City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

March 19, 2017

March 19th

Filed under: Chuckar, Flood retention pond, Geology, Kingfisher, People, Sounds, Stream — canopus56 @ 7:58 pm

Erosion across Geologic Time

5:00 p.m. Kingfisher! Above Guardhouse Gate, a Belted kingfisher has made its annual migratory appearance. The bird is agitated. As it flies in a circular path a hundred yards in diameter, it makes two-second rapid-fire calls. Usually, the kingfisher is seen at the flood retention pond at Bonneville Drive and Canyon Road. There it perches on a tree next to the upper pond and peers down into the waters looking for its next meal of Brown trout. But the pond was been cleared out by the City that fears an earlier spring flood (March 5th and 16), and for the last week about twenty anglers have been cleaned out both the upper and lower ponds of fish. There is nothing left for the kingfisher to eat. On the drive back home, another early bird sign of spring appears. Three chukars scurry across the road. It is the last day of winter, and the canyon is again busy with an overflowing parking lot. There are about eighty strollers, couples with substitute child-dogs, and bicyclists. Two Rock squirrels scamper across the road. At the pond at picnic site 5, someone has partially pulled out the tree branch that grows horizontally across and below the surface of the pond. The limb has been growing there for about ten years, judging from its size. Fall, trout used this branch as a hiding place. They feed on the water skaters along the outside edge of the pool, but when disturbed by people, the trout bolted underneath the branch (October 21st). Now their hiding place is gone. I am looking forward to the next cycle of annual life and to watching the canyon come fully alive.

The milky high-runoff stream continues its loud roar.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 19th, 1842, he records a strong west wind that generates haze. On March 19th, 1856, he records a 16 inch deep snow. On March 19th, 1858, he sees numerous gnats. He sees redwings. On March 19th, 1859, he notes a strong wind and notes how wind reflects off of blowing trees. On March 19th, 1860, he admires pitch pine trees in the spring light.

The milkiness of the stream reveals that it contains sediments, but is this small stream enough to have carved out the gorge of lower City Creek Canyon below Bonneville Drive over the last 11,000 years? Crudely abstracted, the lower gorge is 2 miles long by 0.1 miles wide and by 200 feet deep, or about 0.008 cubic miles, and it formerly contained about 1.2 billion cubic feet of earth. A rough estimate of sediment transport from City water quality data suggests that the stream could have made the lower gorge over the last 11,000 years.

Most data about water quality in City Creek Canyon is from measurements by the Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities, but it is easily obtained. The U.S. Geological Survey maintains an archive of water quality and volume measurements of City Creek, including the City’s data, as part of its National Water Information System (U.S.G.S. 2017c), and a set of water quality measurements from 1964 to 1966 includes the dry weight of dissolved solids in City Creek stream water. The stream transports a surprisingly wide range of daily weight of solids down the canyon, but in terms of unitized acre-feet of stream flow, the stream transports a steady proportion of about 0.4 tonnes of dry solids in each acre-foot of water. City Creek stream flow data from the National Resources Conservation Service gives a mean annual flow for the stream of about 11,700 acre-feet per year (NRCS 2017), soils in Utah typically contain about 35 percent water, and a cubic foot of soil weights about 100 pounds. Putting all of this together gives a rough first-order estimate that little City Creek stream has transported about 1.5 billion tonnes of sediment to the delta over the last 11,000 years*. Over geologic time, City Creek’s little stream could have carved out the lower canyon gorge, and this estimate excludes extreme flooding events, like the flood of 1983, where the canyon’s flood waters run as a thick, dark red mass of mud, silt, and boulders.

* – 11,700 acre-feet per year x 0.4 tonnes dry weight per acre-foot divided by 0.65 percent dry weight x 11,000 years x 2,000 pounds per ton divided by 100 pounds per cubic foot of soil = 1.489 billion cubic feet.

On March 19th, 1892, Mayor Baskin and the City Council met at the old Silk Mill to decide if it should be torn down (Deseret Weekly).


