City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

July 12, 2017

July 10th

Field on a Slope

7:30 p.m. To see other areas where the Cheat grass sea has not yet penetrated, I am jogging up canyon to milepost 2.0. I am also seeking one of the few canyon locations that has a field of cacti. Along the way at the Gambel’s oak forest near mile 0.4, a female American goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) drops out from behind the leaves, perches on a large oak branch. It cocks its head, listening to the branch, and then starts tapping it, looking it for insects.

Barney’s Hollow below picnic site 13 begins with fields that climb up to mile 2.3. The fields at milepost 2.0 like the Bonneville Shoreline Nature Preserve are covered with still green native Wild bunchgrass. There are four types of grass in this field, and I am only able to identify the one. The field is interspersed with white-topped weed Hoary cress and Mullein (Verbascum thapsus). At one end of the field, I find the first purple Fireweed (Charmerion angustifolium L.) of the season in the lower canyon. In the high Wasatch, fireweed is usually red.

Above mile 2.3, there is a hanging field of about 15 acres and an inclined nose of about 20 acres on the west side of the canyon. In the spring, the hanging field is covered in thick Kentucky bluegrass and the inclined field above it is covered in native Wild bunchgrass. It is a special place in the canyon below mile 3.4. In the deep winter, Elk using these fields as a transit point to cross the canyon road from Little Black Mountain to the western salient ridgelines. During winter, Wild turkeys also congregate in the oaks below these fields, sometimes in flocks of up to thirty birds, and there winter coyotes attack. They pause in these fields, and there hunters wait during the October and November seasons. Mule deer use this same crossing in the spring. Reaching the hanging field is moderately difficult. The hanging field is hidden behind a step two hundred foot embankment cut by the stream over the last few thousand years. The slope is covered with Cheat grass.

Moving up to mile 2.3, I decide to try a new route up from one of many side gullies along the Pipeline Trail. In a gully heavily shaded by large overhanging oaks, the grass is thick. About every fifteen feet are funnel webs of another non-native – Hobo spiders (Eratigena agrestis). At the bottom of each funnel, there is tunnel, but I have to inspect about 20 nests before I actually see one of the spiders at the mouth of its burrow. It is unclear from the webs what the Hobo spiders are eating, and I suspect their numbers are supported by large House crickets population seen on July 6th. But there are no crickets in the grasses in this small gully.

Eventually, I come to a small seep-pond about four feet in diameter and two feet deep. Western Yellowjacket wasps rest on the surface drinking, and in the wet mud at the side of the pond is the clear massive foot print of a Shira’s moose (Alces alcs shirasi). In the late spring to early summer, single moose are sometimes seen on making their way through the oak forest near the ridgelines or in open fields on the top of Salt Lake salient’s west and east ridges. Shortly after the pond, I am stopped from going forward by thickets of Gambel’s oaks, and am forced to retreat back to the trail and try again by my usual route.

Returning to the trail and going down-canyon for a two-tenths of mile, I work my way up to the hanging valley by the usual route. The field is still thick with green native grasses, but the its soil reveals its source as the ancient mud bed of ancient Lake Bonneville. This slope faces to the south and west, and despite being covered in still growing green grasses, the mud is baked to a cracked solid. Everywhere the tracks of spring mule deer have been hardened into a grey mudstone. The large leaves of spring’s Arrowleaf balsamroot are baked to a golden and dark brown. Like the gully, these fields are also covered in numerous Hobo spider funnel webs. Although covered in native grasses, these fields just beginning to be invaded. I count fourteen Starthistle plants spread widely across both areas. Above the hanging and inclined fields of native grass is a field of Plains prickly pear cactus (Opuntia polyacantha). It is too late in the season for them; their bright red blossoms have past; and the green is draining from their spiked leaves.

As the Sun gets low in the sky, the light turns golden as the grasses wave in a newly risen breeze. A flock of five American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) float over the ridge to the west, slowly circle and descend into woods at Barney’s Hollow on the opposite, south side of the stream. They are settling down for the night. Crows are distinguished from Common ravens (Corvus corax) by their smaller size and square tails. Ravens have diamond-shaped tails and soar on thermals to cross the canyon, but crows flap their wings to power their crossing. Before landing, one crow comes over to inspect me, and finding nothing interesting catches up with its mates.

Coming back downhill, there are several odd three foot diameter distorted purple rocks. They are covered in green and black lichens. The rocks and lichens make their own abstract sculptures.

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Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on July 10th, 1851, he admires a sunset after a rainstorm. On July 10th, 1852, he notes again the peak of summer heat, and notes that soil has become dry. He sees white lelilot, a clover, in bloom, and he hears huckleberry bird, oven bird and red-eye. St. John’s worts are peaking. On July 10th 1854, he lists song birds active in summer including robin, warbling vireo, song sparrow, flicker, crows, and many others. On July 10, 1856, he finds an owl’s burrow and comes within six feet of a screech owl with its two young. On July 10th, 1860, he sees yellow Pennsylvania sedge grass.

