City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

March 23, 2017

March 23rd

Filed under: earthworm, Leopard slug, Lichen, moss, Weather — canopus56 @ 6:56 pm

This is Not the Natural Place. – Part IV – Timber Harvesting

2:30 p.m. Winter has returned for a day. Temperatures have dropped 35 degrees Fahrenheit in two days, and a combination of rain and snow has fallen continuously since this morning. All is water in the canyon. Trees and soaked and below picnic site 6, lichens on the west side of some trees puff and glow with a light-green and orange radiance. The stream runs high from melting snow runoff Although there is no snow in the lower canyon, checking the automated SNOTEL data from City Creek’s Louis Meadow station in the upper canyon eight miles away (Feb. 1st), there is 10 inches of water equivalent snow on the ground. However, the station’s data also shows that one-half of the snow pack melted in the last two weeks. At its current melting rate, the snowpack will be gone by the beginning of April – almost one month early. This will impact next summer’s wildlife, and they may be facing a severe lack of water in a few months.

The recent warm weather has woken the earthworms from their over-wintering freeze and stimulated their cocoons. Leopard slugs also woke, two are seen on the road, but today’s heavy rain has driven both the earthworms and slugs from the ground. In the first mile of the road, I count in a swath of one-quarter of road, 712 earthworms, and they are evenly distributed across the entire road. This means there about 2,800 earthworms in the first road mile. Almost all will die by the morning. They so numerous that it is impossible for bicycles and runners to avoid them, and the remaining are drowning or will finished off by tonight’s cold. Hopefully, there are more worm cocoons hibernating between the soil who will continue their good work.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 23rd, 1853, he hears a robin and records maples blooming. On March 23rd, 1855, he returns the squirrel to the wild. On March 23, 1856, he lists animals that have been exterminated in the east including cougar, panther, wolverine, wolf, bear, moose, deer, beaver, and turkey. (Excepting panther, all these animals can be in modern Utah. All but the panther, wolverine, and wolf can be found in modern have been seen in modern City Creek Canyon. Beaver are removed by the City, if found. The wolf, which has returned to western Utah, might return to City Creek in the future.) He records that snow is one foot deep. He notes that on south facing hillsides, mice have eaten sedge; a squirrel is heard; and, partridges are seen. On March 23rd, 1859, he sees two red-tailed hawks. He notes the black and brown color of the land, and he notes how during sunset, ridgelines with red birch twigs contrast with the purple of a sunset sky. He sees two goosanders.

* * * *

Twenty-eight hundred worms along one mile may seem like the entire canyon worm population, but soil researchers have found depending on type of soil, its cover, and the amount of its disturbance, there can be between 10 and 1,300 earthworms per square yard (Natural Resources Conservation Service 2001). Taking some mid-range estimates of 280 and 475 worms and worm cocoons per square yard, there may be between 1,900,000 and 3,300,000 in the 2 yards along both sides of the first mile of road (5,280 divided by 3 x 4 x 280=1.9M). But those densities were based on studies in more fecund climates, and using the lowest study value, 12 worms per square yard and doubling it, still suggests a respectable population between 84,500 and 169,000 worms along the first road mile. Earthworms can consume and turnover between 6 percent to ten percent of the topsoil each year.

* * * *

Young’s control of City Creek and the entrance at its mouth marked the first phase of canyon use and development: timber harvesting. The Deseret Evening News claimed that the first trees felled in Utah by a saw, where cut by the pioneers in City Creek Canyon using a whip saw a few days after they entered the valley on July 24th, 1847 (Deseret News, September 10, 1895). Various water-powered mills were quickly established: an adobe mill, an early wheat mill (Salt Lake Herald, Jan 1908, Bancroft, 275), the Empire Flour Mill owned by Young (Day), a threshing mill (Bancraft, 279), a grist mill for barley (Watson), a cording mill (Watson), a turning mill (Watson), an experimental silk farming and spinning building (Arrington), two Church owned Public Works factories for nail and paper production (Day), a blacksmith shop (Day), and five lumber mills in City Creek including a toll saw mill at the canyon mouth owned by Young (Day; Watson). Young constructed the Lion House and by 1853 had a wall built across from the Lion House to First Avenue that prevented access to the canyon. A photograph from the 1800s shows how Young then constructed a gate in the wall topped by a great arch (J. Willard Marriott Library, ID207887). On the apex of the arch was a large wooden eagle statute frozen in a downward gliding pose. (In the 1960s, the historical Eagle Gate Monument was installed over State Street with an iron replica of the wooden original.) The wall provided Young with monopolistic control access to canyon timber (Salt Lake Tribune, 1903, Apr 5), and in coordination with the Church Public Works Office, he used newly arrived immigrants, such as newly arrived Scotland immigrant James Livingston, to construct a road up the canyon (Watt, 65). Then, as was the custom since major road construction in the nineteenth century was privately financed, Young charged a toll for entering the canyon equal to one-third of all lumber removed (Salt Lake Tribune, April 5, 1903; Watson).

