City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

June 14, 2017

June 7th

Clicking Cicadas

4:30 p.m. This is the fifth day of ninety degree temperatures, and I go for a short jog up to milepost 0.5 and back down the Pipeline Trail. Looking at the jet stream charts at the California Regional Weather Service and National Weather Service maps for the last few days, the jet stream has broken and disconnected over much of the western and central continental United States. A large high pressure zone has disrupted spring’s conveyor belt of cooling ocean air.

Going up canyon near mile 0.4, I check one of the blue paint mosquito tree holes, and inside is a one inch beetle that is colored with Frank Lloyd Wright’s bright Cherokee red. (Later, after checking my insect guides, I am unable to identify it.) Just past the turn-off from the road to the trail, I begin to hear an odd clicking sound coming from the trees, and I stop the Gambel’s oak grove mid-way between road and Pipeline Trail. The sound is all around, but I cannot see its cause. There are also some small birds in the trees that confuse the source, but after a few minutes, I notice two or three insects on the branches that look like a large cricket but they have clear wings. These are probably annual Mountain or Canadian cicadas (Okanagana canadensis). Cicadas come into two forms: annual hatching and the more famous periodic hatching that rise from the ground once every 17 years. I cannot get close enough to identify these tree dwellers with certainty. I suspect that since they are newly hatched, their wings are still too soft to make the loud clicking sounds.

Along the Pipeline Trail, the blossom heads of Arrowleaf balsamroot plants that recently dominated the hillsides (April 29th) are all dried husks and full of seeds. The hot Sun has done more of its work. Along the road, the Western salisfy first seen a week ago (June 2nd) along the road, have exploded into a showy ball of white tufted seed.

Along the powerline, an American robin, a Lazuli bunting, a Song sparrow, and a Black-headed grosbeak, all rest in the afternoon sunlight singing loudly. There are several more buntings replying on the western hillside. Further down trail near mile 0.2, two more grosbeaks call from the oaks, and this corresponds to the position where they are heard when along the road.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 7th, 1853 he records red clover, buttercups, cinquefoil, blueberries, and huckleberries. He hears quail and sees an oven bird and a night-hawk in its nest. On June 7th, 1854, he notes large sized green berries, blueberries, and choke-cherries. He hears honey bees. He sees a yellow-winged sparrow, a night-hawk, and the first fire-flies of the season. On June 7th, 1858, he observes that wind blowing across grass silences crickets. On June 7th, 1860, white clover has bloomed and he again hears honey-bees.

* * * *

In a June 7th, 2005 letter to the editors of the Salt Lake Tribune, Chuck Tabaracci related the saving of his dog after it had been swept away in the high waters of the canyon’s stream (Salt Lake Tribune). Two women lept into the stream to save the dog and where also swept downstream. All were saved and one woman suffered hypothermia and the second a concussion. Tabaracci also noted that people walking up the road refused to help the women and eventually they were transported to LDS Hospital by ambulance. On June 7th, 1913, the Commercial Club in a report, opposed building a highway up City Creek to connect with Morgan County (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 7th, 1893, City Council President Loofbourow proposed banning all of the new bicycles from the City (Deseret Evening News). He stated that, “I would encourage a movement to send them (all the bicycles) to the head of City Creek canyon and keep them there, as they are an intolerable nuisance” (id). A June 7th, 1887 Salt Lake Herald editorial proposed a system of reservoirs in City Creek Canyon in order to solve a shortage in the City’s water supply.

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 20, 2017

May 20th

Spring Bird List

3:30 p.m. In the morning I am woken by the cawing of an American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) standing outside my window, but then I drift back off to sleep. Around noon, neighbors are buzzing over their photographs of a common Red fox (Vuplus vulpes) hunting mice in the city cemetery about one-third of a mile from my home and on the south-City side of the east-south canyon ridgeline.

