City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

June 23, 2017

June 19th

Filed under: Astronomy, Birds, Geology, Insects, Mammals, Microbes, Mollusks, Plants, Seasons — canopus56 @ 9:18 am

Last Day of Spring and a Walk Through Time

3:00 p.m. It is the last day of astronomical spring, and the canyon has completed its seasonal growth spurt, has become pregnant, and is readying itself for the coming stress of summer’s heat. Today, as I sometimes do, I see a walk through nature as a walk through geologic time and the history of life. The canyon contains living refugees from each major geologic period.

The seep below picnic site 6 contains slimes, molds, bacteria and protozoa from the Hadean Eon to the Precambrian period in the Neoproterozic, 530 million years ago. There are 2.2 x 10^30 prokaryotes in the 4 kilometers of Earth beneath my feet from that era (December 20th), and another 7.2 x 10^24 microbes in the 4 kilometers of air above my head (id). The orange lichens on the Gambel’s oak trees also come from this time. The mosses also that adorn the oaks and that live on rocks in the stream come represent life’s first steps onto the land in the Ordovician period 485 million years ago. The trout in the stream represent the arrival of fish in the Silurian period 443 million years ago. The horsetails by the side of the road represent the vascular plants that also migrated to the land during the Silurian periods.

Insects first appear during the Devonian about 400 million years ago. The canyon’s conifers represent the Carboniferous period beginning about 350 million years ago. The Permian period beginning about 290 million years ago when mollusks arrived is represented by the Common garden snails seen crossing the road. The Permian is also when insects like the Variegated Meadowhawk dragonflies arose.

The Mesozoic era, including the age of the dinosaurs during the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods, began about 250 million years ago. Presently, the dinosaurs are represented by their descendants, the many birds of the canyon. The many flowering plants and trees in the canyon first appeared during the Cretaceous, 130 million years ago. The late Cretaceous is represented by the canyon’s Western rattlesnakes and Western ground snakes (Sonora semiannulata). Small mammals like the Rocky Mountain deer mice and Rock squirrels also first appeared during that period.

The Cenozoic era, including the Paleogene period that began forty million years ago, is represented by the canyon’s many butterflies. The Neogene period that began about 25 million years ago is represented by the grasses along the road. The early Quaternary period, the Pleistocene, that began about 2.5 million years ago, are represented the canyon’s coyotes, mountain lions and black bears. The late Quaternary, the Holocene, is represented by homo sapiens, myself and the other walkers and runners on the road.

In the last 500 million years, the Earth has rotated around the core of the Milky Way two times. Life remains persistent, infinite, incomprehensible, and irrepressible.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 19th, 1852, he notes that clover, buttercups and geraniums are at their peak. Grapes and mullein are blooming. He hears robins and walks across a summer-dried swamp and collect orchids. On June 19, 1853, blue-eyed grass, a small iris, is blooming. He sees a blue jay, a tanager, and a cucokoo. He hears a night warbler and a bobolink. On June 19th, 1854, he admires a distant thunderstorm. On June 19th, 1859, he observes a squirrel nest and its young, and he sees a partridge. On June 19th, 1860, he follows a fox track back to its burrow.

* * * *

On June 19th, 1993, the 14th annual Wasatch Steeplechase was won by Tom Borschel with a time of 2:02:50 (Salt Lake Tribune, June 20, 1993). On June 19th, 1992, the City and the L.D.S. Church develop a master plan that proposed a five block parkway with City Creek raised to the surface (Salt Lake Tribune). The Tribune notes an enlarged underground conduit was installed after the 1983 floods along North Temple (id). On November 19th, 2006, a human skill was found by tree-trimming crews working in City Creek Canyon, and a subsequent search failed to find any other remains (Deseret News). On June 19th, 1925, the City condemned land at the mouth of City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 19th, 1917, the City reopened City Creek Canyon after initially closing the canyon out of concerns that terrorist saboteurs might harm the City’s water supply (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 13, 1913, in support of a national education convention held in the City, Parks Commissioner George D. Kesyer plans to open City Creek Canyon road to automobiles (Salt Lake Tribune). Prison labor will be used to improve the road (id). On June 19th, 1903 in a lengthy statement, City Engineer L. C. Kelsey described the risk to the City of flooding from a cloudburst after hundreds died in a cloudburst flood in Heppner, Oregon:

“A part of the city is located at the mouth of City Creek canyon in such a position that a heavy cloudburst in the canyon would send a wall of water into the city that would cause a heavy loss of probably both life and property.”

“I understand that cloudbursts in former years have done considerable damage, but nothing of that kind has ever happened while I have been here.”

“A cloudburst of any considerable magnitude would do almost incalculable damage, and I cannot see how it could be avoided.”

“There is no possible way to divert such a stream without an enormous expenditure of money. If unlimited means were at hand the question would have to be most carefully considered. I would not suggest any means of reaching this end without studying the situation. Means, however, could certainly be devised.”

“A war of water coming down the canyon, similar to that at Heppner, would sweep everything before it. Residences in the canyon’s mouth would fall like card houses and the wave would then sweep down North Temple and State streets. The greater volume would go down the former and the wall surrounding Temple square would melt before it.”

“The Temple itself, the basement at least would be inundated and havoc would be played there. The water going westward would soon spread, but incalculable damage and perhaps heavy loss of life would mark its path.”

“The lesser volume would go down State street, spreading ruin in its course, until it, too, had dissipated.”

“While such a thing is not probable, it is altogether possible, as the city in a climatic belt where cloudbursts could be well expected. Such things cannot, however, be foreseen” (id).

On June 19th, 1895, Watermaster Commissioner Heath reminds citizens that no fishing is allowed in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 19, 1894, the Lady Rosalind Stearns bicycle race was held up City Creek (Salt Lake Tribune). Three racers went up the canyon at full speed, and the winner was forced by exhaustion to dismount at seven miles up the canyon (id).

