City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

May 18, 2017

May 16th

Filed under: Ants, Millipede, Pill bug, Snag tree, Stink Bug, Stream — canopus56 @ 9:30 pm

Insect Home

4:30 p.m. It is overcast again and temperatures have dropped into the high fifties due to a rare front moving in from the northwest. About twenty song birds continue to clump at the Guardhouse Gate, near picnic site 4, and in Pleasant Valley. Although the flood retention pond is down by two feet, the stream continues to flow near its maximum. At picnic site 8, I stop to take a comparative photograph of the stream. In the winter (December 20th), the surface of the stream froze to a milky white stone. Now at this same location, it is a rushing, undulating mass of force and chaos. But in its chaotic motion, there is regularity. The stream rises and falls in standing waves about eight feet apart. Where the stream is confined and flows greatest, these waves begin to break back upstream. More velocity results in a tumbling jumble of splashing white water.

Walking back to the road from the stream side, I notice a decayed, fallen log about eight inches in diameter. It’s pitted surface, marked by boring insects, is a kaleidoscope of colors: tan, dark brown, dark red, Frank Lloyd Wright’s favored Cherokee red-orange, blacks, greys and tints of blue-lichens. I kick the log to break it apart, and as it splits, insects scurry and run for cover deeper within its rotting depths. The log is inhabited by three insects that I regularly pass on the road. First are the Carpenter ants. Second are common pill bugs. Finally, there is a small, brown 1 millimeter diameter unidentified millipede. Underneath the log, there is two or three inches of fine sawdust. Further down canyon, I pull apart a larger 14 inch diameter rotted log. Inside a stink bug is startled and runs into a crevice. The few of these insects that I see on the road are migrants from parent colonies in fallen logs that line the road.

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In an article of first impression, Comiti and Lenzi of the University of Padova studied the physics of standing waves in mountain streams (Comiti and Lenzi 2016). Standing waves have long been known to form in larger rivers, such as the ten foot high waves of the “Silver Dragon” in Qiantang River, China, and those waves have been well studied. Standing waves do not occur because the stream bed is carved into similar undulations, and the surface water simply rises and falls in response to that lower, hidden surface. The dunes beneath the stream’s surface are an effect, and not the cause of the bed’s undulations. Standing waves form when part of the surface of the river moving upstream and not downstream. The interference of the two motions generates an oscillation that takes of the form of a stationary wave. Comiti and Lenzi built artificial mountain streams and studied how the standing waves scour the stream bed into slowly upstream moving anti-dunes.

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On May 16th, 2003, the Deseret News features photograph of joggers in City Creek Canyon. On May 16th, 1936, City Commissioner George D. Kesyer warned residents to keep their children away from City Creek Canyon stream during spring run-off (Salt Lake Telegram).

March 8, 2017

March 8th

It is enough. This is the Right [Natural] Place – First Peoples Contact – Part VI

1:30 p.m. True pre-spring has set in, and temperatures rise to the sixties. On the remaining snow around the stream and road, I count about thirty stoneflies, one early butterfly or moth, a spider, and one red-orange ladybug. Curiously, several snags along the road have orange paint marks on their trees. From milepost 1.5, looking down canyon, I hear the screech and see a raptor circling over mile 1.0. It is probably the Red-tailed hawk seen yesterday. Returning down canyon at the Red Bridge and mile 0.9, an out-of-place silhouette on a tree high on the ridgeline catches my eye, and pulling out the monocular, I see the raptor pruning itself in the warming sun. Further down-canyon, the orange paint is explained. A crew from the City is cutting down any snags adjacent to and that lean towards the road. Last year in the March or April of 2016, there was a great windstorm that caused the watershed patrol to close and hurriedly evacuate everyone from the canyon as several trees came down across the road. I ran through the storm and was bemused by the evacuation order. The probability of a runner or walker being struck by a falling tree was astronomical, but out of politeness and respect to the officer, I left the canyon. Last year’s storm was probably the impetus for today’s felling of the snags.