In the afternoon, the cold snap of the last few days has ended and the canyon is again warming into the sixties under blue, ideal spring skies. Driving into the canyon along Bonneville Drive, the grasses have reached up to three feet high, but in the canyon they remain between one foot to eighteen inches in height. Along Bonneville Drive, young Curly dock plants rise, but there are none in the fields at mile 1.5. Arrowleaf balsamroot has noticeably disappeared from the surrounding hillsides through mile 1.5, and its yellow color has been replaced by the duller yellow of fields of Dyer’s woad. Along the first mile, where a few days ago there was a single Sticky Wild Geranium, there are now ten, and four blue penstemons are blooming. The other major blossom are the white inflorescences of chokecherry bushes or trees. Blue is the color of canyon near the stream, but at the Pleasant Valley lower field, I scan the surrounding hillsides for a hint of Arrowleaf balsamroot. There is none, only the green of the balsamroot’s wide bases surrounded by wide swaths of Dyer’s woad. A pattern repeats in the many sun-exposed small gullies that lead to the western salient’s ridgeline and below the eastern salient’s cliffs: Groves of green Gambel’s oak or Red Maple fill the damp soil or seeps along side canyon gullies, but where the side canyons begin to flare out, the dryer soils, formerly covered with balsamroot, are now covered in Dyer’s woad. At lower elevations along the western slope above the Pipeline Trail and above Bonneville Drive, some balsamroots remain in bloom, but their numbers are rapidly dwindling from their shriveling flowers.

Butterflies are recovering in the rising heat. Yesterday’s Western tiger swallowtail and Desert Elfin butterflies are joined by a few Spring Azure and White cabbage butterflies. About eight new, small and black unidentified butterflies appear. They move too fast to see any detail. Two examples of a new unidentified small black spider are on the road, and a small black ant is carrying a whole insect pupae, about eight times it size, back to its underground ant lair. Common houseflies are active on the road, and a larger Blue-eyed darner dragonfly patrols up and down the road. Along the Pipeline Trail, I flush out two Mormon crickets. Instead of red underwings (May 8th), they now flash muted orange underwings.

Where the chokecherry bushes are warmed by the sunlight, they are the buffet for the insects. The best of these is along the Pipeline Trail near mile 0.9, and the chokecherry bush is covered in about seventy bees, flies and a American Lady butterfly. The bush sits near a seep in a bend in the trail. It is in a large-tree shaded area, but a single shaft of light penetrates and warms the bush and its nearby air to fifteen degrees more than its surroundings. Another shaded chokecherry bush about fifteen feet away is ignored by these flighted insects. On the chokecherry inflorescences there are also two types of flies, one large and one small, and three types of bees, including a red-rumped worker bumble bee, wild common honey bee (Apis var.) and one of two Utah varieties of the Carpenter bee (Xylocopa californica) (Hodgson and Trina 2008). Near this seep, a tiny unidentified slug, about 1 centimeters by 3 millimeters in diameter crawls up the trail, and I help to the mud next to the seep. Three other chokecherry bushes fifty yards up from Guardhouse Gate and a full chokecherry tree at picnic site 4 are similarly covered, but to a lesser degree. These are also sunbathed.

A flock of four distant raptors circle and glide up canyon. Birds along the first 1.5 miles of road can be divided roughly into seven neighborhoods or groups: at Guardhouse Gate, at road mile 0.4, at road mile 1.0, the lower half of Pleasant Valley, mile 1.1 to 0.9 of the Pipeline Trail, the Trail between mile 0.9 and 0.5, and the Trail between mile 0.5 back to the Gate. There are more calls than yesterday, with between 5 to 10 birds in each neighborhood. By sound alone, I can pick up a few of the easiest out of a chorus of ten different songs: the Lazuli Bunting at the Gate; a Song sparrow and an American Robin near mile 0.5; a near road mile 1.0,; and a Black-chinned hummingbird flying near Trail mile 1.0. I have gathered recordings of about 40 spring birds on my smart telephone, and have begun to replay them constantly in the hopes of building a beginner’s skill for distinguishing their songs. The avian soundscape is being to make more sense to my untrained ear.