June 13, 2017

June 3rd

Missing Frogs, Missing Beavers

5:30 p.m. It is the first day of a heat wave. On this Saturday, about forty people are strolling up and down the road. Wild geranium are open through mile 1.1 and are reaching their peak. Near mile 0.3, a cultivar green crab apple tree is bearing small fruit, now about 1 inch in diameter. It is another occurrence in the canyon that somehow was gone unnoticed by me and that seemingly occurs overnight. Chokecherry bushes at mile 0.2 are pollinated, their leafs are shriveled, and the ovaries are swelling with this falls fruit. This is a sign of the impending end of the vernal season and of the beginning of next estival season. Another invasive weed that follows cattle and cars, Yellow sweet clover (Melilotus officinalis) dominates the road’s edges through mile 2.0, along with the occasional rising bull thistle. Although an invasive, the Yellow sweet clover plants provide nourishment to a variety of bees and butterflies that can be seen feeding on them today.

Ants are busy cleaning the forest floor. On the road, two black ants drag a fly 3 times its body size and a boring bug 5 times its size back to their respective burrows. A common female worker Fuzzy-horned bumble bee (Bombus mixtus) is stranded on the road.

At Guardhouse Gate, another lost mallard chick cries loudly from the thick undergrowth, and despite searching, I am unable to locate it. This year’s stream water is too high, too fast, and out of synchronization with the mallard’s breeding cycle. The chicks are getting swept downstream from their parents. At mile 1.1, a community of six Warbling vireos exchange loud songs with a group of Song sparrows. As I exit the canyon, a loud cawing draws my attention upward, and in the calm wind, a Peregrine falcon furiously beats its wings in order to cross the canyon. The mallard chick is unseen below.

For another year, I am reminded of the absence of frogs in the lower canyon. There is year-round flowing water, and they should awaken with the arrival of insects.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 3rd, 1853, he notes the pine woods are full of birds, including robins, and notes painted cups are at their peak. He records that grey hairs have disappears from tree leaves. On June 3rd, 1854, huckle and blueberries perfume the air. On June 3rd, 1856, he finds a chickadee nest. On June 3rd, 1857, he sees pitch pine in blossom. June 3, 1860, he notes red maple seeds on the road, pine shoots rising from the ground, and that the air contains many scents.

* * * *

One never hears frogs in the lower or upper most reaches of the canyon, even though a suitable stream is present. Frogs are missing from the canyon because they are typically associated with lakes and beaver ponds. Historically, there was a lake in the highest City Creek Canyon glacial hanging valley, but by 2017, the lake is no longer present. Beavers are systematically removed by Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County in all of the Salt Lake valley canyons, including City Creek Canyon. With no beavers, there are no frogs. In April 2017, Salt Lake County threatened to fine a Salt Lake County homeowner 750 USD per day for not removing a beaver dam from their backyard that is adjacent to Big Willow Creek as it runs along the valley floor near the I-15 freeway. The county was concerned the beaver dam can break and clog a downstream water treatment plant. The property owner’s administrative appeal is still pending (Catalyst, May 2017). My last personal encounter with beavers in the Salt Lake valley canyons occurred in the early 1990s. For a summer, a few beaver constructed a dam in upper Millcreek Canyon, and City and County officials were slow to respond. The trailhead parking lot at the end of Millcreek Road was full, and a steady stream of urban hikers walked the mile up stream to watch the beaver and to see their dam. In the fall, the beaver were removed by watershed officers.

Because beavers are not present in the canyon, I have not included references to Thoreau’s many observations of frogs in my digests of his Concord journals.

Salt Lake City and County water managers fear beaver dams will create log jams that will break apart and flood downstream areas during years of high stream run-off. Although extricated from urban Salt Lake County, Utah’s beaver population is about 29,000 (Bassett et al, 2010). That is why their occasional appearance in Salt Lake County always causes much interest among the urban outdoor community.

The beaver has a long association with Utah Euro-american history. The first Euro-americans to reside in Utah were attracted here for beaver fur. Peter Skene Ogden, who led an early expedition to Utah, reported on May 13th, 1925 that his company had completed trapping their 2,000th beaver in Cache Valley, Utah (Rawley, 16) (March 3rd, above). The Utah State Capitol features four early Utah scenes painted into its dome’s pendentives, and one of the vignettes painted by Lee Greene Richards during a 1930s Works Progress Administration project was of three trappers, one of whom is kneeling over a beaver (Rawely, frontpiece).

Despite this association, Utah wildlife laws did not protect them. Early Utah wildlife protection laws divided wildlife into three categories: unregulated, noxious, and game. Territorial laws of 1872 protected game and other animals deemed beneficial by prohibiting hunting them during their breeding seasons. Quail, grouse, mallards, ducks, and other defined game birds generally could not be hunted between March and September, and deer, elk, antelope and mountain sheep could not be hunted from January through July (Rawley, 97). A territorial law of 1872, readopted with modifications as a new statute on Utah’s admission to the United States in 1896, defined noxious animals for which the state would pay a bounty. Noxious animals included lynxes, mountain lions, wolves, bears, jack rabbits, muskrats, weasels, minks, weasels, gophers, squirrels, prairie dogs, pelicans, blue cranes, loons, osprey, mergansers, and English sparrows (Rawley, 98). Essentially, the noxious list is any animal that was potentially bothersome to agriculture or ranching. For example, osprey have a taste for farm chickens and cougars a penchant for sheep. (A vestige of Utah’s early “noxious” animal list is Utah’s current coyote bounty program (Sept. 7th). Under that program, the State annually expends about 500,000 USD to pay 20 USD bounties for each coyote killed, and it harvests about 7,000 animals each year (id).) Bounties under the 1896 law ranged from two cents for a House sparrow egg up to 10 USD for a bear, or 63 cents to 316 USD, respectively, in 2017 currency. This left the beaver in the unregulated wildlife category, and hunters could take them in unlimited numbers.

As a result by 1890s, the beaver population had collapsed and they were rare in Utah (Bassett et al, 5). In 1899, the State Legislature prohibited the hunting of any beaver, and a recovery program was instituted that included the new Utah State Game and Fish Department reseeding beavers into Utah’s geographical basins (id at 5-7). By 1957, beaver populations had recovered, and in 1981, an unrestricted beaver hunt was re-instituted. This unrestricted hunt continues through the present (id, 7). In 2017, beaver, like all wildlife in Utah, is deemed property of the State, and it is regulated by the Utah Division of Wildlife Services. The State’s 2010 Beaver Management Plan (Bassett et al 2010) sets an objective of annually harvesting 3,500 of the state’s 29,000 beavers. The Division also maintains a list of active trappers certified to remove nuisance wildlife. Those individuals remove beavers deemed a nuisance in urban areas.

