City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

August 21, 2017

June 14th; Revised, Reposted

Filed under: Foxglove beardtongue, Horsechestnut, Seasons, Western salisfy, Wild carrot — canopus56 @ 2:20 pm

The Web-of-life

Expanded to summarize ecological relationships between soils, plants and animals in the canyon.

6:45 p.m. This is the last day of the vernal season, or the time of the year in which plants grow at their greatest rate (Feb. 16th). An early heat wave near 100 degrees Fahrenheit has fallen on the city, and I have come to the canyon for a short run in the cool evening air. At the end of the vernal season, early spring flowering plants in the first mile have largely passed and their thickened ovaries grow pregnant with this year’s seeds. Wood rose blossoms are shriveled or have have dropped their leaves, revealing bulbous green spheres beneath. The largest of these are the infant berries of the chokecherry bushes. Western salisfy, also called Giant dandelion, has almost all gone to seed. Its blossom have transformed into a large compound head of achenes – larger version of dandelion weed seeds. The small floating seeds grow out equally spaced from an inverted saucer-shaped head. A result of the large floater seeds competing for limited space is that the giant dandelions’ spherical heads form geodesic dodecahedrons.

The base leaves of the Wild carrot (also called Fernleaf biscuitroot) plants that line the first mile have turned turned yellow and orange, and their blossoms have formed seeds that are turning from green to a light purple. Their fibrous tap roots extend beneath the surface for about a one foot, and they were widely used by First Peoples throughout the Intermountain west (Natural Resources Conservation Service 2011). Great Basin Indians ate the seeds and boiled the roots to make a drink. Other tribes used the first shoots in a salad (id). Modern city “foodies” also collect the plants.

A new delicate penstemon, Foxglove beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis) has appeared overnight along the road. This is an eastern native, and in the canyon, it first appears with white flowers that turn a streaked pink as the flowers age. This is a later spring replacement for the many failing flowers along the first mile. Horsechestnut trees now bear sprays of its spiked fruit, but these new fruits are miniature one-inch diameter versions of falls’ three inch spheres. This year’s growth has returned and the land is pregnant.

This is the last day of my experience of an ecological year in the canyon, and with a new sense of awareness and knowledge, I can feel the canyon’s web-of-life between its some 310 species and families of life (Index). The web begins with the soil that is makes up its ground, and that the nature of that soil begins with the canyon’s geologic formation. West of the Rudy Flat Fault and Freeze Creek near mile 4.3, the soils are Tertiary limy sand and sandy earth, and in the lowest first mile of the canyon, the land around the stream is overlain by deposits from ancient Lake Bonneville. These were formed by a 100 year old mountain range in Nevada that eroded eastward into present-day Utah and that created the sandstone cliffs at milepost 1.0. These lands west of the Rudy Flat Fault are also lower and drier, and thus, the land supports a drought tolerant Wasatch chaparral of Gambel’s oak trees away from the stream and a Rocky Mountain lower montane habitat closer to the stream’s wetness. East of the Rudy Flat Fault, geologically lower strata that consist of limestones have been lifted to higher altitudes, and, thus, those wetter lands support a Rocky Mountain upper montane habitat of pines, firs, spruces, and aspen trees.

Rain and microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, and lichens, break down rock and soil to release nutrients to diverse and abundant plant life. Hungry trees signal the fungi in the their roots and beneath their shade to breakdown needed extra minerals from deficient soils (July 1st). The trees also talk between each other directly with airborne chemicals and via subsurface networks of fungi to coordinate their defense against disease, insects, and herbivores (July 1st). The trees summon beneficial insects and birds with chemical scents to feed on nectar or seeds (July 2nd). In a square meter from 10 kilometers above the ground and down to 4 kilometers below the surface of the canyon, there are trillions of protozoans that interact with the geophysical environment (December 20th). Between 84,500 and 169,000 earthworms along the first road mile churn and overturn the soil beneath the trees between every 6 to 10 years (March 23rd).

Plants are winning the evolutionary war with animals (June 30th), and this is evidenced by their use of toxic chemicals to limit mammals, birds and insects to consuming at most twenty percent of their mass each year. The 100ft tall, older Narrowleaf cottonwood trees, their hybrids, and Box elder trees comprise as much as twenty-percent of the biomass of the first mile road forest, and their shade over the stream provides beneficial conditions of the lower montane habitat that supports a diverse insect, bird and mammal population.

