City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

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.

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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.

* * * *

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.

* * * *

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).

* * * *

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 25, 2017

May 23rd

Continental Scale Bird Population Trends – Part II

3 p.m. Unwittingly, I disrupt the community of birds just north of Guardhouse Gate. It is another warm, clear day, and I plan to spend this afternoon’s run developing my novice song bid, soundscape skills (May 6th). Over the weekend, I have assembled recordings of about forty-five birds from the Cornell Laboratory observing lists (May 20th), and they have been transferred to my telephone. The songs are sorted in order of similarity. Thus, I hope to learn the songs by listening to them throughout my day and by replaying the recording to identify unseen birds from their sounds alone. But this is not an easy skill to acquire. Some birds caw, others have warbling songs, and still others have four or five beat calls. The variations are endless: some warbling songs end on a high note, others on a low, some are long, others are longer. Call-like songs begin on a low-note, followed by a three or six beat high tone; others begin on a high-note, followed by a five count low-note. Others have a rapid trill. Nor is there much organization by either genus of bird or its outward appearance. The Black-headed grosbeak has song similar to the smaller Song sparrow, but the Rufous-sided towhee, which looks very similar to Black-headed grosbeak, has a two-beat call followed by a rapid, machine gun trill. The Lazuli bunting, which has a seed-crushing mouth sounds like the grosbreak and towhee, has a song that is a deeper throated version of the smaller Warbling vireo which has a mouth shaped for catching insects. Conversely, similarity of form can imply similarity of call. Some of the most colorful songbirds in the canyon are insectivores. The Warbling vireo, the Yellow warbler, and the Virginia’s warbler are similar in form and have variations on the same song, like some avian version of humanity’s proto-Indo-European language, but they do not all share the same family in the binomial nomenclature system. The Song Sparrow and House Sparrow are similar in form and voice tone, but their songs are very dissimilar.

Song birds along the first mile can be roughly divided into four communities: there is cluster between the Gate and mile 0.1 and picnic site 1 along both sides of the stream. A second group collects around the bend above picnic site 3 on the east side of the stream. A third is in a hollow below picnic site 5 on the west side, and a fourth along the western oak-covered slope near mile 1.0. These cluster at every 0.2-0.3 miles are connected by loose strings of individual avians. To these four neighborhoods, a five lays to the west of and along the Pipeline trail where the Gambel oak forest gives way to open grass and brush lands. The predators – Peregrine falcons, Red-tailed hawks, Cooper’s hawks, and American kestrels (Falco sparverius) – form their own neighborhood hovering in the sky over the song birds.

I begin at the first group near mile 0.1, where yesterday there was a riot activity. Since today, it is later in the afternoon, things are more subdued, but I can still distinguish six or seven different, unseen bird voices. Initially, I struggle with making any identification, and I become absorbed in loudly replaying about ten songs that represent the voices at mile 0.1. I listen to one song, and then try playing the two or three best candidate recordings to select the best match. After five minutes, I look up, and three birds have come out of the nearby screen of green. A Lazuli bunting perches on the top branch of a thirty foot Box Elder tree. On a nearby Gambel’s oak, a female House finch perches and stares. Across the road in the Box Elder, there is a bright flash of red and yellow midway down the tree. It is a male Western tanager in full breeding plumage, and I start replay a recording of his species in order to keep his attention. For the two months of its breeding season, the head of the tanager turns a brilliant red, and this contrasts with its vivid yellow underplumage and black back. This male has caught the lengthening rays of afternoon sunlight that is softened by moisture in the air, and its red iridescent plumes blaze.

After working with the recordings for one-half hour, I am able to make rudimentary identifications by sound alone of the the Western tanager, a Lazuli bunting, a Warbling vireo, a Song sparrow, and American robin. What strikes me about this lower community is its heterogeneity. There are perhaps seven species all sharing the same one-quarter square mile. They cooperate in sharing the space. Birds are known to share the same forest space by specializing in different food niches, it is early in season and food may be plentiful, and territorial nest building may not have been completed.

Traveling up canyon, the bird community in the hollow near picnic site 5 is populated by only Warbling vireos. Further up canyon, a lone Spotted towhee caws and trills. American robins are dispersed along the first mile road.