The collapse and recovery of Utah beavers has its parallels in other state showcase game wildlife. After the 1847 colonists’ “committee of extermination” removed all wildlife in the valley in 1850 (March 5th, above), after unrestricted hunting between 1850 and 1872, and after limited hunting restrictions between 1872 through 1900, state’s deer population collapsed (Sept. 7th). Utah elk were hunted to extinction, and during the 1920s had to be re-introduced (Barnes, “Mammals of Utah”).

The overall lesson from this history is that with effective government intervention and population management, both deer, elk, beaver and the Peregrine falcon (May 15th) recovered to their near pre-colonization levels.

* * * *

On June 3rd, 2001, Mayor Rocky Anderson said when he trains for running races, he goes up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 1, 1996, the Chavurah B’Yachad, Salt Lake City’s Reconstructionist Jewish Community has begun meeting for services in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune, June 15, 1996). On June 3rd, 1991, a Deseret News article recommends hiking from Dry Fork to the City Creek ridge. (This route was later developed into a Bonneville Shoreline Trail segment). On June 3rd, 1923, a party of 200 consisting of Boys Scouts and the Rotarians began clearing brush to support the new Rotary Park in upper City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 3rd, 1921, City Engineer Sylvester Q. Cannon and Mayor C. Clarence Nelsen inspected a proposed dam site one-half mile up from Pleasant Valley that could hold 130,000,000 gallons of water (Salt Lake Telegram). Construction at an earlier dam site had be abandoned when the bedrock was found to be insufficient (id). In an editorial letter to the Salt Lake Telegram, J. W. Sloan argued that gravel pits should be removed from lower City Creek Canyon. He stated that “Some day this canyon will be recognized for what it is and should be, ‘the poor man’s paradise’. . . . City Creek canyon is the property of the people of Salt Lake City” (id). On June 3rd, 1906, Land and Water Commission Frank Mathews impounded 14 cows found illegally grazing in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram).

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 18, 2017

May 17th

Winter Interlude

3:30 p.m. The jet stream is again broken and chaotic (May 8th). This time the discontinuity stations a huge low pressure system, shaped like some misplaced galaxy with great arms separated by open spaces, over Idaho, and this weather system brings cold arctic air back into the canyon. Temperatures drop over night into the thirties and only reach the high forties during the day. Banished winter makes returns. Throughout the morning, the sky, between the arms, alternates with an hour of sunlight that turn again to dark skies and rain. As I enter the canyon, light snowflakes, miniature versions of winter’s mature form, fall from the sky, and turn to a light rain. The high walls of the canyon are again covered with a light snow and Little Black Mountain is frosted white. But the snow is deceptive. Along the road only a few patches remain on the leaves of the broadest ground plants. On the hillsides, the Arrowleaf balsamroot blossoms reflect white, not yellow, but this will all be gone in another hour. Next to the winding road, the plants are invigorated by cold, and groups of songbirds sing louder, not softer, in defiance of the prior season. Two bonded pairs of mallards swim the flood retention pond. Three groups of songbirds collect at the Gate, near mile 1.0 and again in Pleasant Valley. A single raptor is soaring up-canyon along the salient. Butterflies are vanquished.

At Pleasant Valley, the 50 meter diameter Gambel’s oak grove has now fully leafed out. There members of Utah State University’s Utah Conservation Corps have returned (Oct. 16th) for further work on their starthistle field abatement. Last year’s removal of the starthistle plants has made a lush, green field in lower Pleasant Valley, but it has given the myrtle spurge an opportunity to return. Today, they pull the spurge in the field and on the hillside surrounding the oak copse. It is hard, labor-intensive work, perhaps impractical, and I can see the temptation that biologists in the past had to use either chemicals or biological controls in the form introduced invasive insects. Both techniques end with unanticipated, adverse results. The City has already tried chemical sprays on the starthistles (Salt Lake Tribune, May 20, 2008), but that failed at Pleasant Valley.

I revisit the stretch of flat stream near picnic site 11 that I have named Rivendell (Jan. 19). I expect to find the entire area flooded. The stream has doubled in size to about 18 feet across and 18 inches in depth, but its surface runs smoothly downstream. There is a same sandy beach, barely two feet wide, at the water’s edge, and there deep hoof prints tell of mule deer coming for a drink earlier in the day.

Returning down canyon by the Pipeline Trail, the Sun comes out as the next arm of the low pressure system arrives. A Broad-tailed hummingbird flutters in the oaks, and another chorus of about eight songbirds starts up again. On the road, the warmth entices a bright yellow Western tiger swallowtail butterfly out of the bushes.

* * * *

On May 17th, 2006, Sarah Grant is training in City Creek for a 3,000 mile cross-country fund raising ride to benefit Splore, a local disabled outdoor program (Salt Lake Tribune). She plans to raise $30,000. On May 17th, 1926, twenty-four men and women of the Wasatch Mountain Club hiked up City Creek to “Scotts Peak” at the canyon’s headwaters (Salt Lake Telegram). On May 17th, 1919, City Park Commissioner George Y. Wallace argued for the creation of a scenic boulevard up City Creek Canyon and then along 11th Avenue and the bench to attract the new automobile tourism (Salt Lake Telegram).

May 10, 2017

May 8th

A Jet Stream Back-flip

4:00 p.m. The air is warm, humid and muggy, a rarity in May in Utah. A line of clouds also is uncharacteristically moving from the southeast to the northwest over the mouth of the canyon, and the east side of the valley is overcast while the west side is clear and sunny. Usually, clouds move from the southwest to the northeast as storms move in from the Pacific to the west. As I pull into the canyon parking lot, the division of these two bodies of air meet, and the result is a light, pleasing cold rain. The parking lot is full, but the road is empty except for a few walkers with rain gear. I have left my rain poncho at home, and for the first time in months, I jog with my shirt off to keep it dry. The rain is so lite that it sprinkles evaporate immediately and my shirt, held in one hand, remains dry. The rain continues on and off for the first mile, but abates at Pleasant Valley. The sky is in reverse. The dark line of clouds makes a lens across the front of the canyon, and there, although their are fewer clouds, the rain is heavy. Just beyond the lens, the sky is a deep sunny blue. The difference in the air masses makes the rain fall. At milepost 1.5, the clouds are thicker and more menacing, but their is no rain. It is a sublime scene.

