City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

June 13, 2017

June 2nd

Evolution of Angiosperms

8:00 a.m. Some days are beyond beauty. This is the first official day of the five months in which cars are allowed in the canyon on alternating days, and I have decided to drive up to the end of the road to jog the uppermost canyon. It rained last night, the undergrowth and trees are all covered with thick layer of drops. As I drive up the road, the morning birds are active. With the windows open, I mentally tabulate a count as I slowly travel up the winding road. It comes to about 20 birds within earshot for every quarter mile. This suggests a population of some 800 smaller song birds along the five and three-quarters of paved road and the subsequent 2 miles of trail in a band for 50 yards on either side of the road.

Continuing the drive up canyon, Wild roses are open to Pleasant Valley, mile 1.1, and Wild geraniums are open to mile 5.0. Along the first mile, a new flowering plant, another weed, has sprung up to two feet tall seemingly overnight. It is Western salisfy (Asteraceae tragopogon dupon). Although a noxious invader, it is an admirable plant. To avoid the heat of the day, it folds closed into a pen-like tip, but now in the light morning sun, it shows sixteen thin yellow petals surrounded by hair-thin sepals. The center has a sharply contrasting black band. It lines the roadside and at Pleasant Valley, Utah Conservation Corps treated field, that removed yellow starthistle, is now covered with another invasive – salsify. A purple variant of this plant is also found along the first mile road.

At the water treatment plant at mile 3.4, the canyon narrows, and flashes of blue and black flittering into the Gambel’s oaks reveals a flock of Stellar’s jays. Stellar’s jays prefer the coolness of a montane habitat, and in contrast, their cousins, the Scrub jay, prefers the hotter lower canyon. But the Stellar’s jay is more territorial, and thus, more entertaining. When a hiker enters their territory, one will immediately swoop down to the trail and call with its repetitive “caw” in both curiosity and in complaint. The action of one will others of its tribe, and this provides the walker with an avian presidio under which one must pass inspection. Later in the afternoon, further up the trail at the end of the road, as I walk under a large moss covered log, a Stellar’s jay lands above me, its mouth full of moss intended for use as nesting material. It glances back for a quick inquisitive look and then proceeds on its business.

Resuming the drive up the road and as the walls of the canyon close in, the canyon transitions from Gambel oak forest to deciduous maple and Box elder tree forest. The road becomes a single track. The heavy moisture on the leaves is heated by the first penetrating morning sun, and as a result, the air is thick with mist and dew. Shafts of light peak make it through the dense overgrowth and illuminate the mist into yellow tubes. Here, the canyon feels most like an eastern forest. Although the dense greenery only extends for a few hundred yards on either side of the road, the narrow canyon walls cut off any vistas, and this is what I remember of my boyhood eastern forests. The green goes on forever and the all sense of direction is lost. Here, stream bed widens and the stream slows. But then, near mile 4.5, there is an abrupt transition to a Rocky Mountain forest (Peet 2000) dominated by Douglas fir and Norway spruce. The stream narrows and the stream bed becomes boulders that are angular and freshly honed from bedrock. This change is also announced by great vertically upended limestone fins on the western wall of the canyon that have been turned by earthquake faults (Sept 1st). The Wild geraniums thin out, and the first Mountain bluebells, a cool weather plant, appear and become more frequent. The air thickens more and forest becomes medieval.

Along this stretch of road between Lower and Upper Rotary Park, the bird communities, mostly of American robins, Song sparrows, Warbling vireos, and Black-headed grosbeaks are spread out into distinct communities, unlike in the warmer first mile canyon. The distinct trill call of a community of Chirping sparrows is heard. I also hear a lone Mountain chickadee calling. This is where they have come, since the lower canyon is too hot for them. This segregation of birds into unique groups along the road gives me the opportunity to stop and study the distinct songs and calls of a group of Warbling vireos.

