City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

June 25, 2017

June 24th

Filed under: Gambel's Oak, Uncategorized — canopus56 @ 10:57 pm

The Oak Forest Over Time

External Link to Image

Comparison of Ensign Peak Area, Gambel Oak Forest – 1912 and 2017. Upper frame: author taken June 2017. Lower frame: W. H. Shipler taken September 12, 1912, Utah Historical Society. The foreground of the upper frame is contains cheat grass.

11:30 a.m. I am standing at the corner of 11th Avenue and Bonneville Drive where the road turns north above the lower canyon that leads to Guardhouse Gate. The Gambel’s oak forest is visible on the distant hillsides around Ensign Peak. Across the almost forty years that I have lived near the canyon, I have had the subconscious impression that the Gambel oak chaparral forest is expanding on the southern half of the Salt Lake salient hillsides that overlook the city and on the slopes that face the canyon. I take a photograph of the Gambel’s oak forest around the Ensign Peak area and begin looking for historical comparison photographs. One exists in the University of Utah Marriott Library archives taken by Salt Lake photographer William H. Shipler in September 1912 near the intersect of 11th Avenue and Bonneville Drive on the east side of the lower canyon. This was before Memory Grove and the State Capitol were completed in 1927 or any homes existed above the present State Capitol Building. The Ensign Peak oak groves appear in the background. Comparing the two photographs separated by almost one-hundred and four years, the Gambel oak groves in the gully to the north or and that leads to the peak have significantly filled in. The same is true of the next gully to the north through which the Bonneville Shoreline Trail passes. (Shipler 1912). Here, the Gambel’s oak forest is locally expanding.

Rogers of Columbia University matched a photograph taken by the Karl Grove Gilbert in 1901 with one that Rogers took in 1977 in Section 2, Township 3 South, Range 1 East, Salt Lake Base Meridian near the present day Karl Grove Gilbert Geologic Park west of the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon (Rogers 1984, Plate 45). (In 1890, Gilbert, a geologist, authored a landmark report on ancient Lake Bonneville (Gilbert 1890) and later succeeded John Wesley Powell as the head of the United States Geological Survey.) The Gilbert-Rogers photographs were of the Wasatch Front Mountain Range slopes that face the city west of Big Cottonwood Twin Peaks and Deaf Smith Canyon. Rogers noticed increases in the size of Gambel oak groves and maples on those western slopes (Rogers, Plate 46). I do other comparisons using two Landsat infrared images of Salt Lake City separated by thirty years and taken on July 14th, 1985 and on July 1st, 2015. Over those thirty years, I do not detect any advance or retreat of the oak forest along the ten miles between City Creek Canyon, Red Butte Canyon and Wire Mountain.

The oak forests surrounding Salt Lake City and in City Creek Canyon are extending their range, but only on selected lower Gambel oak chaparral slopes facing the city. Generally, the oak forest is stable and is not expanding.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 24th, 1852, he observes clouds and describes the virtues of watching clouds. He smells fragrances blowing off a meadow, and notes that twin flower (Linnaea borealis) is past its peak bloom. On June 24th, 1853, he notes that birds use hair to line their nests. On June 24, 1856+, he notes that the surface of springs are covered with dust and insects. On June 24, 1857, he examines a screech owl nest. On June 24, 1860, he sees young bluebirds.

* * * *

In 1949, Christensen examined the distribution of Gambel’s oak forests along the Wasatch Front, and he concluded that the oak forests had in some local instances proliferated since the arrival of the Euro-American colonists (id. at 64). He found increases in maples on the Oquirrh Mountains on the west side of Salt Lake valley. Generally, Christensen concluded that most of the increases occurred after 1900 (Rogers, 19). In 1984, Rogers at Columbia University re-examined the question in light of the then developing question of climate change. He compared 49 historical images with some 400 contemporary matching photographs. Based on images hillsides near Tooele and west of Lone Peak, Rogers concluded that both Big Tooth maples and Gambel’s oaks were expanding at selected locations (Rogers, p. 136 and Plates 43, 45, and 46).