Through 1855, Young also employed persons to clear the first eight or nine miles of City Creek’s bed of dead trees and other blockages in order to increase stream flow. And on September 21, 1855, the Territorial Legislature appropriated $500 in compensation for that work. (Hooten, 12-13). That amount is worth approximately $14,500 in 2016.

* * * *

On March 23rd, 2006, the Utah Rivers Council plans a stream clean-up in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On March 23rd, 1907, runners from L.D.S. University practiced in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On March 23rd, 1898, the Utah Forestry Association urged the City Council to take some trees scheduled for planting in Liberty Park and to use them to reforest City Creek Canyon with hardwoods of all kinds (Deseret Evening News, Salt Lake Herald, March 23 and 25).

March 12, 2017

March 11th

Filed under: Birds, Colors, cut-off to trail at mile 0.6, Geology, Lichen, moss, Moth — canopus56 @ 3:23 am

City Creek’s Delta – Part II

External Link to Image

Flood sandbag river down Main Street in 1983 (left, KUTV News) and the 1906 flood where the sandbag river was sent down Third West (right, Utah State Historical Society, Utah Digital Archives, Marriott Library). Ensign Peak and the State Capitol Building are in the far background.

5:00 p.m. Again, a late run up the canyon. Since it is a Saturday night and it temperature rose into the sixties today, the parking lot is overflowing and the road is frequented by couples strolling arm-in-arm or hand-in-hand. Below picnic site 7, I look for the source of the intermittent spring on the west side of the road, and about seventy-five feet from the road, there is a small pool about 15 square feet in size and one foot deep that is the source of the rivulet seen today and yesterday. Air bubbles up the middle of the pool, and I make a note to revisit this site as spring progresses. Three moths, that move to fast to be identified, float by. At mile 1.1, I again hear a warbling twilight bird call in a gully to the west, and I decide to jog down the Pipeline Trail to see if it can be located. The bird is still unseen, but as I am going down the trail near mile 0.8, I come across a rock outcropping that previously had confused me as to whether it was volcanic breccia (January 7th). In better light and without snow, I can see that this is a sedimentary outcrop, but the rock is covered in a dark black lichen that is spotted with a second cream colored lichen with a light blue tint. The rock also has sparse moss and orange lichen colonies. The black lichen makes the rock look igneous. I jog down to the Shark Fin Rock at mile 0.5 and go down the cut-off and back to the road. The track is muddy, and amongst the many dog tracks, there is one unmistakable hoof print of a mule deer.

The first diversion of City Creek waters occurred on August 2, 1847, when fifteen members of Young’s reconnaissance party built a dam to divert the west branch of City Creek to what is now Pioneer Park at 300 South and 300 West (Hooten; Bancroft 261). First, they split the diversion into two streams on either side of their first encampment and later the first stockade (Hooten, 6-7). As previously noted, the east branch of City Creek went to 300 South and 500 East before turning back west and the Jordan River. Later, City Creek was channeled into two branches: one going west to the present Union Pacific Station and one going south to the location of the current City and County Building (Hooten, 3). On August 22nd, 1847, the pioneers named the creek “City Creek” (Hooten, 7).