Spring Azure butterflies have had a mini-R reproductive explosion. Usually there are three or four larger adults along the first mile road. Today, I count 20 smaller streaked blue versions only three-quarters of an inch in size. The next generation has hatched, and they play among newly cut grass. The City has come through the canyon, and as a fire prevention measure, it has mowed down the two and three foot grass around each picnic area. The air is sweet with cut-grass smell, and further back from the sickle’s cut, the green grass is interrupted by the first loud yellow of newly opened Toad flax (Linaria vulgaris), also called Butter and Eggs plant. This common roadside noxious weed has a beautiful, intensely yellow and orange, orchard like bloom.

Coming back down canyon close to six in the evening, these bird communities are silent, and only the evening town criers of the canyon, the House finches, repeat their their one-high, two low, call of three notes. Near mile 0.5, an immature Terrestrial gartersnake (Thamnophis elegans) crawls across the road. The garter eats insects, e.g. – the Stink bugs that rest along the roadside and snails (May 16th).

Incongruous to this serenity, a group of ten people walk up the road, and two have small caliber handguns strapped to their sides. These “open carry” gun rights advocates, whose right to openly carry guns is sanctioned by the state legislature, have no need for these weapons. Discharging them in the canyon below mile 0.4 violates city and county ordinances, and regardless of the legality, their attempt to drag society back into uncivility and barbarism of some imagined historical western landscape is uniformly disapproved of by the majority of members of the surrounding neighborhoods. Regularly, such displays or the discharge of firearms results in canyon walkers making worried telephone calls to the police, and the police do respond to hand out tickets. While I have some appreciation of how individualism and capitalism can drive people into a mindset that perpetually fears others, this group is not in any danger in the canyon this evening. No one is hiding in the bushes ready to rob them, and their flashy presence in the canyon is an unwelcome intrusion. Like the songbirds around them and the red blaze of the tanager, their weapons are an overstated claim for social attention and of personal territory.

* * * *

The National Audubon Society recently has become a leader in continental scale studies of populations and of future threat forecasting. In 2013, the National Audubon Society released their report titled “Developing a Management Model of the Effects of Future Climate Change on Species: A Tool for the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives” based on its Christmas Bird Count (discussed below) and BBS data (National Audubon Society, Schuetz, Distler, Langham, 2013). Coupled with global climate models, the Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count data allowed the Society to model changes in bird summer and winter ranges, summarized in national maps, based on varying degrees of global warming. In the Great Basin (and in the canyon), their model predicted increases in bird species richness during the winter season and declines in bird species richness during the summer season (id, 27-29, Figs. 2.8-2.9). In an updated study, Langham and colleagues from the Society used further advanced modelling techniques with respect to 588 North American continental birds, and they forecasted that by 2080 under a high-emissions high-warming scenario, about 53 percent of the 588 species would find that 50 percent of their current range, particularly for summer breeding, would become unsuitable (Langham et al. 2016).

With respect to continental-scale population trend studies, the Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count has collected bird counts since 1901. Unlike professional studies, the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) suffers from a number of inherent design controls. CBC bird identifications are made by error prone amateurs at differing locations and differing types of locations, e.g. – in the field or at feeders, between each annual sampling. Fluctations in the number of observers between years can introduce observation bias. Those characteristics limit the ability to use CBC data to predict trends in bird populations using traditional statistical techniques. Conversely, the CBC has been the collecting massive amounts of data from numerous amateurs around the country for more than a century. For example, in the 2016 count, over 56 million birds were manually counted. Increases in inexpensive computing power and application of advanced statistical techniques eventually allowed for the use of this citizen science data to make reasonably statistically confident statements of about trends in bird populations sampled from a wide variety of habitats. In particular, the mathematical techniques of multi-level regression, also called hierarchical modelling, allows for the extraction of bird density trends over time from the massive, but uncontrolled, data sources collected by the Audubon Society. Since 1990, habitat change from climate warming has become an important issue. Application of these analytic improvements also allow trends to be examined in the context of varying habitats, and thus, making the CBC data useful for exploring trends in habitat change from development and climate warming affects bird populations.