The sun rises further and the mist burns off as I reach the end of the road at mile 5.75, and the old mining road and trail that leads to the Treasure Box mine begins. I have not been here since the end of last summer (Sept. 8th), and it feels restorative to be in the most natural of the canyon’s regions. Leaving the car and proceeding up the trail, where the direct sun penetrates, a green canopy of maples and box elders closes in, while on shaded eastern slope, Douglas firs reach to trails edge. The air is heavy with the smell of wet leaves and chlorophyll. Crossing the first and second red metal bridges affords views up the stream, and it is a torrent of white, with only hints of blue water. The stream has become a silver ribbon. After the third metal bridge, the trail rises, the canopy deepens and the undergrowth becomes impenetrable. This stretch is as the lower canyon appeared around 1900. Shipler’s photograph of the lower canyon road taken around 1903, appears nearly identical to this morning’s rise in the trail (J. Willard Marriott, Id. 459448, see also Salt Lake Tribune, May 24, 1903). The chirping call of a Green-tailed towhee is heard.

For the next half-mile, the trail is about 150 feet east of stream, and the trail consists of sharp rocks that a month ago were another snow-feed branch of the stream. Geraniums and blue bells thicken along with young stinging nettle plants. All are so covered with last night’s rain water that my shoes quickly become soaked, but I do not care. A Mourning cloak butterfly with an odd color variant flies down canyon. Instead of the yellow-white trailing band, its trailing wing band is a dusky orange. Other now common butterflies appear uniformly distributed along the trail: Western tiger swallowtails and newly-hatched smaller Spring azure butterfly butterflies. The Spring azures flock in groups of three to six, and the harsh high-altitude light brings out a new property to their colors. Depending on the sun angle, their wings flash a deep medium blue, their streaked light blue, or flat light blue. The deep blue is new variation to their iridescence. There is a new unidentified one and one-half inch butterfly. It has forewings of patterned medium dark grey and rear-wings that are a grayish black. The colder air at this high altitude, along with their lack of exposure to humans, make insects sluggish. In the lower canyon, the Red-rumped central worker bumble bees are skittish. But here, the bees remain still when approached, and I am able to take a clear pictures of several.

Song sparrows, Warbling vireos, a Spotted towhee, Yellow warblers, and Lazuli buntings, another refugee from the lower canyons, are heard in profusion. But again, they rest in distinct communities in the spacious upper reaches of the canyon instead of being distributed uniformly along the trail. Jogging uphill feels good for the legs, but my progress is slow. I cannot resist the urge to stop and listen to each community of bird and to playback stock recordings of their calls, in part to assure to identification, and in part for the simple enjoyment of somehow communicating with them. At one point, the land between trail and stream widens, but is particularly lush with a low canopy. There I hear a single American dipper, the first of the season.

For the next half mile, the trail begins to narrow travels next to the stream, and the trail crosses a series of rock outcrops. There the trail becomes broken rock interspersed with patches of stream feed marsh, and the stream water itself is so pure that individual rocks can be seen distinctly on the stream’s bottom. A few Spearleaf scorpionweeds (Phacelia hastata) that have delicate light purple, fuzzy blossoms, hide in sun sheltered spaces. Along the broken rocks, I notice the small, 5 millimeter, dried-out shells of snails covering the trail. Over a 100 feet of trail, I count about the same number of shells. On picking one up and to my astonishment, there is a miniature live snail in each shell. I am unable to identify them.

Next, the trail starts to rise towards the first of four hanging meadows, and in the first of which stills with Louis Meadows SNOTEL weather station. Aspen trees first appear, a sure sign of a Rocky Mountain meadow ahead. Mountain bluebells surround the trail on both sides, and a few Western blue elderberry trees (Sambucus nigra ssp. cerulea) rise from the surrounding bluebells. Each elderberry is heavily festooned with white, lacey panicles. In the autumn, as their dark fruit ripens, these are a favored trail snack.

As I crest the lip of Louis Meadows hanging valley, the SNOTEL station comes into view. It sits in the middle of field of Mountain bluebells the size of two football fields, and the field is surrounded by a grove of waving aspen trees to the west and Douglas firs to the east. It is an idyllic sight; one that I feel privileged to experience. I begin to feel giddy and overwhelmed by biophilia.

