City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

May 29, 2017

May 28th

It is enough. This is the Right [Natural] Place – Part VI – Future Population Growth

5:30 p.m. I have misjudged the reopening of the road; it has opened to traffic today, but only a few cars come through the gate even though it is a beautiful blue-skied day. The road will also be open to cars tomorrow, Memorial Day. From the gate to mile 0.2, Warbling vireos sing, and I get a Black-headed grosbeak to respond to my playing of bird song audio recordings. When I return down canyon an hour later, a female Yellow warbler is at the top of what I now calling “Perching Tree”. The Perching tree is below picnic site one; it is about 40 feet tall; but the last 15 feet of its vertical branches are bare. Various birds like to perch there in the warm evening sunlight (May 19th, Lazuli bunting; May 23rd, Western tanager). The perch gives the birds a clear view of the surrounding landscape, and although it exposes them to attack from the hawks above, the bare branches prevent other birds from approaching unseen from below. Near picnic site 3, a Chirping sparrow, a Song sparrow and a House finch are heard.

In this lowest part of the first mile road, the blossoms of red ozier dogwoods and chokecherry shrubs are failing or are closed. The leafless ovaries are swelled and pregnant. At picnic site 3, blossoms on one dogwood are three-quarters gone and the remaining one-quarter is mobbed by a one-hundred nectar drinking 1-2 millimeter flies. But further up canyon at mile 0.7, the red ozier dogwoods are still in full bloom. As with the chokecherry, the pregnant ovaries have swelled in preparation for seed making. At the seep around the bend from picnic site 6, a cattail has grown to six feet high. Near the Red Bridge, a Box Elder tree is festooned with this season’s new catkins, full of seeds. Near mile 1.1, Wild geraniums are smaller than those found lower at mile 0.2, and there is a strain of white, not purple, colored blossoms at this higher and drier site.

Near mile 0.4, there is a small grove of new horsetails whose top buds are fully expanded. These horsetails appear different from the predominate variety in the canyon. They are larger in diameter and light, instead of dark green in color. When I tap one with my finger, it gives off small clouds of dense white spores. That horsetails give off spores means that they reproduce asexually and not sexually through seeds. Other horsetails in the canyon do not have these new season buds. Horsetails are primitive plants that originated in the Devoian period about 400 million years ago.

At the tunnel seep below picnic site 6, there is a small brown butterfly with a black pattern along its leading wingtips. It is a Sleepy duskywing (Erynnis brizo burgessi). About eight others are spread out along the first mile. At mile 1.1, they are joined by a single Yellow swallowtail butterflies and a lone Red-rumped central bumble bee. Near mile 0.6, a diarrhetic bird was laid a series of thick spots on center of the road, and a Stink bug is busily cleaning up one by feeding.

Near mile 1.1, eight unidentified large raptors are circling about 300 feet overhead and around the meadows on the south-east Salt Lake salient. They are too high for identification. They are black from above, have a black body with dark tails, but their trailing underwings are a dirty white with black leading edges. The beak is not raven or crow-like. That they are flying high is good, for I hear loud chirping coming from underneath the shelter of a nearby low plant whose broad leafs are about 12 by 18 inches wide. It is a mallard chick. As newborns, mallard chicks look like their mothers. They have a brown back and a brown eye-strip across a light brown-yellow face, but their breast feathers are a lighter yellow. This chick appears lost. It clutch-mates are not near as it moves from underneath its hide and pathetically sits in the open. The chick sees me as a large parental figure and wants me to help. As I regrettably leave, I can only hope that its mother is gathering food in the nearby in the stream and that she will return before a predator finds her young. I also hope by leaving that the chick’s protective instincts will reassert itself, and the young bird will return to wait quietly underneath its leafy hiding place.

After some research at home, I find that my “raptors” are not raptors after all. They are Turkey vultures. Turkey vultures eat only carrion and not eat live prey. The mallard chick was safe from them. This is a beginner bird identification mistake.

