City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

July 7, 2017

June 27th

Seasonal Camouflage

3:00 p.m. Stink bugs along the road are changing colors to match the change to the browns of the summer season. A few weeks ago, Green Stink Bug (Chlorochroa sayi), also known as Say’s Stink Bug, were their characteristic light green color. Now, they turn brown to match the foliage. Even the canyon’s land shrimp, the common pill bug (Armadillidium vulgare), are turning from their usual spring dark grey color to a lighter tone.

Near mile 0.4, another insect well-colored to hide in the browning understory rests on the road. A golden-brown Giant western crane fly (Holorusia rubiginosa) is overwhelmed by the heat, and it does not flee on my approach. Its abdomen is a patchwork of golden brown, light-brown and sun yellow plates. From its abdomen, three two-inch long whip-like ovipositors extend.

Near mile 0.7, an immature Western rattlesnakes (Crotalus oreganus lutosus). It simultaneously coils and crawls backward as I walk forward to take a closer look at its delicate diamond pattern. Generally, rattlesnakes are peaceable. They give early warning and retire in the presence of humans, and their usual border of human conflict in the canyon comes with domestic dogs. Pet dogs have no experience with venomous snakes, and the must be initially restrained on a leash and trained that snakes are dangerous and are not playmates. Few owners take the time to do such training.

Although wild Wood rose has peaked, below the Red bridge at mile 0.8, a single late season blossom remains on a bush growing over the far stream bank. There, a second, fifteen foot long white blossoming bush clings to the stream bank – a Black hawthorne (Crataegus douglasii Lindl.). At the cattail seep below picnic site 6, Wild bunchgrass grows to two feet in height, and its large heads burst with seed.

At the peak of the day’s heat, the birds quiet and rest. I count only 10 bird calls hidden in the green ocean of the first road mile.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 27th, 1852, he sees fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium). This is a common autumn plant in Utah’s Wasatch Front canyons. He notes that meadows are turning yellow-green in color. He describes a tree that has been hit by lightning. Large patches of bark had been stripped from the tree and it was split to its pith. He encounters a partridge with its brood, and sees a chestnut tree with buds. On June 27th, 1859, he examines a Luna moth (Attacus Luna).

* * * *

On June 27th, 1915, University Prof. J.H. Paul planned to present a lecture on bird calls at the Eighteenth Ward Chapel (2nd Avenue and A Street) and and to lead a group up City Creek Canyon in celebration of Bird Day (Salt Lake Herald).

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.

* * * *

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).

* * * *

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 28, 2017

May 24th

Birds of Concern

5:00 p.m. At dawn today, from the west half of the valley, I could see the upper slopes of Grandview Peak that feeds the stream, and they are still covered at some depth. Significantly, overnight temperatures have returned the sixites. This early evening, a summer storm front moves through from the southwest bringing warm rain and micrcobursts of fifty mile an hour winds. Under their pressure, individual trees in the canyon wave back and forth violently under momentarily black skies. The first Woods rosa blooms have opened for the season, and in the lower canyon, some Gambel’s oak leaves have reached a mature length of 5 inches. Since it is early in the evening, most birds are quiet. At Guardhouse Gate, five Warbling vireos weakly call and at picnic site 5, another is joined by a Song sparrow.

Near mile 0.6, I stop along the road to tie a shoelace. Looking up, a male mallard is swimming on the stream’s surface about seven feet below the roadside. The mallard is grazing on streamers of underwater grass that waves under the swiftly moving current.

Stink bugs line the roadside today, all uniformly standing with their abdomens pointed upward at above the centerline of the road. Given the presence of the spring birds, this is a wise resting posture. A two-inch unidentified, hair covered caterpillar crawls along the road. In a possible example of mimicry, each of its segments has a white, black and brown pattern that is nearly identical to the Variegated Meadowhawk dragonfly. Further up canyon, a one-inch beetle has two bright perpendicular orange bars on its back, and the orange tone is the same found on a Lady Bug. It is a carrion eater – the Burying beetle (Nicrophorus tomentosus). Unlike other Nicrophorus species, this beetle does not bury its carrion, but only drags it to a shallow depression and covers the carcass with leaf litter. A colony of tiny brown ants erupts from a crack in the pavement. A four inch circle contains an estimated 500 individuals that all crawl on top and over each other. About eight unidentified small brown butterflies are seen along the first mile. Their wings have a bright light-brown metallic upper side.

* * * *

Under the United States dual-sovereignty scheme, protection of endangered and other birds is divided between federal and state authorities. The federal government through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has primary authority to protect both endangered and threatened bird species through the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (16 U.S.C. Sec. 1531), and with respect to non-endangered migratory birds, such as those seen in the canyon, through the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 (16 U.S.C. Secs. 703-712). The federal government is authorized to enter into cooperative agreements with States to share protective efforts for the migratory songbirds seen in the canyon through the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act of 2000 (16. U.S.C. Secs. 6101-6109). While no federally endangered species are currently known to frequent the canyon, historically, the Yellow-billed cuckoo, a federally listed threatened species, may have used the canyon (Rawley).