While my heart feels love, my intellect says my expansive feelings are not the effect of altitude at just 6,700 feet (2,042 meters), but of ultra-violet radiation. The 10 a.m. summer Sun is high in the sky, and its warmth penetrates all clothing. The exercise of hiking in Western summer mountains is a relaxing experience. The cool air makes hard, fast hiking enjoyable, but at the same time ultra-violet relaxes the muscles and the mind. Pictures taken here today all are blue tinged from the uv light. With every 1000 meters in altitude, uv light increases in intensity by 10 percent. An internet uv intensity calculator suggests this morning’s ultra-violet index is 12.

As I nearly reach the trailhead and the car, the only other hiker in the canyon today, a young man in his twenties, overtakes me, and he can only mutter, “That is so unbelievably beautiful!” as he passes by. Words escape us both. We have been closer to creation and the other world of the upper canyons of the Wasatch Mountain Range.

Driving out the lower canyon and back to that other reality of my human social and economic existence, the Mosquito Abatement District surveyors are examining their blue painted tree holes (November 7th). They are taking a census in order to estimate the canyon’s mosquito population.

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In Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 2nd, 1853, he travels through a thick fog and notes that birds are still making song. He sees cherry birds and yellow bluebead lily, an eastern plant, and red sorrel. On June 2nd, 1855, he describes a moth cocoon opening. On June 2nd, 1858, on a camping trip to a mountain top, he examines a snow bird nest, and hears a chewink, a wood-thrush, and night-hawks. On June 2nd, 1859, he finds a grossbeak nest in a blueberry bush. On June 2nd, 1860, he sees bats and a king-bird.

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Fully preserved angiosperms first appear in the fossil record about 130 million years ago and by 90 million years ago, flowering trees had dominated the forest canopy. Pamela and Douglas Soltis at the University of Washington with Mark Chase at the Royal Botanical Gardens used modern gene mapping to reconstruct the evolutionary phylogenetic clades of flowering plants (Soltis, Soltis and Chase 1999). Soltis and Soltis review state-of-the-art flowering plant clades as of 2004 (Soltis and Soltis 2004).

Magallon and Sanderson at the University of California at Davis used the rate of diversification of woody plants in the fossil record to estimate the age of the major families (Magallon and Sanderson 2001, Fig. 4). Members of the Sapindales family, which includes maples seen in the canyon, appeared about 60 million years ago. The Rosaceae family members in the canyon, which include Western serviceberry, apple trees, chokeberry, ash trees, and Woods rose, evolved relatively recently, about 45 million years ago (id). Modern oaks appear about 35 million years ago. In Utah around 35 million years ago, the Farallon Plate had passed through Utah, crustal spreading behind the plate cracked Utah’s surface, and the spreading generated Utah’s volcanic era (January 7th). The volcanic breccia at milepost 1.0 of the canyon was forming (id).

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On June 2nd, 2002, teenager Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped from her Federal Heights home and was hidden on the south slope city side slope of the Black Mountain-City Creek ridge for two months (Salt Lake Tribune, March 15, 2003). The hiding place was not found by a 2,000 person search organized by the Laura Recovery Center (id). On June 2nd, 1915, the City Commission approved plans to build a 5,000,000 gallon reservoir at Pleasant Valley (Salt Lake Herald). On Decoration Day (May 30), a picnic was held in City Creek as reported on the social page of the Deseret Evening News.

May 29, 2017

May 28th

It is enough. This is the Right [Natural] Place – Part VI – Future Population Growth

5:30 p.m. I have misjudged the reopening of the road; it has opened to traffic today, but only a few cars come through the gate even though it is a beautiful blue-skied day. The road will also be open to cars tomorrow, Memorial Day. From the gate to mile 0.2, Warbling vireos sing, and I get a Black-headed grosbeak to respond to my playing of bird song audio recordings. When I return down canyon an hour later, a female Yellow warbler is at the top of what I now calling “Perching Tree”. The Perching tree is below picnic site one; it is about 40 feet tall; but the last 15 feet of its vertical branches are bare. Various birds like to perch there in the warm evening sunlight (May 19th, Lazuli bunting; May 23rd, Western tanager). The perch gives the birds a clear view of the surrounding landscape, and although it exposes them to attack from the hawks above, the bare branches prevent other birds from approaching unseen from below. Near picnic site 3, a Chirping sparrow, a Song sparrow and a House finch are heard.