Soykan and colleagues with the National Audubon Society estimated North American continental populations of 551 North American bird species and for a subset of 228 species that do not frequent bird feeders using the Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count data (Soykan et al. 2016). They found that for all 551 species, 68 percent had increasing density trends from 1966 through 2013. Thus, 32 percent have a declining trend, a fact exploited in NACBI glosssy annual “State of Birds” reports. For the subset of 228 species, Soykan et al found an 0.9 percent growth trend across 1966 to 2013. They noted the geographically, declining species were concentrated at lower latitudes and increasing species were located at higher latitudes (id), and this suggests that generally, bird populations are shifting their ranges northward. For the future canyon, this is consistent with Schuetz, Distler and Langham’s 2013 modelling suggesting that warmer climates would increase winter species diversity in the Great Basin as birds move their ranges north (above).

Soykan et al’s supplemental data provides further insight into Utah trends (Soykan et al. 2016), but it also underscores the problems and differences of professional verses amateur data collection. Conflicting with the Parrish, Norvell and Howe declining Utah trends for 1992 to 2005, Sokyan and colleagues found from CBC counts for 1966 to 2013, an increasing bird population trend of 2.7 percent for Utah (Table S.4) and 2.8 percent for the Great Basin region (Table S6). Students of introductory statistics will recall the Rule of 70: the doubling time or halving time of a population can be estimated by dividing 70 by the annual rate. Thus, the CBC trend suggests that Utah bird populations will double in 25 years, while the Parrish, Norvell and Howe rate suggests populations would halve in 70 years.

Although overall, Soykan et al’s continental population trends derived from CBC counts were statistically similar to 228 professional BBS specie trends, for a small subset of 33 species, CBC and BBS trends significantly differed (Table S.9). Some of the differences involve species frequently seen in the spring canyon. For two species, Swainson’s Hawk and the Black-headed Grosbeak, the CBC found continental declines around 3 percent per year, while the BBS surveys found increases of less than 1 percent per year. A three percent decline suggests populations will halve in about 25 years. For eight other species found in the canyon, the CBC found a slight increasing population trend, while BBS found populations declining at more than 1 percent per year: Song Sparrow, American Kestrel, Belted Kingfisher, Mourning Dove, Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, and the Broad-tailed Hummingbird.

Again, overall bird population studies continue to indicate that currently and for the near future, bird specie diversity and bird populations should remain stable or have a slight decline, as indicated by the Parrish, Norvell and Howe studies (Parrish et al. 2007). Soykan et al and Langham et al conclude overall birds are moving their summer ranges northward and they are decreasing the area of the summer and winter ranges around the best habitats in response to a warming climate, and under that scenario, Utah bird populations would increase as birds move further north. But whether population trends will decline in a severe global warming occurs scenario, whether they will increase as more birds move their ranges north in response to southern latitude warming, or whether Utah bird populations will increase after the reversal of the current Intermountain drought phase of the Pacific Quasi-Decadal Oscillation (February 7th) remains to be seen. Continued monitoring, such as that occurring through professional and citizen science surveys, is the only means to have a definitive early warning of any dramatic change, for better or worse. Other unanticipated changes, both good and bad, may also occur.

These mathematical models of bird populations, as with proof of biophilia studies, provide only the most general of signs and no clear answers. Proof to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty cannot be found in the statistics of bird populations, and thus, we are forced to fall back on human values and human judgment in deciding what to and how to protect nature. But as with local weather and the Pacific Quasi-Decadal Oscillation, it is only by looking on a continental scale that over-arching patterns in nature can be seen. A local-only perspective, like Plato’s prisoners in his allegorical cave, can give us a limited, uninformed, and wrong view of the world.

There is a further brilliance to the CBC data and Schuetz, Distler and Langham’s 2013 study. They provide detailed ranged summer and winter maps for 36 bird species of concern (id, 114-181) on a continental scale and with previously unseen fidelity (Schuetz, Distler and Langham’s 2013). Presumably, such maps can be generated for all birds in the CBC study. Previously, bird summer and winter range maps were rendered with broad colored areas across a U.S. map with northern and summer range lines, e.g. – those seen in my old 1990 Peterson’s Western Birds guide or my favored, dog-earred 1966 Guide to Field Identification of North American Birds, illustrated by Arthur Singer. The ranges of migration were indicated by broad directional lines. By combining CBC bird observations with satellite habitat data, Schuetz et al render detailed core range maps.