Rogers speculated, while calling for further research, that the cause of the expansion of Big Tooth maples and Gambel’s oaks was increased precipitation (Rogers, 136-137). He felt that although difficult to show with certainty, that improved fire suppression by modern Utahans was not the cause of the increase. The rate of fires after 1900 had been constant despite a ten-fold increase in fire suppression funding (id. at 140). In theory, the cycle of fire followed by rapid cheat grass invasion should slowly erode the boundaries of the existing oak forest. Rogers’ offered the tentative explanation that extreme cold weather in the late nineteenth century may have overwhelmed the negative effects of overgrazing and fire, and colder weather allowed the oak forest and maples to expand (Rogers, 138-139).

Rogers’ 1984 hypothesis is consistent with later, recent tree ring studies in the Intermountain West that reconstructed a 576 year precipitation record for Rocky Mountains, including Utah (Bekker et al 2014, DeRose et al, Wang et al; see January 30th and February 9th). From the tree rings, Bekker et al found that persistent, severe droughts were far more prevalent in the distant past than in the 150 years of Euro-American presence in northern Utah. The local advances of Big Tooth maples and Gambel’s oaks may have been a long-term, delayed response to more frequent rain and snow. However, beginning in 1984, the year that Rogers published his results, the number of acres annually burning in Utah has an increasing upward trend (Utah Department of Agriculture and Food 2013 at 8).

Rogers’ fire-invasive grass theory, Bekker et al’s climate findings, and the increasing trend in the number of acres annual burned in Utah wildfires raise the question of whether the maples and oaks will retreat in the future. Utah will become drier in the future, and whether that trend is the result of regression to the mean of past temperatures or human induced global warming is irrelevant. Whatever the cause, if annual temperatures increase, the oaks and maples should retreat uphill. In City Creek Canyon, rising temperatures will cause the oak groves near the ridgeline to retreat and in the Wasatch lower montane habitat that hugs the canyon’s stream, the mixed oak forest will contract closer to the stream’s banks.

* * * *

On June 24th, 1994, in a historical piece for the Salt Lake Tribune, Jack Goodman concluded that the “Lone Cedar” tree at 300 South 500 East was probably a pinyon pine.

June 23, 2017

June 18th

Filed under: Astronomy, Creek's Delta, Uncategorized — canopus56 @ 8:17 am

Meridian Monument and the Survey Land Boat of 1897

External Link to Image

Schematic of Eimbeck’s 1897 land sled for surveying the Salt Lake valley (Eimbeck 1897).

5:00 p.m. When Euro-American colonized new lands in the West, how did they establish their systems of real property ownership which required accurate land surveys? Today, I visit the southeast corner of the Mormon Temple grounds in the delta of City Creek Canyon. There a three-foot tall sandstone obelisk bearing the word “Meridian” stands along with a nearby bronze plaque placed by the Mutual Improvement Association of the Church of Latter Day Saints. This monument is central to the convoluted story of how the official land survey of the Salt Lake valley occurred. This monument on the canyon’s delta played a central role in Utah’s history and in Mormon mythology.

The historical plaque suggests that the obelisk is a replacement for an original marker put there by Mormon pioneer and church leader Orson Pratt in 1847. The 1932 plaque lists its position as Latitude 40°47.747′ N, Longitude 111°52.541′ W. But Pratt’s marker was at the northeast corner of the Temple grounds and it was used by the initial Mormon government of Utah to survey provisional city lots before the completion of an official United States Coastal Survey monument and the 1868 opening of a United States Land Office in Utah (see March 25th). In the 1930s and as is still sometimes heard today, the Mormon Relief Society claimed that the accuracy of Pratt’s determination of the location of the base and range meridian monument was divinely inspired. In 1855, United States Coastal Surveyor David H. Burr established the official sandstone marker at the southeast corner, and it was only a few hundred feet away from Pratt’s marker at the northeast corner. My modern GPS locator, which uses a modern but different coordinate geodetic system, puts Latitude 40°47.747′ N, Longitude 111°52.541′ W about one-half mile away from the sandstone monument. The myth goes that Pratt, a mathematician and astronomer, traveled with the 1847 advance party carrying a then state-of-art Dolland six inch refractor telescope, a mis-calibrated chronometer, and a self-made mileage meter attached to his wagon. Despite traveling over 1,000 miles over uneven prairie and mountains, Pratt was able to determine his position with high accuracy relative to Burr’s subsequent sandstone monument (Y.L.N.M.I. Assoc., 1900 at 343 “only a few feet short”; Giles Letter, Oct. 2nd, 1949, “misinformation in the minds of some of the guides on Temple Square”). This location of the sandstone monument is culturally tied to the adjacent Mormon Temple. The Temple has high significance in the Mormon religion as the physical Temple is viewed by members as the visible base of a celestial temple that extends upwards to heaven. Thus, Pratt’s high accuracy measurement of the temple’s location supports feelings that the Salt Lake Temple’s location is divinely ordained.