In this lowest part of the first mile road, the blossoms of red ozier dogwoods and chokecherry shrubs are failing or are closed. The leafless ovaries are swelled and pregnant. At picnic site 3, blossoms on one dogwood are three-quarters gone and the remaining one-quarter is mobbed by a one-hundred nectar drinking 1-2 millimeter flies. But further up canyon at mile 0.7, the red ozier dogwoods are still in full bloom. As with the chokecherry, the pregnant ovaries have swelled in preparation for seed making. At the seep around the bend from picnic site 6, a cattail has grown to six feet high. Near the Red Bridge, a Box Elder tree is festooned with this season’s new catkins, full of seeds. Near mile 1.1, Wild geraniums are smaller than those found lower at mile 0.2, and there is a strain of white, not purple, colored blossoms at this higher and drier site.

Near mile 0.4, there is a small grove of new horsetails whose top buds are fully expanded. These horsetails appear different from the predominate variety in the canyon. They are larger in diameter and light, instead of dark green in color. When I tap one with my finger, it gives off small clouds of dense white spores. That horsetails give off spores means that they reproduce asexually and not sexually through seeds. Other horsetails in the canyon do not have these new season buds. Horsetails are primitive plants that originated in the Devoian period about 400 million years ago.

At the tunnel seep below picnic site 6, there is a small brown butterfly with a black pattern along its leading wingtips. It is a Sleepy duskywing (Erynnis brizo burgessi). About eight others are spread out along the first mile. At mile 1.1, they are joined by a single Yellow swallowtail butterflies and a lone Red-rumped central bumble bee. Near mile 0.6, a diarrhetic bird was laid a series of thick spots on center of the road, and a Stink bug is busily cleaning up one by feeding.

Near mile 1.1, eight unidentified large raptors are circling about 300 feet overhead and around the meadows on the south-east Salt Lake salient. They are too high for identification. They are black from above, have a black body with dark tails, but their trailing underwings are a dirty white with black leading edges. The beak is not raven or crow-like. That they are flying high is good, for I hear loud chirping coming from underneath the shelter of a nearby low plant whose broad leafs are about 12 by 18 inches wide. It is a mallard chick. As newborns, mallard chicks look like their mothers. They have a brown back and a brown eye-strip across a light brown-yellow face, but their breast feathers are a lighter yellow. This chick appears lost. It clutch-mates are not near as it moves from underneath its hide and pathetically sits in the open. The chick sees me as a large parental figure and wants me to help. As I regrettably leave, I can only hope that its mother is gathering food in the nearby in the stream and that she will return before a predator finds her young. I also hope by leaving that the chick’s protective instincts will reassert itself, and the young bird will return to wait quietly underneath its leafy hiding place.

After some research at home, I find that my “raptors” are not raptors after all. They are Turkey vultures. Turkey vultures eat only carrion and not eat live prey. The mallard chick was safe from them. This is a beginner bird identification mistake.

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On April 6th and 7th, I alluded to how the Mormons have many important choices to make regarding the canyons of Salt Lake valley, including City Creek Canyon. Many of these will be population driven. On the one hand, Mormon Utah has a propensity to have large families, and this creates high pressures for rapid development, and that might lead to increased demand for developing water, the evaporation of the Great Salt Lake (May 27th), and decline of bird populations (May 26th). Other meta- or mega-trends suggest an opposite course. Although the Earth is on a path to add 3 billion more persons and to reach by 2050 a global population of between 8.5 and 13 billion persons with a mean forecast of about 10 billion persons. A mega-trend for all developed countries and developing countries except Africa is that the total fertility rate has declined below the sub-fertility replacement threshold (United Nations 2015). This includes China, the United States, the Russian Federation, Japan, and Germany. This means that their populations will decline in the future and that future populations will age and that and capitalism, which has been rooted in ever expanding markets, must adapt to negative yields. Early effects of this are seen in Japan, which elected to not permit the importation of foreign workers, and that decision was one cause of Japan’s stagnant economic growth since the 1990s. Capital, fearing Japan’s negative growth population structure and hence negative yield outlook, has been flowing out of the country. The United States and the European Union responded differently by, in the case of the United States allowing massive illegal immigration, and in case of the European Union by having large legal guest worker programs.