Later at home, I check the jet stream map. As the globe’s air has warmed, the circumpolar jet stream has fragmented into great eddies containing low pressure systems. Unusually, the jet stream now brings moisture up from the Gulf of Mexico in a counter-clockwise turning storm. That is why the humidity reaches an unheard of sixty-five percent, and why I enjoy a refreshing spring shower while jogging. Back at Guardhouse Gate on the return leg, the clouds open up and it starts to rain heavily. The rain rejuvenates me. At other locations in the valley, lightening strikes fall with large hail stones.

At Pleasant Valley, a single Wild Turkey climbs a hill-side. Hunting season for turkey remains open from May 1st until May 31st, and now the turkeys travel alone instead of in groups. On the way down, I pass two turkey hunters and joking say, “They are up there; I know where they are; but I will not tell you where.” A tuff of dropped fur on the trail discloses the passing of a mule deer. Last year’s Curly dock (Rumex crispus) have dropped their seeds and disappeared. A new crop of these plants rises along the Pleasant Valley road. Although a noxious weed, I favor its deep red colors that contrast both with summer’s browned grasses and winter’s white snow. All of the young dock plants are healthy, except for one, that has been almost entirely consumed by Black bean aphids (Aphis fabae), and this aphid has a preference for dock species. A large three-inch Blue dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis) streaks by on some unknown, but purposeful, errand. A Mormon cricket with red-colored underwings is startled along the Pipeline Trail and the meadow at Pleasant Valley.

* * * *

On May 8th, 1920, a citizen group meeting was planned to consider constructing a viaduct over City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald). On May 8, 1909, a father committed suicide by hanging himself in the canyon because his business had failed and he could no longer provide for his family (Salt Lake Herald).

May 7th

Iridescent butterflies

4:00 p.m. Red-ozier dogwoods are blooming. Gambel’s oak trees at picnic site 1 have leafed-out to between two and four inches, but some of these oaks higher at mile 1.0 have no leaves. At Pleasant Valley, grasses are twelve inches high and move in waves in response to breezes. The high canyon walls are all covered in these green waves. Along the Pipeline Trail, red maples have leafed out to four inches. Mullein stalks are beginning to rise. Along the Pipeline Trail, 20 or 30 birds can be heard, but only yesterday’s male Black-chinned hummingbird puts in an appearance at its usual post on the powerline. No soaring raptors are seen today.

The thirty or forty butterflies in the first mile are dominated by Orange Sarah tops and Desert Elfin (Incisalia fotis fotis) butterflies. Below picnic site 1, an unidentified red-brown caterpillar hangs from a Box Elder tree by a twenty-foot long silk thread, and as the wind blows it sways back and forth in large five foot arcs. It does not know whether to go further down or up. At picnic site 3, an unidentified beetle lites onto a table, and in a ray of sunlight, a patch on its back radiates a bright lime green. Near mile 0.5, a small black ant drags a dead lime green caterpillar back to its nest. Along the Pipeline Trail, a Common sulphur butterfly moves between and drinks from Arrowleaf balsamroot blossoms, and more than ten Stink bugs are active on the trail. I miss nearly stepping on one that is laid out, legs splayed wide, on the trail. My foot alarms it and it springs up and lands in a defensive posture. Back at the Guardhouse Gate, I notice a Cabbage white butterfly fly into a bush, inexplicably struggle, and then frenetically fly off. Close examination shows the circular web of an orb weaver spider (Araneus sp.). This unidentified spider has wonderful orange, white and black spotting on its abdomen, but I am unable to photograph. My autofocus camera only sees the background and refuses to make a sharp image of the tiny spider in the foreground.

Just before Guardhouse Gate, two mallards, one-male, one-female, are standing right next to the road unafraid of humans. The male is half-asleep and appears contemptuous of people. The female is feeding on roaches under the leave litter. She digs through the leaf litter and rapidly opens and closes her beak. This separates the chaff of the dead leaves from the wheat of the small bugs. In the Guardhouse Gate parking lot, an immature Rock squirrel is browsing in the middle of the road. I pull out the car and chase him back into the brush with flashing lights and a honking horn. I am teaching the squirrel to be afraid of cars. For this squirrel, there will be no repeat of finding it dead on the road, as seen last summer.

* * * *

Butterflies also have ultra-violet vision used in differentiating flowers, but some may use iridescence and the uv spectrum to communicate between themselves (Doucet and Meadows, 2009; Buront and Majerus, 1995). Butterfly wings are covered in miniature scales that like the feathers of birds make colors have diffraction. In 1968, an experiment of Obara and Hidaka at the Tokyo Institute of Agriculture and Technology demonstrated that male Cabbage White butterflies locate their mates primarily by visual clues (Obara and Hidaka, 1968). They sealed females and male dummy butterflies in Petri dishes in order to prevent the males from finding their mates by smell. Since male and female Cabbage whites look nearly identical in the visual spectrum, how could the males tell them apart? Ultra-violet photography revealed that the wings of female Cabbage whites are white or patterned and the males are totally dark. On 2008, Obara and colleagues repeated this experiment, but noted that females have subtle changes in their UV color during the summer, and males preferentially mate only with the summer-colored females (Obara et al 2008). In 2000, Knuttel and Fiedler at the Universitat Bayreuth suggested that this was not a universal principle. They found that many species of butterflies appear different in the visual and uv light, but the variations within species where larger than between species and were not so great as to be a means discriminating between or within species (Knuttel and Fiedler, 2000; Buront and Majerus, 1995, same). Iridescent differences in the visual spectrum is dominant in butterflies when distinguishing between individuals (id). Butterflies also have iridescent colors in order to confuse predators or to warn them that the insect is poisonous (Doucet and Meadows, S124).

* * * *

On May 7th, 1996, Utah Partners in Flight plan migratory bird watching in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On May 7th, 1910, the Salt Lake Telegram published a photographic spread on City Creek Canyon and extolled the canyon’s virtues. The Telegram argued for a City Commission proposal to widen the road using prison labor and to make other park improvements (id).