As I reach Guardhouse Gate, there is a young woman standing 50 feet from the road, half obscured by blinds made leafed branches of Gambel’s oak, and she is singing gospel and folk songs in a loud but beautiful voice. She has long-black hair, is wearing a short, summer dress of yellow printed ethnic cotton, and is illuminated by that special warm light before dusk. Several strolling couples and myself discreetly walk up to the side of the road for an impromptu concert. For a moment, my mind is momentarily transported back to my adolescence and a similar scene from 1971. After a few minutes, everyone wanders away, leaving her to practice her singing without disturbance, but grateful for a unique moment.

* * * *

The slate of spring canyon birds for this year has sufficiently filled out that a list is timely. The 54 species represented shows the diversity of bird life that is finding living niches in the canyon and making connections between its plants and insects.

List of Spring Birds in City Creek Canyon March through May, 2017 by Order and-or Family (N=54)

Orders Accipitriformes and Falconiformes – Hawks, Eagles and Falcons – Birds that Hunt Other Birds

• Bald Eagle (immature) (Haliaeetus leucocephalus).*

• Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii).

• Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos).

• Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis).

• Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus).

• Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis).

• Sharp-Shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus).

Order Anatidae – Ducks

• Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos).

Order Apodiformes – Swifts and Hummingbirds

• Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilocus alexandri).

Order Galliformes – Pheasants and Guineafowl

• California Quail (Callipepla californica).

• Chukar (Alectoris chukar).

• Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo).

Orders Piciformes and Coraciiformes – Woodpeckers and Kingfishers

• Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon).

• Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens).

• Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus).

Order Strigiformes – Owls

• Western Screech-Owl (Otus kennicottii).*

Order Passeriformes – Larger Perching Birds

Family Corvidae – Crows, Jays and Magpies

• American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos).

• Black-billed Magpie (Pica pica)

• Common Raven (Corvus corax).

• Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri).*

• Western Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica).

Order Passeriformes – Mid-sized and Smaller Perching Birds

Family Cardinalidae – Cardinals and Grosbeaks

• Black-headed Grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus).

• Lazuli Bunting (Passerina amoena).

• Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana).

Family Columbidae – Pigeons and Doves

• Eurasian-collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) (invasive).

• Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura).

Family Emberizidae – Sparrows and Buntings

• Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina).

• Dark-eyed Junco, Slate type (Junco hyemalis).*

• Green-tailed Towhee (Pipilo chlorurus).

• House Sparrow aka European Sparrow (Passer domesticus) (invasive).

• Rufous-sided Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus).

• Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia).

• Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus).

Family Fringillidae – Finches

• House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus).

• Lesser Goldfinch (Carduelis psaltria).

Family Hirundinidae – Swallows

• Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia).

• Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota).

• Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis).

• Violet-green Swallow (Tachycineta thalassina).

Family Paridae – Chickadees

• Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus).

• Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli).

Family Parulidae – Wood-Warblers

• Orange-crowned Warbler (Oreothylpis celata).

• Virginia’s Warbler (Oreothylpis virginiae).

• Yellow Warbler (Dendroica petechia).

Family Turdidae – Thrushes

• American Robin (Turdus migratorius).

• Townsend’s Solitaire (Myadestes townsendi).

Family Tyrannidae – Tyrant Flycatchers

• Dusky Flycatcher (Empidonax oberholseri).

• Olive-sided Flycatcher (Contopus cooperi).

Family Vireonidae – Vireos

• Plumbeous Vireo (Vireo plumbeus).

• Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus).

Family – Other with Family Name

• Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptilidae Polioptila caerulea).

• European Starling (Sturnidae Sturnus vulgaris) (invasive).

• Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sittidae Sitta canadensis).

• Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulidae Regulus calendula).

Sources: Cornell Lab. 2017 Ebird Observation Lists by Bryant Olsen with Joshua Hunt; Author’s Observations. * – Author only sighting claimed.