A loosefleaf folder in the archives of the University of Utah provides another interpretation (copy in possession of author). Bancroft’s “History of Utah” reports that Pratt originally measured the baseline and range meridian at 40°45’44” N, 111°26’34” W (Bancroft 1890). Pratt’s survey station was not at the existing monument at the southeast corner of the station, but rather his station was at the northeast corner of the Temple. An anonymous memorandum in the Pratt telescope file, reduces the position of Pratt’s station and the position of the 1855 United States survey marker, and concludes that Pratt’s position estimate was off by “0.26” [arcseconds] in latitude, equivalent to approximately 2630 feet, or 1/2 mile, and 27′ 26″ in longitude, equivalent to about 126,210 feet, or 23 9/10 miles” (id). The accuracy of Pratt’s latitude estimate was excellent given his high-quality Dolland refractor and that latitude is amenable determination from a telescope and star chart alone. The accuracy of his longitude measurement, although off by 23 miles, was also excellent for the 1800s. Highly accurate longitude measurement required the arrival of a telegraph wire to Utah through which the relative time of a star transiting directly over the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. and Utah could be determined electronically. The first transcontinental telegram transmission in Utah occurred on October 18, 1861. The United States Coast Survey did not begin to experiment with telegraphic determination of longitude until 1865 (Gould, 1865).

Burr’s 1855 sandstone monument would play a further key role in Utah’s Territorial history. The early Mormon settlers, having originally moved to unallocated lands of the United States in 1847, were understandably concerned that the United States Land Office that issued official federal deeds to homesteads on federal territorial lands would not recognize deeds issued by the Mormon’s unofficial State of Deseret prior to the Utah Territory Organic Act of 1850. The pioneers’ concerns were eventually borne out when the Federal Land Office opened with the arrival of the transcontinental railroad in 1868 (March 25th). The settlers were required to repurchase their lands a second time from the federal government (id). Thus, when United States surveyor Burr arrived in 1855, local government and its citizens were resistant to Burr’s efforts to survey the valley (White, 1983). In 1855, Brigham Young and the Utah Territorial Legislature had not obtained a commitment from the federal government to recognize the pre-1850 church deeds.

Although Burr attempted to execute his official duties, on August 30, 1856, he reported by letter that one of his survey contractors had been beaten by William Hickman, a member of the Mormon “Danite Angels”, and three other men (Burr Letter, August, 30th, 1856, in White at 316). The Danite Angels where known as a extra-judicial gang who worked at the direction of Brigham Young, and statements made by Hickman to Burr indicated that the beating occurred at the request of high church officials (Burr Letter). After further threats (White, 317-319) Burr fled Utah in 1857, and subsequently, this and other events lead President James Buchanan to proclaim Utah in open rebellion against the United States government on April 6, 1858 (Proclamation at White, 319-320). (White also reviews the many disputes regarding the veracity of Burr’s claims.) In part as a result of Burr’s allegations, in 1857, Johnston’s army was then sent by the United States from the east to occupy the territory and to quell with Utah Rebellion. Following resolution of the Utah Rebellion, the technological development of determining longitude with telegraphy and the arrival of the transcontinental railroad spurred further federal land surveys in Utah.