March 18, 2017

March 17th

Filed under: Cottonwood tree, Flood retention pond, People, Sounds, Stream — canopus56 @ 7:21 pm

Cottonwoods and Lightning

1:30 p.m. Another extremely warm day. Although the parking lot is full, there are few people on the road. They have, like the chickadees, have dispersed along the length of the road, and the crowded canyon is sufficiently empty to evoke a feeling of solitude. The stream roars and water at the flood retention pond now is one-third full. Although the canyon is empty, on the drive out of the canyon along Bonneville Drive and the State Capitol Building, I am seventeenth in a line of pleasure driving cars. This route was originally developed by the City in the early 1900s as a scenic pleasure drive for horse carriage rides to draw tourists off the transcontinental trains, and in the 1910s, the road was improved to accommodate the new automobile tourists.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 17th, 1854, he observes green shoots growing on a south facing bank where snow has partially melted. On March 17th, 1857, he hears a woodpecker and notes green plants grow in puddles between snow banks. On March 17th, 1858, hears bluebirds, sees the season’s first flicker, and sees a robin and a redwing. On March 17th, 1860, he sees flock of shelddrakes.

A portion of the largest mountain cottonwood trees in the first mile are either dead or dying. Those with the largest trunks are also the tallest trees within the first mile, and typically they reach about one-hundred feet in height. Cottonwoods live to be at most 160 years old (Werstak, Fig. 5(a), p. 23). What causes morbidity in these giants? Do they simply grow so high that the physics of raising water one-hundred feet above the ground will no longer sustain their biological requirements? Do they succumb to disease? Three tall cottonwoods in the first 1.2 miles suggest to me that lightening is the principal cause of their demise. Some years ago, I saw one now dead hundred-foot tall cottonwood tree on the south wall of the canyon shortly after it had been hit by lightening. The next day it was still smoking, and it was the tallest tree within several hundred feet. Two equally tall cottonwoods adjacent to each other near picnic site 7 are still alive, but they both have large tracks of missing bark that spiral down the main trunk. On December 23, 1853, Thoreau in his journal described a similar spiral caused by lightening hitting a pine tree. My own speculation is that cottonwoods do not die from old age or disease. They die because as they age they grow to be too tall, and they become the biological lightening rods of the canyon.

On March 17th, 1915, two weather bureau officers began snow-shoeing into upper City Creek Canyon in order to measure the depth of the snow pack (Salt Lake Tribune). They took over 296 snow depth measurements using a hand snow drill (Salt Lake Tribune, March 17, 28, 1915, Salt Lake Telegram, March 31, 1915).

March 16, 2017

March 16th

The Character of Light

1:30 p.m. It is another warm clear workday, but again the pre-spring canyon is full. There is palpable change in the character of the warming light: it is overwhelmingly bright. I feel as if I am moving through a substance and not that I am viewing the reflected particles. This is another sign of the coming of spring. In the first one and one-half miles of the canyon, the west side contains a sprinkling of a compressed white-chalk rock. They are the remnants of polished boulders from the streams of an ancient now vanished mountain range to the west. On the west hillsides above milepost 1.5, this white rocks now shine brilliantly against the wall’s green grass. The last three days have been what valley residents would call prefect spring days. The air is warm, clear and pollution free, and the high peaks of the Wasatch Mountains are frosted with snow. In the canyon, so too are Scott’s Hill and Black Mountain covered with snow that intensely reflects the new light. Today, Black Mountain’s snow pack has begun to dissipate, the mountain’s flank is beginning show a patchwork of white and brown.

As I jog, two Mourning Cloak butterflies do a mating dance a few feet away. They do tight aerobatic turns and loops, and then together they fly high up into the trees. On the road, there is small rust-brown caterpillar with a black rectangle on the side of segment that is surrounded by a white bar. The first large beetle appears, and it has a body plan similar to a Consperse Stink Bug, but this beetle has a brownish back and a gold strip at the end of its wings.

