City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

January 16, 2017

January 15th

River Birch Rivendell

(Originally October 20th) 3:30 p.m. Rivendell was the mythical land of the elfin in Tolken’s “Lord of the Rings.” The canyon’s Rivendell is a short stretch of stream located about 100 feet along a trail at the end of the picnic site 11. There the stream runs slow, flat and wide across moss laden rocks. The stream banks is covered in dense scouring rush horsetails and is surrounded by ten to fifteen river birches with green and yellow leaves. The trail runs parallel to and about 20 feet north of the stream. The trail is overhung by less water tolerant Rocky Mountain maples with bright red leaves. The trail itself is covered in a patchwork of fallen Red Maple and yellow River Birch and Box Elder leaves. Shafts of low-angle afternoon sunlight pierce through the upper branches of trees and illuminate parts of the stream. Black-Hooded Chickadees flit between nearby branches.

From this canyon Rivendell, the trail winds parallel to the road through moves groves of horsetails until it opens into the northeast end of Pleasant Valley.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 15th, he again sees numerous fleas on top of winter snow. On January 16th, 1857, he describes how a winter sparrow’s song lifts his spirits, and he sees tracks of mice on top of winter snow.

On January 15th, 1926, the University Hiking Club announced a planned hike to the top of Black Mountain and then to slide down over the snow in City Creek (Utah Daily Chronicle).

December 7, 2016

December 7th

Speckled Snow

1:30 p.m. December 2nd, 2016. Back on December 2nd, I am doing a very slow jog in order to closely scan the trees for birds’ nests. This is a good time of year to look for nests: the trees have lost all of their leaves and the low angle of the afternoon Fall sunlight brings out details that might otherwise be missed. I plan a survey route. I have on December 1st, I jogged the pipeline trail parallel to the road between guardhouse gate and Pleasant Valley at mile 1.2. Today, I will jog through the snow covered dirt road and trail along the south side of the canyon between mile 1.2 and the end of Pleasant Valley at mile 1.7, then up the road to mile 2.2, and then back down the road along the pipeline trail that parallels the road on the north side back to mile 1.2. I will end up with another close look at the road between mile 1.2 and the gate.

Jogging along the dirt road and trail between mile 1.2 and 1.7 is hard going because the road is covered in six inches of snow, but it is rewarding. Overnight temperatures have dropped into the teens, and as a result, the surface of fresh snow is covered in the beginnings of surface hoarfrost. The hoar crystals are only between one or three millimeters in size, and this surface reflects the sun in hundreds of thousands of speckled flashes. Although the Moon is new, this same effect is spectacular under a full Moon.

The snow records the movements of unseen birds and mammals. I can easily follow how the deer have come down from the south canyon wall (November 25th), crossed the canyon floor, and started up towards their winter critical grazing fields on the north canyon ridgeline. The movements of smaller mammals that I have seen previous years are also revealed. A hair’s tracks cross the trail and climb up a slope towards the road, but is stopped by a thicket, reverses, comes back down, and then succeeds in its climb by an alternative route. Further on, the tracks of a fox are found and are distinguished by the clear imprints of its small claws. A small, very light bird has landed on the snow and barely made an imprint. It hopped once, turned to the left, and then took off again.

This small half-mile stretch of fresh hoar covered snow is a trivial and faint reminder of experiences in the high Wasatch Front Mountain Range where tracks of such snow can be found for one or two miles. Backcountry skiers hunt for this snow on slopes that drop a thousand feet or more. It has a unique sound and feel. It does crackle or crunch underfoot; it compacts with a distinct hollow thump, but still provides a firm foundation for both foot and thinner alpine backcountry ski. It provides support underneath but yields as if it were airs as one glides through it on skis.

Near the stream, I find river birches that show that spiders are still active despite the cold weather. A sunlit branch has three or four distinct spider threads along it, and since threads only last a day or so, they must have been laid after the recent snow storm. I search for some time, but I am unable to find the spider that laid them. I regain the paved road near mile 1.7.

Returning down canyon through Pleasant Valley, the south facing canyon slopes have lost their snow. Dried tan meadow grasses look like they have been combed by the hand of the wind.

After running the snow covered trails and through the cold shaded lower canyon, I am chilled but happy. Time for a hot shower at home, for a nap, and then for a relaxed and contented evening.

October 28, 2016

October 28th

Filed under: Colors, picnic site 11, Weather — canopus56 @ 6:35 pm

Rain Colors

4:30 p.m. A cold front with light rain followed yesterday’s warm high-wind. This has brought out different colors on the southern canyon slope between mile 1.1 and mile 1.5, and the canyon looks much different from when the trees, grasses and ground are dry. Previously, the slope was more of a uniform brown and grey, but with water, more patches of color appear. Open areas become the light brown of dry grasses mixes with green. The maple trees lighten, not from leaves turning, but from the existing leaves on the trees lightening. On that south slope, large groves of maples whose leaves have not detached are more easily seen. The south slope must be shielded somehow from strong winds. All the maples on the canyon floor have been stripped clean.

Today is a Friday that includes the Halloween weekend, and there is major sports game tonight. The canyon is almost empty except for 5 walkers and runners, and no hunters in cars. I have the canyon to myself in solitude.

