City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

May 22, 2017

May 21st

Filed under: Birds, Leopard slug, Light, Sounds, Weather — canopus56 @ 4:40 am

Utah Bird Population Trends

8:30 p.m. I am on a short, quick jog near twilight, and towering broken clouds float from the west to east over the lower canyon. As the sun nearly sets, dimmed green and brown ridgeline contrasts with slate gray cloud bottoms below the descending sunset line, but the cloud tops are enveloped in a bright pink and white hues against the deepening blue sky. Two Leopard slugs take advantage of the cool evening to cross the road. Twilight turns to night. Unlike my snowbound fall night run (December 12th) which focused on the sound of silence, tonight the crashing white noise of the stream drowns out any thoughts as I return to the gate through the darkness.

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Bird populations are almost impossible to estimate with any accuracy. The best that can usually be done is to measure changes in the density of birds and from those changes a change in the overall population level can be inferred. Numerical population estimates exist for Utah game waterfowl birds and endangered species that travel along the eastern branch of the Pacific Flyway that passes through the Great Salt Lake. The Pacific Flyway is one of the three great North American migratory bird flyways that stretch from Canada to central Mexico. Thus, the populations of many birds see in the canyon that winter to the south is dependent on the availability of habitat two thousand miles to the south. Similarly, bird populations seen to the north and south of Utah are dependent on the marshes of the Great Salt Lake. There is no alternative route for birds to cross Utah and Nevada’s arid lands.

Olson of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports a 13 percent increase in waterfowl birds between 2009 and 2016 (55,868 divided by 49,464 birds) (Olsen 2017). (The Utah study methodology changed in 2009 and this prevents examining longer term trends back to 1992). With respect to non-game birds such as those smaller song birds in the canyon, Parrish, Norvell and Howe with the Utah Division of Natural Resources 1992 to 2005 study of 37 Utah bird sites found that (Parrish et al. 2007; Novell, Howe and Parrish 2005). Their study created the longest running dataset of high quality bird density estimates for the western United States (Parrish et al. 2007, 77). About half of Utah’s 440 bird species are residents; they other half are annual neotropical migrants; and, more than 70 percent of those birds use riparian habitats, like the Jordan River, as habitat during part of their life cycle (Parrish et al. 2007, 12). Based on estimated the density of 202 species of Utah birds from 1996 to 2005 from observations and recaptures, Parrish and his colleagues found that overall Utah bird populations have declined 5 percent over the thirteen years from 1992 to 2005 (id, 4, 67, Fig. 8). The Utah bird decline should be viewed within the context of the fifteen year drought cycle. The Great Salt Lake water level has been declining, its marshes have less water, and other bird refuges are drier. Population declines would be expected from such changes in habitat. Parrish, Norvell and Howe did not have a study site in City Creek Canyon.

The decline in Utah neotropical migratory birds is not uniform for birds found in City Creek Canyon. Between 1995 and 2001, the density of American Goldfinches, American Robins, Black-headed Grosbeaks, Broad-tailed hummingbirds declined, but the density of Yellow Warbler’s increased (Novell, Howe and Parrish 2005, 561-562, Figs. 2-3). Gross waterfowl populations along the Great Salt Lake are increasing, despite the drought. Available copies of their 2007 report do not provide density information disaggregated by individual species. In summary, Utah state neotropical bird studies indicate that the population of birds in the canyon relatively stable, but populations may decline further based on changes in local climate.

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Given that a high proportion of Utah birds that use riparian habitats, Parrish, Norvell and Howe recommended adoption of various management activities to improve habitat along Utah’s waterways without necessarily waiting for further study demonstrating the efficiency of remediation efforts in improving bird populations (Parrish et al. 2007, 76-77). Cause and effect are well known and obvious in these circumstances. In 2011, the Utah State Legislature authorized the expenditure of 37 million USD to support the Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative for joint private-public riparian rehabilitation ventures (Clark, A., and Utah Department of Natural Resources, 2013; (Utah Department of Natural Resources, 2017b). Through 2016, the Utah Division of Wild Resources reports that it has completed 1,607 projects covering 1.3 million acres of Utah Wetlands.

The Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative has funded Yellow starthistle abatement in City Creek Canyon during 2010 through the present (Utah Department of Natural Resources, 2010, 2016, 2017a, 2017b). Those projects included chemical spraying of 8 acres in Pleasant Valley to control the weed in 2017 (Project Id. 3693), 2016 (Project Id. 3404), 2013 (Project Id. 221), spraying 70 acres in 2011 in Pleasant Valley (Project Id. 1642), and spraying 150 acres five miles up the canyon in 2010 (Project Id. 1464). Another spraying in the canyon is proposed in 2018 (Project Id. 4040). The Initiative funds the Utah Conservation Corps currently working in City Creek (May 17th, October 16th) (Utah Department of Natural Resources, 2017a).

On May 21st, 2003, in a letter to the editors of the Salt Lake Tribune, Richard Pieros observes how new FAA landing flight paths for the Salt Lake International Airport over Emigration Canyon, City Creek Canyon and the Avenues has resulted in loss of solitude. (Later, the FAA revised the flight paths and airliners no longer take off or landing over City Creek Canyon or the Avenues, except in rare unusual instances. This transfers the airport noise burden to West Valley City residents and to wildlife along the shores of the Great Salt Lake.) In May 20th, 1994, Bryant Elementary School Children participated in a neighborhood cleanup of Memory Grove and City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On May 21st, 1916, City Engineer Sylvester Q. Cannon planned to measure the volume of lakes in City Creek Canyon in order to see if they were suitable to act as reservoirs (Salt Lake Tribune).

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March 23, 2017

March 23rd

Filed under: earthworm, Leopard slug, Lichen, moss, Weather — canopus56 @ 6:56 pm

This is Not the Natural Place. – Part IV – Timber Harvesting

2:30 p.m. Winter has returned for a day. Temperatures have dropped 35 degrees Fahrenheit in two days, and a combination of rain and snow has fallen continuously since this morning. All is water in the canyon. Trees and soaked and below picnic site 6, lichens on the west side of some trees puff and glow with a light-green and orange radiance. The stream runs high from melting snow runoff Although there is no snow in the lower canyon, checking the automated SNOTEL data from City Creek’s Louis Meadow station in the upper canyon eight miles away (Feb. 1st), there is 10 inches of water equivalent snow on the ground. However, the station’s data also shows that one-half of the snow pack melted in the last two weeks. At its current melting rate, the snowpack will be gone by the beginning of April – almost one month early. This will impact next summer’s wildlife, and they may be facing a severe lack of water in a few months.

The recent warm weather has woken the earthworms from their over-wintering freeze and stimulated their cocoons. Leopard slugs also woke, two are seen on the road, but today’s heavy rain has driven both the earthworms and slugs from the ground. In the first mile of the road, I count in a swath of one-quarter of road, 712 earthworms, and they are evenly distributed across the entire road. This means there about 2,800 earthworms in the first road mile. Almost all will die by the morning. They so numerous that it is impossible for bicycles and runners to avoid them, and the remaining are drowning or will finished off by tonight’s cold. Hopefully, there are more worm cocoons hibernating between the soil who will continue their good work.

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In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 23rd, 1853, he hears a robin and records maples blooming. On March 23rd, 1855, he returns the squirrel to the wild. On March 23, 1856, he lists animals that have been exterminated in the east including cougar, panther, wolverine, wolf, bear, moose, deer, beaver, and turkey. (Excepting panther, all these animals can be in modern Utah. All but the panther, wolverine, and wolf can be found in modern have been seen in modern City Creek Canyon. Beaver are removed by the City, if found. The wolf, which has returned to western Utah, might return to City Creek in the future.) He records that snow is one foot deep. He notes that on south facing hillsides, mice have eaten sedge; a squirrel is heard; and, partridges are seen. On March 23rd, 1859, he sees two red-tailed hawks. He notes the black and brown color of the land, and he notes how during sunset, ridgelines with red birch twigs contrast with the purple of a sunset sky. He sees two goosanders.

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Twenty-eight hundred worms along one mile may seem like the entire canyon worm population, but soil researchers have found depending on type of soil, its cover, and the amount of its disturbance, there can be between 10 and 1,300 earthworms per square yard (Natural Resources Conservation Service 2001). Taking some mid-range estimates of 280 and 475 worms and worm cocoons per square yard, there may be between 1,900,000 and 3,300,000 in the 2 yards along both sides of the first mile of road (5,280 divided by 3 x 4 x 280=1.9M). But those densities were based on studies in more fecund climates, and using the lowest study value, 12 worms per square yard and doubling it, still suggests a respectable population between 84,500 and 169,000 worms along the first road mile. Earthworms can consume and turnover between 6 percent to ten percent of the topsoil each year.