It occurs to me why earlier in the month the City decimated the cattail field at flood retention pond (March 5th). The pond is now a mathematically pure bowl, but devoid of life. There will be no summer hummingbirds there and a kingfisher who annual visits will not be returning. February and March have had record warmth, and the City probably feared that the canyon might flood. But there was never any risk. The water level at the exit pipe of the flood retention ponds has risen only a foot or so, and is indicates that stream flow is still below 30 cubic feet per second. There is four more feet of exit pipe to fill. The City has also forgotten lessons from the past. In the 1890s and 1900s, City Creek maintenance meant removing the many dead and overhanging trees from stream (Salt Lake Tribune, January 4, 1908; Salt Lake Herald, January 31st, 1894). In the 1983 flood, snags and overhanging limbs were swept down City Creek and where log jams formed, the road was washed out. The flood down State Street started when logs jammed the underground City Creek conduit (Personal recollection). The first two-miles from the gate to above Pleasant Valley contains many fallen limbs, and the stream bed has not been cleared of trees since the 1990s.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 16th, 1840, he sees a flock of ducks. On March 16th, 1854, he notes that trees are filled with singing robins, blackbirds and song sparrows. he observes shelddrakes. On March 16th, 1855, he finds a woodchuck burrow and follows several woodchuck tracks. March 16th, 1859, he notes that the ground is a bare brown and winter snow is gone. This is a marker of spring. On March 16th, 1860, he sees a flock of shelddrakes and two gulls.

March 5, 2017

March 5th

It is enough. This is the Right [Natural] Place – Part III

2:00 p.m. It is a day of pre-spring, March wind. Temperatures have risen in the sixties, but it is cool because the wind has been gusting to fifty and sixty miles per hour. The driving force is a large storm that approaches from the north west, but it is a low pressure vortex, and the storm’s large Coriolis effect arms are sweeping from the southwest. The winds are a precursor to a new storm front that may again blanket the canyon with fresh snow. In the canyon, the cottonwoods groan and sway in the gusts, and their tops move in pendulous oscillations that travel about two feet. There is a great noise. My sound meter phone application is reading spikes of 80 to 100 decibels, and although this is more than level of a jet engine, the ebb and flow of the wind sound has a reassuring and comforting, meditative quality. Where the wind blows through the lower Gambel’s oak branches, it produces a hollow low tone. I have heard this sound before, and I am haunted by a sense of deja vu. After a few minutes, it comes to me. It is same sound as ocean surf on a windy day. It has been some years since I have been to the ocean, and I have forgotten. But this ocean and its noise is of air and not water. The noise is mesmerizing, and although I plan to only take a short one-half mile up-canyon walk, I go for two. The wind has also dried the soil and trees. Snow is gone, evaporated, except for a four or five one foot square wind-protected patches near mile 0.3. A day ago where abundant dark green mosses stood high from the sides of tree trunks, now only desiccated flat dull green mats are found. Cracking leaves are pushed up the canyon road in groups like flocks of birds. The high wind keeps all insects and birds in hiding, except for one. A miniature red-brown centipede about two-inches long but only 2 or 3 millimeters in diameter crawls across the road. Below picnic site 6, there is a group of unidentified bushes that retain a light-yellow waxy fruit. At the Bonneville Drive canyon mouth, the City has unleashed a large back hoe on the cattail grove in the flood retention pond. Their remains are stacked in a rotting pile. This may affect the return of the spring hummingbirds, as the cattail grove is their favored feeding ground (August 1st).

In 2016, the City updated its management plan for noxious non-native plants, and the report included an assessment of native, that is pre-colonization, biota of Salt Lake City habitats including those types found in City Creek Canyon and the valley floor. The main habitats are:

• Sagebrush Grasslands and Sagebrush Shrublands habitat, applicable to the valley floor, to the lower canyon below Guardhouse Gate, and along the western slope of City Creek between milepost 1.0 and 3.0.

• Bigtooth Maple and Gambel Oak Woodlands habitat, applicable to Pleasant Valley from mile 1.1 to mile 2.2.

• Riparian Woodlands and Shrublands habitat, applicable to banks and floodplains surrounding the stream from Guardhouse Gate to mile 5.0 and to the flood retention ponds at the intersection of Bonneville Drive and City Creek Canyon Road and at mile 3.0.

• Emergent Marsh Wetlands, applicable to stream and stream banks from Guardhouse Gate to mile 5.0.

The dominant native plants in each area are listed as follows:

List of Common Native Plants by Habitat (SWCA Environmental Consultants 2016)

Sagebrush Grasslands and Sagebrush Shrublands

• Indian ricegrass (Achnatherum hymenoides).

• Bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata).

• Mule-ears (Wyethia amplexicaulis).

