping nectar, and it lays eggs on bee larvae. I am feeling ill and diarrhetic, and today, for the first time in over two decades, I am compelled to run into the bushes to defecate. Bags that I use to pick up dog droppings from the road are used to remove the mess from the watershed. While this in the category of too much personal information, there is a lesson to be learned. Within less than a minute, the waste mound is covered in over seventy-five flies of three different types, but I make no attempt to identify them. Normally, bees are unseen along the canyon roads and trails, except near waste containers or deer dung piles, but today’s accident reveals that there are hundreds of flies hiding in the bushes and leaf litter. They are both pollinators and nature’s important garbage collectors. Although they favor mule deer and my human droppings, they are less quick to visit canine waste piles left along the road. The flies in turn become food for birds. About ten miles to the west at the Great Salt Lake flats, brine flies fuel the Utah portion of the Pacific Flyway of migratory birds. In a month at the Lake, beaches and lake bed flats will covered in brine flies such that the surface appears to move. Birds wade through the living mass, gorging themselves. In the canyon, the flies restrict themselves to the cool forest understory, and hopefully they feed the Lazuli buntings, warblers and other song birds.

While the flies in the marshes and beaches of the Great Salt Lake support millions of birds, the density of flies in the canyon may be too low, and canyon flies can only supplement canyon the birds’ diets. Assuming based on my accidental experience that there is about one fly per square foot to a depth of fifty feet on either side of the stream and that each fly weighs 12 micrograms, then the first mile holds about 6.3 kilograms of flies (0.12 x 2 x 5,280 x 50). If there are about 50 small birds living in the first canyon mile and each weigh about 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces), then the bird’s mass is about 5 kilograms. Flies alone are insufficient to support the small birds’ higher trophic level.

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A 2010 Tibetan study of the ecological role of flies and beetles quantifies their effectiveness in removing animal waste from prairies. Wu and Sun placed 248 gram patties of yak dung under screens that allowed either flies alone, beetles alone, or flies with beetles in Tibetan alpine meadows for thirty-two days. Over one month, the beetles removed sixty-seven percent (168 grams) of dung and the flies removed fifty-one percent (127 grams) of the waste. Using Black solider flies, similar results have been obtained by farm management scientists who have used the flies to reduce the volume of livestock waste by 42 percent (Diener, Zurbrugg and Tockner 2009). In the canyon, I have anecdotally noticed similar rates of removal of Mule deer scat by flies and beetles.

What ornithologists know about what birds eat comes in part from a remarkable series of studies by F. E. I. Beal of the United States Department of Agriculture from the first half of the twentieth century in which birds were actively killed and then the contents of their stomachs were examined (Beal 1900, 1911, 1915, 1918). For example, ten robins were taken alfalfa fields in Utah, presumably in the valley and in the region of the canyon, and twelve percent of their stomach contents were beetles (Beal 1915, 6). Thoreau also recorded bird stomach contents. Although he would not kill himself, when his neighbors shot local birds, he sometimes examined the contents of their stomachs (e.g. Thoreau, Journal, January 11, 1861). In a more humane era, non-destructive direct observation of feeding habits and bird feces are studied (e.g. White and Stiles 1990).

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On May 10th, 1910, the City Commission argued over Chief Engineer’s expenditures to study how to increase the city water supply, and the Commission order all work to stop on waterworks improvements in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald).

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.

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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).

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