The principal plant producers that support the next higher trophic level of insects, birds and mammals are the Gambel’s oak forest and grasslands of Cheat grass, native Wild bunchgrass, and native Bluebunch wheatgrass (July 7th, March 5th). The oaks yield tons of acorns each year (August 30th) and in the late spring and early summer, the grasslands support at most 310 million House crickets (July 6th) and a lesser number of several types of grasshoppers. Engelmann spruce and other conifers provide another base of seeds in the upper montane habitat higher in the canyon. Algal mats and mosses in the stream support a massive population of Gnats (e.g. August 11th). Hidden in the understory of the streamside forest are as many as 126,000 flies hide (May 10th).

Primary consumers of grasses include Mule deer, Elk, and Shira’s moose (moose, August 27th), House crickets and grasshoppers. Primary consumers of the bounty of seeds include Rock squirrels, Mule deer, Western scrub jays, Black-billed magpies, Stellar’s jays, Black-headed grosbeaks, Wild turkeys, Song sparrows, Mountain chickadees, Black-capped chickadees, and Black-hooded juncos. Primary consumers of the bounty of gnats include Variegated meadowhawks and cliff swallows (August 11th, August 22nd). Crickets are also hunted by Desert tarantula. Other consumers of the bounty both gnats and crickets include the many small birds who overwinter or who in the spring reproduce in the canyon including Lazuli buntings and Yellow warbler.

Flowering plants also support a diverse community of primary nectar consumers – butterflies and bees. These include white cabbage , Western tiger swallowtail, Mourning cloak, Painted lady, Spring azure butterflies, and native tri-colored Central bumble bees. These, along with common flies, are preyed upon by Variegated meadowhawks, Blue-eyed darners, Common whitetail dragonflies, Bald-faced hornets, Western yellowjacket wasps and Praying mantis. Butterflies favor the streamside bushes, and Orb weaver spiders fish for gnats, mosquitoes, and butterflies by stringing silken nets just above the stream’s surface (June 25th).

At the pinnacle of trophic levels reside the consumers of consumers including small and mid-sized birds and mammals by Peregrine falcons, Cooper’s hawks, Red-tailed hawks, and Western screech-owls. At the pinnacle of trophic levels also reside consumers of larger mammals. These include Coyotes, Mountain lions and Homo sapiens.

The stream supports trout and its agal mats attract Mallards. The trout are principally preyed upon Homo sapiens rarely assisted by Belted kingfishers. Although anglers follow catch-and-release best practices, about one-quarter of released fish die from the stress of the experience.

Animals and plants die and their waste needs to be recycled. Larger carrion removers include Turkey vultures, American crows and Common ravens. Flies, protein hungry Bald-faced hornets (August 20th), and ants assist. Carpenter ants consume fallen logs. Bacteria and fungi finish the job for both plants and animals.

I can only take in a small part of the canyon ecology’s totality, and taking in the limited part that I can perceive is more than my mind and emotions can absorb. I cannot see it all at once; I am spent; I am exhausted; but I am still smiling.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 14th, 1852, he notes that “[t]he twilight seems out of proportion to the rest of the day.” On June 14th, 1851, he lists birds heard on a twilight walk including bobolink, swallows, fifteen whippoorwills, blackbirds, a robin and night hawk. He contrasts the evening song of the robin with crickets, and notes fish rising in a stream to feed on insects. On June 14th, 1852, he sees a wild rose bush. On June 14, 1853, he hears the season’s first locust and observes aphids on tree leaves. He sees white lily, blue-flag flower, mosquitoes, and fish in the stream. He sees hummingbirds and hears a cuckoo, a red-eye, and a wood thrush. On June 14th, 1854, he sees a cicada. On June 14th, 1859, he sees a grosbeak and a pout’s nest.

* * * *

A cousin of Foxglove beardtongue, Common foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), is the source of digitalis heart medication. Digitalis is commonly used to strengthen the contractions of the heart muscle in the aged.

* * * *

On June 14th, 1914, the Salt Lake Tribune describes various outdoor hikes around Salt Lake City, including to Big Black Mountain. On June 14th, 1908, the L. H. Murdock of the U.S. Weather Service reported a storm with one-half inch of rain and heavy snowfall in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 14th, 1908, Mayor Bransford, City Engineer L. C. Kesley, Waterworks Superintendent Hobday and Street Supervisor Jake Raleigh discussed steps to abate current flooding from City Creek Canyon (Intermountain Republican). Raleigh defended his use of manure embankments to contain the flood waters (id).

