City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

June 25, 2017

June 25th

Fishing spiders

5:00 p.m. The first mile of road has turned into a green tube, and the garland of butterflies described on June 15th and June 22nd continues. The sky is clear and the air calm. Trees overhang above and views of the stream are obscured by thick underbrush except at picnic sites. The stream can also be accessed at small breaks made by anglers or at small natural breaks. There about ten of these breaks along the first road mile. I force myself through several of the breaks and look down to enjoy the cool, transparent stream. At each I find various types of spider webs: disordered tangle webs, sheet webs hung low just above the waterline, and the circular webs of Orb weaver spiders (Araneus sp.). Paradoxically, I see no spiders today, but their webs are full of hapless arthropod victims.

Lining the stream banks at these breaks are Bittersweet nightshade plants (Solanum dulcamara) a.k.a. Climbing nightshade with deep blue blossoms. These plants hug the stream’s steep banks and vertical rock retention walls, and they grow just above the waterline. At a few places along the first road mile, they incongruously protrude from the understory of serviceberry bushes (Amelanchier sp.), and there they are noticeable because their colorful blossoms are one of the few flowering plants that are left after the spring flower explosion. The Nightshade’s blossoms are either shriveling or extend vibrant yellow cones surrounded by blue petals. In the fall, these will yield bright red fruit.

Looking up from the stream and into the thick green sub-story, there are butterflies everywhere. They are the usual suspects for a canyon spring and early summer: Cabbage white butterflies, Western tiger swallowtails, Mourning cloaks (Nymphalis antiopa). These are now joined by White Admiral butterflies and by Common whitetail dragonflies patrolling overhead. I am used to seeing this floating butterfly assemblage traveling linearly on their feeding searches along bushes on the road’s sides, but here they fly in their natural setting. The butterflies follow large spiral flight paths broken by and traveling through the dense shrubs. In this setting, their frenetic sharp turns and chaotic shifts are necessary to navigate this complicated scene, and this explains these seemingly purposeless motions on their flights over the road. In this manner, the butterflies explore every possible hiding place in which a flowing blossom might be found.

At each of my stops along the stream, I see about five butterflies, and together with butterflies along the road, I estimate that there about 100 butterflies in the first mile road. Two Painted Lady butterflies (Venessa cardui) are also patrolling the roadside bushes. What flowering plant these butterflies are searching in the shurb understory is a mystery. The daytime flowering blossoms of spring are past, and only a few Foxglove beardtongue flowers remain open producing nectar. The only substantial flowering plant left is Yellow sweet clover. But the stands of this weed that line only the roadsides are fading, and on any one plant only one-third of the blossoms found at their peak are viable.

The fierce post-solistice sun begins to affect tree leaves. One or two Gambel’s oaks and Norway maples have a brace of leaves that are browned and shriveled at the edges. Once damaged, their leafs curl up, and the crabapple tree at the upper end of Pleasant Valley near mile 1.7 shows similar signs of stress. But the deciduous trees’ principal defense against the loss of water from heat and sunlight is a waxy layer on the upper surfaces of trees. This is best seen on the leafs of the western River birch trees. At the right angle to the Sun, their canopy flashes dappled green light for leafs titled away from the light and a blinding silver-white light for those at appropriate angle of reflection. University of Sussex ecologist Hartley notes that the waxy layer provides another benefit: it is some tree’s defense against caterpillars (Hartely 2009). Although caterpillars have evolved specialized feet to grasp leaf surfaces, caterpillars have a hard time walking over the wax layer, they fall off, and the plant is preserved. This may explain the caterpillars sometimes found along the road in the last week. I had supposed the caterpillars had crawled onto the roadway, but perhaps they have slipped and fallen from above.

Returning down canyon from milepost 1.5, insects are backlit by the Sun, and this makes them easier to see. At mile 1.1 near the entrance to lower Pleasant Valley, 30 to 40 Common whitetail dragonflies are circling between 50 and 100 feet above ground. Between the road surface and fifty feet, there are none. In cool places beneath the shade of trees, the prey of the dragonflies, groups of up to 100 gnats float. A small, immature desert tarantula (Aphonopelma chalcodes) scurries into the bushes.