First contact did not go well for the First Peoples. As previously noted, on the evening of Young’s first day in the valley, July 24th, 1847, a group of 12 to 15 members of Ute Chief Wanship’s band from Salt Lake valley and his brother Little Wolf’s group from Utah valley greeted the new immigrants (Little, 100). Although bread was exchanged and attempts at communication were made (Little), a member of the Utah valley band jumped a colonist horse and sped off. Chief Wanship dispatched a posse, a chase ensued, and the result of which the two band members were killed about three or four miles south of present day Pioneer Park (Little, 100). A familiar pattern of Euro-American colonization followed. First Peoples taught the colonists how to dig for roots and tubers that sustained the colonists through their first winter (Nov. 30th), and the colonists provided or traded blankets to the First Peoples and at times First Peoples captured colonists and vice versa. Having no immunity to western diseases, the First Peoples in the valley succumbed to measles during the fall of 1847 (Bancroft; Gottfredson, 24; Conetah, 37). As previously noted (March 1st), in December 1848, the colonists, being agriculturalists, systematically killed all predator wildlife in the valley (Bancroft, 287 ftn. 287), and presumably, they also quickly consumed all the deer and buffalo. First Peoples then sought recompense in the form of payments in cattle, and as Utah’s Euro-American population continue to explode, Ute members in the face of hunger from dwindling wildlife, resorted to cattle theft (Duncan, 188; Conetah, 38; Covington, 56).

War ensued. Both a 1978 article, historian Howard A. Christy of Brigham Young University Press and a 2008 a book by Standford historian Jared Farmer extensively researched this slide into hostilities (Christy; Farmer). In March 1849 when Ute foodstuffs would have been at their lowest, a forty-five man posse was sent to Utah Lake to retrieve stolen cattle. On March 3, 1849, thirty-five Utah militia men were again sent to Utah Lake with orders to put a “final end to their (the Ute group’s) depredations in future” (Christy, 220). Four braves were killed and the remaining Ute women and children were returned to Salt Lake City. In early January 1850, again when the First Peoples would be at their lowest in available food, settlers in Utah Valley killed a Ute for alleged cattle stealing (Christy, 223). The band, seeking justice, threatened to attack settlements. In January, fifty or sixty head of cattle had been stolen around Utah Lake (Covington, 51-52; Christy, 222-223). On January 31, 1850, in Salt Lake, according to an account by a pioneer in attendance at a meeting to address the issue on file in Brigham Young University Archives, Brigham Young was quoted as stating,

“I say go [and] kill them. . . . Tell . . . to go and kill them . . . let the women and children live if they behave themselves. . . . We have no peace until the men [are] killed off—never treat the Indian as your equal.” (Christy, 224, ftn. 30).

On January 31st, Utah Militia General Daniel H. Wells, also in attendance at the meeting, issued “Special Order No. 2” to Capt. George D. Grant, dispatching a company of the militia to Utah Valley:

“You are hereby ordered . . . to cooperate with the inhabitants of said [Utah] Valley in quelling and staying the operations of all hostile Indians and otherwise act, as the circumstances may require, exterminating such, as do not separate themselves from their hostile clans, and sue for peace” (Christy, 224).

At another meeting on February 10th, 1850, Young explained that, “[W]e were cold [told] three years ago, if we don’t kill those Lake Utes, they will kill us . . .” (Christy, 225)

The effect of the January 31st meeting was that Brigham Young had caused to be issued an “extermination order” against the Tumpanawach band (Conetah, 38). “Extermination order” is a phrase that in the 1840s and 1850s had a various meanings. The Mormons themselves had been the subject of an “extermination order” by Missouri’s Governor in the 1840s, that led to the Mormon’s decision to seek a refuge in the unoccupied lands of the United States (Sillitoe, 44-45). In the United States Indian removal era of the 1820s to the 1840s, an “extermination order” also referred to the removal or driving out of peoples from a region (Merriam-Webster Dictionary), and it did not have the same overtones of genocide and ethnic cleansing that the phrase has come to mean after the Wanersee Conference of World War II and the Bosnian crisis of the 1990s. However, Young’s directive to kill places the order of 1850 in the latter category.