Advertisements

June 23, 2017

June 21st

Growth Spurts

6:45 p.m. In the cool of the late evening, I jog towards Pleasant Valley at mile 1.2. A Lazuli bunting (Passerina amoena) perches near the gate. Near mile 0.3, a flash of bright yellow on the outside of a tree catches the eye. It is a Yellow warbler (Dendroica petechia). At mile 1.1, I mistake plaintive calls for raptor chicks, but it is only the squawking of a pair of Western scrub jays (Aphelocoma californica).

The summer-like heat turns flowering plants. The leaves of Wild carrots (Lomatium dissectum), a.k.a. Fernleaf biscuitroot, are browning, and their seeds are turning a light purple. Curly dock weeds (Rumex crispus) have turned a deep brown. I admire Curly dock. It grows, flowers, and dies over only for a few weeks in the spring, but then its rich brown color accents the canyon throughout the rest of the year. Only in the early spring, does it finally succumb to winter’s weather, and then in a few weeks, it begins to regrow. Even the seeds of yesterday’s Milkweed have turned from a light green to a subtle purple in a single day. Foxglove beardtongues (Penstemon digitalis) that have delicate bell-like flowers have deepened in color from white to streaked pink.

Other plants respond to this initial summer heat with a growth spurt. Starry solomon’s seal plants (Maianthemum stellatum) have reached almost two feet in height. At the seep below picnic site 6, watercress (Nasturtium officinale) has grown four inches in height in just a few days. Scouring rush horsetails (Equisetum hyemale) along the road stand erect and have also reached two feet in height. At lower Pleasant Valley field, Wild bunchgrass (Poa secunda) is two to two and one-half feet high. Heat drives this rush.

Hovering other the Pleasant Valley field, a fleet of twenty Common whitetail dragonflies dart back and forth and play tag in the evening breeze. Their miniature relatives, Circumpolar bluets (Enallagma cyanigerum) line the first mile roadside. Returning down-canyon, a Pinacate beetle (Tenebrionidae eleodes) is running down the road. This is the first time that I have seen one fast motion, and usually they standing with their abdomens pointed into the air and ready to launch a chemical spray on predators. When running, its oversized rear legs make its large black abdomen comically waive back and forth. Since cars are banned from the canyon today, many bicyclists streak by not heeding caution for speed.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 21st, 1852, he notes that adder’s tongue, a fern, smells like snakes. He hears a cherry bird. He sees a field with snap-dragon and he notes that lupines have lost their blooms. He hears thunder when there are no clouds in the sky. He collects morning glories. On June 21st, 1854, he notes the many smells in the air, including may-flowers and cherry bark. He compares how a stream bank has grown from a low covering of brown in spring to a thicket of weeds in summer. He finds a small pond with two pout fish and a brood of small fry. He describes a sprout forest – a forest of small sprouts that grows from fallen trees. He sees wild roses. On June 21st, 1856, he sees night hawks, and on June 21st, 1860, he observes pine pollen covering the surface of water.

* * * *

On June 21st, 2000, Mayor Rocky Anderson held a press conference urging Congress to pass a bill that would designate a portion of offshore federal oil revenues to fund improvements in local parks like City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 21st, 1995, Rotary Club members repainted benches at Rotary Park in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 21st, 1994, a 19 year-old man was robbed at knife point by his passenger after they drove to City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 21st, 1934, Street Commissioner Harold B. Lee referred a proposal by former City Engineer S. Q. Cannon to employ road crews to widen City Creek Canyon Road to the Depression Federal Emergency Recovery Act Bureau (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 21st, 1912, City Parks Commissioner George D. Keyser proposed a circular scenic boulevard be created up City Creek, along 11th Avenue to Fort Douglas, then to Sugarhouse, and then returning to the City’s center (Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake Telegram). The route would be lined with trees (id). On June 21st, 1906, City Engineer Kelsey reported that 100 miles of sidewalks will be completed in the City this year and another 25 miles of roads will be paved or graveled (Salt Lake Telegram). A minor $1,000 project will construct a bridge in City Creek Canyon (id).