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Young’s control of City Creek and the entrance at its mouth marked the first phase of canyon use and development: timber harvesting. The Deseret Evening News claimed that the first trees felled in Utah by a saw, where cut by the pioneers in City Creek Canyon using a whip saw a few days after they entered the valley on July 24th, 1847 (Deseret News, September 10, 1895). Various water-powered mills were quickly established: an adobe mill, an early wheat mill (Salt Lake Herald, Jan 1908, Bancroft, 275), the Empire Flour Mill owned by Young (Day), a threshing mill (Bancraft, 279), a grist mill for barley (Watson), a cording mill (Watson), a turning mill (Watson), an experimental silk farming and spinning building (Arrington), two Church owned Public Works factories for nail and paper production (Day), a blacksmith shop (Day), and five lumber mills in City Creek including a toll saw mill at the canyon mouth owned by Young (Day; Watson). Young constructed the Lion House and by 1853 had a wall built across from the Lion House to First Avenue that prevented access to the canyon. A photograph from the 1800s shows how Young then constructed a gate in the wall topped by a great arch (J. Willard Marriott Library, ID207887). On the apex of the arch was a large wooden eagle statute frozen in a downward gliding pose. (In the 1960s, the historical Eagle Gate Monument was installed over State Street with an iron replica of the wooden original.) The wall provided Young with monopolistic control access to canyon timber (Salt Lake Tribune, 1903, Apr 5), and in coordination with the Church Public Works Office, he used newly arrived immigrants, such as newly arrived Scotland immigrant James Livingston, to construct a road up the canyon (Watt, 65). Then, as was the custom since major road construction in the nineteenth century was privately financed, Young charged a toll for entering the canyon equal to one-third of all lumber removed (Salt Lake Tribune, April 5, 1903; Watson).

Through 1855, Young also employed persons to clear the first eight or nine miles of City Creek’s bed of dead trees and other blockages in order to increase stream flow. And on September 21, 1855, the Territorial Legislature appropriated $500 in compensation for that work. (Hooten, 12-13). That amount is worth approximately $14,500 in 2016.

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On March 23rd, 2006, the Utah Rivers Council plans a stream clean-up in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On March 23rd, 1907, runners from L.D.S. University practiced in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On March 23rd, 1898, the Utah Forestry Association urged the City Council to take some trees scheduled for planting in Liberty Park and to use them to reforest City Creek Canyon with hardwoods of all kinds (Deseret Evening News, Salt Lake Herald, March 23 and 25).

November 21, 2016

November 21st

The Oaks put on Green Coats

Noon. It has been raining overnight and this morning, but the air remains warm. Usually, I associate moss on the trees with thick mats that adhere to the north sides of pines in the upper canyon beyond milepost 5.0. During the summer, except for stream side, there is not enough moisture in the air to support either moss or lichens. But the lower canyon today proves my impressions wrong. The sides of the trunks of Gambel’s oaks and horizontal branches have become soaked with snow melt and rain water. Trunks which had previously been a uniform grey, now are covered in the green of mosses and lichens. One some oaks, the lichen has a light green color that is luminescent against the dark tree trunk. Just beyond milepost 1.5, the interior of a copse of Gambel’s oak reveals, now that its leaves are gone, a large horizontal branch that is covered with thick mat of moss. The summer leaves provided a protected moist environment against the harsh mid-year sun. From along Bonneville drive up to mile 2.0, all of the Gambel’s oaks have come alive with green trunks.

At mile 0.4, a three inch long Leopard slug, also known as the Great grey slug, (Limax maximus) is slowly inches its way across the road. The last third of the grey body near the head is covered with large black blotches, hence the “leopard” name. This is another invasive species, originally from Europe. The rain has wetted the road, and this allows the slug to migrate across this summer barrier.

At Guardhouse Gate, today’s single insect, is a miniature unidentified spider hanging from the guardhouse’s community posting board. While picking up trash left from a beer party at Guardhouse Gate picnic area, I notice what appears to be a House wren (Troglodytes aedon) hiding at the base of a dogwood tree next to the stream. This identification must be wrong. The Rock wren is out of season and it is in the wrong habitat. At mile 1.1, a single Black-billed magpie hides in the center of an oak copse.

A bow-hunter walking up the road informs me that mule deer browse inside the Gambel’s oak copses for acorns. They do not eat the dry grass in the meadow, but they will graze on the green shoots at each grass clump’s base.

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