City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

June 25, 2017

June 25th

Fishing spiders

5:00 p.m. The first mile of road has turned into a green tube, and the garland of butterflies described on June 15th and June 22nd continues. The sky is clear and the air calm. Trees overhang above and views of the stream are obscured by thick underbrush except at picnic sites. The stream can also be accessed at small breaks made by anglers or at small natural breaks. There about ten of these breaks along the first road mile. I force myself through several of the breaks and look down to enjoy the cool, transparent stream. At each I find various types of spider webs: disordered tangle webs, sheet webs hung low just above the waterline, and the circular webs of Orb weaver spiders (Araneus sp.). Paradoxically, I see no spiders today, but their webs are full of hapless arthropod victims.

Lining the stream banks at these breaks are Bittersweet nightshade plants (Solanum dulcamara) a.k.a. Climbing nightshade with deep blue blossoms. These plants hug the stream’s steep banks and vertical rock retention walls, and they grow just above the waterline. At a few places along the first road mile, they incongruously protrude from the understory of serviceberry bushes (Amelanchier sp.), and there they are noticeable because their colorful blossoms are one of the few flowering plants that are left after the spring flower explosion. The Nightshade’s blossoms are either shriveling or extend vibrant yellow cones surrounded by blue petals. In the fall, these will yield bright red fruit.

Looking up from the stream and into the thick green sub-story, there are butterflies everywhere. They are the usual suspects for a canyon spring and early summer: Cabbage white butterflies, Western tiger swallowtails, Mourning cloaks (Nymphalis antiopa). These are now joined by White Admiral butterflies and by Common whitetail dragonflies patrolling overhead. I am used to seeing this floating butterfly assemblage traveling linearly on their feeding searches along bushes on the road’s sides, but here they fly in their natural setting. The butterflies follow large spiral flight paths broken by and traveling through the dense shrubs. In this setting, their frenetic sharp turns and chaotic shifts are necessary to navigate this complicated scene, and this explains these seemingly purposeless motions on their flights over the road. In this manner, the butterflies explore every possible hiding place in which a flowing blossom might be found.

At each of my stops along the stream, I see about five butterflies, and together with butterflies along the road, I estimate that there about 100 butterflies in the first mile road. Two Painted Lady butterflies (Venessa cardui) are also patrolling the roadside bushes. What flowering plant these butterflies are searching in the shurb understory is a mystery. The daytime flowering blossoms of spring are past, and only a few Foxglove beardtongue flowers remain open producing nectar. The only substantial flowering plant left is Yellow sweet clover. But the stands of this weed that line only the roadsides are fading, and on any one plant only one-third of the blossoms found at their peak are viable.

The fierce post-solistice sun begins to affect tree leaves. One or two Gambel’s oaks and Norway maples have a brace of leaves that are browned and shriveled at the edges. Once damaged, their leafs curl up, and the crabapple tree at the upper end of Pleasant Valley near mile 1.7 shows similar signs of stress. But the deciduous trees’ principal defense against the loss of water from heat and sunlight is a waxy layer on the upper surfaces of trees. This is best seen on the leafs of the western River birch trees. At the right angle to the Sun, their canopy flashes dappled green light for leafs titled away from the light and a blinding silver-white light for those at appropriate angle of reflection. University of Sussex ecologist Hartley notes that the waxy layer provides another benefit: it is some tree’s defense against caterpillars (Hartely 2009). Although caterpillars have evolved specialized feet to grasp leaf surfaces, caterpillars have a hard time walking over the wax layer, they fall off, and the plant is preserved. This may explain the caterpillars sometimes found along the road in the last week. I had supposed the caterpillars had crawled onto the roadway, but perhaps they have slipped and fallen from above.

Returning down canyon from milepost 1.5, insects are backlit by the Sun, and this makes them easier to see. At mile 1.1 near the entrance to lower Pleasant Valley, 30 to 40 Common whitetail dragonflies are circling between 50 and 100 feet above ground. Between the road surface and fifty feet, there are none. In cool places beneath the shade of trees, the prey of the dragonflies, groups of up to 100 gnats float. A small, immature desert tarantula (Aphonopelma chalcodes) scurries into the bushes.