April 9, 2017

April 8th

Filed under: River birch, Wild carrot — canopus56 @ 5:05 pm

Cooperation vs. Competition

3:00 p.m. The promised snow did not arrive, and today is all sun and warmth. The parsley-like plant at the base of trees has grow a radiating head of blooms, and this suggests an identification as Wild carrot (Lomatium dissectum). Small bits of bark have fallen onto the road from some immature trees. The bark reveals the trees’ identification. They are cultivars of eastern Water birch (Betula occidentalis). A glade down canyon from picnic site 6 is visible from the road in a break between the trees. In a small spherical clearing, perhaps twenty feet in diameter, two-pairs of unidentified thrushes chase each other in tight, fast orbits.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on April 8th, 1852, he notes alder catkins are blooming. On April 8th, 1853, he sees a pine warbler. On April 4th, 1854, he sees a bald eagle harassing a flock of crows. On April 8th, 1859, the roots of a white pine, that he is standing next to, are partially lifted from the ground by the wind. He notes viola, a woodland flower that grows away from water, is shooting up through the leaf litter layering.

* * * *

During the 2014-2015 winter and spring, I recorded and plotted the distribution of several nesting species in Pleasant Valley in the canyon. Different species such as Stellar Jays and chickadees that relied on same Gambel’s oak resource shared an overlapping space. This space sharing was reinforced by predatory birds, such as peregrine falcons. Their behavior suggests cooperative diversity and not unrestrained competition as the optimal behavior that advances the good of the whole. Much can learned by the detailed observation of nature because inherent in watching nature is not only involves the emotional connection to living things. Nature appreciation includes the development of critical thinking skills. Competition is a necessary component in life, but cooperative stability are equally, if not more, important. Thus, even smalls birds in the canyon have lessons to teach us.

The migrating song birds continue to build this seasons’ nests in the canyon and they mate to begin their broods. Between picnic sites 3 and 5, the Gambel’s oak forest on the west side of the road gently slopes uphill and this is favored spot of several species of smaller birds to nest. Here, nature provides an instructive lesson on human affairs with respect to cooperation, competition, and the benefits of diversity. In 2014, Farine at the Oxford and an international team of colleagues observed about 19,000 feeding events by 1,900 laboriously RIF chip tagged birds of four different species of tits at four feeders in rural England. (A fifth specie only had 32 of 1,900 samples). They observed that rather than compete by each species dominating one of the four feeders, birds preferred to live in mixed specie groups of nearly equal proportions at each feeder. Farine et al’s hypothesis was that although costly, the benefit of increased information about resources and predators gained by social living in mixed groups outweighed the costs of increased competition for food and exposure to parasites. The researchers found that this preference for mixed groups held when feeding sites were stressed by the introduction of a fake sparrow hawk predator.

* * * *

In modern Euro-American culture, inequality has again reasserted itself to a level last seen in the late 1800s, and this change is both the cause and effect of a legacy of Darwinian socialism, Lamarckianism and eugenics of the nineteenth century. In the twenty-first century, Darwinian socialism has fused with a distorted view of E. O. Wilson’s sociobiology theory, globalism, and New Chicago School hyper-free market economic theory to foster a commonplace belief that economic and political elites are superior to ordinary people, instead of simple being the beneficiaries of random concentrations of inherited wealth in a semi-chaotic economy. In this new form of Social Darwinism, people believe that through economic competition, a superior class of individuals is created, who culturally transmit supposed superior attributes to their children. Persons with mid- to lower-economic status are expected to defer both economically and politically to this new global-elite, and it has become fashionable to elect economic elites to positions of power on the commonplace theory that “they know how to get things done” and in the mistaken belief that elites will not use such power principally to advance their personal interests and the interests of other elites. Such political and economic cultural consensus about society and economy go in cycles. The first half of the twentieth century in World Wars I and II resolved in a political consensus that favored cooperation and constrained competition guided by the desires of non-elites. Through 2017, that consensus has shifted to belief in hyper-competition and living in a state of constant economic and social disruption is more productive than creating new things and ideas from a base of cooperative stability.

* * * *

On April 8th, 2005, City Councilperson Eric Jorgenson announced plans to renovate the stairs at 4th Avenue and 9th Avenue in City Creek Canyon using monies from the 2002 Winter Olympics Legacy Tax Fund (Deseret News). On April 8th, 1915, local mining magnate William Spry presented a plan to build a causeway from 7th Avenue across City Creek to the State Capitol (Salt Lake Herald). On April 8th, 1913, plans to build a dam in City Creek Canyon were dropped due to a large negative response by residents (Salt Lake Herald). Residents fear that the dam might fail and destroy the city below.

Blog at WordPress.com.