City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

June 23, 2017

June 22nd

Day of the Butterflies

Day of the Butterflies

1:30 p.m. In the heat of the afternoon, the first mile canyon road is lined with butterflies, and in total there are about thirty in the first mile. A large Red Admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta), a black butterfly with contrasting red-orange chevrons, slowly moves up canyon. The Red Admiral is hawk of butterflies. Unlike most butterflies, that frenetically flap and change direction, the Red Admiral moves it wings in great, slow soaring motions. Cabbage white butterflies (Pieris rapae) play in the hot sun as western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) also pass by. Two Common sulphur butterflies (Colias philodice eriphyle) chase each other. Two unidentified butterflies fly by. One is the bright yellow with a trailing black wingbar. The second is a small orange.

Large Common whitetail dragonflies patrol overhead. In the Yellow sweet clover (Melilotus officinalis) weeds that lines both sides of the road, Western Yellowjacket wasps (Vespula penslvanica) feast.

At Pleasant Valley, city watershed crews are mowing the sides of the Pipeline Trail.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 22nd, 1851, he sees blooms of yellow loose strife and bladderwort. On June 22nd, 1852, he sees a rainbow after a thunderstorm. He observes that fireflies are numerous. On June 22nd, 1853, he notes that even night air is warm. During an evening walk, he notes that blueberries are coming in.

* * * *

On June 22nd, 2014, Nathan Peters set a new course record in the 35th annual Wasatch Steeple Chase, an annual running race that goes for 17 miles up City Creek Canyon, that gains 4,000 feet while going over Black Mountain, and end back down at Memory Grove (Deseret News). Two-hundred and forty runners participated. Peters finishes in two hours and eleven minutes (id). On June 22nd, 1996, Mayor Deedee Corradini temporarily ordered suspension of construction of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail due to complaints from Avenues’ residents (Salt Lake Tribune). Planning Commission Chairman Ralph Becker noted that that a controversial trail alignment near Ensign Peak was a condition of the developer receiving approval for a luxury subdivsion (id). On June 22nd, 1906, an Intermountain Republican editorial accused the Salt Lake Tribune of spreading lurid lies about Mormon culture in eastern newspapers, including that “Utah is steeped In lawlessness; that depravity runs riot; that the waters of City Creek canyon going down our gutters [are] tinted with the ruddy flow from blood atonement; that all Mormons are polygamist; and that a presentable woman is in peril of than her life . . .”

June 17th

Filed under: Douglas Fir, Gambel's Oak, Lodgepole pine, Maple tree, People, Runners, Wild bunchgrass — canopus56 @ 4:25 am

Masters of the Wasatch Steeplechase

8:00 a.m. It is Saturday, and in the cool morning air, birds are active. Black-headed grosbeaks and Song sparrows are the most common. This morning is also the 39th running of the Wasatch Steeplechase (Adams 2017). The Wasatch Steeplechase is purist running event whose 17 mile path goes up the south part of the Salt Lake salient, over the limestone knife edge at the top of Little Black Mountain, down Smuggler’s Gap, and then out the City Creek Canyon Road. Over the course, about 3,000 feet in elevation is gained and lost. Unlike other Salt Lake City running events, there is no registration packet, no inflated air start and finish line blasting loud rock music, and no prize money. About 200 runners just show up at Memory Grove Park at 6:00 a.m. and start. Participants tend to be lean ectomorphs between the ages of 25 to 50 years old, and the best finish the race in about two hours and fifteen minutes. Last place finishes in about six hours. The purist ethic of the race is reflected in its liability waiver agreement:

“Whereas, participation in the annual Wahsatch Steeplechase is a privilege and sacred ritual in celebration of the Summer Solstice and, whereafter, the undersigned acknowledges the uniquely and hazardous nature of the race course, including raging streams at full flood, wicked sagebrush, poisonous snakes, and precipitous crags, and has inspected the course or in the alternative freely assumes the risk or failure to inspect the course” (Adams 2017).

I am a stocky American football player-like endomorph. Although I have solo-run the track (in reverse direction) about nine times in the last forty years, my best jogging time was somewhat more than six hours, but each time the route was both an inspirational and mystical experience. First, the route goes up seven miles along the City Creek Canyon Road to the end of the paved road through both the Gambel’s oak and maple forest. Then a near vertical trail leads 2,000 feet through an upper montane forest of Douglas firs and Lodgepole pine trees that is thick with Stellar jays. Then the route goes along a knife-edge ridgeline for one-half mile along the top of Little Black Mountain. Here, one must boulder back and forth along limestone ledges that tilt downhill and away from the direction of travel. In most places, a slip means a fall of ten to twenty feet onto a sixty degree slope. Survivable, but something to be avoided given the difficulty of extraction from this high mountain. Next is a about ten miles stretch under the watchful eyes of hawks and eagles that descends back through a Pinyon Juniper forest, along the Wild bunchgrass southern salient past the Little Twin Peaks, and then back through the Gambel’s oak forest to the canyon bottom. Along the summit and south salient, expansive views of the urbanized Wasatch Front cities, the Great Salt Lake, and the Bonneville flats extend at most one-hundred and fifty miles. In some years, dramatic summer storms flow across the Great Salt Lake dropping streamers of lightening from gray and black clouds. The route is a tour-de-force of the many of the Great Basin’s habitats. The Steeplechase is less of a run and more of a spiritual experience brought on by fatigue, dehydration, strong summer sunlight, and exertion at altitude. After each traverse of the route, I fall into a meditative, contented state for one, and if I am lucky, two days.