* * * *

The Wasatch Front Mountain Range has not seen a decline in the number of avian species since the Euroamerican arrival, but no opinion is expressed on any decline in the population of these birds. As noted before (March 4th), ornithologist Robert Ridgeway conducted a survey of birds in Parley’s Park at the summit of Parley’s canyon about ten miles from City Creek Canyon between June 23rd and August 16th, 1869 (Rawley, 69-79). He found 116 bird species. Comparing Ridgeway’s list with Cornell Ornithology Laboratory’s Ebird List for City Creek Canyon for 1900 through 2017 shows 149 species (Cornell Ornithology Lab. 2016, Cornell Ornithology Lab. 2017). For the years 2000 to 2017, 147 species are listed, and for 2012 to 2017, Cornell totals 143 species (id). There are some minor non-duplicates between the historical and modern lists. The Yellow-bellied sapsucker is not currently found in City Creek, and the range of other birds has changed. Birds such as sandpipers and Sandhill Cranes do not presently frequent City Creek but can still be found at the Great Salt Lake’s beaches and marshes. But essentially, the avian diversity of Ridgeway’s 1869 mountain birds is still intact at City Creek Canyon after 148 years.

That the diversity of Utah’s many migrant birds is stable is also shown by Parrish, Norvell, and Howe of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources in a multi-year study from 1992 to 2005 (Parrish et al. 2007; Norvell, Howe and Parrish 2005). Examining 202 statewide bird species over 12 years at 37 Utah sites, Parrish and colleagues found no significant trend in mean annual species richness (id, p. 27, Fig. 4).

* * * *

On May 20th, 2014, Salt Lake Fire Captain Scott Winkler reports that the City has spent $650,000 on six new firetrucks specialized from fighting fires in grass brush areas around luxury homes near Ensign Peak and in City Creek Canyon (Deseret News). On May 20th, 1903, the City Council and Mayor considered issue bonds to construct reservoirs including a 5,000,000 gallon reservoir at Pleasant Valley (Salt Lake Telegram). On May 20th, 1901, an estimated three-hundred people went up City Creek Canyon, one-thousand to Liberty Park, and three-hundred for recreation (Salt Lake Tribune). On May 20, 1896, the City council considered moving the responsibility for maintaining City Creek watershed protection to the health department and the duties of the City Creek Canyon patrolman were described (Salt Lake Tribune). There were five full-time patrolmen. Three men are employed at the lower Brick Tanks keeping the screens clear of debris. Two men are employed for 12 hours per day to service the upper high-line tank screens and to patrol the upper canyon to prevent sheep grazing. Two other men service the Twentieth ward tank and the Capitol Hill Reservoir (id). City Creek has been rip-rapped for two miles above the lower Brick Tanks. On May 20th, 1896, high spring run-off has turned City Creek into muddy water and the water is clearing (Salt Lake Herald).

May 18, 2017

May 17th

Winter Interlude

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

May 6, 2017

May 3rd

Lazuli Bunting

2:30 p.m. The first day of hot weather and the rest of the week is forecasted with increasing temperatures. For change, I go up the Pipeline Trail. Although it is only three days since the peak of Arrowleaf balsamroot, in the sun drenched fields along the trail, the balsamroot flowers are beginning to wilt. This change in season also brings the first migratory song birds. A small patch of Purple milkvetch flowers, which are usually light purple, are a dark rich purple. A set of powerlines parallels the trail, and small migrating birds like to perch on the lines for the first half-mile. The Gambel oak forest provides excellent cover, it is a favorable locations for building nests, and as the heat of summer approaches, the nearby stream provides relief and food. A male Lazuli bunting (Passerina amoena) perches on a wooden line tower; a second forages from the tallest tree; and both exchange calls with two other unseen pairs. This is sign that true spring has arrived. Two large raptors, probably Red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) float above using the cliff updrafts for power. White cabbage, Mourning cloak and Painted lady butterflies feed on dandelions that line the trial. A new bright yellow butterfly, the Common sulphur butterfly (Colias philodice eriphyle), appears. A small unidentified bee also feeds on the dandelions, and then a large black and white bumble bee circles around me. I have a difficult time making an identification, but my guides suggests the Cuckoo bumble bee (Bombus insularis).

Gambel’s oaks have leafed-out with growing two-inch leaves to about mile 0.5 along the Pipeline Trail, but then there is a curious pause. None leaf for the next 100 yards, before oak leaf-out resumes.

Today, I walk with a friend and two dogs, and in the multitude of spring scents the dogs are in constant motion on, off and around the Pipeline Trail. We are a pack of four, and in their mind, they are the leaders. The two dogs look back and aside at us lagging humans with an expression that says we surely are the most stupid of dogs. But their amicable dog nature shines through, and they each occasionally bound up to us, and their infectious enthusiasm encourages us to follow faster.