• Arrowleaf balsamroot(Balsamorhiza sagittata) .

• Wild geranium (Geranium L. spp.).

• Big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata Nutt.).

• Rubber rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa).

• Yellow rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus).

Bigtooth Maple and Gambel Oak Woodlands

• Gambel’s oak (Quercus gambelii Nutt.)

• Bigtooth maple (Acer grandidentatum Nutt.)

• Oregon grape (Mahonia repens).

• Wild geranium (Geranium viscosissimum).

• Mule-ears (Wyethia amplexicaulis).

Riparian Woodlands and Shrublands

• Cottonwoods (Populus angustifolia and P. fremontii).

• Box Elders (Acer negundo L.).

• Willows (Salix L. spp.).

• Wood’s rose (Rosa woodsii Lindl.).

• Black hawthorne (Crataegus douglasii Lindl.).

• Golden currant (Ribes aureum Pursh).

• Buffaloberry (Shepherdia argentea [Pursh] Nutt.).

Emergent Marsh Wetlands

• Cattails (Typha L. spp.).

• Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa [Torr.] and A. incarnata [L.]).

• Bulrushes (Schoenoplectus [Rchb.] Palla spp.).

• Spikerush (Eleocharis R. Br. spp.).

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 5th, 1852, he observes that red maple and elm buds are expanding and maple sap is flowing. He examines tree lichens growing. On March 5, 1859, he watches a nuthatch and admires its song.

January 17, 2017

January 17th

Filed under: Duck, Flood retention pond, Mountain Chickadee, picnic site 7, Weather — canopus56 @ 9:34 pm

Ice Mirror

1:00 p.m. City air grows thicker; buildings a mile away are reduced to mere outlines; and, during these inversion layers, the eyes burn and breathing becomes more labored. I escape to the canyon. I will not be able to reach clean air, but at least will see the beginning of blue skies. It is growing warmer, and the two ducks at the flood retention pond, who have used the pond as a refugee during this coldest part of the year, have left. There is only one chickadee call near the canyon’s mouth.

The retention pond has melted and then partially re-frozen. The frozen shaded part is covered with a thin layer of glass ice. Like its arctic ice pack counterpart, the floating ice layer has fractured and a network of miniature pressure ridges have formed in its surface. When sunlight hits it a the right angle, the glass surface reflects blue-green colors highlight by a bright fire-yellow spider web of pressure ridges. The pond at picnic site 5 is free of ice, and one small trout – the first that I have seen in the lower canyon stream since November 25th – dashes into the shadows. Above milepost 1.0 between picnic site 7 and picnic site 8 where the stream froze completely over into a milky cathedral (Dec. 20th), now there is a open channel in the middle of the stream, but near the banks, the stream retains its original thick layer of ice. In spots in this stretch, the stream has re-frozen and it is covered by a thin layer of delicate window-pane glass ice. This re-freezing process is echoed in the snow on the sides of the road: the surface has melted and then re-frozen. This is “crust” snow – a bane to both back-country and developed area skiers. Placing a foot on the surface, it feels strong, but when any weight is put on it, ones foot breaks through the surface revealing a sugar-powder snow underneath. At a winter intermittent seep near picnic site 7 where warmer water melts overlaying snow, rising vapor from the seep encrusts a cinquefoil sprout and overhanging twigs with its re-frozen waters in the form of intricate ice rime crystals.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 17th, 1852, he notes a sign of a clear, rested mind: enjoying watching sunsets. He comments on the infinite variety of shapes created by clouds.

On January 17th, 1918, Waterworks C.F. Barrett warned of flooding from City Creek into the city because of abnormally high snowfall (Salt Lake Telegram). On January 17th, 1909, City Water Commissioner Frank M. Matthews reported that City Creek delivered approximately 11,000,000 gallons of water a day to the City and that improvement of the road using prison labor continues (Intermountain Republican).