Also mile 1.1, I hear raptor screams, and this repeats my earlier experience of June 21st. They are the unmistakable calls of two Peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus). This time I travel back up canyon to get a better view, and below the eastern canyon wall near mile 0.8, more than a quarter-mile away, two peregrines are driving a smaller bird away from the canyon sides. There loud screams travel coherently through the calm summer air. This may be where the peregrines are nesting this season, but that side of the canyon does not have the steep cliffs found on its western walls. I note to watch this area closer to see if a nest can be confirmed.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 25th, 1852, he sees a rainbow in the eastern morning sky. He opines that younger birds are duller in color in order to protect them from predators. He hears a bobolink and a golden robin. He sees wild rose and butter-and-eggs. He notes that in cool air, the ridges on distant mountains are more distinctly seen. He describes a moon-light walk. On June 25th, 1853, he finds two bushes of ripe service berries and associated cherry birds. On June 25th, 1854, he sees a bittern. On June 25th, 1858, he sees two or three young squirrels playing. He observes how objects including grass and water skimmers cast lenticular shadows on the bottom of a river. He again notes how the lighter undersides of leaves illuminate dark sprout forests.

* * * *

On June 25th, 1946, City Water Commissioner D. A. Affleck closed all lands in lower City Creek and above 14th Avenue to entry in order to prevent the possibility of grass fires (Salt Lake Telegram). Campfires were prohibited in upper City Creek Canyon (id). On June 25th, 1913, City officials plan to inspect the headwaters of Salt Lake valley canyons for water purity as part of a plan to develop more water sources (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 25th, 1896, new silver and lead ore bodies were discovered in upper City Creek Canyon about one mile from the old Red Bird Mine on Black Mountain (Salt Lake Herald). Mining work continues at other mines in the Hot Springs mining district, which includes City Creek (id). On June 25th, 1892, an old, destitute woman who had been living in cave in City Creek Canyon was sent to the hospital (Salt Lake Times).

June 22, 2017

June 15th

First Day of the Estival Season

4:30 p.m. It is the first day of the Estival ecological season, the time of greatest heat (Feb. 16th). Astronomical summer begins on June 20th. The late spring heat wave continues and temperatures in the low nineties. I drive to the canyon for short jog, and as I exit the car, my senses are assaulted. The top of a large Douglas fir is heavy with new cones. A Rock squirrel scampers across the parking lot. Curly dock is turning its summer brown. Several Western tiger swallowtails chase each other. Cabbage white butterflies wind between tree branches. A Song sparrow sings loudly. For the first time this year, the air smells of summer and of greenery under hot a sun. All of this occurs within the first quarter of a minute.

The stream’s flow is dropping, but its depth is medium. At the base of the fir, its pine cones also show the Fibonacci whirl pattern seen in bull thistle blossoms (June 10th). The blossoms of Solomon seal plants along the first mile are fading, and some of the plants are beginning to brown.

With the addition of the last summer quality, heat, the canyon is transformed by insects. Previously, light has been increasing throughout spring, and melting snow and violent storms have added water. Heat is last elemental that completes the canyon’s return to prolific life after last winter’s sleep. The first mile has become a boulevard of butterflies. There is a mini-explosion of Cabbage white butterflies in the first quarter mile, and about twenty line both sides of the road. They are joined by Painted lady and Spring azure butterflies. An unidentified yellow butterfly with a black band on its trailing wing line flutter. In the Yellow sweet clover and Red clover weed (Trifolium pratense), which is a purple-blue invasive in Utah, are laced with Yellow-jacket wasps and domestic Honey bees. Above my butterfly escorts, a new large, brown dragonfly with black-spotted wings has matured. These are massive for a flying insect – about three inches across. These are female Common whitetail dragonflies (Libellula lydia). A large four inch mosquito, the common Floodwater mosquito (Aedes vexans), has perished on the road, and since it is unmoving, I can examine its otherworldly structure. This nationally-distributed Floodwater mosquito is a secondary vector for dog heartworm, and more recently in states other than Utah, it has been implicated as transmitting West Nile virus. In Utah, the common House mosquito (Culex pipiens) is the primary vector of West Nile. I am walking through a garland of butterflies.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 15th, 1840, he admires the reflections of trees in water. On June 15th, 1851, he sees the first wild rose of the season, blue-eyed grass, yarrow, blooming lambkill, and Solomon’s seal. He lists a series of spring flowering plants. On June 15th, 1852, he hears crickets and sees dandelions, fleabane, sorrel and purple orchids blooming. He hears a seringo and a hawk. At night, he sees fire flies and the reflection of a bright star in water. On June 15th, 1853, he notes that clover is at its peak and sees many wild roses in bloom. On June 15th, 1854, he notes that birds are singing less. On June 15th, 1858, he notes wool grass growing in a meadow.