* * * *

On May 3rd, 2007, the Utah Rivers Council plans to hold a clean-up of City Creek Canyon’s stream bed (Deseret News). On May 3rd, 1994, Utah Partners in Flight plan migratory bird watching in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On May 3rd, 1919, the road into City Creek was closed for several weeks to allow for repairing the water main (Salt Lake Herald). On May 3rd, 1916, the City commission passed an ordinance for water protection in City Creek Canyon, including prohibiting dogs from running loose, discharging firearms, and speeding in automobiles (Salt Lake Telegram). On May 3rd, 1909, residents were reported enjoying City Creek and other parks during good weather (Salt Lake Tribune). On May 3rd, 1890, the Salt Lake Times, in a travel article, describes City Creek in glowing terms and poetry. On May Day, 1881, University of Deseret students went for an outing to Pleasant Valley in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald, May 3rd, 1881).

May 5, 2017

April 29th

Filed under: Arrowleaf baslamroot, Bonneville Drive — canopus56 @ 1:06 pm

The Temperature Switch

3:45 p.m. The several days of cold, near freezing, weather have ended, but the insects are almost entirely absent. I see only a one moth and hear three or four birds. Just above the intersection of Bonneville Drive and Canyon Road (below Guardhouse Gate parking lot), a flowering apple tree has just begun to drop its blooms, but at mile 1.1, an apple tree hidden to the west of picnic site 8 is just beginning to open this year’s blooms. As I drive out the upper canyon along Bonneville Drive, Arrowleaf balsamroot is at it peak. Each blasamroot is fire bowl that is reminiscent of Van Gogh’s “Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers”. I stop and count on the east side of the lower canyon, approximately four-hundred Arrowleaf balsamroot plants spilling down a hillside below five hundred feet of Bonneville Drive. This above where historical photographs document the site of an old mill, but no trace of it remains.

It is this time of year that, what I call the “temperature switch” announcing summer will turn. I usually mark my calendar around May 2nd, and this corresponds to the start of the vernal ecological season, the time in which plants regrow (February 16th). The National Weather Service forecast predicts seven days of increasing warmth, and this should restart the insects again.

* * * *

On April 29th, 1910, a fire destroyed an adobe building north of the gravel pit near what is now Memory Grove (Salt Lake Tribune). On April 29th, 1907, Catholic Bishop Scanlon led sixty children on a walk up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune).

April 26, 2017

April 21st

Biophilia – Part III – Nature Fearing Studies

External Link to Image

Collage of City Creek Wildflowers, April 2017. Source: Author. Plant names are in text.

6:00 a.m. Rain showers including sleet fell last night and through the morning. From the city floor on the westside of the valley, I have a sweeping view up City Creek Canyon and along the mouths of the six other Salt Lake County Wasatch Front canyons. The rain falls in periodic sheets and microbursts that, with the morning light, color the canyon with curtains of delicate and varied gray tones. The canyon and the front are a series of paintings that rival the old Renaissance masters and Rubens.

4:00 p.m. As the front passes, the afternoon has given way to bright sunlight, but the canyon is still empty and full of solitude. Painted lady butterflies play tag, and one follows me up the road for about fifty feet, stops and then resumes its trailing track. It repeats this behavior four times before flying off. Two mallards streak down canyon skimming just above the trees and flying directly above the road. The road is their marker. The sleet has wilted all the long new 4 inch leaves of the horsechestnut trees. The Box Elder leaves are barely effected, and the Gambel’s oaks do not notice because they remain largely in their winter slumber. The water marks on Zen Rock show the stream is six lower than maximum notwithstanding last night’s downpour.

All is green and fresh and more spring wildflowers bloom both along the road and along the Pipeline Trail: Starry solomon’s seal (Maianthemum stellatum); Golden currant (Ribes aureum); Purple milkvetch (astragalus agrestis); Arrowleaf balsamroot; (Balsamorhiza sagittata); and western pink and blue-purple Longleaf phlox (Phlox longifolia Nutt.)