In September, another extreme race, the Wasatch 100, goes from 100 miles from Farmington, north of City Creek Canyon, along the upper headwaters of the canyon, and onto Park City, Utah, a mining town turned upper income ski-resort. The maximum allowed finishing time is 36 hours. Unlike the Steeplechase, the Wasatch 100, which is beyond my physical capabilities, has a more tradition competitive road-race feel, and by disposition, I have always favored the Steeplechase.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 17th, 1852, he notes that crickets sing loudly in the morning after hot summer nights. He sees or hears a brown thrasher, a red-eye, an oven-bird, and a wood thrush. Citus are blooming. He notes how a boulder has made a micro-habitat in which several tree seedlings have taken root. On June 17th, 1853, he notes that pogonias, adder’s tongue, blue-eyed grass, lambkill and mountain laurel are at their peak. He records an egg in a night-hawk nest has hatched. On the morning of June 17th, 1854, he feels dew covered grasses and sees cobwebs hanging across the grass.

* * * *

On June 17th, 2000, the First Congregational Church planned to hold its annual outdoor service in City Creek Canyon. On June 17th, 1915, P. J. Moran was awarded the contract to build the reservoir at Pleasant Valley for the sum of $18,209.59 (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 17th, 1915, a locomotive was hauled to the capitol grounds along newly constructed track along the west side of City Creek (now East Capitol Street) to begin grading for the new state capitol building (Salt Lake Herald). On June 17th, 1894, the City changed from having a staff of full-time water tankmen (who clean water tank filters) to a part-time staff of day and night patrols (Salt Lake Herald).

June 16th

Partial Success in Treating Starthistle

3:00 p.m. The field at lower Pleasant Valley (mile 1.2) where the Utah Conservation Corps and the city watershed officials have done Starthistle abatement (May 17th, May 21st, October 16th) has both succeeded and failed. The horizontal field at Pleasant Valley has filled in with new native grass, Wild bunchgrass (Poa secunda), many smaller wildflowers and also the invasive Western salisfy. The lower field is an idyllic scene, but because the field has been sprayed with Milestone herbicide (Aminopyralid), the Peregrine falcons are not hunting here for Rocky Mountain deer mice as in prior years.

The green of the lower field climbs up the hillside, and this is also an area where the Utah Conservation Corps manually pulled starthistle weeds. I cross the field to the slope to take a better look, and to my surprise, the treated vertical slopes have three or four times the density of starthistle plants as compared to the slope’s pre-treatment state last year. Other treated steep slopes to the west of Pleasant Valley are in a similar condition. Limited to steep slopes, the abatement project is a failure. Probably only a burning with reseeding can rehabilitate such slopes, but citizens in nearby residential areas rejected a burn control approach proposed in 2010 (see Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities 2010). Conversely, expensive manual pulling in conjunction with Aminopyralid spraying worked on horizontal fields (see Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative at May 21st).

I am also concerned that the use of Aminopyralid might be detrimental to the Peregrine falcons, Cooper’s hawks or Western screech-owls that utilize this field. Earlier this year, while with the Tracey Aviary bird count team (May 6th), I saw a Peregrine falcon hunting above this area, and in spring of 2015, a pair of peregrines would regularly sit on the power line wires above the field. One afternoon, one of the pair dived on the field, and then slowly rose beating its wings while grasping a fat deer mouse in its talons. The second falcon left its perch, swooped up from below of the first falcon and extended its talons. This startled the upper falcon and caused it to release its catch. The lower falcon, while flying inverted, expertly caught the mouse and flew off with its prize. Research later in this evening locates a 2007 United States Forest Service sponsored assessment of the effect of this herbicide on birds, principally by literature review (Durkin 2007). Since birds have a short-life span (Peregrines and Cooper’s hawks both live about twelve years), testing consists of applying a variety of doses of the chemical to test species. In the instant of Durkin’s review, a 2003 prior study force fed quail with a 50 percent lethal dose of Aminopyralid (id, pp. 96-97 and 4-1 to 4-6). The quail grew disoriented in the short term, but survived. In another study using high doses on hatchlings, success to viability declined up to 30 percent. Other lower dose studies did not find any significant effects. The consultant recommended exposure levels for humans, birds, and mammals based on prior works. Based on this limited study, my concern about using Aminopyralid around Peregrines and Cooper’s hawks were assuaged. Aminopyralid is not another DDT.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 16th, 1852, he records a morning fog with singing birds, and he remarks on how evening mornings are now hot. In the night, he sees an aurora borealis to the north. On the morning of Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 16th, 1853, he hears robins, birds, other birds, and crickets. He sees sunlight reflecting off a stream that makes the stream appear as silver metal (compare Dec. 26th, in main text, above). He extracts a red squirrel from its underground nest. Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 16th, 1854, he sees fleabane. The Utah version is Utah fleabane, Eigeron utahensis. He sees white lily and two variants of wild rose. He hears a cherry bird. Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 16th, 1855, he sees young squirrels. Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 16th, 1858, he smells blackberry blossoms, and on June 16th, 1860, he notes summer thunderstorms are now a common occurrence.

* * * *

On June 16th, 1997, the U.S. Forest Service revives the Anschutz Ranch East Pipeline Environmental Impact Analysis after a consultation disputes Chevron’s claim that an existing pipeline has sufficient capacity to handle all loads for the next fifty years (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 16th, 1919, there was a large grass fire in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald). On June 16th, 1915, bids were opened for the construction of the reservoir at Pleasant Valley (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 16, 1910, the Little Giant Mine petitioned the City council to open a mine in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald). On June 16, 1904, a bear destroyed a camp at the forks in City Creek Canyon, and Ben D. Luce and party hunted the bear (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 16, 1881, J.J. Branch, a former L.D.S. Church member who was present at Joseph Smith’s death, now turned evangelist, held a revival at a tent in Salt Lake City, at which he predicted that God would send a great flood from City Creek Canyon and destroy the City in retribution in retribution for the “wickedness and lying and blasphemy and abomination” of the L.D.S. church (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 16, 1897, George Crimson, a still living 1847 pioneer, relates his biography (Salt Lake Herald). In the spring of 1848, Crimson and his father built the first grist mill in City Creek Canyon, and sold the same to Brigham Young (id). He left for the California gold rush in 1849.