In 1869, George W. Dean and F. H. Agnew of the United States Coastal Survey were sent to establish the official latitude and longitude of the Salt Lake Base Meridian. Two stations used in making his official estimate of the location of the initial point were buried underneath the sidewalk about 117 feet northwest of the Burr sandstone marker under temple granite (White, 329). Those measuring stations were again moved after the 1893 completion of the Mormon Temple blocked necessary sight lines (White, 330). The present official location of the meridian and initial point for the purposes of surveying in Salt Lake City is Dean marker. To confuse matters further, Professor Orson Pratt continued to use his observatory to the northwest of the sandstone monument and inside the Temple grounds walls to make daily measurements of local noon. Those measurements set the official time for the state through 1897. Thus, over time some residents came to mistakenly believe that monuments setting the position of Pratt’s observatory were an earlier official initial point of the the Salt Lake Baseline and Meridian (Giles Letter). White also clarifies that the official meridian for land surveys covering larger regions of public lands in Utah is about 55 feet away and parallel to Dean’s meridian (White, 330). Conversely, the Salt Lake County Surveyor’s Office online information system shows the Dean marker as the corner point for Salt Lake County surveys (Salt Lake County Surveyor 2017). That marker was last relocated in May 2000 (id).

In 1871, the Hayden U.S.G.S. survey expedition came through Utah, and one of Hayden’s task was surveying lands granted to the transcontinental railroads. He was not concerned with surveying Utah. Local peaks such as O’Sullivan Peak on the Big and Little Cottonwood Canyon divide in Salt Lake County commemorate the early Utah photographic work of Timothy H. O’Sullivan, the expedition’s photographer. His early Utah pictures taken on glass plates under seemingly impossible conditions are legendary (see Utah Division of State History, 2017, Link). My favorite of his images is of the upper cirque below Lone Peak at the south end of Salt Lake Valley. Lone Peak, at 12,000 feet above sea level and 6,700 feet in altitude above the valley floor, can be seen from the canyon mouth, my home, and from all other locations in the valley. To the valley, the Peak presents a wall of granite columns, but these protect a glacial “U” shaped upper cirque the size of four football fields. In modern times, hiking Lone Peak involves an hour drive to the south end of the valley, and then an all day 12 hour hike through scrub forests and steep forty degree lower slopes with poor intermittent trails. In the 1870s, O’Sullivan would have taken a day to travel from the city to the south valley trail. Then he would have forced burros carrying several hundred pounds of photographic equipment with glass plates through the impenetrable, trail-less scrub oak. His photographic outing must have taken days to complete. Being a machine age modern, how he returned his exposed glass plates unbroken back to the valley floor seems superhuman. This is the stuff of real western legend and not some pale tale of provado and gun battles.

Kings and Hayden Peaks in the Unitas commemorates Clarence King and geologist Ferdinand V. Hayden, the other co-leaders of the expedition. Wheeler Peak in Nevada commemorates the expedition’s fourth leader, George Wheeler. In 1878, the office of the United States Coastal Survey was renamed the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey, and in 1896, Utah was admitted to the Union as a State. In 1897, William Eimbeck of the U.S.C. and G.S. completed his official land survey of north western Utah and laid official township and range markers for the Salt Lake Valley based on the Salt Lake Baseline and Meridian initial point (Eimbeck 1897).

With respect to his second task of surveying the Salt Lake valley in detail, Eimbeck was stymied by the many agricultural ditches that had been dug across the valley. Setting up and moving survey instruments by the usual method of horseback proved unworkable as horses could not cross the deep irrigation ditches. His innovative solution was to build a 56 foot long land boat or sled with catamarans and a central steel keel on which survey instruments could be mounted. Donkeys or horses then easily dragged the boat north an south along the valley and over any ditch obstacles (Eimbeck, Fig. 3, p. 768a). When a new measurement point was reached, metal stilts were ratcheted down, and the entire platform raised into the air and leveled. By this means, the corner monuments for each township and section in the Salt Lake valley were accurately laid.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 18th, 1852, he examines the construction of a hornet’s nest. He observes loosestrife and St. John’s Wort are blooming. On June 18th, 1853, he lists morning song birds: robin, chip-bird, blackbird, and martin. He finds a large toadstool, and notes that eglantine and sweetbrier are blossoming. On a night walk with a near full Moon, he hears whippoorwills and notes that white flowers can be seen by moonlight. On June 18th, 1855, he notes that late season grasses are beginning to flower. On June 18th, 1859, he describes raindrops falling on the surface of the water before, during and after a storm. He sees swarms of gnats.

