City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

June 27, 2017

June 26th

Wasp Explosion and Return of the Water Striders

4:30 p.m. It reaches 100 degrees in the valley; the estival heat has returned. The stream level continues to decline, and the pond at picnic site 5 is beginning to reform under the higher spring run-off. At its banks, a wetted sand and silt line has developed. Here, about fifteen Western Yellowjacket wasps land and take sips of water. In a small pocket of calm water, the season’s first water strider (Aquarius remigis) appears (Sept 12th). A similar scene is found at the water seeps below picnic site 6. Checking the stream and its opposite banks at several times along the first mile, I find areas with thirty or forty Yellowjackets. One one bank,a Western tiger swallowtail butterfly lands also seeking to take a drink. Individual Yellowjackets start dive bombing the swallowtail, and after the fourth, the butterfly move down canon. What the yellow jackets are eating is unclear. I find one crawling over a roadside weed that no longer has flowers. It crawls to the juncture between a leaf and the plant’s main stalk where a white liquid oozes out. The wasp spends a minute drinking before flying off. I estimate that there are about 400 wasps along the first mile of road: enough for two colonies. At picnic site 1, a Prairie rose (Rosa setigera), a cultivar, with delicate pink blossoms that surround fifty stamens, blossoms.

Another insect explosion begins. On Utah milkweed plants, a black, yellow-stripped flower loving borer beetle (Calloides nobilis var mormonus Schaeffer) is found. Several are along the road, either feeding on pollen or hovering in flight.

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Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 26th, 1853, he notes that air is warmer after a thunderstorm. He describes a summer sunset and a faint afterglow three minutes after the sun falls below the horizon it lights up low clouds in the sky. He notes how in summer light, the outlines of mountain ridges are more distinct. On June 26, 1856, he describes the last remaining Native American, a seventy-year old woman, who lives alone in his neighborhood.

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On June 26th, R. J. Robinson, a consulting engineer who obtain water rights in City Creek Canyon, offered to sell his rights to the City (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 26th, 1908, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Chin Wo, who had been sentenced to the City Creek chain gang road crew for vagrancy and who was believed to have mental health issues, attacked police guard Kast with a shovel.

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March 15, 2017

March 15th

Filed under: Ants, People, picnic site 4, Pollution, Smells, spiders, Stream, Water Skimmer — canopus56 @ 7:47 pm

A Day for the Senses

2:00 p.m. Record high temperature – 73 degrees Fahrenheit, and twenty degrees above average. Warm sun beats down. Insects continue to respond to these record highs. Box Elder bugs pass their R reproduction explosion yesterday and are diminished, but now the spiders respond. I stop counting at fifty small spiders scurrying across the road. They are oblivious to the larger world around them, and in places, I have to jump from side to side to avoid crushing them. Ants become active and run onto the round. At the pond at picnic site 4, three Water striders, the first of the new year, return. Butterflies sparsely float along the road. As yesterday, the warmth brings out numerous people and on another workday, many families with strollers are out. The stream still runs high with the early snowpack melt, and at rock pours, City Creek begins to look like its high mountain relatives. The water cascades over rocks and falls into agitated white pools. The stream is usually brown colored from the milky dust in the runoff that is only slightly opaque, but the water is set off against the brown of the creek bottom. This contrasts with the water of the boiling white, agitating eddies that creek into blue-green wedges. The silver ribbon returns for some stream sections (Dec. 26th).

At picnic site 4, I stop to do a chore. There is plastic child’s bucket that has been tangled in the low-hanging bushes on the far bank of the stream. I have grown tired of this piece of trash, and today, I have brought my river sandals. I change shoes and then wade across the two foot deep pond to remove the trash. The runoff is only slightly cold and afterward I am refreshed. As I wade across, a great plume of silt is raised, and the pond turns light brown for about five minutes. I now understand Salt Lake’s 1894 Mayor Baskin’s February 6th, 1895 comment that the City’s “inhabitants have been compelled to drink and use for culinary purposes very muddy, unwholesome and unpalatable water,” and why the City prohibited fishing in the stream beginning in 1895 (Salt Lake Tribune, June 19, 1895). Although the stream bed is made of rocks, the rocks are not natural. In 1896, this section of stream was lined with rip-rapp in order to reduce both sediment and to keep stream water from seeping into the true silt base hidden below the rocks (Salt Lake Herald, May 20 and July 26, 1896). Over the last one-hundred and ten years, the rip-rap has been covered with silt.

At milepost 1.5, a fresh katabatic wind blows up canyon, and between wind, the warm sun, and relaxing wade in the cool mountain stream, I mind cannot help to wander and just enjoy this feast for the senses.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 15th, 1857, he observes trout swimming in a zig-zag pattern. On March 15th, 1860, he admires a circling hen-hawk.

September 26, 2016

September 26th

Just a Short Walk

4:00 p.m. Just a short walk between the Guardhouse gate at mile 0.0 and along the first quarter mile, individual variation in leaf turning within tree species can be seen. Today, in the parking lot at Guardhouse gate are several large horsechestnut trees, and as noted on September 23, their leaves are turning brown at the edges. But a short distance away at picnic site 1, there is another large chestnut tree that experienced the same cold weather, but it remains completely green. Similarly, just past the gatehouse, there is a large, apex narrow leaf cottonwood tree, but 200 yards up canyon, there are two immature cottonwood trees that have completely turned a bright yellow. Within the first 50 yards of the gatehouse, there is a Box Elder tree that has almost completely turned and one that has only begun to turn.

There is some type of ordered distribution to this seeming randomness. I pull out my field note pad, and I am tempted to record a list of road positions, type tree, and percent of leaves turned. I have made such lists in the past for birds and animals in the canyon. But I remind myself that I am here for solitude and not to start another project, and the notebook is put away.

Along the first mile, gnats have returned, but at a lower density, and so their predators, the dragonflies, have also returned. But the dragonfly population is now counted by the tens and not by the hundreds as before the cold overnight weather. The waterskimmers are completely gone from their pool at picnic site 5.

September 21, 2016

September 12th

Filed under: Dogs, Insects, People, Places, Stream, Water Skimmer — canopus56 @ 1:15 am

Kraken of the Water Striders

5:30 p.m. I’ve been following water striders (Gerris remigis) at a pool at picnic site 5 near mile 0.3. Today, about 25 water striders float on the pool and they are eliminated by low angle western sunlight. The water strider’s body are shaped like sculling boats. Their body rests primarily on four long stick legs. Under a microscope, the feet of these feet are covered with thousands of hydrophobic hairs. The low angle sunlight casts shadows on the bottom of the pond that shows the purpose of these hairs. Visually, their feet are sticks, but the shadows of the feet are surrounded by shadows of large elliptical pads. These elliptical shadows are diffraction patterns from the tensioned and depressed water tension surface underneath each foot. There is no similar depression underneath the body of the water strider, and this indicates that its body is suspended above the water surface like a catamaran sailboat. When startled, a quick flick of their legs immediately propels the water striders forward about 3 or 4 inches.

A family’s black Labrador runs into the pool and begins frolicking around. A half hour later, I return to the pool to check on fate of the water striders. They are still there, distributed around the outside edge of the pool. They are still waiting to see if this canine version of the Kraken will be released again.

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