Also mile 1.1, I hear raptor screams, and this repeats my earlier experience of June 21st. They are the unmistakable calls of two Peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus). This time I travel back up canyon to get a better view, and below the eastern canyon wall near mile 0.8, more than a quarter-mile away, two peregrines are driving a smaller bird away from the canyon sides. There loud screams travel coherently through the calm summer air. This may be where the peregrines are nesting this season, but that side of the canyon does not have the steep cliffs found on its western walls. I note to watch this area closer to see if a nest can be confirmed.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 25th, 1852, he sees a rainbow in the eastern morning sky. He opines that younger birds are duller in color in order to protect them from predators. He hears a bobolink and a golden robin. He sees wild rose and butter-and-eggs. He notes that in cool air, the ridges on distant mountains are more distinctly seen. He describes a moon-light walk. On June 25th, 1853, he finds two bushes of ripe service berries and associated cherry birds. On June 25th, 1854, he sees a bittern. On June 25th, 1858, he sees two or three young squirrels playing. He observes how objects including grass and water skimmers cast lenticular shadows on the bottom of a river. He again notes how the lighter undersides of leaves illuminate dark sprout forests.

* * * *

On June 25th, 1946, City Water Commissioner D. A. Affleck closed all lands in lower City Creek and above 14th Avenue to entry in order to prevent the possibility of grass fires (Salt Lake Telegram). Campfires were prohibited in upper City Creek Canyon (id). On June 25th, 1913, City officials plan to inspect the headwaters of Salt Lake valley canyons for water purity as part of a plan to develop more water sources (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 25th, 1896, new silver and lead ore bodies were discovered in upper City Creek Canyon about one mile from the old Red Bird Mine on Black Mountain (Salt Lake Herald). Mining work continues at other mines in the Hot Springs mining district, which includes City Creek (id). On June 25th, 1892, an old, destitute woman who had been living in cave in City Creek Canyon was sent to the hospital (Salt Lake Times).

June 22, 2017

June 15th

First Day of the Estival Season

4:30 p.m. It is the first day of the Estival ecological season, the time of greatest heat (Feb. 16th). Astronomical summer begins on June 20th. The late spring heat wave continues and temperatures in the low nineties. I drive to the canyon for short jog, and as I exit the car, my senses are assaulted. The top of a large Douglas fir is heavy with new cones. A Rock squirrel scampers across the parking lot. Curly dock is turning its summer brown. Several Western tiger swallowtails chase each other. Cabbage white butterflies wind between tree branches. A Song sparrow sings loudly. For the first time this year, the air smells of summer and of greenery under hot a sun. All of this occurs within the first quarter of a minute.

The stream’s flow is dropping, but its depth is medium. At the base of the fir, its pine cones also show the Fibonacci whirl pattern seen in bull thistle blossoms (June 10th). The blossoms of Solomon seal plants along the first mile are fading, and some of the plants are beginning to brown.

With the addition of the last summer quality, heat, the canyon is transformed by insects. Previously, light has been increasing throughout spring, and melting snow and violent storms have added water. Heat is last elemental that completes the canyon’s return to prolific life after last winter’s sleep. The first mile has become a boulevard of butterflies. There is a mini-explosion of Cabbage white butterflies in the first quarter mile, and about twenty line both sides of the road. They are joined by Painted lady and Spring azure butterflies. An unidentified yellow butterfly with a black band on its trailing wing line flutter. In the Yellow sweet clover and Red clover weed (Trifolium pratense), which is a purple-blue invasive in Utah, are laced with Yellow-jacket wasps and domestic Honey bees. Above my butterfly escorts, a new large, brown dragonfly with black-spotted wings has matured. These are massive for a flying insect – about three inches across. These are female Common whitetail dragonflies (Libellula lydia). A large four inch mosquito, the common Floodwater mosquito (Aedes vexans), has perished on the road, and since it is unmoving, I can examine its otherworldly structure. This nationally-distributed Floodwater mosquito is a secondary vector for dog heartworm, and more recently in states other than Utah, it has been implicated as transmitting West Nile virus. In Utah, the common House mosquito (Culex pipiens) is the primary vector of West Nile. I am walking through a garland of butterflies.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 15th, 1840, he admires the reflections of trees in water. On June 15th, 1851, he sees the first wild rose of the season, blue-eyed grass, yarrow, blooming lambkill, and Solomon’s seal. He lists a series of spring flowering plants. On June 15th, 1852, he hears crickets and sees dandelions, fleabane, sorrel and purple orchids blooming. He hears a seringo and a hawk. At night, he sees fire flies and the reflection of a bright star in water. On June 15th, 1853, he notes that clover is at its peak and sees many wild roses in bloom. On June 15th, 1854, he notes that birds are singing less. On June 15th, 1858, he notes wool grass growing in a meadow.