May 9, 2017

May 6th

Wizards of the Canyon Soundscape

7:00 a.m. The entrance to the canyon along Bonneville Drive is closed today for one of the many social 5K runs that occur during the summer. This adds an extra mile jogging along the drive to reach Guardhouse Gate. As I start, the sun line is just beginning to descend the snow capped peaks of the western Qquirrh Mountains and the small sliver of the southern tip of the Great Salt Lake reflects slate blue. The clear western sky shows the last vestiges of dark slate band of the Earth’s shadow retreating from the sun. Along the first stretch of road there are many sage brush bushes that provide cover to chukars. I stop to pick and crush a bracket of this pungent bush to remind myself of what Utah smells like during the heat of summer. About one-half mile from the gate and around a bend, the canyon explodes with the sounds of stream and birds. Although hidden, a male Lazuli bunting peaks from behind some red maple leaves, singing loudly. His colors are muted, since he perches in early morning shadow of the canyon’s east ridge. The sound of the stream is overwhelming, and this indicates the vernal season’s heat is melting the high snowpack. At the gate, the parking lot is full, and includes the enormous truck of the wild turkey bow hunter (May 4th). I must have just missed the race organizer’s closing of the road.

Along the road, the grasses are now twelve to eighteen inches thick, and the first quarter-mile is nearing full leaf out. Near mile 0.3, I look up through the trees to the step slope above, and there a young female mule deer idly grazes on the new grass. I stop to watch and after some minutes, she takes notice of me, stares back, and knowing that it is not hunting season and she is in no immediate danger, she slow walks and disappears into the Gambel’s oak forest. A bird loudly chirps from a nearby tree, and I catch a fleeting glance of black, white and red-brown from below. It is probably a Rufus-sided towhee (Pipilo maculatus). I count about forty or bird separate birds calling the forest thickets in the first mile.

I am not a morning person, most of my daily observations are in the afternoon, and the morning spring canyon is a new place. The warm morning light crawls down the western ridge of the canyon, and makes the thick grasses of spring bathed in an inviting green light. Although it is a pleasant high fifties along the road, one can feel the advancing daytime heat in the seventies approaching. Between mile 0.5 and 1.0, large overhanging trees in partial leaf-out form a series of green tubes through which the rising south-eastern sun penetrates. The lighted end of these tubes with the darkened green leafed foregrounds reminds me of the religious ceiling paintings of European cathedrals. I am overwhelmed by the beauty of it all.

In this half-lit morning reflected light, the canyon has a different character. I have misjudged the Starry solomon’s seal. In the afternoon, I have found two or three open out of an estimated 20,000 plants (May 4th). This morning, most are open, and I easily count 200 open blossoms in the solomon grove surrounding the seep below picnic site 5. The number of active birds is astounding, and a multiple of several times over my afternoon encounters.

At the entrance to Pleasant Valley, I run into the Tracey Aviary sponsored birding, a course directed by and led today by aviary biologists Bryant Olsen and Cooper Farr. I am happy to find the group; I have followed their Cornell birding logs in the canyon for some years; and in the spring, they regularly return to the canyon. Other seasons draw them to other habitats. Traveling down canyon, there seven group members including the leaders, and their five students are a diverse group that range from their thirties to eighties. They allow me to tag along as they proceed down the Pipeline Trail for the one mile walk back to the parking lot. Since I have been frustrated for some years in identifying the thicket hidden birds by sound, and I hope to gain some insight into the process by watching and learning. I quickly learn that I am in the presence of masters. Many birding skills quickly become apparent that explain the large number of birds that they record each week in the Cornell University E-bird log system (Cornell Ornithology Laboratory 2016).

First, birding in groups greatly increases detection. I first encountered this in amateur astronomy. Looking for detail in nature, which involves rare events, is more likely with more eyeballs that can cover the whole sky. In addition to the chance of making a sighting, the ability to perceive rare events also differs greatly by both the ability to perceive and by the knowledge to understand what one is seeing or hearing. The seven of the birders stare intently towards a sound coming from a clump of leaves, and one or two of the seven will first detect the bird, and then direct the others to it. Seven sets of eyes scanning the sky’s dome catch fleeting glances of bird movements in opposite directions, and this greatly increases the number of exclamations that one or another of some species has been seen.

Second, time explains the groups many sightings. As we descend the trail, younger runners and bikers wisk by at six to fifteen miles per hour. They traverse the mile of Pipeline trail in five to ten minutes. When I was younger, I has one of these. They smile as they pass, confident in their belief that in their superiority that their youthful ability to exercise makes them the most important denizens of the canyon. My slow jogging takes twenty minutes, but the birding group takes about one and one-half hours to walk this mile. Perception and time are inversely related. The slow see more; much more. Chance visual sightings reveal common sightings such as the cliff-soaring Red-tailed hawks. In this way, the group quickly seeings a Peregrine falcon resting on the top of the western massif at the entrance to Pleasant Valley and a brood of cliff dwelling Violet-green swallow (Tachycineta thalassina) living nearby in the crumbling deposits of Van Horn and Crittenden’s Triassic conglomerate No 2. sandstone. Are these the peregrine’s prey? Peregrines prey on many of the plentiful birds and mammals in the canyon, including mallads, swallows, Mourning doves, Northern flickers, starlings, American robins, Black-billed magpies, American crow, hummingbirds, owls, mice and Rock squirrels. Thoreau used the Peregrine’s historical name – the duck hawk – and Audubon memorialized this predator-prey relationship in a noted 1827 oil painting (Audubon 1827). The peregrines are in turn fed upon by larger birds of prey like Bald eagles and Red-tailed hawks. The birding group has great interest in following the falcon back to its nest, since these birds, although removed from the United States endangered species list in 1999, remain popular and are known to raise young near Pleasant Valley.

Third, these are the wizards of the canyon’s bird soundscape. Raw knowledge, expertise, and practice allows the group to identify many birds by sound alone or first by sound and then by sight. A member will hear a call of interest, and all will stop intently listening while leaning in one direction; some cup hands around their ears. Someone will call out a name, there is a discussion, and then a final determination is made as to the species. Sometimes, this is accompanied by a pointing figure and the exclamation “There it is!”, and all binoculars are raised in unison. I humbly learn the calls of one or two common canyon residents, like the chirping of the Rufus-sided towhee, and can notice distinct obvious sounds, like the wing-beat of a passing Broad-tailed hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus) and the obnoxious squawking of the Red-breasted nuthatch (Sitta canadensis). But the group’s ability to identify unseen colorful birds by sound alone is astounding. They hear a Green tailed towhee (Pipilo chlorurus), an Orange-crowned warbler (Vermivora celata), and a Western tanager (Piranga ludoviciana).