* * * *

On June 15th, 1909, a teamster, William Luther, had his legs crushed in an truck accident while hauling gravel along City Creek Canyon Road. On June 15th, 1902, the Salt Lake Tribune argues in favor of residents using filters to better purify domestic water, in part coming from City Creek Canyon.

May 22, 2017

May 22nd (Revised)

Continental Scale Bird Population Trends – Part I

(Science Section Revised May 28th.)

1:30 p.m. It will be a good day. As I ready to leave for the canyon and before even starting the car, a brilliant red House finch lands on a nearby telephone wire and sings happily for five minutes. Bright sunlight floods the canyon, and spring life explodes. There is too much to see, and I am overwhelmed. The roadside heats up with smells of fresh growth, and it mixes with the crisp cool air that rises from the transparent, chilled water of the swift stream. In the first mile, fifty birds are active, all singing in cacophony. The red ozier dogwood bushes are covered with small one-half inch bees with yellow and black abdomens and similarly miniature wasps with black and white striped abdomens. The first Western Yellowjacket wasp of the season lands. Nine Yellow swallowtail butterflies line the first mile with Mourning cloak, White cabbage, Painted Lady, and Spring Azure butterflies. Two Blue-eyed darner dragonflies fly above the road, and one unceremoniously defecates as it passes.

Immediately past Guardhouse Gate, three Warbling vireos exchange calls from the surrounding trees. Along the road to mile 0.3, I can distinguish about fifteen bird songs and calls, but by sound, I can identify the American robin, a Mountain chickadee, the Black-headed grosbeak, and the Song sparrow. A small Blue-gray gnatcatcher (Polioptilidae Polioptila caerulea) jumps parallel to the road along oak branches. Black-chinned hummingbird wings beat loudly.

At the bend in the road above picnic site 3, there is another riot of bird songs in a small cluster. Songs of the House finch, Mountain chickadee and others blend together. Then a blazing Yellow warbler comes of the screen of trees and lands in a nearby branch. The warbler leaves and finally, a Western scrub jay lands on a another branch. I play a recording of one of its kind squawking, the blue shouldered bird replies. This way we have an odd conversation. There is more, but this is enough.

This is the green explosion that the vernal season (February 16th) has been building to since the first of May.

* * * *

Parrish, Norvell and Howe’s Utah bird study covers one state – Utah (Parrish et al. 2007; Novell, Howe and Parrish 2005), but birds are international travellers. Olsen’s Pacific Flyway data is international but regional (Olsen 2017). Because of their dispersal, bird trends also need analysis on the continental scale. In 1966 in response to DDT’s impact on birds, the U.S.G.S. and the Canadian Wildlife Service began the first North American continental Breeding Bird Survey (BBS). However, design of the BBS did not cover weighted areas of differing habitat types (Bart 2005; Parrish et al. 2007 at 11). All survey sites were along roads, and this introduced a bias that would not allow for the study of how changes in habitat affects bird populations (id). Acknowledgement of the need to have coordinated continental scale non-game, longitudinal bird population data led to the establishment of the Partner-in-Fight Working Group (Bart 2005) to supplement the Breeding Bird Survey, and Parrish, Norvell and Howe’s work on Utah riparian habitats was part of the Partners’ system. Governmental agencies, including Utah, consolidate results into the national Breeding Bird Survey database (Sauer 2017; Pardieck 2016). Both the BBS and the Partners-in-Flight programs focus on professionally trained biologists working for or associated with many governmental agencies collecting high quality data by conducting transect surveys over time at the same sites.