June 14, 2017

June 13th

Filed under: Black Mountain, Ensign Peak, Grandview Peak, Little Twin Peaks, People, Weather — canopus56 @ 4:55 pm

Artists’ Eyes

2:00 p.m. A cold front races into northern Utah, temperatures drop to the fifties overnight and sixties during the day. Cold rain falls beginning at night and into the afternoon. Today, I have not gone to the canyon, but rather have gone to State Capitol to see an exhibition of maps about Utah and Salt Lake City called “Utah Drawn”. Bird’s eye views of cities were popular forms of city maps during the nineteenth century. In such maps, an artist renders a three-dimensional view of a city map and the surrounding country-side as if the city were seen from an airplane. Today’s exhibition has three. Ever focused on the notion of Mormons as an exceptional people, the curator’s notes focuses on how the Mormon Temple is rendered in each map. I am more interested in what the artist’s rendering of City Creek Canyon and Little Black Mountain in the background of each map says about how City residents’ viewed their closest canyon.

Between this exhibition and those on file with the Library of Congress, there are four such bird’s eye view maps:

A Bird’s Eye View of Salt Lake City, Utah Territory, 1870, by Augustus Koch. The Koch 1870 maps renders lower City Creek Canyon in great detail with each mill house shown individually. The south Salt Lake salient with Little Twin Peaks and Little Black Mountain are rendered in realistic proportions. The detail of the lower canyon reflects its significance as water source and location of industry. The mountains and canyons are not shown as distant, inaccessible places.

A Bird’s Eye View of Salt Lake City, Utah, 1875, by Eli Sheldon Glover. Glover’s view of the City looks from Ensign Peak to the south west and does not show City Creek Canyon. An irrigation ditch is drawn that takes water from the canyon down to 400 East and First Avenue, then called Fruit Street. The canyon is unimportant in this image.

• Salt Lake City, Utah, 1887, attributed to Augustus Gast. The 1887 view, probably also done by Augustus Koch and incorrectly attributed to Augustus Gast, is my favorite. City Creek Canyon and Little Black Mountain are done in a style evocative of a Chinese ink painting. Little Black Mountain is shown disproportionately as high mountain peak. The mountains and canyon are mysterious, inaccessible places. This map is on display at State Capitol.

Salt Lake City, Utah, 1891, by Henry Wellge. Wellge’s painting is unique in that it is the only bird’s eye view that also includes the Great Salt Lake and Antelope Island in the background. Lower City Creek Canyon is again shown in great detail, reflecting its relative importance. Ensign Peak and Little Twin Peaks on the southern Salt Lake salient at shown in great alpine peaks. Little Black Mountain is wholly missing, and Grandview Peak looks more like the Grand Teton. Here, the mountains are rendered as grand imaginary lands. The State Capitol exhibition curator attributes this map to the Salt Lake Real Estate Association, and notes that its purpose was attract buyers to the City’s then real estate boom.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 13th, 1851, he describes a moonlit walk, sees fireflies, and hears a whippoorwill. On June 13th, 1852, on notes several flowering plants along a river including blue bead lilies, red osier dogwood, and a carrion flower that emits a strong scent that attracts gnats. He hears bluebirds and robins. On June 13th, 1853, he describes two young hawks and their nests. He notes violets have past peak bloom and wild rose is blooming. He sees a rose-breasted grossbeak. On June 13th, 1854, he describes colorful yellow and red blooming plants. He sees minnows in a stream and hears crickets. On June 13th, 1860, he notes sycamore trees are losing their leaves.

* * * *

On June 13th, 2013, the City reported on a new enforcement push to remove homeless tent camps in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 13th, 1914, City Commissioner W. H. Shearman, Water Supply Charles F. Barrett, and City Engineer Sylverster Q. Cannon planned to the headwaters of upper City Creek in order to determine if a reservoir could be built at the site of an existing natural lake, that in 2017 does not exist (Salt Lake Tribune). The Tribune described the lake in City Creek as:

“The lake in City Creek Canyon is located in a land-locked basin near the head of the canyon. It has no natural outlet, and the water seeps out through the bottom, rising again several miles down canyon in great springs which form the City Creek Creek stream. A glacial moraine blocks the lake from a natural outlet and caused the lake to form. The lake assumes large dimensions at this time of the year, although it shrinks to a mere swamp later in the summer.”

On June 13, 1908, City Water Superintendent J. R. Raleigh described how his crews were raising 18 inch embankments along City Creek for about three-quarters of a block through the city in order to contain flood waters (Salt Lake Herald). Raleigh recommended constructing a 36 inch aqueduct pipe to remedy the problem. On June 13, 1908, Ben Jones drank five pints of whiskey at a saloon on Second South, passed out in the street, and was sentenced to work on the prison road gang working on boulevard in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 13, 1899, high waters in City Creek prevented closing of irrigation diversion gates out of fear that the city would be flooded (Salt Lake Herald). On June 13, 1898, the Utah National Guard held practice battles in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 13th, 1883, a petition to support a waterpowered marble polishing plant in City Creek Canyon was presented to the City Council (Salt Lake Herald). On June 13th, 1883, the Salt Lake Herald reviewed the manufacturing of silk at waterpowered looms in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald).

June 13, 2017

June 5th

Hopping Horsetail Pollen

4:15 p.m. It is the third day of an unusual early heat wave where daytime maximum temperatures reach 95 degrees Fahrenheit, while the average maximum for early June is about 80 degrees. In the heat, fewer birds sing. There is one Warbling vireo near picnic site 1 and a single Black-headed grosbeak and a few Song sparrows below milepost 0.5. On this Monday, people follow suit: the heat deters them and there are only a few runners and walkers along the road. Despite the heat and yesterday’s end of canyon snowmelt, the stream still runs high. But at mile 0.6, there is a distinct thermocline: a breeze picks up and temperatures are ten or fifteen degrees lower than in the city. The birds respond accordingly.

The season’s first unambiguous Weidemeyer’s Admiral butterfly (Limenitis weidemeyeri latifascia), a black butterfly with white wing bars, floats by at milepost 1.0, and this followed by a Blue dasher dragonfly. A new white butterfly is seen, but it is too fast and appears too briefly to identify. Two dead brown moths are found at different places along the road that have delicate yellow-orange underwings. They are invasive Large yellow underwing moths (Noctua pronuba).