* * * *

On June 15th, 1909, a teamster, William Luther, had his legs crushed in an truck accident while hauling gravel along City Creek Canyon Road. On June 15th, 1902, the Salt Lake Tribune argues in favor of residents using filters to better purify domestic water, in part coming from City Creek Canyon.

June 14, 2017

June 9th

First Tarantula and a Fake Bee

7:45 p.m. The jet stream to the northwest has begun to lower temperatures in the eighties and brings cooling evening breezes to the canyon. On this Friday evening, families seeking release from the days of heat fill the first few picnic sites. The heat wave is starting to end, and invasive Yellow sweet clover lines both sides of the road and waves under the wind. But there is no sign of summer’s yellow sunflowers along the road in Pleasant Valley. More soft tufts of pollen float down from the Rocky Mountain cottonwoods and their white down lines the roadside. Evening Black-headed grosbeak calls predominate in the first mile. A 3 inch unidentified dark blue-black dragonfly sails by. A unidentified light brown beetle, that has the shape of a solider beetle, has been seen on the road over the last few weeks. At the rear tip of its shell, there is a diamond shaped darker brown patch. On the road today, the nymph form of this beetle crosses the road. It is bright lime green. A black ant drags a bug twenty times its size to the side of the road.

Planted squarely across the center of a Wood rose blossom near mile 0.3, a member of the Galphyridae family of Bumble bee scarabs. The Bumblee bee scarab is a beetle, not a bee. Its wing shell has four horizontal white strips on the sides and two vertical white stripes on either side of the centerline. Its bee-like features are the abdomen that extends past the wing shell and is covered in fine yellow-white hairs. Its thorax is also covered with these fine hairs. Male Bumblee bee scarabs are sometimes found in flowers, as this oddly behaving one is. This scarab appears almost intoxicated. It is oblivious to my presence and seems to relish feeding on the rose’s pollen. Given its lethargic ways, the scarab’s mimicry of a bee might provide protection from predators, but given that birds eat bees, what predator does the scarab’s mimicry deter?

Near mile 0.4, the season’s first desert tarantula crosses the road. It is only two or three inches across. By mid-summer, it will grow to 5 to 6 inches across (August 17th).

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 9th, 1850, he notes pitch-pine pollen collected on water. On June 9th, 1851, he observes that signs of the season are grass waving in the wind, new leaves on trees, and increasing louder crickets. On June 9th, 1853, he sees the season’s first lily bud and notes white clover is common. He sees starflowers in a meadow and gathers strawberries. He observes a hawk pair. On June 9th, 1854, he sees a lark and notes that the air has a high density of mayflies. On June 9th, 1857, he sees an indigo bird. On June 9th, 1860, he sees water bugs in a stream.

* * * *

On June 9th, 1915, a new reservoir on Fifth South that holds 10,000,000 gallons was inspected, and it will supplemented by a 5,000,000 gallon reservoir at Pleasant Valley (Salt Lake Herald). On June 9th, 1909, the Intermountain Republican reported that a flooding City Creek stream was still carving “numerous erratic channels down North Temple street”. Sandbags and manure was used by crews working under Street Supervisor J. T. Raleigh to create embankments, but this results in large pools of fetid water forming (id). The Tenth South canal overflowed its banks. On June 28th, 1905, the Commercial Club officially turned over the new Wasatch Boulevard to the City (Salt Lake Herald). The boulevard runs up City Creek Canyon, along 11th Avenue to Popperton Place, and then on to Fort Douglas. The boulevard then descends to Liberty Park (id). The Club plans to line the boulevard with trees and stone walls, interspersed with developed parks every few miles (id). On June 3, 1903, as a result of infrastructure improvements, the City had increased its water supply capacity to 28,000,000 gallons per day (Salt Lake Telegram). One hundred and thirty-one miles of water main pipe has been laid in the city, including City Creek Canyon (id). A city ordinance regulates residents sprinkling their lawns. The High line system in City Creek brings water to Popperton Place. On June 9th, 1877, the Salt Lake Tribune recommended City Creek Canyon Road for scenic carriage rides.