Through 2015, the Breeding Bird Survey shows a declining population at 1.4 percent per year in its Western region (Sauer 2017). Plumbeous vireos decline at 2.3 percent per year.

Since the 1990s, concerns grew over what impact climate warming might have on bird populations and a need was perceived to develop management tools to early identify adversely effected bird species, and a management tool, the Partners-in-Flight the Conservation Concern Index was develop to provide guidance under the conditions of uncertainty in estimating local and global bird populations and their trends. The Partners-in-Flight methodology rates stresses on bird populations for 1,154 bird North American bird species (Panjabi et al 2012) based on five non-dimensional, ascending scales ranging from 1 (least concern) to 5 (most concern). The five indices are global population size, breeding geographical distribution, non-breeding geographical distribution, threats to surviving the summer breeding season, threats to surviving the non-breeding season, and population trends, and the combined indices yield a maximum total score of at most 25 denoted as the “Conservation Concern Index”.

Of the five indices, the global breeding population size is the most sensitive. It varies by a geometric growth rate of 10 denoted by a logarithmic index:

5 – World breeding population is less than 50,000 or 5 x 10^4.

4 – World breeding population greater or equal to 50,000 (5 x 10^4) and is less than 500,000 (5 x 10^5).

3 – World breeding population greater or equal to 500,000 (5 x 10^5) and is less than 5,000,000 (5 x 10^6).

2 – World breeding population greater or equal to 5,000,000 (5 x 10^6) and is less than 50,000,000 (5 x 10^7).

1 – World breeding population greater or equal to 500,000,000 (5 x 10^8) (Panjabi et al 2012).

The global breeding distribution index is the second most sensitive. It varies by a geometric growth rate of 3 denoted by a logarithmic index. An index of “5”, or highest concern, corresponds to 80,000 square kilometers or a U.S. state size of about 300 kilometers square. A breeding distribution index of “1”, or least concern, corresponds to 4,000,000 square kilometers, or a continent-sized 2,000 kilometer square(Panjabi et al 2012).

The Populations growth index is the least sensitive. An annual growth decline rate between 0 and 15 percent is rated “3”. Only crashing populations with a growth rate of greater than 50 percent are have an index of “5”.

Logarithmic risk indices are intended to overcome human compression bias, i.e. – our tendency to misinterpret risk over a large range of outcomes (Adams and Smith). Humans overestimate the risk of rare events, like botulism, and under estimate the risk of common events, like heart attack (id) and many natural processes, for example from our hearing and sight, increase sensitivity by a geometric scale. Thus, a logarithm index is a useful abstraction, but it is still often misperceived. If a risk level is expressed in terms of raw data, e.g. a world population breeding size of 50,000 to 500,000,000, this lends to unwarranted accusations of overstating for conservation. Conversely, when confronted with a logarithmic index, the natural human tendency is to erroneously interpret risk as an arithmetic sum. The earthquake Richter scale is a useful, common analogy. An earthquake of 5.0 on the Richter scale will shake the picture frames on your walls, but an earthquake of 7.5, will turn your home into a pile of sticks. The effects are perceived as additive, but in reality the effects are exponential.

To supplement the governmental North American Breeding Bird Survey by applying the Panjabi et al criteria on a global scale, private groups and industry from the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI). NABCI analyses are reported in annual glossy “North American State of the Bird” reports, – e.g. North American Bird Conservation Initiative (2009) and North American Bird Conservation Initiative (2016a). Another useful form of the their results is the annual NABCI Assessment Database, a spreadsheet that allows the user to sort and select birds by risk and habitat North American Bird Conservation Initiative (2016b). The mean of the index is 11.5, and a Conservation Concern Index higher than 13.5 suggests a high level of concern for which further study and action should be taken. A Conservation Concern Index (CCI) of 8.5 to 13.5 denotes moderate concern. This continental scale study provides insights into future threats that might change the currently stable bird diversity and populations totals seen in the canyon. But again, the CCI is a management tool and it does not report additive risk. Because its two key component scales, global breeding size and global breeding area, are logarithmic, the CCI scale conveys an expert opinion of a geometrically or exponentially increasing risk.