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On July 10th, 2010, a 59 year old man, who enjoyed bicycling in City Creek Canyon, passed away (Deseret News). On July 10th, 2003, during the celebration of the Boy Scouts 90th anniversary in Utah, the Scouts reported that Irwin Clawson, at the age of 18, started one of the first Boy Scout Troops in Utah in 1911, and his first activity back in 1911 was to take his troop on overnight camping trips up City Creek Canyon (Deseret News).

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July 11, 2017

July 6th

Dry Fork Canyon

3:45 p.m. It is the third day of 100 degree Fahrenheit heat as I return to the Bonneville Shoreline Trail behind the University of Utah Hospital. I plan to jog up Dry Fork Canyon at the southeast end of the Salt Lake salient and then west along the Shoreline Trail above the Avenues. The Trails goes up Dry Fork for about one mile, crosses a pass, and then traverses a series of gullies that come down from the ridgeline to the Avenues and city below. The Trail begins in a invasive Cheat grass sea that is typical of the city’s foothills. Here, small light brown House crickets (Acheta domestica), another non-native, infest the Cheat grass. There are twenty or thirty per square yard. I round a corner into Dry Fork Canyon, and quickly its narrow walls close in and shade the canyon. The Fork’s walls are covered in dense Gambel’s oak forest, and this forest broken higher up by fields of the brown sun-dried husks of Arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata). In an example of color adaptation, at the base of the oaks, larger, unidentified grasshoppers live, but unlike the sun-exposed crickets, these are colored green in order to better blend in with their surroundings.

At a seep one-third of a mile up canyon, there is a mini-oasis. In ten feet with Wood’s rose bushes on either side, Common sulphur butterflies, Western tiger swallowtail butterflies, small bluet dragonflies, Common whitetail dragonflies, Western Yellowjacket wasps, and Circumpolar bluets, all compete for space and landing rights around a small ditch of shallow water.

Further up canyon, the oak forest comes alive with sounds of birds: Black-headed grosbeaks, Lazuli buntings and Song sparrows call from the oaks spaced perhaps 100 feet apart on both canyon walls. Their songs are clear and strong, and I estimate there are about 250 birds between the canyon mouth and the upper pass. Unexpectedly, this density exceeds that of the stream areas in City Creek Canyon. The birds here, unlike in the City Creek Canyon, are fearless. I am able to stand only five feet from a Lazuli bunting as it tilts its head back to make a song. I am able to make a good recording and spectral graph. I flush two California quails (Callipepla californica) from the brush.

House crickets may explain the high density of birds in Dry Fork Canyon, where as the name implies, there is no water. Assuming a cricket weighs about one-quarter gram (0.000551 lbs), then there are about 85 tons of cricket mass on the city facing foothills between Dry Fork Canyon and the peak at the top of North Terrace Hills Drive in Valley View Canyon (see June 10th) (3,097,600 square yards per square mile x 4 miles x 1.25 miles x 20 cricket per square yard x 0.000551 lbs. per cricket divided by 2,000 lbs. per ton). The crickets exist at a similar density for another ten square miles between Memory Grove in lower City Creek Canyon and milepost 3.5 above Bonneville Drive. This suggests that there may be about 300 tons of these non-native crickets, and this is more than enough to support the summer bird populations seen in Dry Fork and City Creek Canyon.

As the canyon dries out, purple Bull thistles (Cirsium vulgare) covered with small black ants, a blue-white thin-petaled Eaton’s aster (Aster eatonii a.k.a. Symphyotrichum eatonii), and invasive blue Chicory (Cichorium intybus L.) grow. The roots of Chicory are roasted and ground to make chicory coffee. The white-topped weed Hoary cress (Cardaria draba) is also found.

As I near the upper Trail pass out of Dry Fork, I count two Broad-tailed hummingbirds, and just before the pass, I am treated to a rare display by a pair of Black-chinned hummingbirds (Archilochus alexandri). The male has trapped a female hummingbird at the base of Gambel’s oak sapling. For several minutes the male does its pendulum mating dance. It rapidly flies back and forth in a figure-eight pattern about six feet across, its wings buzzing loudly. Then the male gives up, and he does two high speed runs over the female while making a zinging noise. At the pass out of Dry Fork, I am greeted by expansive views of the city and of the Great Salt Lake, fifteen miles in the distance. The Sun is pounding, but my spirit soars from both the views and the hummingbird’s display.

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Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on July 6th, 1851, he walks by moonlight and again sees it reflected in water. He notes crickets sing with a different frequency at night. On July 6th, 1852, he hears a pewee and a red-eye. He sees tufted vetch, a fern, a tansey, and a parsnip. He watches a pickerel in a stream. He hears a duck on a pond. On July 6th, 1856, he stumbles on a peet-weet with its nest and young. On July 6th, 1858, he hears and sees loons. On July 6th, 1859, he describes heart-leaf.

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On July 6th, 1905, the City passed Councilperson’s Woods proposed ordinance banned automobiles from City Creek Canyon. On the same day, the Salt Lake Tribune urged that the road should be sprinkled with oil to keep dust down. Also on July 6th, 1905, the City Council held a heated debate on whether a bridge should be constructed over City Creek Road in support of the Commercial Club’s proposed scenic boulevard (Salt Lake Tribune).

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