* * * *

The biophillia hypothesis has a binary opposite: biophobia. And the existence of biophia also can be proof of the existence of a genetic compulsion to be in and to like nature. Biophobic responses are adverse reactions to threats from the environment like spiders or snakes. Biophobic human reactions provide more definitive results because the body’s automatic response to negative experiences is more pronounced and easier to measure. Human negative responses can also be more easily conditioned in controlled experiments. Biophopia studies involve viewing pictures of threatening predators or poisonous animals while being conditioned with mild electric shock treatments. Psychologists then measure how quickly the body forgets the conditioning. If a person takes a comparatively longer period of time to forget the electro-shock conditioning, this is taken as evidence of a genetic predisposition for enhanced awareness of threats in a natural setting, genetic biophobia, and the biophilia hypothesis. Ulrich summarized many of the biophic studies through 1984 (Ulrich 1993):

* Involuntary physical responses to adverse conditioning when viewing natural threats such as spiders and snakes are more persistent than the response to neutral geometric shapes (Ulrich, 78).

* People exhibit stronger defense reactions when observing others’ fear reaction to threatening scenes like spiders and snakes versus neutral scenes (Ulrich, 79).

* After mild electroshock conditioning, a person’s autonomic body responses to spiders subliminal images of spiders and snakes embedded in films still takes a longer time to unlearn as compared to embedded images of non-threatening settings (Ulrich, 80).

* After mild electric shock conditioning, the autonomic body responses of persons viewing open natural settings are more persistent than when viewing low depth heavily forested scenes. This is interpreted as a genetic remnant of human evolution on the African savannas (Ulrich, 82-83).

There is an irony to these experiments, or its seems as I continue jogging down canyon. Showing a genetic basis of liking nature by shocking people with electric prods as they view photographs of nature in a controlled laboratory experiment seems far removed from the clean spring air and blooming flowers of today’s canyon. But these biophobic studies do lend more weight to the proof of a genetic basis for biophillia than the indirect proof of liking studies.

* * * *

On April 21st, 2006, snowpack in upper City Creek is 200 percent of normal (Salt Lake Tribune).

April 3, 2017

April 1st

This is Not the Natural Place. – Part XIII – Present Era

2:00 p.m. Last night high winds reaching sixty miles per hour scraped the city and the canyon, but there are no additional felled branches along the road. High winds from February have already tested all the trees. At Guardhouse Gate, several broadleaf plants with green ovoid leaves have grown to almost a foot tall within the last five days. Already, a small 2 millimeter black iridescent beetle has come to take advantage of the bounty, and the leaves are pock-marked by small holes. The light green understory plants with deltoid leaves, Arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) have grown small one and one-half inch bowl shaped heads that are filled with white hair and many black stamens. They will develop into the bright yellow sunflower heads of the mature plant. Fair weather and warmth brings out a few tentative butterflies. A Mourning cloak and a Painted Lady butterfly chase one another in an upward spiral circle. A single White cabbage and a small lavender butterfly fleet along the Pipeline trail. Back on the road at mile 0.2, a four-inch butterfly with an intricate black framework that is laced with brilliant yellow panels suns itself. At the base of its wings, there are luminous small purple camouflage circles that mimic predator eyes. It is an Anise swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon), and viewed upside down, this swallowtail is reminiscent of the delicate window panes of a Gothic cathedral.

Along the high cliffs of the canyon’s first-mile west wall, two raptors soar through a clear blue sky. They rest on the east wall and return to soaring along the west escarpment as I jog down the Pipeline trail. This better, but still distant view, suggests that they are Red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis). As in February in March, I have seen few birds, but my spring 2015 observing lists records immature Bald eagles, Cooper’s hawks, Dark-Eyed Juncos, Black-billed magpies, Mallards, Mountain chickadees, Stellar’s jays, Western scrub jays, and Wild turkeys. The first day of spring also marks the return of professional and serious amateurs who make weekly visits to the canyon. Their observations are recorded at Cornell University Ornithology Laboratory’s “E-bird” list (Cornell 2016). On March 26th, local observer Brian Olsen saw or heard a extensive list of native and spring migratory visitors including Chukar, Northern flicker, Scrub jay, Black-billed magpie, Robin, Spotted towhee, Western meadowlark, House finch, House sparrow, Fox sparrow, Song sparrow, Black-capped chickadee, Turkey vulture, Golden eagle, Northern goshawk, Red-tailed hawk, and Peregrine falcon.