* * * *

On April 6th and 7th, I alluded to how the Mormons have many important choices to make regarding the canyons of Salt Lake valley, including City Creek Canyon. Many of these will be population driven. On the one hand, Mormon Utah has a propensity to have large families, and this creates high pressures for rapid development, and that might lead to increased demand for developing water, the evaporation of the Great Salt Lake (May 27th), and decline of bird populations (May 26th). Other meta- or mega-trends suggest an opposite course. Although the Earth is on a path to add 3 billion more persons and to reach by 2050 a global population of between 8.5 and 13 billion persons with a mean forecast of about 10 billion persons. A mega-trend for all developed countries and developing countries except Africa is that the total fertility rate has declined below the sub-fertility replacement threshold (United Nations 2015). This includes China, the United States, the Russian Federation, Japan, and Germany. This means that their populations will decline in the future and that future populations will age and that and capitalism, which has been rooted in ever expanding markets, must adapt to negative yields. Early effects of this are seen in Japan, which elected to not permit the importation of foreign workers, and that decision was one cause of Japan’s stagnant economic growth since the 1990s. Capital, fearing Japan’s negative growth population structure and hence negative yield outlook, has been flowing out of the country. The United States and the European Union responded differently by, in the case of the United States allowing massive illegal immigration, and in case of the European Union by having large legal guest worker programs.

In the United States, Utah is an exception due its Mormon heritage. In 2014, Utah’s total fertility rate is 2.33, or about 0.5 higher than the national average of 1.86 (Perlich 2016). But even Utah’s rate continues to decline as rapidly as the nation’s, and in the near future even Utah may drop below replacement fertility of 2.1.

These general population trends for the global, for the United States, for Utah and the canyon suggests several alternative long-term outcomes for recreation use in City Creek and the other Salt Lake valley canyons. The trend also has implications for public support for their continued preservation as a natural areas. In one scenario, the global population continues towards the 10 billion forecast and Utah’s population continues to age. As Utah has more older citizens, they will be less able or interested to take long weekend journeys for outdoor recreation. They will become more interested in preserving areas like City Creek and the other Salt Lake valley canyons in order to have an adequate supply of nearby outdoor recreation opportunities. Second, the United States could embark on a massive immigration program in order to sustain the historical population increases on which modern capitalism demands in order to maintain positive investment yields. In that case, continued population growth will fuel the demand for more water in the Bear River Basin and more land development in the nearby canyons. Third, population trends could move towards the high end the United Nations’ forecast of 13 billion persons by 2050. The result in Utah would be the same as in second scenario.

Faced with such uncertainty, government could decide to either make plans with definite functional objectives on the state of the future environment or make, what I call “non-plan” plans. In a non-plan plan, governments merely state that they meet their minimum legal obligations, e.g. – constraints imposed by the Endangered Species Act – and that the governmental entity will study issues as the baseline state of the social, economic or physical environment changes. Most of the governmental plans previously discussed, such as the 2013 Utah Department of Natural Resources Great Salt Lake Management Plan or the recent draft Salt Lake County Resource Management Plan fall into the “non-plan” plan category (Salt Lake County 2017). The other approach is to define functional objectives or desired states, and the 1986 Salt Lake City Master Plan for City Creek is an example, e.g. – the City will operate the canyon as a natural area. A consequence of ambiguous plans is that clear signals are not sent to stakeholders, and the price of such plans is that instead of having stability, citizens must remain vigilant against never-ending attempts by better funded development interests to revisit previously settled matters (April 28th).

* * * *

On May 28th, 2010, the City announces that it will close City Creek Canyon while helicopters spray the herbicide Milestone on the Starthistle infestation at City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). (From 2011 to 2017, the City will hand spray Milestone on selected small areas of about 20 acres.) On May 28th, 2008, Samuel Stewart announced that he would host President George Bush at his home overlooking City Creek Canyon in order to raise funds for John McCain’s presidential race (Salt Lake Tribune). On May 28th, 1881, the Union Pacific and the United States will survey City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). The Union Pacific owns a federal land grant of twenty-miles of land on either side of the railroad in Morgan County interspersed with Forest Service sections, which includes parts of City Creek (Salt Lake Tribune).

May 13, 2017

May 11th

Giant Crane Flies

6:30 p.m. Starry solomon’s seal has grown several inches in the last week, and now before twilight, numerous of these plants open their blossoms. At the seep below picnic site 6 (May 6th), six stick-like Giant Western Crane flies (Holorusia rubiginosa). They look like a cross between dragonflies and giant mosquitoes with long extended three inch abdomens, but like the Black-tailed bee fly, are “off” – they have only two transparent wings. Four are smaller, but the two larger are engaged in mating. They facing away from each other, and join at that the rear of their abdomens. Sometimes they can be seen in this ritual dance while flying. Their larvae feed on algae, and the female deposits her larvae in mud, similar to the boggy soil at this seep. Sadly, they live only a few days, and their elongated, spear-like proboscis is suitable for only sipping the small amounts of water and nectar needed to keep it alive for that short period.