January 3, 2017

January 2nd

Filed under: Duck, Flood retention pond, Geology, People — canopus56 @ 5:39 pm

A Bend in the Road

5:30 p.m. At the flood retention pond, the two ducks are asleep while floating. They are completely motionless and have turned their necks to lay their heads on their backs. As I start up the canyon, eight hunters are loading into their cars, and the watershed patrol person is bringing another four out in the back of the city truck. None have a taken an elk. There are only three or four persons on road and shortly, I am alone at milepost 1.5 enjoying the quiet depths of winter in the fading light. I am looking down at the mouth of Pleasant Valley, and about a quarter-mile below it, canyon bends and turns about forty-five degrees in a southeasterly direction.

Gravity pulls water straight downhill, and for many of the canyons of the Wasatch Front Mountain Range, canyons erode in almost straight lines from the ridgelines to the valley floor. If there is a bend in a canyon’s descent, this may signify a hidden geologic fault line. Examples include Elbow Fork in nearby Millcreek Canyon and Storm Mountain in Big Cottonwood Canyon. At the red bridge below milepost 1.0, City Creek Canyon bends twenty-two degrees around a curve from a north-east direction to a north east-easterly direction and then opens into Pleasant Valley.

Van Horn and Crittenden’s 1987 geologic map of the area explains why the bend in City Creek occurs. The Pleasant Valley fault line runs due north-south through milepost 1.0 and the north-west massif where the canyon opens into Pleasant Valley. One can see the effect of the fault at red bridge and mile 0.9. The sandstone layers on the south and north canyon walls are horizontal, but at Chimney Rock above the red bridge (Dec. 24th), the layer has been rotated to a 90 degree vertical angle. The Pleasant Valley Fault continues along the south-east side of the creek, but on the west side at mile 0.5, sandstone conglomerate Shark Fin Rock (Nov. 23rd) is similarly rotated to the vertical.

The fault continues down-canyon, exits and then turns east at the foothills, and there it dissipates. But a quarter mile south, at the Morris Reservoir tanks, another fault that is hidden below the surface – the City Cemetery Fault – begins. It continues traveling east along the 11th Avenue bench; and, then the fault turns due north, becomes visible at the surface, and meets Little Twin Peaks on the Avenues ridgeline. There the City Cemetery Fault turns due east and runs between the two peaks. The Cemetery Fault is why the two peaks are there. Each peak sits on the other side of the fault. Next, the fault runs south for a few hundred feet before it ends, and this marks the north east corner of the city with giant geologic question mark. The Pleasant Valley fault is not active, but it is why City Creek stream makes the shape of a boot, and geologically speaking, it kicks the City in its proverbial northeast end.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 2nd, 1854, he notes pink light falling on snow and a blue light in the shadows of snow. January 2nd, 1854, he notes that the colors of winter sunsets are enhanced by ice crystals in the atmosphere. On January 2nd, 1853, he describes the beauty of the oak forest covered with a heavy snow and with ice. On January 2, 1841, he describes a fox traversing a snow covered pond.

On January 2nd, 1937, the Salt Lake Telegram reported that the Utah Audubon Society will at its monthly meeting, the results of its Christmas bird count, and that later in the month, Society will have a field trip up City Creek Canyon. On January 2nd, 1916, the Salt Lake Tribune reported on progress towards projects built using proceeds of a 1914 bond issue to deliver enough water to the City to support 600,000 people. Those projects include the Lake Mary and Lake Phoebe dams in Big Cottonwood Canyon and a 5,000,000 gallon distribution reservoir at Pleasant Valley in City Creek Canyon. On January 2nd, 1910, the City reported that it receives 10,000,000 gallons of drinking water from City Creek Canyon.

December 21, 2016

December 20th

The Canyon at Rest

12:00 pm and 5:00 p.m. It is the last day of Fall, and tomorrow the tilt of the Earth keeps the canyon furthest from the life giving Sun for the longest part of the day. Nature in the canyon is in a deep sleep. The trees are still; all natural sounds are silent. The air is warmer today, but not enough that snow and ice on the trees melts. Sun warmed ice melded with tree branches expands slightly and then breaks away. Instead of raining droplets as with the last storm, today trees rain tiny chunks of ice. There are two places in the lower shaded canyon where the stream freezes over. The first is the perpetually shaded bend between picnic sites 7 and 8. There the stream is completely frozen over for several hundred feet; the stream is milky white and stone-like. The second is between the up canyon end of Pleasant Valley at mile 1.8 to milepost 2.0. There the stream is eighty percent frozen over. At Bonneville Drive, about twenty percent of the surface of the flood retention ponds is frozen. At mile 1.3, where animal tracks make impressions that are kept partially in shadow, half-inch hoarfrost crystals sublimate, but then evaporate in the warmer late afternoon air. Although the canyon looks dead, the irrepressible force of life continues.

