City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

October 14, 2016

October 14th

The Last Sunflower

4:30 p.m. As the canyon opens up at mile 1.2 into Pleasant Valley, the character of the meadow has changed. The yellow tube of leaves below this point has extended up into the meadow. The Gambel’s oaks have all turned a rich dark golden brown, and the are set off by accents of a few bright red maples that remain. All this sits in a sea of light brown meadow grass. Green is only an after-thought. Some new growth of grass is in the meadow. Some green tamarisk (genus Tamarix) hugs a seep at picnic site 11. At picnic site 12, there are two now out-of-place dark green pine trees.

In the Pleasant Valley across from picnic site 11, the last sunflower of hundreds remains in bloom. All others have already died and turned brown, or if still yellow, they are shriveled. The last one in full bloom is at the north-east corner of the gas pipeline check value.

On the south-side of the road, hidden in the trees, a flock of Black-Hooded Chickadees can be heard playing.


September 28, 2016

September 28th

Filed under: Insects, Meadow Mile 1.3, People, Places, Pleasant Valley, Sunflower, Uncategorized, Wasp — canopus56 @ 8:00 pm

Iridescent Wasps

2:00 p.m. The last of the sunflowers in Pleasant Valley are giving out, and a just a few remain at the natural gas check-value in Pleasant Valley at mile 1.3 across from picnic site 11. I check them for pollinators. One is surrounded by a swarm of about 10 micro wasps. They are less than one-quarter of an inch long and are steely dark blue green. Their thoraxes and heads are iridescent, and their wings are brown-black. They are definitely not flys, as they have discernible stingers. They are not the same micro-wasps seen back on August 9th. Those had yellow banding on their thoraxes while these are completely black. I am unable to identify these wasps, nor have I seen them before in the canyon.

In the canyon on this warm fall afternoon, there are two groups, lead by graduate teaching assistants, of university biology seniors studying plant systematics (University of Utah BIO 5435). They carefully go through each plant along the roadside and discuss its scientific name. These are the real current and future experts on classifying life in the canyon.

Late in the evening, another storm front moves in, and a cold rain falls.

September 21, 2016

September 17th

Dark Pollen

6:00 p.m.  The sunflowers have almost completely given out at the Pleasant Valley meadow at mile 1.3. Only a few remain in bloom around a natural gas pipeline cutoff switch in the meadow.  With cooler temperatures, before dusk there is only a single bumblebee still foraging these roadside flowers. What little pollen remains is dark orange, and the bumblebee carries two large side pollen pods that are also dark orange. The major pollinators of these last few sunflowers are the small quarter inch wasps first seen on August 9th.

September 16th

Filed under: Colors, Dragonfly, Insects, Maple tree, Meadow Mile 1.3, Moth, Places, Sunflower, wasps, Weather — canopus56 @ 1:26 am

Shriveled Sunflower

5:30 p.m. It has been two days with overnight temperatures in the forties. At meadow at mile 1.3, the roadside sunflowers have shriveled and fallen over. Only a small patch that contains a few blooms remain. But the crickets and the dragonflies have withstood the low overnight temperatures. During the first two miles, there about 200 dragonflies, but only two or three butterflies and moths. At mile 1.2, I notice for the first time, an eight inch diameter wasp nest that is still active, and it is the home of the jet black wasps seen on September 9th. The nest is only 25 feet from the road, and assuming it was built in back in June, I have been unknowingly running past it for about three months.

The low temperatures and moisture have triggered a few late-turning, small maples. I count only 8 maples in the first 2 miles that have turned a fiery red-orange, and these welcome accents of color brighten this year’s otherwise muted annual leaf display.

September 20, 2016

August 12th

Filed under: Insects, Plants, Red-Rumped Bumblee Bee, Sunflower — canopus56 @ 10:51 pm

Rotating Sunflowers

5 p.m. A recent article in Science magazine (Aug. 4) notes that young sunflowers track the Sun but that adults sunflowers face east. The authors speculate that juvenile sunflowers track the sun in order to maximize photosynthesis and their growth rate. They generate movement by deferentially adding new cells to one or the other side of the stem. In contrast, adult sunflowers face east and do not track the Sun in order to maximize shade for their pollinating insects. At mile 1.25 in the canyon, there is a row of roadside weed sunflowers. The afternoon Sun is in the southwest. I count the blossoms and all but one is pointing to the northwest or northeast. Only one bloom out of 20 points southwest towards the Sun. The blooms facing away from the Sun are covered with bumblebees. The same can be seen along 6th Avenue between F and H Streets where two homes have sunflowers in their front yards.

August 9th

Filed under: Insects, Plants, Sunflower, wasps — canopus56 @ 10:48 pm


4 p.m. At the line of sunflowers along the road at milepost 1.25, there is a new pollinator. It is a perfectly formed honey bee that is only three millimeters, or less than an eighth of an inch in length. Next to the half inch bumble bee also grazing on the same blossom, it is 1/30th or 1/40th of it’s a larger cousin’s volume.

August 16th. I later discover that the “three millimeter honey bee” is a wasp.

August 6th

Filed under: Ensign Peak, Fire, Meadow Mile 1.3, Red-Rumped Bumblee Bee, Sunflower, Weather — canopus56 @ 10:45 pm

Fire Below Ensign Peak

August 6th 6 p.m. The sky is overcast. A summer storm is coming in. Thunder rumbles in the clouds. A small brush fire, started by a lightning strike, is climbing up Ensign Peak to the Mormon “This is the Planet Nebo” marker. As I jog up the canyon, a light rain starts. I take off my shirt and enjoy the soft falling water. The air smells of the Ensign Peak fire. As with most summer storms in the Wasatch, it only lasts a short period. The wind blows the front through and the air clears. The Sun comes out; the brush fire is over. It comes close to homes and to some hikers, but thankfully there is no damage to property or injury to people. Where are the fires located, most wildlife can avoid the flames. Squirrels and small birds can simply move aside. Burrowing life, like field mice and insects go underground. Invigorated by the rejuvenating dampness, wild bumble bees with red-orange banded abdomens work sunflowers next to the road at milepost 1.3. Their work will reseed these plants for the next season. Life’s dramatic cycle of destruction and renewal repeat in this small way in the canyon.

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