City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

June 14, 2017

June 8th

First Loud Cricket with Metamorphosis

7:00 p.m. True night does not come until after 9 in the evening, and the start of the estival season is one week away. It the sixth day of late spring heat in the nineties, the jet stream is forcing its way into the Intermountain west, and the jet stream traveling southwest to the northwest over adjacent Nevada. This has brought high winds to the canyon. The leaved trees whip back and forth under its hand. In response to the days of heat, invasive Cheat grass (Bromus tectorum) that covers the hillsides on both sides of the Salt Lake salient have dried to an early season brown. The hills are a patchwork of brown Cheat grass and other later maturing bromes that are still green. Cheat grass is susceptible to burn in quick moving, high temperature fires, and authorities are worried over a bad fire season. Utah normally has 400 grass fires per year. Under the force of the wind, small birds restrict themselves to short thirty foot flights between trees. At the pond at picnic site 5, I startle a grounded Song sparrow, while a Black-headed grosbeak performs its trill call overhead.

As the wind starts to die down, I hear the first loud cricket – just one – of the season. I suspect that these also may be the cicadas heard yesterday in the tops of Gambel’s oaks (June 7th), and their wings have hardened overnight. In two months, large choruses of crickets will fill the canyon night air (August 15th and August 18th). Large mosquitoes (sp. Culiseta), possibly Marsh mosquitoes (Culiseta inornata), fly through the shadowed evening light.

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In Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 8th, 1851, he notes white pines have stamen blossoms. On June 8th 1853, a pair of hawks swoop on him as he walks near his nest. He notes that white pine is in flower. On June 8th, 1860, he notes that the summer afternoon shower season has begun. Red oak leaves have fully developed.

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Whether cricket or cicada, this clicking insect is a newly hatched pupae that has likely undergone some form of metamorphosis. In complete metamorphosis (holometabolous), such as that which occurs in butterflies, the egg hatches a larvae caterpillar, the caterpillar weaves a pupal sack, and then an adult emerges. In incomplete metamorphosis(hemimetabolism), an insect egg develops into an miniature adult, the nymph, and as it expands, it sheds its exoskeleton as it grows. In the canyon, incomplete metamorphosis is seen in crickets and Box elder bugs. Among the vertebrates, frogs and salamanders also undergo metamorphosis. Since insects, numerically, are the most diverse type of animals, 45 to 60 percent of all animals on the Earth undergo metamorphosis, and our mammalian form of infant development is a relatively infrequent mode (Jabr 2012). The evolutionary just-so story by which metamorphosis arose is that an intermediary stage of development allows the larval and nymph stages to exploit different food niches from adults in the same habitat. Truman and Riddiford suggest that natural selection acted on the hormonal mechanisms of ancestral species to create the radically different developmental stages (Truman and Riddiford 1999).

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On June 8th, 2003, the Salt Lake Tribune reported the experiences of many Salt Lake Valley residents in how they use the local canyons, including City Creek Canyon. The Outdoor Industry Foundation is conducting a study of dispersed recreation use in Utah, and it finds that 81 percent of Utahans engage in outdoor activities (id). On June 8th, 1951, The Audubon Society scheduled a trip up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 8th, 1950, City tests of City Creek Canyon water show a high degree of purity and low coliform count (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 8th, 1933, the Wasatch Mountain Club scheduled a hike from Rotary Park in City Creek to Mueller Park (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 8, 1906, a committee of the City Council recommended that a permit to allow Henry B. Anderson to harvest 24 cords of cedar wood in City Creek be denied on the grounds of a need to protect the watershed (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 8, 1895, the Utah Forestry Association reported on its activities in reforesting stands of trees in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald). The Association also resolved to compile data on the extent of deforestation, rainfall and its impact on flooding (id).

November 7, 2016

November 7th

Filed under: Birds, Blacked-Headed Chickadee, mosquitoes, People, Scrub jay, Seasons — canopus56 @ 10:42 pm

Blue Paint

3:00 p.m. With the leaves gone, blue paint marks on the trunks of trees in the first mile now stand out. They are on the trunks of trees near knotholes and on hollow, rotted limbs. In late August, there were two interns from the Salt Lake County Mosquito Abatement District walking the canyon diligently peering into each hole and marking new ones. Andrew Dewsnup of the District explained that the holes and depressions can breed a particular species of mosquito (possibly the Tree-hole mosquito (Aedes triseriatus). The District notes the location of each hole with paint and with a GPS locator. In the spring, they will return to count the number of swimming larvae in each hole, and from that information, the District decides if chemical spraying is needed.

A flock of Black-headed chickadees can be heard in scrub oaks today along with scrub jays. On Nov. 7, 1857, Thoreau remarked in his “Journal,” a similar association in his eastern forest between Fall, chickadees and eastern jays.

October 9, 2016

October 9th

Filed under: European Paper Wasp, mosquitoes, picnic site 11, Variegated Meadowhawks — canopus56 @ 7:08 pm

Wasp Shock

8:30 a.m. Along the road, taxpayers provide free plastic bags for visitors to pickup their dog’s droppings; however, the dispensers purchased by the City do not work well. The rolls of bags frequently bind up inside the housing. At picnic site 11, I pop the lid to the dispenser in order to free the roll. Today, it is empty except for two plastic bag rolls and a small beginnings of the fan shaped nest of the European Paper Wasp (Polistes dominula).

The afternoon of the day following the last storm (October 6th), I also walk up to dispenser, and as usual the plastic bag roll will not feed out of its slit. I open dispenser’s lid to free the roll, and its top half (10 in. x 12 in. by 4 in.) is filled with about 100 bright-yellow European Paper Wasps. As I jump back in alarm, the lid drops open, and all of the wasps spill out into a pile at the base of the dispenser. A few remain within the dispenser and they cling to the plastic rolls. I brace for an en masse stinging, but the European paper wasp is not particularly aggressive, and the colony has been stunned into docility by the intense overnight cold. They crawl around on the plastic rolls and on the ground while staring at me vacantly. The face of the European paper wasp is similar to their relatives, the Bald-Faced hornets, who have a nest a quarter-mile down canyon. For the European paper wasp, the lines in their face where exoskeleton plates meet are colored yellow and not white as in the Bald-Faced hornet.

I checked back an hour later. The colony, including all the wasps clumped on the ground, have flown off. They have decided that building a nest in a moving plastic roll was not a good idea.

Human make micro-habitats, and, if possible, a parcel’s original plants and animals readily adapt to those changes. The wasp using a plastic bag dispenser is an example, and the holding tank public toilet around the corner from the dispenser at picnic site 11 is another. Mosquitoes are not a significant nuisance in the summer canyon; numerous insect and bird predators, like Variegated Meadowhawk dragonflies, keep them in check. This morning, inside the toilet at picnic site 11, humans have created an ideal micro-habitat for mosquitoes, and the walls of the toilet are covered in about one-hundred “no-see-ums”. They have a ready source of water in which to breed; they are protected from the predators outside by the toilet’s walls, and heat from decaying matter in the holding tank provides a source of warmth.

But on this cold morning, these mosquitoes, like the paper wasps, can do little more than weakly flail about on the walls. None can warm themselves sufficient to fly, and thus, I am able to take care of my morning business unmolested.

Across from picnic site 11 is the gas pipeline check value. Here and along the road, several hundred bright-yellow roadside sunflowers could be found at the height of the summer. Now, only two live yellow blooms remain.

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