The State of Utah, under its sovereign authority, also designates sensitive species that are given special monitoring attention (Utah Code Ann. Sec. 23-14-1 et seq.; Utah Administrative Rule 657-48; Utah Department of Natural Resources 2015), and the State exercises that authority under a policy to “seek to balance the habitat requirements of wildlife with the social and economic activities of man” (Utah Code Ann. 23-14-3(2)(iii) (2017)). Federal threatened species and Utah state sensitive species share the common quality that a birds’ declining populations raise issues as to its continued viability. State sensitive species found in the canyon are Bald eagles and Northern Goshawks. Other State sensitive species historically, but not currently, found in the canyon include Bobolinks (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) and Ferruginous hawks (Buteo regalis) (Utah Department of Natural Resources 2015). In designating a sensitive bird species, the state circumscribes its authority to those species for which “there is credible scientific evidence to substantiate a viable threat to continued population viability” (Utah Administrative Rule 657-48; Utah Department of Natural Resources 2015). The state relies principally on the Breeding Bird survey data (May 21st, May 22nd and May 23rd) (Utah Department of Natural Resources 2015, Appendices; Sauer et al 2017).

Bird designation on the state list occurs primarily either because of global population size combined with local population trends. The State designates the Bald Eagle as a sensitive species primarily because of the size of the eagle’s continental breeding population. In 2006, there were about 10,000 breeding pairs of bald eagles left in the United States (out of a population of 70,000), and the 10 bald eagles that over-winter in Utah represent about thirty percent of all Bald Eagles west of the Rocky Mountains (Utah Department of Natural Resources 2015, Appendix A, Sec. 5.1). In using the Partner’s-in-Flight rating system, the eagle would be given a population concern index of 5 for having less than 10,000 breeding pairs. Conversely, the Bobolink have about 10,000,000 global breeding pairs, but the decline in the global and local populations is 1.6 percent per year (id, Appendix A, Sec. 5.8). The Ferruginous hawk (id, Appendix A), like the Peregrine falcon, is a recovering raptor with an estimated global breeding population of 80,000, or a population concern index of 4. But, due to recovery management efforts, its population is increasing. That both the Bobolink and Ferruginous hawk are believed to have been widely present in Utah historically, but now are largely absent from the state also supports their Utah sensitive species status (id, Appendix A).

In contrast, other birds that receive a private Conservation Concern Index of 13 like the Virginia’s Warbler and the Plumbeous vireo and that are found in the canyon are not designated by the State. Although they have locally declining population trends, the Virginia’s Warbler has a global breeding population of about 400,000 pairs and although the Breeding Bird Survey found only 192 pairs of Plumbeous vireos in the Intermountain West (Sauer et al 2017), the Plumbeous vireo has a global population of about 2,700,000. The Peregrine falcon is another bird not designated on the state’s list (Utah Department of Natural Resources 2015). The Peregrine was delisted by the federal U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1999, and the global breeding population of Peregrines is about 93,300. But there only about 90 breeding pairs of this still recovering raptor, or a sufficiently small population that it could wiped out by a set of determined illegal hunters in a few weeks. Although I feel some of these Utah state sensitive bird specie designations to be inconsistent, e.g. – the Boblink but not the Plumbeous vireo is designated, they evidence a process in place, albeit an imperfect process that operates under considerable uncertainty, to monitor and assess potential crashes in bird populations.

Uncertainty in the state-of-knowledge about bird populations and in the process of designating them for more intensive monitoring is also unsettling. Conversely, the signs that these researchers and their models provide allow us to act more thoughtfully than simply relying on political beliefs and folk-tales about nature’s ability to cope with change. That a considerable multi-state monitoring effort coupled with recovery planning exists is cause for celebration and not cynicism. That process has led to the ongoing recoveries of Peregrine falcons and Ferrigunous hawks. But even with all this effort, I find it hard to let go of the sense that we are pulling at the strings of nature’s web, and like Plato’s prisoners in his allegorical cave described in the Republic, our scientific efforts and mathematical models of specie risk give only a limited indirect view of a truer complexity that we do not understand.

* * * *

On May 24, 2007, 200 persons attend the annual Memory Grove clean-up (Salt Lake Tribune). On May 24th, 1996, veterans groups plan to gather at Memory Grove for Memorial Day. On May 24th, 1920, the North Bench Improvement Association Chairman G. A. Iverson published an artist conceptual drawing for a park in lower City Creek including a viaduct across the canyon at 5th Avenue (Salt Lake Telegram). On May 24th, 1913, members of the Rotary Club and City Commissioner Korn plan to tour the proposed route of a scenic highway up City Creek Canyon and into Morgan County (Salt Lake Tribune). May 24th, 1907, the Salt Lake Tribune urged the creation of reservoir dams in City Creek and Parley’s Canyons. On May 24, 1903, the Salt Lake Tribune overviewed many canyon drives around Salt Lake City, including in City Creek Canyon. One photograph includes Shippler’s image of a carriage going up a heavily wooded City Creek track (id). The article also relates a parable and legend about a young man who located a lost gold mine, and contrary to his Mormon bishop’s advice, spent his life in a vain attempt to relocate it. His futile search was described as his “punishment for his disobedience to the mandate of the prophet revealed by God” (id). The Tribune noted that hundreds of City residents go into the canyon on the weekends.