In the United States, Utah is an exception due its Mormon heritage. In 2014, Utah’s total fertility rate is 2.33, or about 0.5 higher than the national average of 1.86 (Perlich 2016). But even Utah’s rate continues to decline as rapidly as the nation’s, and in the near future even Utah may drop below replacement fertility of 2.1.

These general population trends for the global, for the United States, for Utah and the canyon suggests several alternative long-term outcomes for recreation use in City Creek and the other Salt Lake valley canyons. The trend also has implications for public support for their continued preservation as a natural areas. In one scenario, the global population continues towards the 10 billion forecast and Utah’s population continues to age. As Utah has more older citizens, they will be less able or interested to take long weekend journeys for outdoor recreation. They will become more interested in preserving areas like City Creek and the other Salt Lake valley canyons in order to have an adequate supply of nearby outdoor recreation opportunities. Second, the United States could embark on a massive immigration program in order to sustain the historical population increases on which modern capitalism demands in order to maintain positive investment yields. In that case, continued population growth will fuel the demand for more water in the Bear River Basin and more land development in the nearby canyons. Third, population trends could move towards the high end the United Nations’ forecast of 13 billion persons by 2050. The result in Utah would be the same as in second scenario.

Faced with such uncertainty, government could decide to either make plans with definite functional objectives on the state of the future environment or make, what I call “non-plan” plans. In a non-plan plan, governments merely state that they meet their minimum legal obligations, e.g. – constraints imposed by the Endangered Species Act – and that the governmental entity will study issues as the baseline state of the social, economic or physical environment changes. Most of the governmental plans previously discussed, such as the 2013 Utah Department of Natural Resources Great Salt Lake Management Plan or the recent draft Salt Lake County Resource Management Plan fall into the “non-plan” plan category (Salt Lake County 2017). The other approach is to define functional objectives or desired states, and the 1986 Salt Lake City Master Plan for City Creek is an example, e.g. – the City will operate the canyon as a natural area. A consequence of ambiguous plans is that clear signals are not sent to stakeholders, and the price of such plans is that instead of having stability, citizens must remain vigilant against never-ending attempts by better funded development interests to revisit previously settled matters (April 28th).

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On May 28th, 2010, the City announces that it will close City Creek Canyon while helicopters spray the herbicide Milestone on the Starthistle infestation at City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). (From 2011 to 2017, the City will hand spray Milestone on selected small areas of about 20 acres.) On May 28th, 2008, Samuel Stewart announced that he would host President George Bush at his home overlooking City Creek Canyon in order to raise funds for John McCain’s presidential race (Salt Lake Tribune). On May 28th, 1881, the Union Pacific and the United States will survey City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). The Union Pacific owns a federal land grant of twenty-miles of land on either side of the railroad in Morgan County interspersed with Forest Service sections, which includes parts of City Creek (Salt Lake Tribune).

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.

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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 5, 2017

April 30th

Butterfly recovery

3:00 p.m. It is overcast but warm in another weekend day, the parking is overflowing and there are over one-hundred persons on the first-mile of road. Hiking down the road is a bearded hunter-type wearing camouflage fatigues and strapped to his backpack at two whitened deer antlers. He has been collecting, motivated that a market that can bring one-hundred dollars for their best high-point discards. But more usually, the price four dollars for average samples. The first young one-foot tall cattails reappear at the seep below picnic site 6. Last year’s grove is rebuilding (October 25th). A mallard is resting in the flood retention pond, unperturbed by four anglers casting around it. In the first mile, I hear eight unseen chickadees in the thickets. The call of an unseen hummingbird is heard.