The cattail grove, that was removed here last autumn, has begun to regenerate. A small cattail patch has reached almost three feet in height. Below picnic site 2, the year’s first blue penstemon (also called foothill beardtongue) (Penstemon heterophyllus). Penstemons are usually confined to the high meadows of the Wasatch Front Mountain Range, and there at the height of summer below the tallest peaks, great fields of blue can be found. This single explorer is a welcomed reminder of the high mountains.

Near picnic site 1, I stop and listen for bird songs, and tracking one back find a bright male red and yellow Western tanager perched on the highest dead branch of a tree. The bottom of the tree is in twilight, and the tanager enjoys the last yellow rays of setting sunlight.

At Guardhouse Gate, the circular class=”sigil_index_marker” title=”Orb weaver spider” orb weaver spider web is gone (May 7th). Orb weaver’s rebuild their webs each day, but a tangled, chaotic web has taken its place. No spider is present, but the form of the web suggests it was constructed by a house spider.

* * * *

On May 11, 1896, the Salt Lake Tribune cryptically reports that the dry bench (Avenues) farmers “are getting the best of it this year”, and this probably reports a wet spring. That year, 1896, was a flood year, and this year, 2017, is also wet. The hillsides above the Avenues and that surround the canyon are now covered in deep green grass.

May 5, 2017

April 30th

Butterfly recovery

3:00 p.m. It is overcast but warm in another weekend day, the parking is overflowing and there are over one-hundred persons on the first-mile of road. Hiking down the road is a bearded hunter-type wearing camouflage fatigues and strapped to his backpack at two whitened deer antlers. He has been collecting, motivated that a market that can bring one-hundred dollars for their best high-point discards. But more usually, the price four dollars for average samples. The first young one-foot tall cattails reappear at the seep below picnic site 6. Last year’s grove is rebuilding (October 25th). A mallard is resting in the flood retention pond, unperturbed by four anglers casting around it. In the first mile, I hear eight unseen chickadees in the thickets. The call of an unseen hummingbird is heard.

Butterflies are recovering from the cold weather, and I glimpse five types of small butterfly with a wingspan of less than one and one-half inches that is feeding near a red-rumped worker bumble bee. They are fast and this makes identification difficult. One is a dusky orange with small black wing spots and a black thorax, perhaps a Zerene fritillary. Another is a uniform light blue. The third is light blue with widely-spaced blue-veins on its wings, probably a Western blue-tailed (Evere amyntula). The fourth is the same, but the veins are closely-spaced, possibly a Spring Azure (Celastrina ladonecho). The fifth has the same molted brown pattern as the light-decomposing leaf layer on the ground. I notice it because a small black ant is dragging one of the wings away, that is twelve times its size, back to its nest. That the ant has chosen this prize illustrates the importance of protein to the ant colony’s development.

* * * *

On April 30th, 2006, the City continues to develop its proposal to create a 1.5 mile above ground greenway that would receive City Creek’s flow and “daylight” channel the creek above-ground from 45 South 700 West to the Jordan River (Salt Lake Tribune). On April 30, 2005, a Primary Children’s Hospital Patient ties a “wish note” on a tree to be planted in City Creek Canyon (Deseret News). On April 30th, 1996, the Salt Lake Tribune rates the Bonneville Shoreline Trail to City Creek Canyon the third best mountain bike ride in Utah. On April 30th, 1943, all travel into City Creek Canyon and north of Thirteenth Avenue was banned due to drought and extreme fire hazard (Salt Lake Telegram). On April 30th, 1899, the Social Wheel Club planned a bicycle outing up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald). Club plans for a 100-mile ride in June are discussed.

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.

October 25, 2016

October 25th

Filed under: Cattails, Milk Weed, picnic site 6, Unidentified — canopus56 @ 7:58 pm

A Cat’s Tale

5:15 p.m. Today, a Tuesday, has been a warm, almost summer, day with clear skies. On the canyon road, there are about twenty-five walkers and runners, but only two cars with hunters. At milepost 1.5 and looking south, the foreground trees and background trees on the slope are all grey, with only four exceptions. Nonetheless, against the deepening turquoise sky, the leafless Pleasant Valley has its own appeal.

Jogging up canyon, I pass a small marsh below picnic site 6 on the west side of the road. The two stands of common cattails (Typha latifolia L.) in the canyon have almost turned completely brown. Some green remains at their bases. The first stand fills the flood retention pond where City Creek Canyon Road intersects Bonneville Drive. There the cattails are over six feet tall and are capped by foot long spikes. The second is a small stand of four plants in a small seep marsh where the road bends just south of picnic site 6. The few cattails here stand in here against two unidentified shrubs: the leaves of one are deep purple, and the other a dark wine red.