The heat has also begun to force Wood roses along the road. As they reach maturity, their color starts to lighten, and a day or two later, their blossoms shrivel. More are gone at the lower canyon, the wave of mature roses is slowly moving up canyon. The blossoms of the Solomon’s seal field in the cattail seep at mile 0.7 have shriveled and passed. Across the road, the beginnings of Milk weed plants rise to a foot tall. New crops of horsetails have matured between mile 0.4 and mile 0.8, and they can be distinguished from the still reawakening horsetails that overwintered. These new horsetails are larger in diameter, have a lighter green color, and have larger cone shaped heads. Older horsetails are a darker green, and for the most part, their heads from not yet swelled with pollen for this new spring. On close inspection, the newer horsetail heads release a puff of pollen when disturbed.

Turning down canyon from Pleasant Valley, below the Red Bridge near mile 0.9, an orb weaver spider has woven a large four-foot circular web suspended between boulders and surrounding tree branches. Some of the web’s silken, supporting suspension cables reach six feet over the stream. The web whips wildly in each breeze, but it is effective. The spider has bundled up several insects along its web’s radial branches.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 5th, 1850, he smells that the air is full of spicy odors. He sees lady’s slippers and wild pink plants. On June 5th, 1852, he records cinquefoils, and he notes that lupines are in full bloom. On June 3rd, 1853, he again notes that the air is full of fragrance and that meadows are full of sorrel and green grasses. On June 5th, 1853, he sees a pair of nighthawks and their nest, and a blackbird. On June 5th, 1855, he notes sedge grass growing in rock cracks. On June 5th, 1856, he records lady slippers and he examines a cuckoo’s nest.

* * * *

In 2013, Marmottant, Ponomarenko and Bienaimé at the University of Grenoble reported that the 50 micrometer pollen of horsetails have the ability to “walk” (Marmottant, Ponomarenko and Bienaimé 2013). These tiny pollen are shaped like harlequin starfish, except they have four arms instead of a starfish’s five. When wet, the arms of the pollen curl around its central body. As the pollen dries, the arms suddenly unfold and propel the pollen into the air, and once aloft, it can be deposited in a more favorable, moist habitat (id).

* * * *

On or about June 5, 1975, Utah’s first gay pride festival, then called “Gay Freedom Day” was held in Memory Grove at City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune, June 5, 2008). A small crowd of 300 gathered over beer, burgers and hotdogs. Then they moved to the Sun Tavern. One of the participants of the first festival recalled that people were afraid to attend because they were concerned that bosses, co-workers or neighbors might see them attending. “We knew we were being discriminated against, and it was at least up to us to stop discriminating against ourselves,” the first pride day participant noted.

June 2nd

Evolution of Angiosperms

8:00 a.m. Some days are beyond beauty. This is the first official day of the five months in which cars are allowed in the canyon on alternating days, and I have decided to drive up to the end of the road to jog the uppermost canyon. It rained last night, the undergrowth and trees are all covered with thick layer of drops. As I drive up the road, the morning birds are active. With the windows open, I mentally tabulate a count as I slowly travel up the winding road. It comes to about 20 birds within earshot for every quarter mile. This suggests a population of some 800 smaller song birds along the five and three-quarters of paved road and the subsequent 2 miles of trail in a band for 50 yards on either side of the road.

Continuing the drive up canyon, Wild roses are open to Pleasant Valley, mile 1.1, and Wild geraniums are open to mile 5.0. Along the first mile, a new flowering plant, another weed, has sprung up to two feet tall seemingly overnight. It is Western salisfy (Asteraceae tragopogon dupon). Although a noxious invader, it is an admirable plant. To avoid the heat of the day, it folds closed into a pen-like tip, but now in the light morning sun, it shows sixteen thin yellow petals surrounded by hair-thin sepals. The center has a sharply contrasting black band. It lines the roadside and at Pleasant Valley, Utah Conservation Corps treated field, that removed yellow starthistle, is now covered with another invasive – salsify. A purple variant of this plant is also found along the first mile road.

At the water treatment plant at mile 3.4, the canyon narrows, and flashes of blue and black flittering into the Gambel’s oaks reveals a flock of Stellar’s jays. Stellar’s jays prefer the coolness of a montane habitat, and in contrast, their cousins, the Scrub jay, prefers the hotter lower canyon. But the Stellar’s jay is more territorial, and thus, more entertaining. When a hiker enters their territory, one will immediately swoop down to the trail and call with its repetitive “caw” in both curiosity and in complaint. The action of one will others of its tribe, and this provides the walker with an avian presidio under which one must pass inspection. Later in the afternoon, further up the trail at the end of the road, as I walk under a large moss covered log, a Stellar’s jay lands above me, its mouth full of moss intended for use as nesting material. It glances back for a quick inquisitive look and then proceeds on its business.

Resuming the drive up the road and as the walls of the canyon close in, the canyon transitions from Gambel oak forest to deciduous maple and Box elder tree forest. The road becomes a single track. The heavy moisture on the leaves is heated by the first penetrating morning sun, and as a result, the air is thick with mist and dew. Shafts of light peak make it through the dense overgrowth and illuminate the mist into yellow tubes. Here, the canyon feels most like an eastern forest. Although the dense greenery only extends for a few hundred yards on either side of the road, the narrow canyon walls cut off any vistas, and this is what I remember of my boyhood eastern forests. The green goes on forever and the all sense of direction is lost. Here, stream bed widens and the stream slows. But then, near mile 4.5, there is an abrupt transition to a Rocky Mountain forest (Peet 2000) dominated by Douglas fir and Norway spruce. The stream narrows and the stream bed becomes boulders that are angular and freshly honed from bedrock. This change is also announced by great vertically upended limestone fins on the western wall of the canyon that have been turned by earthquake faults (Sept 1st). The Wild geraniums thin out, and the first Mountain bluebells, a cool weather plant, appear and become more frequent. The air thickens more and forest becomes medieval.