* * * *

On June 18th, 2003, the City announced its annual prohibition against fireworks north of 11th Avenue and in City Creek Canyon (Deseret News). On June 18th, 2011, Lowell Bodily, Salt Lake Valley Health Department, estimates that there are 3,000 homeless tent camps in Salt Lake Valley, and the Department finds about 15 to 20 camps in City Creek Canyon each year (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 18th, 1995, the City began work on converting the greenbelt at 2nd Avenue and Canyon Road into a park with faux City Creek (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 18th, 1992, Jack Quintana, a groundskeeper at the State Capitol notes that there an explosion of rock squirrels at the State Capitol, and he notes they their population varies on a nine-year cycle (Salt Lake Tribune). The adjacent City Creek Canyon is primary breeding habitat for the squirrels. On June 18th, 1930, William Monson, a smoker who started a fire near City Creek Canyon was fined $5 USD (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 18th, 1900, more than 12 cattle, bearing the Circle-9 brand, were impounded for illegally grazing in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune).

March 24, 2017

March 24th

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

2:00 p.m. Spring returns with today’s bright warming sunshine and temperatures regain half yesterday’s the thirty degree drop. Last night’s rain has washed away the carcasses of yesterday’s earthworm explosion. The creek still runs high, and between the stream’s loud white noise, the sun’s warmth, and my own feelings of exhaustion, I am compelled to rest. I find a place next to the stream in the Sun, and fall in a meditative mood, and meld into the moment. Yesterday’s two inches of freezing rainfall, although small by eastern standards, sets a new Salt Lake City precipitation record. March has turned out like February’s unusual weather: record setting warm temperatures for the first few weeks, followed by catch-up rain and snow that regresses to a nearly average year. After the freezing rain, again, the return of insects resets. There are one or two tentative White cabbage and Painted Lady butterflies, and a few stoneflies and gnats reappear.

For plants, the snow, which has now melted except on Black Mountain, stunts the grow of the Wood’s roses for a day. But other trees bloom. A red-osier dogwoods higher up the canyon blooms, and below picnic site 6, the first Box Elder tree blooms at its highest top branches. Further down canyon cultivars bloom. A new tree’s buds open with leaves are covered with small hairs, and more searching finds one that has a desiccated apple attached. These are crabapple trees (Nov. 19th). Their distinctive leaves allows me to do a census: including one tree below Guardhouse gate an two at the up-canyon end of Pleasant Valley, there are five apple trees in the first 1.5 canyon miles. Another new blooming tree has a deep purple ovary at the bud’s center. High in the trees near picnic site 6, migrant song birds sing, but frustratingly, I am unable to see them with my monocular.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 24, 1855, he records a rock slide and describes how rivers erode hills. He summarizes the signs of spring: maple sap, willow and alder catkins, grass on south banks, cowslip, and maple buds. On March 24th, 1858, he hears song birds and sees a flock of twenty shore larks.

* * * *

Early immigrant John Miller described lumber harvesting in City Creek, an activity done during the winter, principally for the purpose of selling or using timber as firewood:

In the first place, Brigham Young laid claim to the entire canyon. There were two gates through which all must pass to enter the domain. One was the Eagle Gate and the other was at the mouth of the canyon . . . There was a gate-keeper at the inner gate and he took one-third of every load of wood that came down out of the canyon. This was Brigham Young’s toll. . . . .

Brigham Young had a great wood yard just inside the inner gate, with a circular saw run by the waters of City creek. There the toll wood was cut up into stove lengths and after that it was distributed among the president’s numerous wives . . . .

There [the logs] where taken by teamsters, and hauled to the city after paying Brigham Young toll at the gates. . . . .

After cutting down a tree, we would cut it into lengths of ten or twelve feet. Then we would point one end of it and start it down the hill on the snow. It would go down like a streak of lightening . . . There were forty of us working up in the mountains, and each one would put a private mark on his logs to enable him to settle with the teamsters below. (Salt Lake Tribune, 1903, Apr 5).