Butterflies are recovering from the cold weather, and I glimpse five types of small butterfly with a wingspan of less than one and one-half inches that is feeding near a red-rumped worker bumble bee. They are fast and this makes identification difficult. One is a dusky orange with small black wing spots and a black thorax, perhaps a Zerene fritillary. Another is a uniform light blue. The third is light blue with widely-spaced blue-veins on its wings, probably a Western blue-tailed (Evere amyntula). The fourth is the same, but the veins are closely-spaced, possibly a Spring Azure (Celastrina ladonecho). The fifth has the same molted brown pattern as the light-decomposing leaf layer on the ground. I notice it because a small black ant is dragging one of the wings away, that is twelve times its size, back to its nest. That the ant has chosen this prize illustrates the importance of protein to the ant colony’s development.

* * * *

On April 30th, 2006, the City continues to develop its proposal to create a 1.5 mile above ground greenway that would receive City Creek’s flow and “daylight” channel the creek above-ground from 45 South 700 West to the Jordan River (Salt Lake Tribune). On April 30, 2005, a Primary Children’s Hospital Patient ties a “wish note” on a tree to be planted in City Creek Canyon (Deseret News). On April 30th, 1996, the Salt Lake Tribune rates the Bonneville Shoreline Trail to City Creek Canyon the third best mountain bike ride in Utah. On April 30th, 1943, all travel into City Creek Canyon and north of Thirteenth Avenue was banned due to drought and extreme fire hazard (Salt Lake Telegram). On April 30th, 1899, the Social Wheel Club planned a bicycle outing up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald). Club plans for a 100-mile ride in June are discussed.

December 21, 2016

Winter: December 21st

Death and Resurrection

7:00 a.m. The cold has reached sub-freezing depths this morning as I jog along the canyon road our latitude reaches its furthest tilt away from the warming Sun. It is the first day of winter, and now the Earth will begin to point its northern latitudes and the canyon back towards the Sun and summer. For many cultures, the winter solstice marks a point of rebirth, and rituals such as the Christianized birth of the Jesus figure embody celebration of this seasonal change. During the northern solstice, people feel nearest to death and seek refuge in the belief of an immortal soul that exists after physical death. It is difficult for me as a product of a modern scientific culture to believe in that notion. Azevedo and colleagues found that there are about 84.6 +/- 9.8 billion neurons in the human brain. What I experience as me is the result of connections between some 8.6 billion neurons in my brain, and each of those neurons can have connections with another 14,000 other neurons. This means that my brain can have 8.6 billion to the 14,000th power potential states or 10 to the 11,200,000th power states. This is far more than the estimated 10 to the 82nd power atoms in the visible universe. Thus, it seems impossible that once the biological support for those connections ends that some independent entity can continue in the form of a soul. However, my experience of “me” is my experience of an ego that surrounds an unconscious mind capable of many things that I cannot achieve by my conscious mind alone. This everyday experience of “me” suggests and re-enforces the feeling that some independent entity might continue in whatever form.

But nature generally and the canyon specifically provide alternative examples that confuse the boundary between life and death. Here, under the snow and leaf liter and in underground burrows, impregnated wasp and bee queens lie frozen solid. Although science does not describe it as such, but for all intents and purposes they are dead. Not here, but in other northern parts of the United States, similarly, there are frogs that are frozen solid during the winter. When the warming spring comes, these seemingly dead wasps, bees, and frogs simply thaw and come back to life, apparently unharmed by the experience of being dead for several months. What then is the boundary between life and death and how can we say that life and death are permanent states?

In a few months, when the wasp and bee queens revive, the canyon will host a true, annual reoccurring resurrection.

Compare to Thoreau’s journal entries of January 8th, 1857 and January 24th, 1858, where he finds caterpillars frozen solid that revive when warmed. In Thoreau’s “Journal” on December 22nd, 1859, he observes watercress in the bottom of a stream. He notes empty chestnut burrs at the base of a tree where squirrels have collected, opened and removed the nut inside.

On December 21st, 2012, the Salt Lake Tribune reported on the passing of a surgeon born in 1932, and who, developed a life-long passion for the outdoors as the result of spending much time in City Creek Canyon as a boy living in the Avenues.