* * * *

On May 23rd, 2012, Lowell Bodily, Salt Lake Valley Health Department, again reported on homeless tent camps in the valley, and he notes that some homeless camp along the Bonneville Shoreline Trail in and near City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On May 23rd, 2006, the Lion House reports that it hosts about 82,000 visitors per year (Salt Lake Tribune). (In the 1850s, the Lion House sat next to the tollgate that controlled access to City Creek Can yon.) On May 23rd, 2002, in a letter to editors of the Salt Lake Tribune, a Sandy resident decries how a new luxury home has defaced the beauty of Ensign Peak and City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On May 23rd, 1996, Anschutz Ranch East Pipeline Inc. proposes to build a crude oil pipeline from Park City that would cross through City Creek near the water treatment plant (Salt Lake Tribune, June, 24, 1996). On May 23rd, 1914, the Salt Lake Telegram published a photograph layout and description of driving the new scenic boulevard up City Creek, along 11th Avenue and down 1300 East (Salt Lake Telegram). On May 23rd, 1905, Land and Water Commission Ben D. Luce requested that the City council to ban automobiles from driving up City Creek Canyon due to the possibility that they will cause accidents by frightening horses (Salt Lake Herald).

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 20, 2017

May 20th

Spring Bird List

3:30 p.m. In the morning I am woken by the cawing of an American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) standing outside my window, but then I drift back off to sleep. Around noon, neighbors are buzzing over their photographs of a common Red fox (Vuplus vulpes) hunting mice in the city cemetery about one-third of a mile from my home and on the south-City side of the east-south canyon ridgeline.

In the afternoon, the cold snap of the last few days has ended and the canyon is again warming into the sixties under blue, ideal spring skies. Driving into the canyon along Bonneville Drive, the grasses have reached up to three feet high, but in the canyon they remain between one foot to eighteen inches in height. Along Bonneville Drive, young Curly dock plants rise, but there are none in the fields at mile 1.5. Arrowleaf balsamroot has noticeably disappeared from the surrounding hillsides through mile 1.5, and its yellow color has been replaced by the duller yellow of fields of Dyer’s woad. Along the first mile, where a few days ago there was a single Sticky Wild Geranium, there are now ten, and four blue penstemons are blooming. The other major blossom are the white inflorescences of chokecherry bushes or trees. Blue is the color of canyon near the stream, but at the Pleasant Valley lower field, I scan the surrounding hillsides for a hint of Arrowleaf balsamroot. There is none, only the green of the balsamroot’s wide bases surrounded by wide swaths of Dyer’s woad. A pattern repeats in the many sun-exposed small gullies that lead to the western salient’s ridgeline and below the eastern salient’s cliffs: Groves of green Gambel’s oak or Red Maple fill the damp soil or seeps along side canyon gullies, but where the side canyons begin to flare out, the dryer soils, formerly covered with balsamroot, are now covered in Dyer’s woad. At lower elevations along the western slope above the Pipeline Trail and above Bonneville Drive, some balsamroots remain in bloom, but their numbers are rapidly dwindling from their shriveling flowers.

Butterflies are recovering in the rising heat. Yesterday’s Western tiger swallowtail and Desert Elfin butterflies are joined by a few Spring Azure and White cabbage butterflies. About eight new, small and black unidentified butterflies appear. They move too fast to see any detail. Two examples of a new unidentified small black spider are on the road, and a small black ant is carrying a whole insect pupae, about eight times it size, back to its underground ant lair. Common houseflies are active on the road, and a larger Blue-eyed darner dragonfly patrols up and down the road. Along the Pipeline Trail, I flush out two Mormon crickets. Instead of red underwings (May 8th), they now flash muted orange underwings.