General Wells, later Mayor of Salt Lake City, led the militia troops, accompanied by surgeon James Blake and Lieutenant Gunnison of Captain Stansbury’s survey expedition (Farmer). The Stansbury expedition happened to be in Salt Lake City at the time. In ensuing running battles on February 4th (Covington, 51), and February 8th through the 13th, 1850 between the Provo River and sixty miles west to Table Mountain, Utah, General Wells reported killing between 43 and 48 male warriors (Christy, 225; Farmer). Farmer, who has compiled the best account of this conflict, estimates Ute deaths at approximately 100 (id). At Table Mountain, the remaining Utes, including women and children, were massacred on a frozen lake (Farmer, 71-78). First, some women and children were captured, and then using them as hostages, the militia induced the braves to surrender. The militia then executed the men in front of their wives and children, and as the mothers and children fled, they were shot down in the back (id). After the massacre, army surgeon Blake decapitated some of the warrior’s bodies, possibly for medical research purposes (Christy, 226; Farmer). Fifteen to twenty women and children were returned to Fort Utah for distribution into settler families (Christy, 225; Covington, 51 quoting Gunnison, 147). Later in 1850, the State of Deseret legislature made plans to petition the U.S. Congress to remove all members of the Ute Nation from Utah to California, Wyoming or Idaho (Christy).

In 1853, “Walker’s War”, that is Wakara’s War, broke out in which many Ute warriors were killed, and Ute opposition to colonization was decisively defeated militarily by the colonist’s Nauvoo Legion (Conetah, 38-39; Sillitoe, 45; Duncan, 188; Simmons, 91-94). Although this history is barbaric by modern human rights standards, this pattern is no different from what occurred throughout the West during the Manifest Destiny era (see Brown).

Due to urbanization, there is little archaeological record of the Ute’s habitation of Utah (Jennings 1978), the Salt Lake Valley or City Creek Canyon. By 2010, the tribal census of the Northern Ute Nation, which only includes Utes with fifty-percent or more of native blood, enumerated about 3,100 persons out of a total First Peoples’ population from all tribes of 11,870 (Office of the Secretary) and compared to 20,000 for all Utah First Peoples in 1847 (McPherson, 20).

The Northern Ute Tribe still holds its annual gathering of about 100 members, reminiscent of their historical Utah Valley summer harvest festival. In the early 1900s, they met in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald, July 21, 1903), but they now hold their annual harvest festival in Salt Lake City’s Liberty Park at a summer “Living Traditions” festival. While the City has never issued a reconciliation apology to the Northern Utes for the Table Mountain Massacre, the colorful dance costumes of the Utes are used to promote the City as a place of diversity (Salt Lake City 2016b, 24).

The level of the Ute hunter-gathering population in 1847 also supports the view of the Salt Lake valley as being abundant in grasses and wildlife. In conclusion, historical evidence indicates that prior to the Euro-American colonization of 1847, the Salt Lake Valley was an ecologically productive, lush environment by western United States standards. Hints of that pre-colonization condition can still be seen in the canyon today. In City Creek Canyon, the open fields between milepost 2.0 and mile 2.3, are the best representative habitat of what the valley looked like prior to 1847.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 8th, 1853, he notes melting snow has created rivulets of running water. On March 8th, 1854, he finds that the red leaves of mountain cranberry are in bloom. On March 8th, 1855, he finds skunk-cabbage in bloom. On March 8th, 1857, he sees his first hawk of the season. On March 8th, 1860, he sees a flock of grackles. Thoreau notes that mosses and lichens grow in all seasons including winter. Grasses and other plants also continue to grow during winter.

On March 8th, 1904, a new Republican administration takes office at City Hall and vetoes the salaries of several city employees, including Joseph Pugsley, City Creek patrolman (Salt Lake Tribune).