When settling on a final grid design for their new city, the pioneers made a practical choice to locate their commercial center on the centerline of City Creek’s delta, but that choice left the heart of the city vulnerable to future flooding. The natural parabolic curve of City Creek’s delta lent itself to gravity feeding water to flat lands to the east and west of the delta. This left the north-south line along the delta itself as the obvious choice for the new city’s administrative and commercial center. This was a reasonable decision. Many cities in the east were laid out on either side of waterways that in the east provided both transportation and water power. Through the central district, City Creek was re-channeled down First East Street, now State Street, and the pioneers quickly moved to establish a water-powered adobe mill to build their first homes and grain (grist) mills along the City Creek. They built four water-powered lumber mills in the canyon to supply wood for constructing homes (Day; Watson). However, because of the pioneer’s eastern United States’ bias (Feb. 6th), they did not appreciate how City Creek was subject to highly variable flows and extreme flow events. In the 1850s, initial colonists were of the opinion that the arid Utah valleys were free from flooding (Honker 1994 at 21) and that their resource harvesting activities would not increase flooding (Park). That the pioneers perceived the landscape as arid with little rain or snow is evidence by their choice to build their initial fort with flat roofs, which promptly leaked the following spring (Bancroft, 277).

But their understandable impression of the potential for flooding was incorrect, and new research suggests that much larger flood events in City Creek can occur. In 2014, when Bekker et al reconstructed Utah extreme weather events back to 1492 from tree rings (Feb. 9th), they estimated the number of extreme floods as wells as extreme droughts. Although drought was far more prevalent since 1500 as compared to the modern era after 1850, those droughts also have been punctuated by years of extreme precipitation. Most Utahans will remember the flood of 1983 and the winter of 1993 as peak wet years. Those years did not make the list of Bekker et al’s 5th percentile wettest years since 1492. In the 1900s, 1907 and 1965 were more severe (Bekker et al, Table 3). Since 1500, there have been twenty-two years with more extreme precipitation than 1983. It is these extreme wet events that pose a hazard to City Creek’s delta and the business district.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 11th, 1854, he hears four types of bird songs: bluebirds, song-sparrows, chickadees, and blackbirds. Where snow has melted, he sees the dens of mice. On March 11, 1855, he sees bleached pine needles. On March 11, 1860, he finds a woodchuck burrow. He is approached by two red squirrels. On March 11, 1861, he examines willow seeds. (The willow has a tiny air-dispersed seed suspended below a white cotton tuft.)

On March 11th, 1905, two prisoners in the chain gang working on City Creek road escaped (Salt Lake Tribune).

February 22, 2017

February 22nd

Tree Trunks

4:00 p.m. This a year of extremes: on February 21st, the temperature was sixty-six degrees and yesterday and last night and today, after raining for almost ten hours, the temperature has dropped to thirty-three degrees Fahrenheit. As I enter the canyon, it is snowing, but this is light snow that turns to water when it touches any physical object. The high ridgelines and Pleasant Valley are covered in snow dust, perhaps one-eight of an inch thick, but it will not last. This is the second sign of the coming spring now one month away: The battle between spring overtaking winter (September 22nd) has begun. There are other signs. At Guardhouse Gate, I see my first, fat and healthy Rock squirrel of the season. It runs across the road and is busily inspecting bushes for fresh buds. The constant rain has driven three earthworms on to the road, even though temperatures are freezing. High on the ridgeline near mile 1.1, I see my first mule deer in over a week. Even at this distance, it is skittish; it tentatively comes out of a copse, feeds, and then retreats for cover.

The lichens and mosses are the most responsive to the hours of light rain. Everywhere the orange, yellow and green colors of lichen and mosses have deepened, and a few trees become vibrant flames amongst winter’s brown, grey and white. Black cankers on tree branches that normally turn to dust when touched have become plump, fat and solid with water. It is the time of year for the simplest organisms, for the earliest life.