Lichens and mosses respond to the wet cold and grow both on the trees and on rocks in the stream. Digging some leaves up from underneath the snow, some show signs of the beginning of bacterial decay, but mostly the leaf litter and the microbes are dormant, waiting for spring’s explosion. At the surface, data by Whitman, Coleman and Wiebe at the University of Georgia suggests that there are about 3.5 x 10^15 microbes per square meter in woodlands and shrublands and about microbes 5.7 x 10^13 in each square meter of deciduous forests (Whitman 1998, Table 2). In 1995, Richter and Markewitz estimated that there were about 1.1 x 10^12 bacteria and fungal microbes in each gram of soil at the surface (Fig. 3a), and their density decreases to about 4.1 x 10^7 at 8 meters beneath the surface. In 2014, Raynaud and Nunan found an average of 8.9 x 10^9 microbes in the top 0.6 meters of each gram of agricultural field soil (Table 1).

But life does not stop there. Whitman et al also estimated that between 10 meters to 3,000 meters below the surface, there were on the order of 10^6 prokaryotes per cubic centimeter. They made an order of magnitude estimate that in a cubic centimeter column going from the surface down to 4 kilometers, there are a total of about 2.2 x 10^30 prokaryotes (id., 6579). But life exists even further down in the subsurface column beneath the canyon’s surface. In 2006, Li-Hung Lin, et al. discovered Archean microbes living at 2.8 kilometers beneath the Earth’s surface in a South African gold mile, and those microbes were genetically related to Archean microbes living the Yellowstone Hot Springs a few hundred miles north of the canyon. These subsurface microbes may comprise a substantial fraction of biomass in the canyon. Whitman et al estimated a wide first-order ratio of the mass of subsurface prokaryote carbon to plant surface carbon at 60% to 100% (id., at 6580).

I stand at the surface in the canyon, I and am part of this scene. In 2013, Bianconi et al estimated the number of cells in the human body at 37 trillion. In a 2016, Sender, Fuchs and Milo at the Weiztmann Institute for Science in Israel, revised estimates of the total number of cells in the human body and the number of microbes that inhabit each of us. They found that along with the approximately 3.8 x 10^13 (38 trillion) human cells in a 70 kilogram person, another 3.0 x 10^13 foreign microbes live (cooperatively but sometimes uncooperatively) within us or about 44% of the total (3.0/(3.0+3.8)). Because of the exponential power of these estimates, the 10^13 cells, both human and parasitic cell in me, are a minuscule portion of of 10^30 prokaryotes that are in just one 4 kilometer deep column of soil that is one centimeter square. Subtracting my 10^13 cells, there are still 9.999999…. x 10^29 prokaryotes under each square centimeter of subsurface. I measure the bottom of one of my shoes and find conservatively guess there are about 450 square centimeters in the soles of my feet.

Around and above me, even the air above the road contains some levels of bacteria, fungi, and pollen as part of the daily PM10 daily air particle count. In 2009, Wiedinmyer and colleagues counted on average 3.5 particles of DNA containing material per cubic centimeter of air collected from a mountain summit in the Rocky Mountains (Table 1) or about 3.5 million particles per cubic meter of air. Whitman et al estimated that there were about 1.8 x 10^21 microbes in each cubic meter of air from the surface up to 3 kilometers (id., 6580 reporting 5 x 10^19 per cfu). This continues into the high upper atmosphere. In 2013, DeLeon-Rodriguez and her colleagues at the University of Georgia and NASA found 5,100 cells per cubic meter in samples taken from air 10 kilometers above the surface of the Caribbean ocean.

Microbes also dominate the stream’s bedrock. In that aquatic environment, deep blue-green algae grows in thick mats, and at the stream’s edges, large mats of watercress thrive in the freezing water. Although no trout are seen in the lower canyon stream; they move upstream and a group of about fifteen congregate just below an old water head gate at mile 2.8. At the stream’s edge, horsetails are still green, and this indicates that photosynthesis is still occurring despite the cold.