December 8, 2016

December 9th

Counting Nests

8:00 a.m. On December 8th, I completed an inventory of nests in the first two miles of the canyon done on December 1st through the 7th, and the results are not what I expected. I had thought that small birds would prefer to nest away from the road and expected to find more nests along the trails, but they predominantly nest close to the road and stream. I count thirty-nine nests in the first two miles. For insect nests, two are Paper wasp nests and six are Bald-faced Hornet nests. The remaining thirty-one are birds’ nests. Of the thirty-one bird nests: nine are delicately woven bag nests for small birds such as hummingbirds; four are hanging and finely woven grass nests suitable for small and medium sized birds; one is a cliff stick nest of the falcon pair; five are snag nests in drilled into hollow cavities of snag or dead tree trunks; and the remainder are circular or platform twig nests.

All but one falcon nest is along or adjacent to the paved road. Initially, I thought that there would be many small bird nests along the Pipeline trail in the scrub oaks, but there are none. Checking the trail a second time, I realize that the Gambel’s oaks on this west side of the canyon would be too hot in late May and early June for fledglings. Birds are nesting in the coolest part of the canyon, next to water. Mountain chickadees and Black-hooded chickadees both use snags for nesting and do not build twig nests (Hutto, p. 34-35).

There are many snags, i.e. – dead trees, in the first two miles of the canyon. In addition to the chickadees, the Hairy woodpecker (Picoides villosus) and the Northern flicker rely on snags for shelter and nesting (Hutto 34-35, Werstack, 49-50). At picnic site 7, a good example is in a 40 feet vertical snag on the other side of the creek. At its top is a tear shaped excavation that indicates there is a nest in the hollowed out tree. It is possibly the primary or secondary nest of the Northern flicker seen in this area. A second snag at the up canyon end of picnic site 9 has many smaller holes drilled in it, and these may be suitable for chickadee nesting. Birds prefer snag trunks between 10 inches to 14 inches for making a hollowed-out tree nest. In 2016, Werstack et al estimated that there are 149 million snags in Utah suitable for bird nesting, but I estimate that there are probably about 20 to 30 suitable snags in the first two miles of the canyon.

Where the Pipeline Trail skirts the based of cliffs on north side of the road near mile 1.0, a Peregrine falcon pair has a large stick nest. The nest is perched on a rock ledge about 300 feet from the trial. It cannot be accessed either from above or below by predators, and it is only faintly visible with the naked-eye. Binocular or a monocular magnification is needed to see any detail. Although the nest is currently empty, from April to June, I watched the pair and fledglings almost every day. Not in this survey, but seen last year, is a large circular stick nest in the top of an eighty foot fir tree near mile 2.4. That nest was occupied by a breeding pair of Cooper’s Hawks.

Goodfellow and Hansell describe the architectural skill that birds use to construct the many woven grass and smaller twig nests. When making hanging-basket grass or circular twig nests, some birds will use a hook technique similar to Velcro. As noted on September 5th, the design of Velcro was inspired by the burrs of the burdock plant. Birds also mimic the burdock burr. They choose twigs with small hooks near the ends or twist grasses to make hooks and as they weave a twig into the nest, they secure the twig by hooking the end around an earlier placed twig.

My instinct is that there are too few nests for the volume of birds seen during the March to May nesting season, but my bird count data suggests the number is about right. My birding log between March 2015 and May 2015 of last year (Fisher 2015) shows 166 bird sightings. Given that these involve resighting the same birds multiple times, 39 nests is reasonable. During the winter and spring, small Black-hooded chickadees, Mountain chickadees and Stellar Jays are the most prevalent bird in the canyon. Other birding logs made by Tracey Aviary professionals are stored at the Cornell University’s Ornithology Laboratory’s eBird database for the “Bonneville/City Creek” observing area (Cornell 2016). Are there and where are any missing birds’ nests?

Hornets were far more common than I had previously thought. A nest down canyon of picnic site 6 is notable. The late afternoon Sun makes it glow. It is twice the size of a basketball, and it precariously sits intertwined with the smallest upper branches at the top of a 100 foot tall Rocky Mountain cottonwood. The nest sways back and forth in the wind, but it is the most secure of the five hornet nests in the lower canyon. Although I see and photograph this nest

These hornet nests provide another link in the food chain. The hornets drink nectar and eat other smaller insects. In turn, hornets are the another food source for the many small birds seen in the spring in the first canyon mile.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on December 9th, 1855, he visually observes his first owl in ten years, having only their heard their calls during that period.

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