Tree trunks have so many varieties of forms. Above picnic site 6, some trees are like brothers and sisters. The trunks of two 4 inch diameter immature river birches intertwine in a playful embrace, and they spring from a common root. Next to the River birch, are three immature Box Elder trunks that also rise from the same root. These stand tall and vertical like two brothers. At and down-canyon of picnic site 6, large Mountain cottonwoods have large bulbous galls on their lower trunks, and this is evidence of old attacks by insects, bacteria, and fungi. Other trees in the lower canyon have partially or completely succumbed to age and disease. At picnic site 6, an ancient tree has been broken off to about four feet above the ground and spilt in half. The remnant remaining in the earth is pock marked with with trails and caves of insects that reminds me of the cave houses carved out of volcanic tufa in Cappadocia in Turkey. In the lower canyon, still half-alive cottonwoods have had much of their bark stripped away, and underneath the xylem and heartwood has taken on a sinuous, smooth, yellow texture like human skin. At Pleasant Valley and at picnic sites 9, 7, and 2, dead cottonwood snags are bleached grey-white. Where large trunk stubs are near the road, erosion has exposed their subsurface tap roots, and this reveals a tangle of gnarls that remind of Eastern paintings of nature. An example is below the Red Bridge.

Traveling down-canyon, a familiar pattern appears in the River birches, Box elder and Mountain cottonwood trees that line the stream. Multiple, large, mature trunks sprout from a single root, and at the base, numerous suckers rise. For these trees, the mixture of angled mature trunks and smaller shoots gives the impression of a circular fan opening or a fountain of water rising. In this respect, trees are simply a larger, woody version of the brome grass bunches in Pleasant Valley, further up canyon. I realize that my impression of trees as organisms that are born, grow, have a middle age, and the die is mistaken. Angled older branches grow and fall away, and this gives the young shoots an opportunity to grow and replace them. But both originate from the same tap root, from the same genetic material. In this sense, most of the trees in the lower canyon that surround the stream possess a form of immortality. My misconception of the lives of these trees is the result of my biased exposure to shade trees in the city. Those trees mimic the cultured form of an English oak forest. There, trees are manicured and husbanded as individuals by their human farmers. Those trees do experience an individual birth, a middle age, and a death. But the English form of a forest is only one classical European choice, and here in the canyon, the stream trees pass their lives in a cycle and not along linear time.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on February 22nd, 1856, he observes the first insects of spring crawling over snow.

On February 22nd, 1910, the City Council debated whether to lease a second gravel pit in lower City Creek (Deseret Evening News). On February 22nd, 1894, an attorney sought permission from the City to hunt a mountain lion in City Creek Canyon. Permission was granted and the hunter took a cougar (Salt Lake Herald).

February 4, 2017

February 4th

Filed under: Common stonefly, Lichen, moss, Weather — canopus56 @ 5:39 pm

Moss Microhabitat

1:30 p.m. By the evening of yesterday’s cross-quarter day, the temperature increased to almost 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and this afternoon is almost reaches 50 degrees. The air has cleared, and the effect is immediate. Driving into the canyon along Bonneville Drive, there are about thirty strollers and in the lower canyon, another thirty people within the first mile. From January 28th to February 1st, after milepost 1.0, I had the canyon to myself. On the canyon’s sun exposed west wall, snow is gone up the ridgeline, and in the canyon bottom, the snow bank is not melting, it is condensing in place. But the stream is running only two inches higher, and from this I conclude that the melt water is being absorbed by the earth. Three small Early brown stoneflies are on the road, they are the first insects seen since January 8th, and in the relatively cold air, they fly only for short hops of a few feet.

Over the last view days, as the sun first slowly, then rapidly, melted four to six inches of snow laying on angled branches (Jan. 23rd), mosses appear from underneath the whiteness. This emphasizes the distribution of tree mosses that I have suspected for sometime: mosses like the wettest side of the tree, which in the first canyon mile is on the east and north east side of larger trees with crenulated bark. In Utah, the fiercest Sun comes in the afternoon from the southwest. The largest trees provide the most shade on their northeast and west sides. The large trees with angled branches between forty-five and sixty degrees in rise and whose bark has deep crenulatations retain the largest amount of snow. As this snow melts, theses trees create a favorable microhabitat for the moss, and this is where moss grows in profusion. The west and south of those trees favor a bright orange lichen. In cooler, shaded upper canyon beyond mile 4.5, the mosses express no preference; they grow on any side of a tree or rock.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on February 4th, 1852, he smells the scent of pine needles during a thaw. On February 4th, 1858, he finds some wild rosemary, picks its leaves, and makes of tea from it.