Where the chokecherry bushes are warmed by the sunlight, they are the buffet for the insects. The best of these is along the Pipeline Trail near mile 0.9, and the chokecherry bush is covered in about seventy bees, flies and a American Lady butterfly. The bush sits near a seep in a bend in the trail. It is in a large-tree shaded area, but a single shaft of light penetrates and warms the bush and its nearby air to fifteen degrees more than its surroundings. Another shaded chokecherry bush about fifteen feet away is ignored by these flighted insects. On the chokecherry inflorescences there are also two types of flies, one large and one small, and three types of bees, including a red-rumped worker bumble bee, wild common honey bee (Apis var.) and one of two Utah varieties of the Carpenter bee (Xylocopa californica) (Hodgson and Trina 2008). Near this seep, a tiny unidentified slug, about 1 centimeters by 3 millimeters in diameter crawls up the trail, and I help to the mud next to the seep. Three other chokecherry bushes fifty yards up from Guardhouse Gate and a full chokecherry tree at picnic site 4 are similarly covered, but to a lesser degree. These are also sunbathed.

A flock of four distant raptors circle and glide up canyon. Birds along the first 1.5 miles of road can be divided roughly into seven neighborhoods or groups: at Guardhouse Gate, at road mile 0.4, at road mile 1.0, the lower half of Pleasant Valley, mile 1.1 to 0.9 of the Pipeline Trail, the Trail between mile 0.9 and 0.5, and the Trail between mile 0.5 back to the Gate. There are more calls than yesterday, with between 5 to 10 birds in each neighborhood. By sound alone, I can pick up a few of the easiest out of a chorus of ten different songs: the Lazuli Bunting at the Gate; a Song sparrow and an American Robin near mile 0.5; a near road mile 1.0,; and a Black-chinned hummingbird flying near Trail mile 1.0. I have gathered recordings of about 40 spring birds on my smart telephone, and have begun to replay them constantly in the hopes of building a beginner’s skill for distinguishing their songs. The avian soundscape is being to make more sense to my untrained ear.

As I reach Guardhouse Gate, there is a young woman standing 50 feet from the road, half obscured by blinds made leafed branches of Gambel’s oak, and she is singing gospel and folk songs in a loud but beautiful voice. She has long-black hair, is wearing a short, summer dress of yellow printed ethnic cotton, and is illuminated by that special warm light before dusk. Several strolling couples and myself discreetly walk up to the side of the road for an impromptu concert. For a moment, my mind is momentarily transported back to my adolescence and a similar scene from 1971. After a few minutes, everyone wanders away, leaving her to practice her singing without disturbance, but grateful for a unique moment.

* * * *

The slate of spring canyon birds for this year has sufficiently filled out that a list is timely. The 54 species represented shows the diversity of bird life that is finding living niches in the canyon and making connections between its plants and insects.

List of Spring Birds in City Creek Canyon March through May, 2017 by Order and-or Family (N=54)

Orders Accipitriformes and Falconiformes – Hawks, Eagles and Falcons – Birds that Hunt Other Birds

• Bald Eagle (immature) (Haliaeetus leucocephalus).*

• Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii).

• Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos).

• Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis).

• Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus).

• Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis).

• Sharp-Shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus).

Order Anatidae – Ducks

• Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos).

Order Apodiformes – Swifts and Hummingbirds

• Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilocus alexandri).

Order Galliformes – Pheasants and Guineafowl

• California Quail (Callipepla californica).

• Chukar (Alectoris chukar).

• Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo).

Orders Piciformes and Coraciiformes – Woodpeckers and Kingfishers

• Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon).

• Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens).

• Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus).

Order Strigiformes – Owls

• Western Screech-Owl (Otus kennicottii).*

Order Passeriformes – Larger Perching Birds

Family Corvidae – Crows, Jays and Magpies

• American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos).

• Black-billed Magpie (Pica pica)

• Common Raven (Corvus corax).

• Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri).*

• Western Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica).

Order Passeriformes – Mid-sized and Smaller Perching Birds

Family Cardinalidae – Cardinals and Grosbeaks

• Black-headed Grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus).

• Lazuli Bunting (Passerina amoena).

• Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana).

Family Columbidae – Pigeons and Doves

• Eurasian-collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) (invasive).

• Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura).

Family Emberizidae – Sparrows and Buntings

• Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina).

• Dark-eyed Junco, Slate type (Junco hyemalis).*

• Green-tailed Towhee (Pipilo chlorurus).

• House Sparrow aka European Sparrow (Passer domesticus) (invasive).

• Rufous-sided Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus).

• Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia).

• Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus).