June 13, 2017

June 3rd

Missing Frogs, Missing Beavers

5:30 p.m. It is the first day of a heat wave. On this Saturday, about forty people are strolling up and down the road. Wild geranium are open through mile 1.1 and are reaching their peak. Near mile 0.3, a cultivar green crab apple tree is bearing small fruit, now about 1 inch in diameter. It is another occurrence in the canyon that somehow was gone unnoticed by me and that seemingly occurs overnight. Chokecherry bushes at mile 0.2 are pollinated, their leafs are shriveled, and the ovaries are swelling with this falls fruit. This is a sign of the impending end of the vernal season and of the beginning of next estival season. Another invasive weed that follows cattle and cars, Yellow sweet clover (Melilotus officinalis) dominates the road’s edges through mile 2.0, along with the occasional rising bull thistle. Although an invasive, the Yellow sweet clover plants provide nourishment to a variety of bees and butterflies that can be seen feeding on them today.

Ants are busy cleaning the forest floor. On the road, two black ants drag a fly 3 times its body size and a boring bug 5 times its size back to their respective burrows. A common female worker Fuzzy-horned bumble bee (Bombus mixtus) is stranded on the road.

At Guardhouse Gate, another lost mallard chick cries loudly from the thick undergrowth, and despite searching, I am unable to locate it. This year’s stream water is too high, too fast, and out of synchronization with the mallard’s breeding cycle. The chicks are getting swept downstream from their parents. At mile 1.1, a community of six Warbling vireos exchange loud songs with a group of Song sparrows. As I exit the canyon, a loud cawing draws my attention upward, and in the calm wind, a Peregrine falcon furiously beats its wings in order to cross the canyon. The mallard chick is unseen below.

For another year, I am reminded of the absence of frogs in the lower canyon. There is year-round flowing water, and they should awaken with the arrival of insects.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 3rd, 1853, he notes the pine woods are full of birds, including robins, and notes painted cups are at their peak. He records that grey hairs have disappears from tree leaves. On June 3rd, 1854, huckle and blueberries perfume the air. On June 3rd, 1856, he finds a chickadee nest. On June 3rd, 1857, he sees pitch pine in blossom. June 3, 1860, he notes red maple seeds on the road, pine shoots rising from the ground, and that the air contains many scents.

* * * *

One never hears frogs in the lower or upper most reaches of the canyon, even though a suitable stream is present. Frogs are missing from the canyon because they are typically associated with lakes and beaver ponds. Historically, there was a lake in the highest City Creek Canyon glacial hanging valley, but by 2017, the lake is no longer present. Beavers are systematically removed by Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County in all of the Salt Lake valley canyons, including City Creek Canyon. With no beavers, there are no frogs. In April 2017, Salt Lake County threatened to fine a Salt Lake County homeowner 750 USD per day for not removing a beaver dam from their backyard that is adjacent to Big Willow Creek as it runs along the valley floor near the I-15 freeway. The county was concerned the beaver dam can break and clog a downstream water treatment plant. The property owner’s administrative appeal is still pending (Catalyst, May 2017). My last personal encounter with beavers in the Salt Lake valley canyons occurred in the early 1990s. For a summer, a few beaver constructed a dam in upper Millcreek Canyon, and City and County officials were slow to respond. The trailhead parking lot at the end of Millcreek Road was full, and a steady stream of urban hikers walked the mile up stream to watch the beaver and to see their dam. In the fall, the beaver were removed by watershed officers.

Because beavers are not present in the canyon, I have not included references to Thoreau’s many observations of frogs in my digests of his Concord journals.

Salt Lake City and County water managers fear beaver dams will create log jams that will break apart and flood downstream areas during years of high stream run-off. Although extricated from urban Salt Lake County, Utah’s beaver population is about 29,000 (Bassett et al, 2010). That is why their occasional appearance in Salt Lake County always causes much interest among the urban outdoor community.

The beaver has a long association with Utah Euro-american history. The first Euro-americans to reside in Utah were attracted here for beaver fur. Peter Skene Ogden, who led an early expedition to Utah, reported on May 13th, 1925 that his company had completed trapping their 2,000th beaver in Cache Valley, Utah (Rawley, 16) (March 3rd, above). The Utah State Capitol features four early Utah scenes painted into its dome’s pendentives, and one of the vignettes painted by Lee Greene Richards during a 1930s Works Progress Administration project was of three trappers, one of whom is kneeling over a beaver (Rawely, frontpiece).