Two spring species that are regularly seen in the canyon (May 6th, May 20th) have CCI’s of 13 at the borderline of high concern: Virginia’s warbler and Plumbeous vireo. Others in the moderate concern category and their concern indices are: Broad-tailed Hummingbird (12), Steller’s Jay (11), Dusky Flycatcher (10), American Dipper (10), Black-chinned Hummingbird (10), Mountain Chickadee (10), Townsend’s Solitaire (10), Lazuli Bunting (9), Northwestern Crow (9), Orange-crowned Warbler (9), Western Scrub-Jay (9), and the Western Tanager (9). One commonality between these 13 species of 149 known to visit the canyon are that their non-breeding season ranges are in the southern Mexican highlands or the Pacific Coast lowlands. In short, land development in distant places might reduce their annual appearance in the canyon. But these results should be read in context. The NABCI indices for species found in the canyon generally indicate there is low concern of immediate threats to most species. The diversity of bird species in the canyon is stable. The NABCI “State of Birds” reports are not a trend-based forecast, although their short annual narrative report incorporates conclusions from Christmas Bird Count trend studies by the Audubon Society and governmental Breeding Bird Surveys.

* * * *

On May 22nd, 1914, the newly completed scenic automobile drive up City Creek and along 11th Avenue to be called Wasatch Boulevard will be opened to the public (Salt Lake Tribune). Other park improvements include the new Thirteenth Street Reservoir Park and adding lawn areas to Liberty Park (id).

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.

* * * *

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).

* * * *

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 7, 2017

May 4th

Cultivars with Butterflies

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

• Mourning cloak butterfly.

• White cabbage butterfly.

• Painted lady butterfly.

• American lady butterfly.

• White-lined sphinx moth.

• Zerene fritillary.

• Spring Azure.

• Common sulphur butterfly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

April 26, 2017

April 22nd

Biophilia – Part IV – Twin Studies

2:00 p.m. It is the day of the annual running of the Salt Lake City Marathon. Nine-hundred and fifty of the world’s elite runners travel a course that comes down 11th Avenue, around the lower canyon’s rim on Bonneville Drive, and then down the lower canyon to Memory Grove. While historically since the 1920s, running races have gone up and down City Creek Creek above Bonneville Drive, this race does not. But the race course was removed by noon and the canyon has returned to its usual calm. A bright sun is out and the parking lot and road on this weekend day is full. Pairs of Painted Lady butterflies do acrobatic maneuvers. I count 10 white cabbage butterflies, 5 Painted Lady butterflies, 2 Mourning cloak butterflies and one possible Yellow swallowtail butterfly.

Near mile 0.7, a single male mallard flies up canyon along the road at head level and below the overhanging tree canopy. I laugh loudly with surprise and the mallard turns its head backward while expertly not missing a forward propelling wing beat. A rock squirrel scurries across the road, runs up a mature Box Elder tree, and without passing crosses fifteen feet over the stream by going down an overhanging River birch branch. It disappears underneath a cottonwood snag log near the base of the birch. Both are at home and know their neighborhood well.

The glade on the opposite side of the stream that contains purple phlox contrasting with yellow poison ivy blooms (March 29th and April 20th) looks just green today. The brighter sunlight washes out the color contrasts, and the true colors of the glade can only be seen in overcast skies.

It is also Earth Day, and as I drive home out of the canyon along Bonneville Drive, people are gathering to hear speakers on the steps of the State Capitol Building. The speakers, who include Nobel Laureate Mario Capecchi, will decry how the current wave of conservatism that dominates United States political and popular culture ignores the science of nature in favor of invented facts grown from dogmatism and ideology.