The group’s ability is distinguish between similar calls is uncanny. I have a particular interest in the rapid chirping call of the Rufous towhee. Later at home, I compare audio recordings and spectrographs of several species found along the trail that all include to my uneducated ears, subtle variations on a series of four to six rapid fire trill chirps, preceded or followed by two tones. The songs of the Rufous-sided towhee, the Green-tailed towhee, and Orange-crowned warbler, are all variations on a theme.

The group continues down the trail as the bright line of sunlight engulfs them. The celebrity bird of the afternoon are many Lazuli buntings. On the western brightly lit slopes, perching on a Gambel’s oak, several of these buntings are seen. They males are aflame in their cloaks of brilliant iridescent blue. Bryant notes that a bird’s coloring are the result of their feathers refracting sunlight. The explains why colorful birds have dulled colors in diffused light, but radiant colors in full sun. Near trail mile 0.5, a Black-chinned hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri) sits on a powerline and obligingly ignores the birders as they take photographs. In the last third of trail mile, the sun and temperature has risen, the birds are less active, and the group quickly exits back to the road. A mallard rests in the flood retention pond.

I point out the cliff nest site that I followed last spring near mile 1.0 (Dec. 9th, 40°48.227 N, 111°52.204 W), but only about one-half of the group can see the nest. I had previously thought it was built by Peregrine falcons or Cooper’s hawks, but Bryant notes I am mistaken. Peregrines and Cooper’s hawks do not build stick nests, he says, a point supported in literature (Utah Legacy Raptor 2011). A later search on the internet returns many photographs of peregrines nesting in nearly identical stick nests. A probably resolution of the difference is found elsewhere: peregrine falcons sometimes will take over the stick nests of other raptors like eagles (White et al 2002).

Comparing the group’s Cornell Ornithology Lab birding logs for the canyon since April 30th reveals the arrival of many small migratory song birds with the abrupt rise in temperatures and the arrival of the vernal season (April 29th and May 1st). Common canyon birds in their logs in April through May 6th include mallards, European starlings, American robins, House finches, Song sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, Black-billed magpies, Mourning doves, Ravens, American crows, Red-tailed hawks, and Cooper’s hawks. New spring heat-seeking migrants that arrived just as the temperature switch tripped two or three days ago include the Peregrine falcons, Plumbeous vireo (Vireo plumbeus), Warbling vireo (Vireo gilvus), Orange-crowned warbler, Yellow warbler, Virginia’s warbler, Chipping sparrow (Spizella passerina), Green-tailed towhee, the Western tanager (Piranga ludoviciana), Broad-tailed hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri), Black-chinned hummingbird, Lazuli bunting, the Lesser Goldfinch (Spinus psaltria). These new colorful arrivals have followed the north running heat wave from the southern states and Mexico for a thousand miles to this northern canyon, and now that they have arrived, their next tasks will be mating and beginning the construction of nests.

I ask a question about what some of the most common canyon birds eat. I am interested in not only the simple phenological list of what bird species arrives when (this is what Thoreau did), but also how the web of insects, plants, and birds link together. The aviary experts’ answers are general and unsatisfying. “Seeds” (there are none), “grass” (they have not developed grains), and “insects” (there are still few, given the newly higher temperatures). The same vague discussions are found in my various paper and internet birding guides. I have witnessed a few instances in which canyon birds actually eating something over an entire year. A scrub jay ate acorns in the fall (Oct. 6th); wild turkeys ate winter acorns (Dec. 29th); chickadees ate winter fruit; spring kingfishers fish along the ponds and stream, although I have never seen them catch anything (March 19, April 6, 11, and 18); in the mallards eat spring algae from the stream; hummingbirds and dragonflies feasted on summer gnats (August 1st and August 11th), and a few days later, cliff swallows gorged on the dragonflies (August 22nd). In the spring of 2015, two falcons ate a mouse. But what are they, in particular the new arrivals, eating now? After this morning with the soundscape wizards and a subsequent literature search, I am struck both about how much science knows about the birds and how little science knows about birds. All things cannot be known, and I suspect there is little grant money available to fully construct and quantify the ecological relationships of even close natural areas, since minerals, logs, and skiers only have economic value and iridescent sheen of the Lazuli buntings do not.

A lone mallard sleeps near the shore of the flood retention pond. Jogging out of the canyon, the social-cause, 5k fun-run has begun, and three or four-hundred joggers are going towards milepost 0.5, along the opposite western leg along Bonneville Drive. A loudspeaker blares out popular music. Groups of racing bicyclists stopped by the police to allow the race to pass joke about blindly coming around a curve into such a mass of humanity. Their focus on life is different from mine, and neither, as they go about their respective enjoyment of the canyon, will perceive the dazzling blue of the Lazuli buntings seen by the wizards of the canyon soundscape.

* * * *

Iridescence in birds is caused by both pigments and the refracting structure of their feathers (Doucet and Meadows 2009; Rajchard 2009), and many birds also perceive light, including the iridescent refraction, in the ultra-violet spectrum (id). The view that humans see of birds is not what they see of each other. The blue feathers of birds, like the Lazuli bunting, may be hint that a bird can see ultra-violet light (see Doucet and Meadows, S118). Falcons use the ultra-violet reflection of mole and mouse urine to determine the density of their mammalian prey in fields (Rajchard). Fruit seeking birds like crows better see mature fruits because the ripe fruit better reflect ultra-violet light (id). Blue tits switch to the ultra-violet spectrum to see insects against non-contrasting backgrounds (id). The iridescent patches also help birds to distinguish their sexes, just as human birders do, but in some birds, the ultra-violet spectrum of their iridescent patches enhance the sex difference of their pigments seen in the human visual spectrum (id). Another study suggests that in the ultra-violet spectrum, some birds find it easier to distinguish eggs (id). Iridescence can also be an indicator of fitness to breed. Male birds lose iridescence as they age and when they are sick (Doucet and Meadows, S120-S121).

The iridescent patches of birds involve a trade-off. Iridescent patches, like those of the front-chin of the Broad-tailed Hummingbird and the side-neck of the Black-chinned hummingbird seen today, may be more visible to their predators, but they are also more visible to their potential mates (Doucet and Meadows). To reduce the predation cost of these patches, some patches are directional. A bird living in a diffusely, dark lit forest can perch in a ray of sunlight and send a narrow beam “flash” to other members of its own species and to potential mates (id). Predators circling above will not see this visual chatter. Conversely, the bright Lazuli bunting simply shines like a beacon. What do the hawks and falcons circling above see of these beautiful song birds in the shorter-bands of light that we human birders are unaware of?