In the 1980s and 1990s, this used to be one of my favorite places in the lower canyons. This mini-marsh was thick with cattails, but in the early 2000s, a City front loader came in, scoured the ground clean, and removed the cattail grove. The City may have been concerned that the marsh was retaining too much water, and the water would seep underneath, the water would freeze and then destroy the road with winter heave. Now, fifteen years later, a few cattails have found their way back into the marsh, along with, Utah milkweed Utah milkweed, a less dramatic version of the common Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa), and a large grove of western poison ivy. Birds have probably carried the seeds the approximately seven-tenths of a mile between the flood retention pond at the canyon’s mouth and the seep. In another ten years, I hope to see the full cattail grove restored.

The common cattail is a world-spanning plant. University of New Mexico botanist H. D. Harrington, in his classic book “Edible Plants of the Rocky Mountains”, describes the many ways this edible plant can be used. The early shoots can be eaten raw and added to salads; the early tubular flower stalks can be boiled; pollen can be shaken from the mature flower tubes and the pollen is used as a flour; and, the mature roots can be leeched and then boiled like potatoes. The root tuber has such a high starch content that it causes illness if eaten without preparation. The tuber needs to be chopped and leeched of part of its starch, which leaves enough starch behind that cattail root is similar to a potato. And as noted here previously, cattail groves provide shelter and a hunting ground favored by hummingbirds (August 1st). After finishing today’s jog at the flood retention pond, I try to pull a cattail out of the marsh bottom. It breaks near the surface but brings out part of the root tuber. The tuber is a reflective, bright white, and the white appears similar to the children’s paste which is also made almost entirely of starch. I will have to return with a shovel in order to extract one.

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.

September 21, 2016

September 10th

Filed under: Birds, Cattails, Crow, Duck, Gambel's Oak, Light, Plants — canopus56 @ 1:11 am

Cattail Refuge

Noon. The canyon is closed today until 5 p.m. The City is finishing cleaning out two flood retention ponds at mile 3.1. The ponds were full of thickets of cattails. These trap sediments and purified the water. In past years, I’ve seen both geese and ducks resting in the ponds during their spring migration. This spring one duck remained and raised a small brood for about 2 months. A bulldozer has scrapped the ponds clean to mathematical precision. The cattail thickets are piled in a heap at one end. Trucks are coming to remove the debris. The cattails should reestablish themselves in a couple of years and the ponds will again become a refuge for birds.

I get a head start on the official reopening of the canyon at 5 p.m. by jogging up the pipeline trail, and I am rewarded by having the canyon to myself, except for one other regular runner, a nurse-mathematican. At mile 1.8, a single crow, sits on top of a telephone pole squawking loudly. The jog out is in solitude and through warm sunlight that is dappled by the overhanging Gambel oaks.

September 20, 2016

August 31st

Peak Production

6:30 p.m. The canyon has passed its peak productivity. In the first two miles of the canyon, all the red fruit of a chokecherry bush (Prunus virginiana L.) has ripened to a dark purple. Box elder trees (Acer negundo L.) hang heavy with their helicopter seed pods. The white fruit of an unidentified berry bush extrudes vanilla smelling juice when squeezed. All thistles have bloomed into hairy grey tufts. Gambel’s oaks are dropping numerous acorns on the road. green crabapple trees, planted by the pioneers every third of a mile, are ripening fruit. Horsechestnut trees (Aesculus hippocastanum L.) are full of their green spiked seeds. Where is City Creek Canyon Road intersects Bonneville Drive, the mud flat in the stormwater pond is filled with 8 foot tall cattails (Typha latifolia L.) that are beginning to bloom. Along the pipeline trail, only one or two small birds are heard.

At meadows, grasses and weeds are parched varying shades of tan to dark brown. At one seep near mile 1.3, trees at its top are green and healthy while at the bottom all the water has been taken from the ground and the manzanita bushes (Arctostaphylos manzanita P.) are shriveled. Even for healthy Gambel’s oaks and cottonwood trees (Populus angustifolia James or Mountain Cottonwood), the unrelenting sun has burnt leaves on the top branches a curled brown. To escape the heat, the Box Elder trees on west facing slopes are turning their autumn pale red and light brown. But box elders with an adequate water supply on the canyon bottoms are still green.

Producers having peaked, the reducers now take over. In the scrub oak forest and in the meadows, crickets have multiplied. In the first two miles, I see five adolescent squirrels and hear another five scurrying through the brush. They have begun gathering and storing acorns for the coming winter.


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