Along this stretch of road between Lower and Upper Rotary Park, the bird communities, mostly of American robins, Song sparrows, Warbling vireos, and Black-headed grosbeaks are spread out into distinct communities, unlike in the warmer first mile canyon. The distinct trill call of a community of Chirping sparrows is heard. I also hear a lone Mountain chickadee calling. This is where they have come, since the lower canyon is too hot for them. This segregation of birds into unique groups along the road gives me the opportunity to stop and study the distinct songs and calls of a group of Warbling vireos.

The sun rises further and the mist burns off as I reach the end of the road at mile 5.75, and the old mining road and trail that leads to the Treasure Box mine begins. I have not been here since the end of last summer (Sept. 8th), and it feels restorative to be in the most natural of the canyon’s regions. Leaving the car and proceeding up the trail, where the direct sun penetrates, a green canopy of maples and box elders closes in, while on shaded eastern slope, Douglas firs reach to trails edge. The air is heavy with the smell of wet leaves and chlorophyll. Crossing the first and second red metal bridges affords views up the stream, and it is a torrent of white, with only hints of blue water. The stream has become a silver ribbon. After the third metal bridge, the trail rises, the canopy deepens and the undergrowth becomes impenetrable. This stretch is as the lower canyon appeared around 1900. Shipler’s photograph of the lower canyon road taken around 1903, appears nearly identical to this morning’s rise in the trail (J. Willard Marriott, Id. 459448, see also Salt Lake Tribune, May 24, 1903). The chirping call of a Green-tailed towhee is heard.

For the next half-mile, the trail is about 150 feet east of stream, and the trail consists of sharp rocks that a month ago were another snow-feed branch of the stream. Geraniums and blue bells thicken along with young stinging nettle plants. All are so covered with last night’s rain water that my shoes quickly become soaked, but I do not care. A Mourning cloak butterfly with an odd color variant flies down canyon. Instead of the yellow-white trailing band, its trailing wing band is a dusky orange. Other now common butterflies appear uniformly distributed along the trail: Western tiger swallowtails and newly-hatched smaller Spring azure butterfly butterflies. The Spring azures flock in groups of three to six, and the harsh high-altitude light brings out a new property to their colors. Depending on the sun angle, their wings flash a deep medium blue, their streaked light blue, or flat light blue. The deep blue is new variation to their iridescence. There is a new unidentified one and one-half inch butterfly. It has forewings of patterned medium dark grey and rear-wings that are a grayish black. The colder air at this high altitude, along with their lack of exposure to humans, make insects sluggish. In the lower canyon, the Red-rumped central worker bumble bees are skittish. But here, the bees remain still when approached, and I am able to take a clear pictures of several.

Song sparrows, Warbling vireos, a Spotted towhee, Yellow warblers, and Lazuli buntings, another refugee from the lower canyons, are heard in profusion. But again, they rest in distinct communities in the spacious upper reaches of the canyon instead of being distributed uniformly along the trail. Jogging uphill feels good for the legs, but my progress is slow. I cannot resist the urge to stop and listen to each community of bird and to playback stock recordings of their calls, in part to assure to identification, and in part for the simple enjoyment of somehow communicating with them. At one point, the land between trail and stream widens, but is particularly lush with a low canopy. There I hear a single American dipper, the first of the season.

For the next half mile, the trail begins to narrow travels next to the stream, and the trail crosses a series of rock outcrops. There the trail becomes broken rock interspersed with patches of stream feed marsh, and the stream water itself is so pure that individual rocks can be seen distinctly on the stream’s bottom. A few Spearleaf scorpionweeds (Phacelia hastata) that have delicate light purple, fuzzy blossoms, hide in sun sheltered spaces. Along the broken rocks, I notice the small, 5 millimeter, dried-out shells of snails covering the trail. Over a 100 feet of trail, I count about the same number of shells. On picking one up and to my astonishment, there is a miniature live snail in each shell. I am unable to identify them.

Next, the trail starts to rise towards the first of four hanging meadows, and in the first of which stills with Louis Meadows SNOTEL weather station. Aspen trees first appear, a sure sign of a Rocky Mountain meadow ahead. Mountain bluebells surround the trail on both sides, and a few Western blue elderberry trees (Sambucus nigra ssp. cerulea) rise from the surrounding bluebells. Each elderberry is heavily festooned with white, lacey panicles. In the autumn, as their dark fruit ripens, these are a favored trail snack.

As I crest the lip of Louis Meadows hanging valley, the SNOTEL station comes into view. It sits in the middle of field of Mountain bluebells the size of two football fields, and the field is surrounded by a grove of waving aspen trees to the west and Douglas firs to the east. It is an idyllic sight; one that I feel privileged to experience. I begin to feel giddy and overwhelmed by biophilia.

While my heart feels love, my intellect says my expansive feelings are not the effect of altitude at just 6,700 feet (2,042 meters), but of ultra-violet radiation. The 10 a.m. summer Sun is high in the sky, and its warmth penetrates all clothing. The exercise of hiking in Western summer mountains is a relaxing experience. The cool air makes hard, fast hiking enjoyable, but at the same time ultra-violet relaxes the muscles and the mind. Pictures taken here today all are blue tinged from the uv light. With every 1000 meters in altitude, uv light increases in intensity by 10 percent. An internet uv intensity calculator suggests this morning’s ultra-violet index is 12.

As I nearly reach the trailhead and the car, the only other hiker in the canyon today, a young man in his twenties, overtakes me, and he can only mutter, “That is so unbelievably beautiful!” as he passes by. Words escape us both. We have been closer to creation and the other world of the upper canyons of the Wasatch Mountain Range.

Driving out the lower canyon and back to that other reality of my human social and economic existence, the Mosquito Abatement District surveyors are examining their blue painted tree holes (November 7th). They are taking a census in order to estimate the canyon’s mosquito population.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 2nd, 1853, he travels through a thick fog and notes that birds are still making song. He sees cherry birds and yellow bluebead lily, an eastern plant, and red sorrel. On June 2nd, 1855, he describes a moth cocoon opening. On June 2nd, 1858, on a camping trip to a mountain top, he examines a snow bird nest, and hears a chewink, a wood-thrush, and night-hawks. On June 2nd, 1859, he finds a grossbeak nest in a blueberry bush. On June 2nd, 1860, he sees bats and a king-bird.