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Genetic heritability based on twin studies also provides indirect support for the biophobia negative hypothesis. One study of phobias in approximately 2,100 female twins indicated that the fear of threatening animals, such as spiders snakes and bugs, has a heritability range between 30 and 40 percent (Ulrich 1993 at 84). But twin studies have their limitations, as discussed by Guo at North Chapel University (Guo 2005). Guo notes such studies assume that like parents who provide a similar parenting environment are not more likely to marry (44), and maternal twins are dressed and raised more similarly than fraternal twins (id). These effects may overstate the presumed genetic effect. Second, under modern standards not present in 1993, twin study results should be considered provision until confirmed by molecular genetic studies (id). Many twin studies identify high proportional contributions from environmental factors. Guo notes that the real usefulness of twin studies is that they provide a pseudo-controlled experiment holding the effects of genetics constant and thus, such studies provide a more effective exploration of environmental factors. Guo points to his own twin study of the propensity for adolescent drinking. Although teen drinking has a genetic component, his and Elizabeth Stearns’ study revealed that having teen friends who also drink is a strong environmental factor.

In other words, genetic biophilia causation is not a binary choice. Genetics may be factor, but the stress of modern life may be a more significant factor.

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On April 22nd, 2017, Nobel Laureate Mario Capecchi gave at the Capitol Building and overlooking City Creek Canyon in which he noted how often he experiences dismay, “by how little science has penetrated our thinking” (Salt Lake Tribune, April 23, 2017). On April 22nd, 1932, S. S. Barrett asked the City commissioners for a license to prospect for minerals in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). On April 22nd, 1927, more prisoners were sentenced to work as prison laborers on City Creek Road (Salt Lake Telegram). On April 22, 1896, the Salt Lake Tribune urged the city to build a city-owned electric power plant in City Creek in order to break the monopoly of the existing utility (Salt Lake Tribune).

April 21st

Biophilia – Part III – Nature Fearing Studies

External Link to Image

Collage of City Creek Wildflowers, April 2017. Source: Author. Plant names are in text.

6:00 a.m. Rain showers including sleet fell last night and through the morning. From the city floor on the westside of the valley, I have a sweeping view up City Creek Canyon and along the mouths of the six other Salt Lake County Wasatch Front canyons. The rain falls in periodic sheets and microbursts that, with the morning light, color the canyon with curtains of delicate and varied gray tones. The canyon and the front are a series of paintings that rival the old Renaissance masters and Rubens.

4:00 p.m. As the front passes, the afternoon has given way to bright sunlight, but the canyon is still empty and full of solitude. Painted lady butterflies play tag, and one follows me up the road for about fifty feet, stops and then resumes its trailing track. It repeats this behavior four times before flying off. Two mallards streak down canyon skimming just above the trees and flying directly above the road. The road is their marker. The sleet has wilted all the long new 4 inch leaves of the horsechestnut trees. The Box Elder leaves are barely effected, and the Gambel’s oaks do not notice because they remain largely in their winter slumber. The water marks on Zen Rock show the stream is six lower than maximum notwithstanding last night’s downpour.

All is green and fresh and more spring wildflowers bloom both along the road and along the Pipeline Trail: Starry solomon’s seal (Maianthemum stellatum); Golden currant (Ribes aureum); Purple milkvetch (astragalus agrestis); Arrowleaf balsamroot; (Balsamorhiza sagittata); and western pink and blue-purple Longleaf phlox (Phlox longifolia Nutt.)

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The biophillia hypothesis has a binary opposite: biophobia. And the existence of biophia also can be proof of the existence of a genetic compulsion to be in and to like nature. Biophobic responses are adverse reactions to threats from the environment like spiders or snakes. Biophobic human reactions provide more definitive results because the body’s automatic response to negative experiences is more pronounced and easier to measure. Human negative responses can also be more easily conditioned in controlled experiments. Biophopia studies involve viewing pictures of threatening predators or poisonous animals while being conditioned with mild electric shock treatments. Psychologists then measure how quickly the body forgets the conditioning. If a person takes a comparatively longer period of time to forget the electro-shock conditioning, this is taken as evidence of a genetic predisposition for enhanced awareness of threats in a natural setting, genetic biophobia, and the biophilia hypothesis. Ulrich summarized many of the biophic studies through 1984 (Ulrich 1993):

* Involuntary physical responses to adverse conditioning when viewing natural threats such as spiders and snakes are more persistent than the response to neutral geometric shapes (Ulrich, 78).