At the retention ponds, a male-female pair of mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) rest. The female is in the sleep position with her head laying on her back. The males feeds on the algae on the pond’s bottom. At picnic site 2, there is a small unidentified sparrow that is not a European sparrow. Further up the canyon, near picnic site 3, there is a Belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)! No avid birder will probably believe this, since this kingfisher is far out of its winter range, and I am unable to take a photograph of it. I first had a fleeting view of this bird on December 7th at the south end of the circle where the Pleasant Valley reservoir once stood. Then it was too far away to see clearly. Today, I am able to watch it for several minutes at the top of a snag about 100 feet away. Then the bird sees me, spooks, and flies down canyon to another snag, and again I am able to catch up and watch it closely for another few minutes. At picnic site 4, I am greeted by a flock of mountain chickadees, and they sit in several trees calling back to each other. Below picnic site 5, a flock of six Black-hooded juncos feed and preen themselves on a red osier dogwood bush. The coldest winter makes some birds more tolerant of humans, and I am able to stand directly next to the bush and about four feet from juncos. They grab a piece of snow-ice from clumps of shriveled white berries that still cling to the tree. They eat part of the ice and then dip the rest into their feathers to clean themselves. Then they try to eat the sour fruit of the dogwood (see Nov. 6th), but most of the fruit seems to drop to the ground and not into their beaks. I again see an unidentified raptor that patrols the lower canyon just before twilight. At mile 1.3, a magpie can be heard in the distance. A series of tracks in the snow tell of two birds that had landed on two adjacent rocks that stick up out of the snow. They then hopped across the snow for about 20 feet.

At mile 1.0, high on the western ridgeline, a single anterless elk digs through the snow to green grass underneath. And, in the early morning hours as I am returning home on other business, two mule deer that are refugees from the canyon are grazing a few hundred feet from my urban front door. As for humans in the canyon, there is myself and about twenty other walkers, runners, and bicyclists.

In short, the canyon is asleep, but life cannot be stopped. Life can be attenuated from its peak productivity (August 31st), and today, like sunlight, life in the canyon is at its nadir.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on December 20th, 1851, he observes a high-flying hawk that is patrolling for prey. He lists the colors of the winter landscape: red, white, green, and brown. On December 20, 1854, he feels that the winter sun has more relative warmth on his skin than the summer sun.

November 12, 2016

November 12th

Filed under: Brown Trout, Fish, Flood retention pond, Stream, Water Treatment Plant — canopus56 @ 3:23 pm

Trout Vision

10:30 a.m. On this warm weekend day, the canyon is again full with twenty to thirty people, and I stop at picnic site 6 to look at the trout in the stream pool (Oct. 21st, Nov. 4th, Nov. 10th). Today, there is a large brown trout in the middle of the pool facing away from me. The line of sight from his nose to my position subtends 150 degrees. Nonetheless, the trout immediately spots me and bolts for cover. Thomason explains that trout not only have color vision, but they also have a 180 degree field of lateral vision, 10 degrees of which is forward-looking over-lapping binocular vision (id. 184-187). The trout can see 170 degrees on each of its sides, and has only a blind-spot around its tail. This is why the smart trout in the pool today apparently, like your mother, has eyes in the back of its head. But its vision for distant objects is poor, and for far objects, it can only see moving shapes. The true size of those shapes are also distorted by the refracting property of the stream’s surface. The trout’s eye is remarkably different from our own. The human eye is egg-shaped and we focus by using muscles to distort the eye’s lens. The trout’s eye is a circular affair with a circular lens, and it focuses by using muscles to move the entire lens backwards or forwards. This also allows the trout to see nearby objects in great detail. Thus, the trout’s vision is well-adapted to its needs. It has a wide field-of-vision necessary to quickly avoid predators, good close vision to identify both nearby water-dwelling insects and land-insects that have fallen into the water, and narrow forward-looking binocular vision to direct the final strike on its insect prey.