* * * *

Fully preserved angiosperms first appear in the fossil record about 130 million years ago and by 90 million years ago, flowering trees had dominated the forest canopy. Pamela and Douglas Soltis at the University of Washington with Mark Chase at the Royal Botanical Gardens used modern gene mapping to reconstruct the evolutionary phylogenetic clades of flowering plants (Soltis, Soltis and Chase 1999). Soltis and Soltis review state-of-the-art flowering plant clades as of 2004 (Soltis and Soltis 2004).

Magallon and Sanderson at the University of California at Davis used the rate of diversification of woody plants in the fossil record to estimate the age of the major families (Magallon and Sanderson 2001, Fig. 4). Members of the Sapindales family, which includes maples seen in the canyon, appeared about 60 million years ago. The Rosaceae family members in the canyon, which include Western serviceberry, apple trees, chokeberry, ash trees, and Woods rose, evolved relatively recently, about 45 million years ago (id). Modern oaks appear about 35 million years ago. In Utah around 35 million years ago, the Farallon Plate had passed through Utah, crustal spreading behind the plate cracked Utah’s surface, and the spreading generated Utah’s volcanic era (January 7th). The volcanic breccia at milepost 1.0 of the canyon was forming (id).

* * * *

On June 2nd, 2002, teenager Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped from her Federal Heights home and was hidden on the south slope city side slope of the Black Mountain-City Creek ridge for two months (Salt Lake Tribune, March 15, 2003). The hiding place was not found by a 2,000 person search organized by the Laura Recovery Center (id). On June 2nd, 1915, the City Commission approved plans to build a 5,000,000 gallon reservoir at Pleasant Valley (Salt Lake Herald). On Decoration Day (May 30), a picnic was held in City Creek as reported on the social page of the Deseret Evening News.

May 28, 2017

May 27th

Will the Great Salt Lake Disappear? – Part II

5:00 p.m. Since city residents have driven to dispersed recreation parks far from the valley, the valley has emptied and there are few cars in the parking lot. In the pre-automobile era, they would come to the canyon during May holidays. In 1908, a newspaper reported that “thousands of people” spent the day strolling in City Creek (Salt Lake Herald, May 8, 1908). As car culture developed from the 1920s through end of the century, the canyon became less of a focus for city resident’s holiday outdoor recreation. An old postcard in my grandmother’s family album records how in 1927, my great-grandparents drove the new Lincoln Highway from Ohio to Salt Lake City in their new Ford Model-T, and then drove up the then open road to Sun Dial Peak and Lake Blanche at 9,500 feet. I like to nostalgically imagine that they also took a moment to drive up the canyon that I jog today.

But today, the canyon is almost empty. There are even fewer evening birds and along the first mile, I primarily hear the string of Warbling vireos interspersed with a few Song sparrows and American robins. The raptors are gone; butterflies are absent except for three. Woods rose that opened just a few days ago has begun to drop its leaves, but given the 100 rose plants along the first mile road, I believe more will open as the season progresses. Blossoms on the Solomon’s stars near mile 0.6 have grown from having only one or two blooms to having grown complex conical inflorescences. Arrowleaf balsamroot in the lower canyon has lost its blooms.

* * * *

Continuing population growth and their need for future water keeps the scenario that the Great Salt Lake might disappear completely in the next thirty years within the scope of reasonable probability. Salt Lake County grew from about 900,000 to 1.1 million from 2000 to 2014, or about twenty percent, and Utah County to the south grew from 370,000 to 575,000, or about fifty percent between 2000 and 2015. From this growth, Salt Lake valley and Utah County to the south are quickly exhausting the 250,000 new acre feet of water received in 2007 from the eastern transbasin Central Utah Project, and plans have been made to develop and transport another 250,000 acre feet of water per year from the Bear River basin to the north (Wurtsbaugh et al 2016; Utah Division of Water Resources 2004). Utah’s population is projected to reach 5.5 million by 2050. The lake is a substantial source of economic activity in northern Utah, 1.2 billion USD in 2010 (Bioeconomics 2010), and that also puts pressure on state managers to accommodate both industry, recreation and wildlife both to maintain and to decrease the lake’s level.

The changes in the Great Salt Lake and projections for increasing population and decreasing lake levels did not go unnoticed by government, and the competing interests of preserving the lake’s current level for wildlife and accommodating economic growth were expressed in conflicts between and within state agencies as proxies for public stakeholder interests. In 2008, former Governor John Huntsman formed the Great Salt Lake Advisory Council to study issues relating to the lake. The Council made recommendations for preserving the level of the lake (Great Salt Lake Advisory Council, 2012 and 2017). State wildlife managers conducted studies of bird populations dependent on the Great Salt Lake marshes and started to form a Great Salt Lake bird conservation strategy (Don 2002 and 2012). The Utah Department of Natural Resources developed a lake management plan, but the plan, which contains a detailed, well-thought out assessment, generally only specifies that further studies will be conducted if the lake falls below specified future set points (Utah Department of Natural Resources 2015). As these events that favored preserving the lake for bird wildlife unfolded, the Utah Board of Water Resources moved forward with its plans to spend 2 billion to develop and withdraw 220,000 acre-feet of water from the Bear River that flows into the Great Salt Lake. In February 2016, Wurtsbaugh and colleagues issued their white paper warning that the area of the Great Salt Lake would decline by another 3 percent, or 30 square miles, and co-authors of the white paper included staff of the Utah Division of Water Resources, an agency supervised by the Utah Water Resources Board, and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. Utah Governor Gary Herbert formed a State Water Strategy Advisory Team that developed draft recommendations in September 2016 (Utah Water Strategy Advisory Team and Envision Utah, 2016). In January 2017, the Water Resources Board tabled its proposal to develop and withdraw water from the Bear River Basin after the private Utah Rivers Council demonstrated that the same amount of water could be developed from conservation at a much lower cost (Roth, January 23, 2017).