October 21, 2016

October 21st

Smart Trout

1:30 p.m. At the water striders’ pool at picnic site 5 (Sept. 12th), I see the first brown trout in the canyon for over a month. The light filtering through the trees brings out the molted spotting on its upper skin. This trout hides in the pool under a branch that dips across the pool’s middle. I remain motionless for a minute and in reply it station-keeps with one eye gazing at me. When I make a sudden move by taking one quick step the right, the trout frantically swims under a stream-cut overhang that is covered by dense foliage. It has excellent eyesight even through the water’s surface. In one corner of the pool is a single water strider, and these are what the trout has been feeding on. Later, the trout is joined by two smaller companions.

Today, the yellow tube of falling leaves (Oct. 11th) is over and temperatures have risen into the sixties. The predominate colors between mile 0.0. and mile 2.0 is brown and grey. Like the last sunflower (October 14th), this is another marker of seasonal Fall change. Because of the temperature, insects have again become active, but I count only thirty on the road, including possibly two Yellow-head bumble bees with black rumps, a Variegated Meadowhawk dragonfly, a large unidentified blue dragonfly, and, in the box at picnic site 11, a sole European Paper Wasp (see Oct. 11th). These rare late season insects are now more visually striking; they provide the only accents of bright colors now that the leaves have fallen. Crickets are still heard in meadows and forest undergrowth and some have come to die on the road. At picnic site 12, a woodpecker can be heard but not seen. Common woodpeckers in the canyon that drum on trees are the Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) and the Northern Flicker.

Together, they will swim upstream to join their mates at a shallow fifteen by twenty foot pool below an outdated flood gate at mile 2.8. A regulatory “no fishing” sign on the sluice box protects them from humans. During the winter, ten or fifteen trout can be found there, resting in water so cold that it would kill a person in two or three minutes.The next marker of the seasons, as winter storms reappear at the beginning of November and December, will be season’s end for the flying insects, season’s end of the crickets, and the falling of the last remaining leaves during a heavy snow storm.

October 14, 2016

October 14th

The Last Sunflower

4:30 p.m. As the canyon opens up at mile 1.2 into Pleasant Valley, the character of the meadow has changed. The yellow tube of leaves below this point has extended up into the meadow. The Gambel’s oaks have all turned a rich dark golden brown, and the are set off by accents of a few bright red maples that remain. All this sits in a sea of light brown meadow grass. Green is only an after-thought. Some new growth of grass is in the meadow. Some green tamarisk (genus Tamarix) hugs a seep at picnic site 11. At picnic site 12, there are two now out-of-place dark green pine trees.

In the Pleasant Valley across from picnic site 11, the last sunflower of hundreds remains in bloom. All others have already died and turned brown, or if still yellow, they are shriveled. The last one in full bloom is at the north-east corner of the gas pipeline check value.

On the south-side of the road, hidden in the trees, a flock of Black-Hooded Chickadees can be heard playing.

October 9, 2016

October 9th

Filed under: European Paper Wasp, mosquitoes, picnic site 11, Variegated Meadowhawks — canopus56 @ 7:08 pm

Wasp Shock

8:30 a.m. Along the road, taxpayers provide free plastic bags for visitors to pickup their dog’s droppings; however, the dispensers purchased by the City do not work well. The rolls of bags frequently bind up inside the housing. At picnic site 11, I pop the lid to the dispenser in order to free the roll. Today, it is empty except for two plastic bag rolls and a small beginnings of the fan shaped nest of the European Paper Wasp (Polistes dominula).

The afternoon of the day following the last storm (October 6th), I also walk up to dispenser, and as usual the plastic bag roll will not feed out of its slit. I open dispenser’s lid to free the roll, and its top half (10 in. x 12 in. by 4 in.) is filled with about 100 bright-yellow European Paper Wasps. As I jump back in alarm, the lid drops open, and all of the wasps spill out into a pile at the base of the dispenser. A few remain within the dispenser and they cling to the plastic rolls. I brace for an en masse stinging, but the European paper wasp is not particularly aggressive, and the colony has been stunned into docility by the intense overnight cold. They crawl around on the plastic rolls and on the ground while staring at me vacantly. The face of the European paper wasp is similar to their relatives, the Bald-Faced hornets, who have a nest a quarter-mile down canyon. For the European paper wasp, the lines in their face where exoskeleton plates meet are colored yellow and not white as in the Bald-Faced hornet.

I checked back an hour later. The colony, including all the wasps clumped on the ground, have flown off. They have decided that building a nest in a moving plastic roll was not a good idea.

Human make micro-habitats, and, if possible, a parcel’s original plants and animals readily adapt to those changes. The wasp using a plastic bag dispenser is an example, and the holding tank public toilet around the corner from the dispenser at picnic site 11 is another. Mosquitoes are not a significant nuisance in the summer canyon; numerous insect and bird predators, like Variegated Meadowhawk dragonflies, keep them in check. This morning, inside the toilet at picnic site 11, humans have created an ideal micro-habitat for mosquitoes, and the walls of the toilet are covered in about one-hundred “no-see-ums”. They have a ready source of water in which to breed; they are protected from the predators outside by the toilet’s walls, and heat from decaying matter in the holding tank provides a source of warmth.

But on this cold morning, these mosquitoes, like the paper wasps, can do little more than weakly flail about on the walls. None can warm themselves sufficient to fly, and thus, I am able to take care of my morning business unmolested.

Across from picnic site 11 is the gas pipeline check value. Here and along the road, several hundred bright-yellow roadside sunflowers could be found at the height of the summer. Now, only two live yellow blooms remain.

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