* * * *

On May 6th, 1899, work to replace the City Creek water main with a larger diameter pipe was underway (Salt Lake Herald), although a suit seeking an injunction against the construction had been filed. On May 6th, 1888, Z. Jacobs canvassed citizens for suggestions on how to increase the city’s water supply, including Fire Chief Ottinger (Salt Lake Herald). Jacobs argued against building a dam in City Creek Canyon, since failure of the dam would destroy the downtown (id).

May 5, 2017

April 27th

Filed under: Gambel's Oak, Long-leaf phlox, Mallard, Squirrel — canopus56 @ 12:54 pm

Biophilia – Part VII – Is the Biophilia Hypothesis Necessary?

2:00 p.m. After a night of extraordinarily heavy, cold rain, the sun returns in the afternoon, but temperatures have returned to the high thirties. It is brief reminder of winter, and I have become forgetful and under-dressed for today’s jog. The butterflies and ants have disappeared, but at mile 0.6, a single female mallard flies up the centerline of the road at about 15 feet above its surface. In past years, ducks have raised broods at the flood retention ponds near mile 3.2, and I suspect that the male and female mallards seen along the first mile have taken up residence there. Only five birds, heard by their calls, are detected in the first mile. At mile 1.2, opposite picnic site 9 and at milepost 1.5, two fields of pink Long-leaf Phlox have bloomed. One is about fifty by twenty feet and the second is one-hundred and fifty by fifty feet. Up canyon from milepost 1.5, the western roadside shows more immature phlox, and this proposes further showings over the next week. Scott’s Hill and Little Black Mountain are all frosted with snow, but it is a thin layer. The SNOTEL stations at Louis Meadow and Lookout Peak record only one inch of new snow. I spend today logging all of the flowering cultivar trees, principally crab apples and plums, along the first two miles of the upper canyon road. Tamarisk at the entrance to picnic site 11, has leafed in. Turning down canyon, Pleasant Valley is an idyllic greening sight under the spotting of clouds, bright sunlight and crisp air. The angle of the sun on the eastern sandstone cliffs reveals new movement of water. The heavy rain at the ridgeline has seeped through the soil and at the top line of the sandstone cliffs, sunlight glints off of sheets of water that leak from under the soil and down the vertical sandstone cliffs.

Before picnic site 12, I see for the first time in decades in the canyon, a Rock squirrel disappear into one of the several small burrows that dot the roadside in the first one and a half miles. I have always suspected these were squirrel burrows, but this is the first time that I have actually seen a squirrel disappear into one. The squirrel had paralleled me along the road making a noisy traverse of the underbrush. Then is popped out by the side of road, watched me for a few moments and then retired to it burrow underneath a large Gambel’s oak tree. The burrow looks empty; there are many leaves around its entrance and going down into the four-inch tunnel. This illustrates how the Gambel’s oak forest provides a nurturing habitat for the squirrels beyond the oak’s cornucopia of acorns. If the rock squirrel burrows into the ground alone with an earthen ceiling, its tunnel would run the risk of collapse and flooding. The contorted roots of this species of oak may provide a sturdy wooden roof for the squirrel’s den, and the thick layer of leaves dropped by the oak absorbs snow and rain. Residing under the oak may keep their den dry and warm. But the squirrels also have many tree nests along the road (Dec. 10th), and I have seen several similar nests inhabited by squirrels near my home. When will the squirrels rise from beneath the ground and take to the trees, and will they be hunted there by the Cooper’s hawks?

The cold weather leaves an empty parking lot at two in the afternoon, and I have the road largely to myself. But on returning at five, the steady sunshine has refilled it with cars and people.

* * * *

Wilson and Kellert argue essentially a political position using informal argumentation from signs: genetic drive for biophilia is necessary justification for the preservation of nature given the accelerated extinction rates of species caused by humankind’s activities (Wilson 1984, Kellert 1993). Current levels of specie extinction are nearing to that seen in catastrophic meteor extinctions events, and this extinction is a hallmark of the Anthropocene era (March 2nd). Nature needs to be preserved to preserve humankind. But is a genetic compulsion to seek nature only a sufficient justification for preservation? There is along history of conservation and biophilia that created our national parks, that created the environmental movement, that protected us against environmental toxins, and that raised the alarm of loss of diversity that pre-dates the development of genetics and behavioral psychology. In the nineteenth century John Muir in his journal and writings celebrated nature and at the beginning of the twentieth century Walt Whitman in the “Leaves of Grass” cried, “Give me solitude – give me Nature – give me again, O Nature, your sanities!” Many contributed to developing the importance that our modern culture gives to the natural environment based on their feelings, not their genes: Aldo Leopold in the 1940s, Rachael Carson in the 1960s, David Brower in the 1970s, and Arne Naess’s deep ecology movement of the 1980s and 1990s. Political action to reserve natural lands from human use flows from human emotions and the human will, and genetic biophilia is not a necessary justification for communities to decide to preserve lands. The counterargument is that genetic biophilia is needed to counteract the increasing reliance on informal argumentation based on signs in post-industrial culture; genetic biophilia is a sufficient justification to preserve nature.

But reliance only on signs alone to prove hypotheses removes critical thinking from hard science, since proof is not subject to contradiction. At times, informal argumentation from signs inflates to bureaucratized psuedo-science. Thereby, the power of individuals has been reduced rendered ineffective and reduced to Fromm’s homo consumens by free-market economic theory, by the coarse narcissism of Ayn Rand-based libertarianism, by biological behaviorism, and by the modern need to have all policy subjected to scientific proof, often pseudo-scientific proof. Frequently, the pre-condition of scientific proof before policy change degrades into the abuse of mathematical models and of critical statistical thinking. By pseudo and bureaucratized science, I mean that human and natural reality are too complex to be properly modeled mathematically or to allow for the ethical validation of a model. Models and mathematical models of reality are an essential check that enables people to distinguish between that which is from that which humanity wants to be, but all abstract models have their limits. It is important to distinguish between a beautiful idea and an elegant model from what actually is, and to not become so enamored with our models or ideology that were ignore the world. Lacking the ability to fully model all causes in a complex reality, governance becomes policy based on signs supported by weakly verified scientific evidence and provisional hypotheses. Too frequently, I see policy and expert pronouncements being supported by only small-sized studies that at best give doubtful signs of whether our view of the world is correct. Nonetheless, such scientific opinions are presented as if they are immutable law instead of as doubtful provisional hypotheses.