Along sections of the stream, mid-afternoon sunlight reflects off the boiling stream water and creates a white ribbon.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on April 1st, 1852, he hears chickadees, robins, and song sparrows. On April 1st, 1852, he sees dropped leaves from mullein plants. On April 1st, 1854, he hears tree-sparrows, bluebirds, song-sparrows, and blackbirds. White maple stamens appear and alders are about to bloom. On April 1st, 1855, grasses become greener. On April 1st, 1858, he finds a squirrel’s nest in a tree and climbs the tree to examine it.

* * * *

The fifth era of canyon utilization is present day recreation use. The floods of 1983 significantly damaged City Creek Canyon road. After making repairs, the City adopted a new master plan for the canyon that emphasized multiple recreation use and declared that:

“City Creek Canyon should serve as a valuable watershed and recreation/open space amenity of city-wide significance. These uses should take precedence over other land use alternates. . . . .”

“Preserve City Creek Canyon above Memory Grove for watershed, and limited public recreation;”

“Promote the “City Creek Park” concept for the entire canyon. Areas extending into the canyon from the formally maintained park [Memory Grove] should be maintained in their natural state, much as they are today, with only minimal improvements to enhance recreation opportunities . . .” (Salt Lake City Corp. 1986; Hooten, 31).

Although walkers, runners, and bicyclists are the present majority of users, they are separated in time from automobile use during the summers by a system of alternating use days. Hunting is permitted separated by space; rifle hunters are restricted to the upper canyon beyond picnic site 21. In 1989, the City adopted a watershed management plan that included a recommendation to add a small tax to all city water bills to fund canyon water protection (Salt Lake City Corp. 1999a). During the 2000’s, the reservoir at Pleasant Valley was decommissioned. With a steady revenue base, a system of septic tank toilets was installed and regular canyon watershed patrols were re-instituted (Personal recollection).

* * * *

On April 1st, 2009, Salt Lake City announced that over the summer it would be cutting a firebreak along the north and west ridges of City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune, April 2, 2009). On April 1st, 2008, local National Weather Service hydrologist Brian McInerney and Nobel Prize Peace co-winner Roger Pulwarty, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, exchanged views on the impact of climate change on Utah, after several inches fell on Wasatch Front Mountains, including City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). Pulwarty described Utah as an “epicenter of global warming in the United States” (id). Pulwarty noted that the IPCC Report left out predictions on changes in annual water supply runoff due to climate change (id). On April 1st, 1994, twin sisters Susan Daynes and Linda Mulkey, two marathon runners, describe their daily runs in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On April 1st, 1994, the Deseret News profiles three long-distance runners who regularly run in City Creek Canyon. April Fool’s Day fake news can sometimes get out of the author’s control and take on a life of its own. On April 1st, 1907 in a three column headline story, the Salt Lake Telegram published an incredulous story of the discovery of a lost gold mine in City Creek Canyon. Mr. George M. Gutch, an attorney, and E. V. Smith, a lumber dealer, described how while hiking near Little Twin Peaks on the City Creek-Avenues ridge that Gutch allegedly disappeared from view. He fell through an overgrown opening in the surface and into an abandoned mine. Lighting candles, he and Smith found tools left by miners from the 1800s, and after breaking into a hidden chamber, they found a rich vein of nearly pure gold ore valued at $20,000 per ton, or about $510,000 USD per ton in 2016 money. The deadpan news story ends with the line: “This is the first of April.” On April 5, 1907, the Millard County Progress reported an abbreviated version of the story as factual, and omitted the last sentence. On April 1st, 1907, daughter of prominent businessmen A. W. McCune and her chauffeur were arrested illegally driving a car in canyon water patrolmen Matthews (Salt Lake Telegram).

Blog at WordPress.com.