* People exhibit stronger defense reactions when observing others’ fear reaction to threatening scenes like spiders and snakes versus neutral scenes (Ulrich, 79).

* After mild electroshock conditioning, a person’s autonomic body responses to spiders subliminal images of spiders and snakes embedded in films still takes a longer time to unlearn as compared to embedded images of non-threatening settings (Ulrich, 80).

* After mild electric shock conditioning, the autonomic body responses of persons viewing open natural settings are more persistent than when viewing low depth heavily forested scenes. This is interpreted as a genetic remnant of human evolution on the African savannas (Ulrich, 82-83).

There is an irony to these experiments, or its seems as I continue jogging down canyon. Showing a genetic basis of liking nature by shocking people with electric prods as they view photographs of nature in a controlled laboratory experiment seems far removed from the clean spring air and blooming flowers of today’s canyon. But these biophobic studies do lend more weight to the proof of a genetic basis for biophillia than the indirect proof of liking studies.

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On April 21st, 2006, snowpack in upper City Creek is 200 percent of normal (Salt Lake Tribune).

April 15, 2017

April 15th

More Blossoming

2:00 p.m. Several cultivar cherry trees blossom. They range in size from small bushes to two specimens with the first quarter-mile that are between twenty and thirty feet tall. In these larger trees, the gray birch-like pattern to their bark in addition to their bright white flowers are the keys to identification. More Box Elder shrubs have bloomed. One of the three horsechestnut trees at the Guardhouse gate parking lot have exploded, and each bud reveals a radial pattern of leaves surrounded by a cone-shaped green compound set of ovaries. Red ozier dogwood bushes that have leafed out have grown small compound blossom heads that look like heads broccoli. Chokeberries have resumed blooming and one near mile 0.2 is festooned with hanging flowerless blooms at the end of multiple heads at the end of long thin stems. Two immature rock squirrels betray themselves as their run over dry crackling leaves above the roadbank. A shadow across the road reveals to small hawks racing over the road. Their flight is so fast that identification is not possible, but front-wing line has a rounded shape. One seeking to increase its diving speed, folds its wing in to transform itself into a bullet shape. In an instant, they are gone around a ridge. Painted Lady butterflies are joined by a another cousin: a small dusky black butterfly that deep black triangular wing-tips with white spots. After yesterday’s warmth, the snow-melt fed stream today flows at it highest level.

The parking lot is overflowing with cars and their are sixty or seventy people along the road. The watercress gleaners have returned (October 16th) and they are carrying out bags of this edible that they removed from the seep below picnic site 6. I have changed my opinion on this practice: watercress is an invasive that chokes the stream, and if it is overharvested to the extinction, the stream may improve for native fish.

As I jog up-canyon, two young men bicycle down-canyon. They are wearing packs with hi-tech two-part snowboards strapped to the back in a triangle formation. They have ridden to the end of road and then hiked up to Grandview Peak for spring skiing. I did a similar 17 mile road trip ski tour and hike in the 1980s, and it is heartening to see the next generation of young men who would test themselves not in the arena of commerce or in sports against other men, but against the power of the nature. I give the trailing rider a big thumbs up, acknowledging what they have done. But he sees not as a kindred spirit, but only an old man on the lower road to which he gives no return glance.

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On April 15th, 1909, a brush fire broke out at four miles above Eagle Gate in City Creek Canyon (Deseret Evening News). On April 15, 1906, boxer Young Corbett trained in City Creek (Salt Lake Herald). This was probably Young Corbett II, who later became the world Featherweight boxing champion. On April 15, 1898, the Utah Forestry Association planned to assist in planting trees in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald). On April 15, 1896, negotiations between the City and the Salt Lake and Ogden Gas and Electric Light Company broke down, prompting the City to further consider constructing an electric power station in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune).

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