City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

June 13, 2017

June 5th

Hopping Horsetail Pollen

4:15 p.m. It is the third day of an unusual early heat wave where daytime maximum temperatures reach 95 degrees Fahrenheit, while the average maximum for early June is about 80 degrees. In the heat, fewer birds sing. There is one Warbling vireo near picnic site 1 and a single Black-headed grosbeak and a few Song sparrows below milepost 0.5. On this Monday, people follow suit: the heat deters them and there are only a few runners and walkers along the road. Despite the heat and yesterday’s end of canyon snowmelt, the stream still runs high. But at mile 0.6, there is a distinct thermocline: a breeze picks up and temperatures are ten or fifteen degrees lower than in the city. The birds respond accordingly.

The season’s first unambiguous Weidemeyer’s Admiral butterfly (Limenitis weidemeyeri latifascia), a black butterfly with white wing bars, floats by at milepost 1.0, and this followed by a Blue dasher dragonfly. A new white butterfly is seen, but it is too fast and appears too briefly to identify. Two dead brown moths are found at different places along the road that have delicate yellow-orange underwings. They are invasive Large yellow underwing moths (Noctua pronuba).

The heat has also begun to force Wood roses along the road. As they reach maturity, their color starts to lighten, and a day or two later, their blossoms shrivel. More are gone at the lower canyon, the wave of mature roses is slowly moving up canyon. The blossoms of the Solomon’s seal field in the cattail seep at mile 0.7 have shriveled and passed. Across the road, the beginnings of Milk weed plants rise to a foot tall. New crops of horsetails have matured between mile 0.4 and mile 0.8, and they can be distinguished from the still reawakening horsetails that overwintered. These new horsetails are larger in diameter, have a lighter green color, and have larger cone shaped heads. Older horsetails are a darker green, and for the most part, their heads from not yet swelled with pollen for this new spring. On close inspection, the newer horsetail heads release a puff of pollen when disturbed.

Turning down canyon from Pleasant Valley, below the Red Bridge near mile 0.9, an orb weaver spider has woven a large four-foot circular web suspended between boulders and surrounding tree branches. Some of the web’s silken, supporting suspension cables reach six feet over the stream. The web whips wildly in each breeze, but it is effective. The spider has bundled up several insects along its web’s radial branches.

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In Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 5th, 1850, he smells that the air is full of spicy odors. He sees lady’s slippers and wild pink plants. On June 5th, 1852, he records cinquefoils, and he notes that lupines are in full bloom. On June 3rd, 1853, he again notes that the air is full of fragrance and that meadows are full of sorrel and green grasses. On June 5th, 1853, he sees a pair of nighthawks and their nest, and a blackbird. On June 5th, 1855, he notes sedge grass growing in rock cracks. On June 5th, 1856, he records lady slippers and he examines a cuckoo’s nest.

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In 2013, Marmottant, Ponomarenko and Bienaimé at the University of Grenoble reported that the 50 micrometer pollen of horsetails have the ability to “walk” (Marmottant, Ponomarenko and Bienaimé 2013). These tiny pollen are shaped like harlequin starfish, except they have four arms instead of a starfish’s five. When wet, the arms of the pollen curl around its central body. As the pollen dries, the arms suddenly unfold and propel the pollen into the air, and once aloft, it can be deposited in a more favorable, moist habitat (id).

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On or about June 5, 1975, Utah’s first gay pride festival, then called “Gay Freedom Day” was held in Memory Grove at City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune, June 5, 2008). A small crowd of 300 gathered over beer, burgers and hotdogs. Then they moved to the Sun Tavern. One of the participants of the first festival recalled that people were afraid to attend because they were concerned that bosses, co-workers or neighbors might see them attending. “We knew we were being discriminated against, and it was at least up to us to stop discriminating against ourselves,” the first pride day participant noted.

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