An example of the risks of informal argumentation from signs is in the field of economics. Although economics is a science, economic theories are often incapable of verification and contradiction. A leading modern economic theory is the Phillips curve – the inverse relationship between inflation and unemployment. A statistical relationship between the unemployment and inflation did exist in the United States for a short-period ending in 1968, but since then, there is no correlation between the two. Despite searching economic data for over forty years, economists were only able to again find an exemplar of that association in the United States mid-west (Nicolini and Fitzgerald 2013). Even so, Federal Reserve policy uses the Phillips curve a core guiding indicator that places millions in unemployment lines and despite the lack of supporting statistic proof.

Over the last few years, science itself has moved to reduce abuse of statistics by informal argumentation from signs. In 2016, the American Statistical Association issued a statement discouraging the use of statistical p-value statements in research (Wasserstein and Lazar 2016), and that move was prompted in response to the increasing problem of non-reproducibililty of experiments in many branches of research (Ioannidis 2005, Nuzzo 2014). Current research practice emphasizes the need for multiple studies that demonstrate a dose-dependent relationship between a causal factor and an effect (see Wasserstein and Lazar 2016). This discourages making inferences from limited associations established by studies supported only by simple frequentist statistics. Research also involves turning data into a model. The science of modeling is also changing by techniques that emphasize statistical selection of factors used in proposed causal models. Whether a researcher proposes to include or exclude a potential causal factor can dramatically change the results of statistical analysis, and thus, analytic techniques, such as mathematical factor analysis, are encouraged to select causal factors and to reduce researcher bias in selecting causal factors.

Given the state of non-reproducibility in science, critical reading of scientific studies that justify policies in the political, environmental or economic spheres is a necessary democratic skill. The American Heart Association has a useful approach for determining what weight should be given to studies and whether scientific theory is supported by reasonable evidence or whether an unproven theory should be considered provisional:

• Level A: Multiple populations evaluated. Data derived from multiple randomized trials or meta-analysis.

• Level B: Limited populations evaluated. Data derived from a single randomized trail or non-randomized studies.

• Level C: Very limited populations studied. Only consensus opinion of experts or case studies evaluated (Stone et al 2013).

The American Heart Association also adds a second vector that consists of three degrees of beneficial effect created by the treatments studied: small, medium and great. Taken with the three types of studies, a conceptual grid is created to guide decisionmaking. Studies of limit populations that contain primarily expert opinions and whose beneficial effect is small suggest no action should be taken until efficacy is proven further. Studies based on multiple randomized blind-trials whose interventions have a large beneficial effect should be looked at closely for implementation. This decision-making schema is usefully for approaching the many scientific and psuedo-scientific claims that bombard every day life. Claims made based on small sized studies that promise only marginal benefits do not require much energy-grabbing attention.

By the foregoing, I do not mean to be anti-science by claiming that experts and the long tradition of journal publication and review should be discounted, as currently occurs among some political elites. Rather, science must be read and understood by ordinary citizens and presented by expert authors with acknowledgment of its limits. This means that many times scientific research can only provide loose guidance despite the enormous expense and effort that good science demands, and citizens should not expect it to always provide the level of certainty and stability that people expect their politicians to provide. Scientific research and science-based policy-making cannot be a full substitute for human value-based decisions and human judgement calls. The ethical use of scientific studies results ultimately rests on the courage to say that in many cases one does not know the answer, but to proceed with the humility of ignorance.

In this current culture that requires proof by informal argumentation from sign, genetic biophilia is a needed, but not necessary, justification that supplements human values for the preservation of natural places. It is needed to combat the prevalence of poor critical thinking that supports anti-environment forces. However, given the weakness of scientific proof supporting the signs of genetic biophilia, it should not be a mainstay of the argument from preservation. Ultimately, people must decide to preserve for the simple reason that they like nature and not because it has some utilitarian value, even the utilitarian value of satisfying a genetic-based human need.

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On April 27th, 1920, a special water bond election was held to issue $3,300,000 for water supply improvements, including $200,000 for building a reservoir in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald). On April 27th, 1902, the Salt Lake Tribune overviewed the city’s reservoirs and lines, including the High Line and partially excavating reservoir at Pleasant Valley in City Creek Canyon.

April 26, 2017

April 22nd

Biophilia – Part IV – Twin Studies

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

April 19, 2017

April 17th

Filed under: Gambel's Oak, Maple tree, Squirrel — canopus56 @ 2:45 pm

Squirrel Hole

1:30 p.m. Today’s overcast skies keeps temperatures in the sixties, but overnight temperatures for the last two days have been above freezing overnight. As a result, the stream is again running at its highest, as measured by its water mark on the Zen Rock (January 4th). At Guardhouse Gate, the three mature horsechestnut trees bloom together. To mile 0.2 along the road, the Gambel’s oaks are starting to bloom. They, like the river birch, have a small compound tubular inflorescence of about twenty ovaries. Along the roadway for the first mile, numerous herbaceous plants that have stalks and leaves arranged like corn have grown about one-foot tall. What will they become? At mile 1.2 above picnic site 8, a Red maple tree has blossomed. The radiating blossoms are similar to the green blossoms of the Box Elder tree, but in the maple, they are dusky red in color.

Going down-canyon near mile 0.4, I hear scurrying on the road bank and catch a glimpse of a young Rock squirrel. I have often wondered where their burrows are, and today, above picnic site 5, I find a three or for inch diameter burrow hole on the west side of the road bank. There is fresh dirt around the entrance. I mark this site (40°47.889′ N, 111°52.420′ W) for watching. Perhaps I can confirm its inhabitant is a squirrel.

The parking lot is full, but the today only holds bicyclists.

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On April 17th, 1991, residents in Memory Grove sought closure of Canyon Road to reduce “cruising” traffic (Deseret News). On April 17th, 1900, city prison labor is used to build the boulevard around City Creek, now Bonneville Drive (Salt Lake Tribune).

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