May 18, 2017

May 16th

Filed under: Ants, Millipede, Pill bug, Snag tree, Stink Bug, Stream — canopus56 @ 9:30 pm

Insect Home

4:30 p.m. It is overcast again and temperatures have dropped into the high fifties due to a rare front moving in from the northwest. About twenty song birds continue to clump at the Guardhouse Gate, near picnic site 4, and in Pleasant Valley. Although the flood retention pond is down by two feet, the stream continues to flow near its maximum. At picnic site 8, I stop to take a comparative photograph of the stream. In the winter (December 20th), the surface of the stream froze to a milky white stone. Now at this same location, it is a rushing, undulating mass of force and chaos. But in its chaotic motion, there is regularity. The stream rises and falls in standing waves about eight feet apart. Where the stream is confined and flows greatest, these waves begin to break back upstream. More velocity results in a tumbling jumble of splashing white water.

Walking back to the road from the stream side, I notice a decayed, fallen log about eight inches in diameter. It’s pitted surface, marked by boring insects, is a kaleidoscope of colors: tan, dark brown, dark red, Frank Lloyd Wright’s favored Cherokee red-orange, blacks, greys and tints of blue-lichens. I kick the log to break it apart, and as it splits, insects scurry and run for cover deeper within its rotting depths. The log is inhabited by three insects that I regularly pass on the road. First are the Carpenter ants. Second are common pill bugs. Finally, there is a small, brown 1 millimeter diameter unidentified millipede. Underneath the log, there is two or three inches of fine sawdust. Further down canyon, I pull apart a larger 14 inch diameter rotted log. Inside a stink bug is startled and runs into a crevice. The few of these insects that I see on the road are migrants from parent colonies in fallen logs that line the road.

* * * *

In an article of first impression, Comiti and Lenzi of the University of Padova studied the physics of standing waves in mountain streams (Comiti and Lenzi 2016). Standing waves have long been known to form in larger rivers, such as the ten foot high waves of the “Silver Dragon” in Qiantang River, China, and those waves have been well studied. Standing waves do not occur because the stream bed is carved into similar undulations, and the surface water simply rises and falls in response to that lower, hidden surface. The dunes beneath the stream’s surface are an effect, and not the cause of the bed’s undulations. Standing waves form when part of the surface of the river moving upstream and not downstream. The interference of the two motions generates an oscillation that takes of the form of a stationary wave. Comiti and Lenzi built artificial mountain streams and studied how the standing waves scour the stream bed into slowly upstream moving anti-dunes.

* * * *

On May 16th, 2003, the Deseret News features photograph of joggers in City Creek Canyon. On May 16th, 1936, City Commissioner George D. Kesyer warned residents to keep their children away from City Creek Canyon stream during spring run-off (Salt Lake Telegram).

October 10, 2016

October 10th

A Stinky Supporting Cast

Daytime weather has warmed and this has arrested the turning of leaves. It is almost the end of insect season: a few flying moths and small insects are seen, the crickets have recovered to full song, but a few notable ground-dwelling insects, not previously mentioned, are all but gone due to the low overnight temperatures. These supporting characters are commonly seen on the road when walking up the first mile of the canyon.

Stink Beetles (Eleodes obscurus): Stink beetles are a large (2cm) black beetle with ridged wing plates. They are usually seen, as one is today, kneeling with their abdomens sticking up. Their defense is a smelly oil shot from the rear. At summer’s peak, up to fifteen of these stink bugs can be seen along the first mile.

Eastern Boxelder Bug (Boisea trivittata): In this city, mature boxelder bugs are a plague. In droves they infiltrate any small opening in a home to breed, but in the canyon, strangely, there are few mature boxelders can be found. Almost the entire population is made up of immatures, and this is probably the result of heavy predation. The immature boxelder is about 4mm long, has two prominent red back wings flanked by grey side bars, and a noticeable white spot at the apex of its abdomen. In the summer, up to five hundred small immature boxelder bugs can be found in the first mile of the canyon road. Two days ago, wherever an insect carcass fell, a small red, round rosettes of about fifty immature boxelder bugs would form to devour the meal.

Consperse Stink Bug (Euschistus conspersus): This is a small beetle with an armored back plate and small head. It is similar in appearance to the green stink bug, but the body is grey, not green. At summer’s peak, up to 100 can be found on the roadside of the first canyon mile.

Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (Halyomorpha halys): The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB) is a small beetle with camouflaged grey-brown back plates and an extended head. It is an invasive species. They are usually found on trees, picnic benches, and on leave litter along the road.

All of these stinky supporting cast members in the canyon’s ecology feed on insect carrion. When a dragonfly or cricket falters, its corpse will be covered with a immature boxelders and quickly removed. Since these carrion eaters no longer active between mile 1.1 and 1.4, there are two cricket carcasses on the road that have remained undisturbed for two days.

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