Much like the ongoing controversy between Salt Lake City and development interests over the Salt Lake valley watershed canyons (April 28th), the issue of whether the Great Salt Lake will remain as a viable stopping point for migratory birds traveling the eastern arm of the Pacific Flyway is one that will be revisited and re-fought periodically. The result may change in future, and then neotropical migrating birds seen in the canyon might decline dramatically and unexpectedly.

* * * *

On May 27th, 2012, the City has installed many speed limit and travel warning signs in City Creek Canyon to enforce an even-auto and odd-bicycle day policy (Salt Lake Tribune). One resident describes the number of regulatory signs as “overkill”, and another notes that the signs advising walkers to keep on the stream side of the road as “ineffectual” (id). (In 2017, infrequent walkers in the canyon, including many families pushing baby strollers, regularly ignore or are unaware of the policy of walkers keeping to the up-canyon right, or streamside of the road, and automobiles and bikers should keep the up-canyon left side of the road.) On May 27th, 1888, the Salt Lake Herald proposed that in addition to a proposed road up City Creek Canyon, that a boulevard be created from the Capitol to the creek and then along to 11th Avenue.

May 26th (Revised)

Filed under: People — canopus56 @ 9:08 pm

Will the Great Salt Lake Disappear? – Part I

11:00 p.m. I am bedridden and despite repeated attempts, I am unable to rise for my daily canyon jog. It is a rest day. I fall in and out of sleep and awaken late in the evening, my head unable to focus from dreams of running in the Sun and of the sound of moving water. It is the start of a long federal holiday weekend. In six days, the canyon will reopen to public automobile traffic on alternate days, and the canyon’s solitude will lessen. I am conflicted by the coming change. For the two previous years, I was able to run to milepost 4.0 at at least every other day. My abilities have declined, and now I run either to milepost 2.0 or milepost 1.0. The opening of the road will allow me to fit runs in the upper canyon back into my schedule, but bringing an automobile in the canyon runs counter to my love this place.

* * * *

Whether or not northern Utah bird populations continue to be sustained depends on the continued viability of Great Salt Lake, and continuance of the lake now depends on the human will to preserve it. The lake sits on a eastern branch of the Pacific Flyway, and as such the lake is recognized as a migratory resource of international significance. Study of the bird ecology of the lake has focused on migratory water fowl and shorebirds, and estimates of shorebirds using the lake are about 3.2 million (Don 2002 at 6) and of migrating waterfowl about 5 million (Utah Department of Natural Resources 2013 at p. 2-109). Of migrating waterfowl, about 750,000 breed in the marshes along its shores (id). It is one of a series of inland lakes upon which migratory birds in the flyway’s eastern branch depend upon. The lake’s ability to sustain these numbers comes primarily from the March through July explosion of brine shrimp and brine flies. Densities of brine shrimp can reach 3,000 per cubic meter of water in June and brine fly larvae reach about 40 per cubic meter of water in August (Don 2010, pp. 24-25). Given that there are about 570 square kilometers or 570 million square meters (141,000 acres) of seasonal and permanent wetlands (Don 7-12), the top meter of lake during the peak summer season may contain 1.7 trillion brine shrimp and 22.8 billion fly larvae.

It is a reasonable supposition that the future population of birds in the canyon also depends on the health of the lake’s eastern marshes. Most research on the lake’s bird ecology has focused on shorebirds and waterfowl, and it is less clear on how other neotropical birds such as those found in the canyon utilize the lake during their migrations. Do they canyon hop up the western slope of the Rocky Mountain’s spine in central Utah or do they, like waterfowl, fly between inland lakes along Utah’s western and central deserts? The Cornell Laboratory Ebird checklist of the closest marsh to the canyon, the eight mile distant Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area, shows 254 species and this includes almost all of the birds seen in the nearby canyon.

The forty by sixty mile Great Salt Lake is showing signs of disappearing as northern Utah’s population, which is projected to double by 2050, due to excessive upstream water withdrawals. At first impression, that this large inland sea of about 1,700 square miles with no outlet to the ocean might evaporate within thirty years seems an outrageous proposition, but there is ample precedent. A similar shallow inland sea about fifteen times the size of the Great Salt Lake, the 26,000 square mile Aral Sea in Kazakhstan, reduced to 10 percent of its original area from 1960 through 2007. The Aral lake’s demise was by design: Soviet era planners diverted most of its inflow to support agriculture and they knew the lake would disappear. A similar fate fell upon California’s Tulare Lake. Utah’s Great Salt Lake is currently the largest lake in the United States outside of the northeast’s Great Lakes, but this was not always the case. The Tulare Lake was a freshwater endroheic playa lake: a shallow lake with no outlet to the sea that has large dry pan areas. It had a maximum area in 1879 of about 1,800 square miles. Historically, Tulare Lake supported a pre-Euro-American population of 70,000 First Peoples. Withdraw of its source waters to support agriculture in California’s central valley, that grows one-third of the nation’s fruit and vegetable produce, resulted in the complete evaporation of the lake. While the Aral Sea is and California’s Tulare Lake was larger than the Great Salt Lake, the 188 square mile Sevier Lake in central Utah is smaller, and like the Great Salt Lake, it is an endroheic playa lake. The Sevier Lake, that had a maximum historic depth of 15 feet, naturally evaporated in the nineteenth century, but after Utah’s peak flooding of 1985 to 1987, the lake refilled to its historic high. Since then, agriculture withdrawals have again almost entirely evaporated the lake.

Utah’s population has reached levels such that about 40 percent of water in rivers that feed the Great Salt Lake have been withdrawn for human use or reserved for wildlife protection, and their use, along with an extended drought, has reduced the lake’s level by 11 feet, its volume by one-half and its area by about one-half since the arrival of the Euro-American colonists in 1847 (Wurtsbaugh et al 2016). The lake’s surface area declined from about 1,600 square miles to 1,050 square miles in 2015, and this exposed 550 square miles of new dry lake bottom. In 2016, the lake reached a new historic low level, resulting in much of the southeastern lake bed, next to Farmington Bay and the canyon, turning into a dry pan.