Despite this association, Utah wildlife laws did not protect them. Early Utah wildlife protection laws divided wildlife into three categories: unregulated, noxious, and game. Territorial laws of 1872 protected game and other animals deemed beneficial by prohibiting hunting them during their breeding seasons. Quail, grouse, mallards, ducks, and other defined game birds generally could not be hunted between March and September, and deer, elk, antelope and mountain sheep could not be hunted from January through July (Rawley, 97). A territorial law of 1872, readopted with modifications as a new statute on Utah’s admission to the United States in 1896, defined noxious animals for which the state would pay a bounty. Noxious animals included lynxes, mountain lions, wolves, bears, jack rabbits, muskrats, weasels, minks, weasels, gophers, squirrels, prairie dogs, pelicans, blue cranes, loons, osprey, mergansers, and English sparrows (Rawley, 98). Essentially, the noxious list is any animal that was potentially bothersome to agriculture or ranching. For example, osprey have a taste for farm chickens and cougars a penchant for sheep. (A vestige of Utah’s early “noxious” animal list is Utah’s current coyote bounty program (Sept. 7th). Under that program, the State annually expends about 500,000 USD to pay 20 USD bounties for each coyote killed, and it harvests about 7,000 animals each year (id).) Bounties under the 1896 law ranged from two cents for a House sparrow egg up to 10 USD for a bear, or 63 cents to 316 USD, respectively, in 2017 currency. This left the beaver in the unregulated wildlife category, and hunters could take them in unlimited numbers.

As a result by 1890s, the beaver population had collapsed and they were rare in Utah (Bassett et al, 5). In 1899, the State Legislature prohibited the hunting of any beaver, and a recovery program was instituted that included the new Utah State Game and Fish Department reseeding beavers into Utah’s geographical basins (id at 5-7). By 1957, beaver populations had recovered, and in 1981, an unrestricted beaver hunt was re-instituted. This unrestricted hunt continues through the present (id, 7). In 2017, beaver, like all wildlife in Utah, is deemed property of the State, and it is regulated by the Utah Division of Wildlife Services. The State’s 2010 Beaver Management Plan (Bassett et al 2010) sets an objective of annually harvesting 3,500 of the state’s 29,000 beavers. The Division also maintains a list of active trappers certified to remove nuisance wildlife. Those individuals remove beavers deemed a nuisance in urban areas.

The collapse and recovery of Utah beavers has its parallels in other state showcase game wildlife. After the 1847 colonists’ “committee of extermination” removed all wildlife in the valley in 1850 (March 5th, above), after unrestricted hunting between 1850 and 1872, and after limited hunting restrictions between 1872 through 1900, state’s deer population collapsed (Sept. 7th). Utah elk were hunted to extinction, and during the 1920s had to be re-introduced (Barnes, “Mammals of Utah”).

The overall lesson from this history is that with effective government intervention and population management, both deer, elk, beaver and the Peregrine falcon (May 15th) recovered to their near pre-colonization levels.

* * * *

On June 3rd, 2001, Mayor Rocky Anderson said when he trains for running races, he goes up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 1, 1996, the Chavurah B’Yachad, Salt Lake City’s Reconstructionist Jewish Community has begun meeting for services in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune, June 15, 1996). On June 3rd, 1991, a Deseret News article recommends hiking from Dry Fork to the City Creek ridge. (This route was later developed into a Bonneville Shoreline Trail segment). On June 3rd, 1923, a party of 200 consisting of Boys Scouts and the Rotarians began clearing brush to support the new Rotary Park in upper City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 3rd, 1921, City Engineer Sylvester Q. Cannon and Mayor C. Clarence Nelsen inspected a proposed dam site one-half mile up from Pleasant Valley that could hold 130,000,000 gallons of water (Salt Lake Telegram). Construction at an earlier dam site had be abandoned when the bedrock was found to be insufficient (id). In an editorial letter to the Salt Lake Telegram, J. W. Sloan argued that gravel pits should be removed from lower City Creek Canyon. He stated that “Some day this canyon will be recognized for what it is and should be, ‘the poor man’s paradise’. . . . City Creek canyon is the property of the people of Salt Lake City” (id). On June 3rd, 1906, Land and Water Commission Frank Mathews impounded 14 cows found illegally grazing in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram).

Blog at WordPress.com.