Family Fringillidae – Finches

• House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus).

• Lesser Goldfinch (Carduelis psaltria).

Family Hirundinidae – Swallows

• Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia).

• Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota).

• Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis).

• Violet-green Swallow (Tachycineta thalassina).

Family Paridae – Chickadees

• Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus).

• Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli).

Family Parulidae – Wood-Warblers

• Orange-crowned Warbler (Oreothylpis celata).

• Virginia’s Warbler (Oreothylpis virginiae).

• Yellow Warbler (Dendroica petechia).

Family Turdidae – Thrushes

• American Robin (Turdus migratorius).

• Townsend’s Solitaire (Myadestes townsendi).

Family Tyrannidae – Tyrant Flycatchers

• Dusky Flycatcher (Empidonax oberholseri).

• Olive-sided Flycatcher (Contopus cooperi).

Family Vireonidae – Vireos

• Plumbeous Vireo (Vireo plumbeus).

• Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus).

Family – Other with Family Name

• Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptilidae Polioptila caerulea).

• European Starling (Sturnidae Sturnus vulgaris) (invasive).

• Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sittidae Sitta canadensis).

• Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulidae Regulus calendula).

Sources: Cornell Lab. 2017 Ebird Observation Lists by Bryant Olsen with Joshua Hunt; Author’s Observations. * – Author only sighting claimed.

* * * *

The Wasatch Front Mountain Range has not seen a decline in the number of avian species since the Euroamerican arrival, but no opinion is expressed on any decline in the population of these birds. As noted before (March 4th), ornithologist Robert Ridgeway conducted a survey of birds in Parley’s Park at the summit of Parley’s canyon about ten miles from City Creek Canyon between June 23rd and August 16th, 1869 (Rawley, 69-79). He found 116 bird species. Comparing Ridgeway’s list with Cornell Ornithology Laboratory’s Ebird List for City Creek Canyon for 1900 through 2017 shows 149 species (Cornell Ornithology Lab. 2016, Cornell Ornithology Lab. 2017). For the years 2000 to 2017, 147 species are listed, and for 2012 to 2017, Cornell totals 143 species (id). There are some minor non-duplicates between the historical and modern lists. The Yellow-bellied sapsucker is not currently found in City Creek, and the range of other birds has changed. Birds such as sandpipers and Sandhill Cranes do not presently frequent City Creek but can still be found at the Great Salt Lake’s beaches and marshes. But essentially, the avian diversity of Ridgeway’s 1869 mountain birds is still intact at City Creek Canyon after 148 years.

That the diversity of Utah’s many migrant birds is stable is also shown by Parrish, Norvell, and Howe of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources in a multi-year study from 1992 to 2005 (Parrish et al. 2007; Norvell, Howe and Parrish 2005). Examining 202 statewide bird species over 12 years at 37 Utah sites, Parrish and colleagues found no significant trend in mean annual species richness (id, p. 27, Fig. 4).

* * * *

On May 20th, 2014, Salt Lake Fire Captain Scott Winkler reports that the City has spent $650,000 on six new firetrucks specialized from fighting fires in grass brush areas around luxury homes near Ensign Peak and in City Creek Canyon (Deseret News). On May 20th, 1903, the City Council and Mayor considered issue bonds to construct reservoirs including a 5,000,000 gallon reservoir at Pleasant Valley (Salt Lake Telegram). On May 20th, 1901, an estimated three-hundred people went up City Creek Canyon, one-thousand to Liberty Park, and three-hundred for recreation (Salt Lake Tribune). On May 20, 1896, the City council considered moving the responsibility for maintaining City Creek watershed protection to the health department and the duties of the City Creek Canyon patrolman were described (Salt Lake Tribune). There were five full-time patrolmen. Three men are employed at the lower Brick Tanks keeping the screens clear of debris. Two men are employed for 12 hours per day to service the upper high-line tank screens and to patrol the upper canyon to prevent sheep grazing. Two other men service the Twentieth ward tank and the Capitol Hill Reservoir (id). City Creek has been rip-rapped for two miles above the lower Brick Tanks. On May 20th, 1896, high spring run-off has turned City Creek into muddy water and the water is clearing (Salt Lake Herald).

May 13, 2017

May 10th

Flies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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.)

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