November 3, 2016

November 3rd

Helicopter Seeds

5:00 p.m. After a major storm on October 31st that involved wind gusts up to thirty-five miles per hour, today parts of the road are still covered in the lobe shaped seeds of Boxelder trees. The seeds are about three-sixteenths (4mm) in diameter, but are attached at the end of a half-inch “wing”. Overall, the seed and wing give the impression of a musical note. The seeds hang in symmetrical pairs on a catkin, a collection of about twenty seeds. Along the road in the first mile, there are many of Boxelders up to fifty feet in height that are covered in catkins. I walk up to one to pull a couple of seeds off, and each seed is surprisingly still strongly attached to its catkin, even though the tree is leafless. I can see why it took thirty-five mile per hour winds to dislodge the seeds that are on the road. I raise one above my head let it go. It starts to rotate quickly and like its cousin, the maple seed, it “helicopters” down to the ground. Testing several Boxelder seeds, they travel an average trajectory at about thirty degrees from vertical. As any middle or high school geometry student can tell you using a 30-60-90 degree right triangle, this means that a seed released from the top of a fifty foot tree might travel twenty-five feet horizontally from its parent tree. This is just enough to land outside the canopy of the mother tree.

During a wind gusts on October 27th, as I jogging past Boxelders near picnic site 6, a few of these “helicopters” would dislodge and float down will a light rain. One was freed from the highest branch by a first gust of wind, and as it floated to eye level, a second wind gust blew through. With that burst of wind, the helicoptering seeds stopped in mid-air and rose slightly, but as the gust diminished, it resumed its descent to the road.

Until relatively recently, the aerodynamics of these flying seeds was a mystery. Using the same principles of flight that govern birds and jetliners, the seeds should technically not float or “helicopter” slowly to the ground. The seeds should drop like a stone. Solving that mystery also explained other instances of creatures that should not fly and should not be able to hover, including several found in the canyon, i.e. – bees, dragonflies and hummingbirds.

In 1991, Lentink at Wageningen University of the Netherlands, Dickson and their colleagues determined that helicoptering maple seeds had a different mechanism of flight than that used by bird or man. As the seed helicopters, the leading edge of the seed’s wing generates a small, horizontal tubular vortex over the wing. This generates a low-pressure vacuum that lifts or sucks the seed upward. Unlike a bird, the wing has no familiar aerodynamic lifting shape. In normal flight like that of a bird or airplane, a smooth laminar flow over a wing’s special shape, similarly generates low-pressure above the wing, and the relatively higher pressure under the wing then lifts the wing and plane or bird into the sky. These horizontal vortices are called leading edge vortices or LEVs.

You may have seen analogous vortices when using a paddle in the water, when moving your arms while standing a pool, or when a plane lands through fog. Horizontal vortices form off the tips of paddles, your arms, or the tips of an airplane’s wing. In the case of the seed, a spinning vortex forms over the entire length of the wing’s flat surface.

In 1996, Ellington of the Vrije University in the Netherlands and his colleagues extended this concept to explain how many insects, like bees, moths and butterflies, can fly when aerodynamically, they should be unable to do so. They found the beating wings of moths generating the same leading edge vortices seen in helicoptering maple seeds. In 2000, Z. Jane Wang at New York University modelled flapping insects wing and noted that for some insects, two counter-rotating vortices are formed. One is a higher pressure vortex under the wing and it pushes up, and the second is a lower pressure vortex that “sucks” the insect up. In 2001, Lauder at the Harvard University built mechanical insect wings in order to better model the leading edge vortices. In 2004, Adrian Thomas at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and colleagues studied dragonflies tethered inside wind tunnels, and they imaged the counter-rotating leading edge vortices (id. Fig. 11). In 2011, Liang and colleagues at Purdue University built mechanical wings with rigid veins similar to those seen in both Boxelder seeds and dragonfly wings, and they found that the ridge veins increased flight performance.

Wasps, bees and dragonflies have a different number of wings. Wasps only have two wings; dragonflies and bees have four. Bees have smaller fore-wings that lock into the larger back wings to form a single wing surface during normal flight. Only the dragonfly has two sets of independently moving wings, and only it moves the wings out-of-phase: while one wings goes up, the other flaps down. The dragonfly can rotate the angle of attack for each wing independently. In 2008, Z.J. Wang noted that the out-of-phase beating gives the dragonfly additional-enhanced lift. These results of Ellington, Lauder, Wang and Thomas give a clearer picture of how the dragonflies seen in the canyon hover and do their amazing acrobatic maneuvers (August 11th).