A man-made obstacle prevents the trout to moving above the flood retention ponds at mile 3.1 (Sept. 10th). There a sluice gate prevents their travel upstream into the remaining 11 miles of canyon stream. Perhaps there is some reason for this, i.e. – the need to protect machinery at the water treatment plant or the desire to have the highest quality water above the plant’s intake by banning defecating trout. But I cannot imagine that the trout would generate any more bacteria than the hapless insects who drown in the stream and on whom the trout feed. The sluice gate could be easily modified to allow the trout into the upper reaches of the canyon. It is a simple concrete box about thirty feet long across which water moves spread out at a depth of about 1 inch. One-half the sluice ramp could be changed into a series of steps and pools that the trout could easily traverse. I forward my idea for a fish ladder at the sluice gate to the City through one of its many websites (Nov. 10th), but I expect no reply. Such governmental websites are meant only to provide the appearance of responsiveness to citizens. No one actually reads or replies to them, and if a reply is received, it is usually a well-written note by a communications major who does not know anything about the topic, who has no power of decision-making, and who is practiced at deterring citizen involvement with a template response stating that of course nothing can be done.

November 4, 2016

November 4th

Filed under: Brown Trout, Flood retention pond, People, picnic site 1, Stream — canopus56 @ 7:05 pm

No Where to Hide

4:00 p.m. Today, the lower canyon is without leaves. The chestnuts have dropped almost all their leaves, and The Golden Living Room at picnic site 1 is gone (Oct. 29th). Except for one or two shoots, in the flood retention pond at mile 0.0, the cattail grove has turned completely brown.

During the spring and summer, the stream is illuminated only by indirect light, and without polarizing glasses, the stream presents a blue reflective surface. Trout can easily hide in under this reflective surface. But today, most of the undergrowth foliage has also died back, and the stream is now exposed to shafts of low-angle sunlight, and this light makes the stream transparent. From thirty-feet away, I can seen into the stream clearly, and trout are easily visible. Instead of running up the road on the pavement, I jog along its dried leaf covered shoulder, while peering into the stream whenever possible. In the first mile, I look into the stream at seventeen locations. Of those seventeen, ten locations meet all three of the following criteria: at least six inches deep; contains slack water; and, is illuminated by low angle light. Of those ten, eight pools contain ten brown trout. Previously, I had thought that were perhaps one to three trout in the first mile of canyon stream. During the summer, many anglers can be seen along this first mile of stream bed, and these trout are what they have been chasing with their expensive sunglasses and fly rods.

October 16, 2016

October 16th

“C” is for Conservation

5 p.m. There was a wind storm last night and the temperature dropped 25 degrees Fahrenheit in the early morning hours. Even so, the canyon is again packed with walkers, runners and bicyclists. The wind-tunnel up to mile 0.9 has stripped even more leaves from the trees and the fallen leaves now cover even more of the road. At mile 1.3, Pleasant Valley opens into a sea of dark golden brown. All of the Gambel’s oaks have turned and they are set off against similar dark red-brown groves on the south canyon slope.

Here, back on October 12th, students from the Utah Conservation Corps, a project of the Utah State University Logan, are resting after working on a starthistle restoration project in the meadow on the north side of the road. The yellow star-thistle (Centaurea solstitialis) is a roadside weed that produces small quarter-inch burrs. It was into starthistles and burdock that “burr boy” wandered into on September 5th. As an experiment, the Corps have cleared nearly a football field sized plot in the meadow and continuing up onto the north canyon slope. They hope to re-seed the plot with native plants and determine if the star-thistles can be abated. Over fifteen years, students in the Corps have restored over 40,000 acres of habitat and 3,300 miles of trails.

These undergraduate and future biologists, range managers, and foresters complain that while clearing the meadow, they were attacked by Western Yellowjacket wasps. The yellowjacket wasps, unlike the Bald-faced hornets whose nest is here in a tree on the south side of the road (Sept. 16th), build an almost identical paper nest underground, often in the abandoned burrows of rodents. But the door of the yellowjacket nest is at the top, and not on the side as with their tree-dwelling Bald-faced cousins. Disturbed by the clearing of the meadow, the yellowjackets came out in force to defend their home. Today, I unsuccessfully search the scoured plot for the entrance to their lair.

At the flood retention pond where the canyon road meets Bonneville Drive, the cattail grove and the surrounding tamarisk are turning brown and yellow, respectively.

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