On February 4th, 1996, Truville Development continued construction of a new luxury home subdivision below Ensign Peak (Salt Lake Tribune). On February 4th, 1993, City Engineer Kelsey recommends various improvements to the City Creek channel and to build a 5,000,000 gallon reservoir at Pleasant Valley (Salt Lake Telegram).

December 21, 2016

December 20th

The Canyon at Rest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 21, 2016

November 21st

The Oaks put on Green Coats

Noon. It has been raining overnight and this morning, but the air remains warm. Usually, I associate moss on the trees with thick mats that adhere to the north sides of pines in the upper canyon beyond milepost 5.0. During the summer, except for stream side, there is not enough moisture in the air to support either moss or lichens. But the lower canyon today proves my impressions wrong. The sides of the trunks of Gambel’s oaks and horizontal branches have become soaked with snow melt and rain water. Trunks which had previously been a uniform grey, now are covered in the green of mosses and lichens. One some oaks, the lichen has a light green color that is luminescent against the dark tree trunk. Just beyond milepost 1.5, the interior of a copse of Gambel’s oak reveals, now that its leaves are gone, a large horizontal branch that is covered with thick mat of moss. The summer leaves provided a protected moist environment against the harsh mid-year sun. From along Bonneville drive up to mile 2.0, all of the Gambel’s oaks have come alive with green trunks.

At mile 0.4, a three inch long Leopard slug, also known as the Great grey slug, (Limax maximus) is slowly inches its way across the road. The last third of the grey body near the head is covered with large black blotches, hence the “leopard” name. This is another invasive species, originally from Europe. The rain has wetted the road, and this allows the slug to migrate across this summer barrier.

At Guardhouse Gate, today’s single insect, is a miniature unidentified spider hanging from the guardhouse’s community posting board. While picking up trash left from a beer party at Guardhouse Gate picnic area, I notice what appears to be a House wren (Troglodytes aedon) hiding at the base of a dogwood tree next to the stream. This identification must be wrong. The Rock wren is out of season and it is in the wrong habitat. At mile 1.1, a single Black-billed magpie hides in the center of an oak copse.

A bow-hunter walking up the road informs me that mule deer browse inside the Gambel’s oak copses for acorns. They do not eat the dry grass in the meadow, but they will graze on the green shoots at each grass clump’s base.

November 9, 2016

November 9th

Filed under: Gambel's Oak, gnats, Insects, moss, Plants, Variegated Meadowhawks — canopus56 @ 6:09 pm

Ghosts in the Canyon

9:30 a.m. As I run up-canyon, the morning cold is still on the road. Coming down canyon, the Sun hits the road in the lower canyon and a few gnats have begun to rise. Gnats, small non-biting flies, live off the moss that grows profusely in the stream and rotting vegetation at its banks. In the afternoons, there are still one or two Variegated Meadowhawk dragonflies, but they are not enough to keep the gnats down. In this season’s colder weather, gnats like to stay in the warming sunlight. On November 4th at 5:00 p.m., backlit by the sun’s rays, I estimated that there between 200 and 300 gnats near Guardhouse Gate. On October 31st, while running down canyon at milepost 1.5, the line of the setting sun was above 20 feet above the road. There were no gnats at the level of the road in shadow, but looking up into the backlit sunlight, I estimated about 100 gnats were following the rising sunline. Like Gambel’s oak acorns, the prolific gnats are another base of the canyon’s food chain. They are food for dragonflies and birds.

There are many now little-used names for groups of animals, e.g. a gaggle of geese on the ground, a skein of geese in flight, or a murder of crows. A flock of gnats is called a ghost. It is an apt name. A flock of gnats in the canyon are not bothersome. One can walk or run through one without noticing them, unless one of hundreds happens to fall into your mouth, but flocks of hundreds of gnats visually appear and disappear like ghosts depending on their back-lighting.

In “Four Seasons” on this date, Barnes describes finding a sunflower in bloom in City Creek. (id. Nov. 9th).

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