In 2005, Warrick at the University of Oregon and colleagues showed how hummingbirds also use leading edge vortices to feed while hovering in front of flowers.

In conclusion, the canyon currently hosts many examples of where nature has solved the problem of flight and hovering using leading edge vorticies instead of a bird’s flapping aerofoils or man’s propellers: Boxelder seeds, maple seeds, Variegated Meadowhawk dragonflies, red-rumped central bumble bees, Bald-faced hornets, Black-chinned hummingbirds, and several moths, butterflies and other flying insects. The first dragonflies, the massive Protodonata with 30 inch wingspans, appeared in the fossil record 325 million years ago. Flowering trees first began to dominate forests in the Cretaceous period beginning 145 million years ago, and they co-evolved with bees. Hummingbirds appeared 22 million years ago (McGuire et al. 2014).

Today in the canyon, even though the Boxelders where hammered by the strong winds, only a small fraction of their catkins were dislodged. Most Boxelders are still thick with seeds, and I can still look forward to more future showers of helicoptering seeds on windy days.

September 24, 2016

September 24th


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

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

September 21, 2016

September 17th

Dark Pollen

6:00 p.m.  The sunflowers have almost completely given out at the Pleasant Valley meadow at mile 1.3. Only a few remain in bloom around a natural gas pipeline cutoff switch in the meadow.  With cooler temperatures, before dusk there is only a single bumblebee still foraging these roadside flowers. What little pollen remains is dark orange, and the bumblebee carries two large side pollen pods that are also dark orange. The major pollinators of these last few sunflowers are the small quarter inch wasps first seen on August 9th.

September 20, 2016

August 28th

Filed under: Cabbage White Butterly, Colors, Insects, Moth, Red-Rumped Bumblee Bee — canopus56 @ 11:28 pm

Thermoregulating Moths

7:30 p.m. Butterflies are now almost gone. The cabbage white butterflies have vanished. As the temperature drops during the day in the cool of the evening, moths predominate. A tansey aster near mile 0.7 is covered in bumblebees and twenty three-quarter inch moths with orange brown wings that are streaked with black. Moths are more active at night and in cool weather than butterflys because they, like their cousins the bumblebees, thermoregulate their body temperature by warming up through vigorous in-place wing flapping. In contrast, butterflies are ectotherms. They rely on the external temperature of the environment to regulate their body temperature. In the heat of the summer, butterflies can be found gathering at seep pools along the roadside. When the canyon reaches over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, ten to fifteen cabbage white butterflies can be seen standing in the shallow water. This cools them sufficiently for another flight. I reconsider consider this “just so” story. During the April butterfly explosion, there are no moths, but the butterflies have no problem moving in the colder spring weather.

Today the moths at mile 0.7 have large black eyes that are disproportionate to their head. The eyes take up three-quarters of their skull. Buddhism and Hinduism teach that I am looking back at myself – at another fragment of an ultimate reality or God-head. Science instructs that the moth’s vacant black discs are simple visual inputs into the biological equivalent of a programmable calculator.

August 12th

Filed under: Insects, Plants, Red-Rumped Bumblee Bee, Sunflower — canopus56 @ 10:51 pm

Rotating Sunflowers

5 p.m. A recent article in Science magazine (Aug. 4) notes that young sunflowers track the Sun but that adults sunflowers face east. The authors speculate that juvenile sunflowers track the sun in order to maximize photosynthesis and their growth rate. They generate movement by deferentially adding new cells to one or the other side of the stem. In contrast, adult sunflowers face east and do not track the Sun in order to maximize shade for their pollinating insects. At mile 1.25 in the canyon, there is a row of roadside weed sunflowers. The afternoon Sun is in the southwest. I count the blossoms and all but one is pointing to the northwest or northeast. Only one bloom out of 20 points southwest towards the Sun. The blooms facing away from the Sun are covered with bumblebees. The same can be seen along 6th Avenue between F and H Streets where two homes have sunflowers in their front yards.

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