Another sign of high upstream water withdrawals is Utah Lake, that is about thirty miles south of the Great Salt Lake and which drains into the Great Salt Lake to the north via the Jordan River. In recent drought years, the level of Utah Lake has also declined, and one consequence is that from 2014 through 2016, the lake now experiences an annual July toxic algae blooms containing sufficient levels of toxins to be hazardous to human health that require closing parts of the lake to boating and its shores to swimming (Salt Lake Tribune, July 15, 2016; Utah Department of Environmental Quality 2017b). The toxic Utah Lake algae flush from Utah Lake, down the Jordan River through the populated center of Salt Lake Valley, and out in to the Great Salt Lake (Utah Department of Environmental Quality 2017, Maps of toxic level sites). The shallow Great Salt Lake naturally contains high, but not toxic levels, of green and red algae, and due to the 1959 construction of an earthen railroad causeway across the northern third of the lake, differences in the two populations of algae can be seen from low earth orbit (NASA 2017)

Researchers’ ability to model the level of the Great Salt Lake has improved and significantly changed in the last ten years with the addition of historical tree ring studies. In 1997, Wold and colleagues built an early dynamic model of the hydrology of the Great Salt Lake and its salt content in its northern and southern arms that are divided by the causeway. In response to climate change concerns in 2012, Mohammod and Tarboton and in 2015, Gillies and colleagues prepared updated models using improved climate records based on an expanded climate record from 576 years of tree ring measurements. In 2015, Shope and Angeroth expanded Wold’s model of salt loading. Finally, in 2016, Huybers, Rupper and Roe worked on a dynamical model of the delayed response time of the Great Salt Lake’s lake level to prior year’s precipitation.

In a 2016 white paper, Wurtsbaugh et al of Utah State University raised the concern that if further water withdrawals are taken from the lake’s upstream water sources, such as another 250,000 acre feet from the proposed Bear River Project, then the lake will decline between another 8.5 and 14 inches and will expose and dry out between another 30 to 45 square miles (Wurtsbaugh et al 2016; Utah Division of Water Resources 2004). (1.2 million acre feet is currently reserved to flow to the Bear River Migratory Refugee, but in recent drought years, less than that amount has reached those marshes.) Although Wurtsbaugh and colleagues did not discuss the impact the proposed withdrawal would have on Great Salt Lake migratory bird populations, they noted that declining lake levels currently impact human health in the form of increased dust particles.

The dust particles referred to by Wurtsbaugh and colleagues come from dust storms. The ancient Lake Bonneville, including the dry Sevier Lake bed and the expanded dry pans of the newly exposed Great Salt Lake bottom generate large dust storms, called haboobs in Arabian desert, that floods the Salt Lake valley and the canyon with fine particles. These storms aggravate urban asthma. (One such wind storm most recently occurred on May 24th and it covered my car in a thick light brown layer.) The largest man-made source of dust in the United States is the Owens Valley lake bed – an artificially created dry lake in central California generated by Los Angeles withdrawing water from the lake to supply Los Angeles municipal drinking water. Los Angeles has spent 1.2 billion USD on dust suppression in Owens Valley (Iovenko 2015).

Another human health risk of a drying lake that has yet to be analyzed by governmental or academic research is lake purification. Salt Lake City residents are familiar with summer lake stench. One or two times during each summer, clouds of stench from organic matter dying in the lake invade the city. In Utah, these are a minor aesthetic inconvenience, but California’s evaporating 340 square mile Salton Sea provides precedent for larger impacts. The 45 foot deep Salton Sea was created in 1905 by an engineering accident that diverted the Colorado River into an ancient dry lake bed. In 2015, the Coachella valley surrounding the Salton Sea had at least five air quality alerts from rotting-egg smell emanating from the sea (Iovenko 2015).

An unknown risk in the Huybers et al’s model of the Great Salt Lake water levels is the potential for dynamic chaotic responses. Huybers and colleagues used ordinary differential equations for their model. Mathematicians and physical sciences well now that such equations contain chaotic boundaries in which the system responds in new and unlikely directions once certain break points are reached. However, the state-of-the-art expert opinion, summarized in Wurtsbaugh et al, is that increases in the decline of Great Salt Lake levels will be incremental and not chaotic. The lake, and its life-giving marshes that support northern Utah bird life in the canyon, should continue for the near future. Notwithstanding present model studies, that the Great Salt Lake might disappear completely in the next thirty years is still be within the scope of probable scenarios.

* * * *

On May 26, 1983, City officials proclaimed a flood emergency in Salt Lake City after a winter of heavy snowfall followed by a late warming (Salt Lake Tribune). In a April 29, 2011 retrospective article, Salt Lake Councilperson Grant Mabey recalled how he had witnessed the 1952 flooding of downtown by City Creek Canyon, and in 1983 he feared a repeat of that event (Salt Lake Tribune). The city pre-ordered 250,000 sandbags (id). Sandbagging State Street kept City Creek from flooding underground parking at ZCMI Mall (id). On May 28th, Mayor Ted Wilson learned that rock and tree debris from City Creek Canyon were clogging up the 1910 underground culvert down State Street and a second pipe system along North Temple (id). The flood waters receded by June 11, 1983. On May 26th, 2003, the Salt Lake Tribune reviews the history of the establishment of Memory Grove Park (Salt Lake Tribune).

On May 26th, 1933, a letter to the Salt Lake Telegram editor stated that City Creek Canyon Road had deteriorated into a “deplorable condition.” On May 26th, 1906, the Commercial Club inspected construction work on road improvements up City Creek Canyon Road to 11th Avenue (Salt Lake Tribune).

May 25, 2017

May 23rd

Continental Scale Bird Population Trends – Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

May 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).

Older Posts »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.