* * * *

In a March 24th, 2004 letter to the editors of the Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City resident Jay S. Bachman argues in favor of banning cougar hunting in City Creek Canyon. On March 24, 1900, the City Council directed the Police Department to provide prisoners to work on creating a boulevard up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune).

November 5, 2016

November 5th

Filed under: Orb Weaver Spider, Uncategorized — canopus56 @ 9:21 pm

A Cat’s Face on the Road

4:30 p.m. Along the road at mile 0.4, a Halloween phantasmic is crawling across the road: a spider with yellow-orange orb-shaped shell on its back that is suggestive of a cat’s face. It is a female Cat’s face orb weaver (Araneus gemmoides). My insect guide states that they are commonly seen in late October as they migrate seeking a place to hibernate for the winter. This common western orb spider looks like a crab, and a mark of its primitive evolutionary history are the hairs that cover its leg. The cat’s face spider weaves a circular web that is held in place by radial scaffolding. In the canyon, webs of the orb spider can be seen during the summer strung between thistles below the red bridge near mile 0.9. Although harmless to people, they are a fearsome predator of flying insects that feeds on wasps and bees captured in its web.

In 2007, evolutionary biologists Vollrath at Oxford and Selden at Kansas University suggested an alternative theory that predatory spiders like the orb weaver were a driving force in the evolution of flying insects because spiders and flying insects began to exponentially diversify into many new species before the arrival of flowering plants. The current generally accepted theory is that flowering plants, which began to dominate forests about 145 million years ago, were the primary driver of the evolution of wasps and bees. Ants evolved into flying insects in order to exploit a new food source: the nectar of flowering plants. According to the new theory proposed by Vollrath and Selden, the oldest spiders were ground dwelling when they first learned to spin webs, as some spiders in the canyon still do today. In response, ants sprouted wings, learned to fly, and evolved into wasps in order to avoid the horizontal webs of ground spiders. Orb spiders responded by chasing the wasps into the sky. They learned to climb thistles and other plants and to weave their vertically placed webs. Later the wasps co-evolved into bees. Vollrath and Selden acknowledge that this is an evolutionary “just so” story. Spider webs are ephemeral objects that disappear after a few days and they are not preserved in fossils. The record in the rocks is too sparse to know when the first spiders began to spin ground webs or when they took to spinning vertical webs strung between plants.

October 21, 2016

October 20th

Filed under: Mule Deer, People, Uncategorized — canopus56 @ 2:57 am

Smart Deer

7:00 p.m. The road is empty in the near darkness except for three groups of six camouflaged bow hunters. The bow hunting season started on September 15th, and since September, I have seen a total of two bow hunters. Now it is two days to the start of the rifle hunt deer season, and the bow hunters are out in force. There are maybe four deer in the 20 square miles of the canyon, so the bow and rifle hunters mostly only “take” exercise and not deer. Somehow, mule deer and elk have an accurate internal calendar that tells them when the rifle hunting seasons will start, and they disappear (see Oct. 18th) from anywhere close to the road exactly on the day before any hunters arrive.

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 27th

Filed under: Bald-Faced Hornets, Insects, Picnic site 9, Uncategorized, wasps — canopus56 @ 1:21 am

Some Hornets Tell a Bald-Faced Lie

2:00 p.m. Identifying insects is tough for an amateur. I always struggle with it. There are so many types of species and so many varieties of each insect, and for bees and wasps, each species may also look different depending on their role as queen, solider, or worker. No one book or online database can cover them all, and this makes classifying an insect seen in the canyon a difficult and time-consuming task. As an example, there is a wasp nest at mile 1.2, picnic site 9 (see September 16th) and, it is populated by a jet-black wasp with a yellow-tipped abdomen (see August 20th). Hornets are wasps that live in large social communities, that is in nests. The nest at picnic site 9 appears to have been built by Bald-faced Hornets (Vespula maculata). After standing in front of the nest with my monocular fixed on the nest entrance for a few minutes, I am able to see the characteristic white face markings of its inhabitants that classify this as a nest of Bald-faced hornets.

I still am unsure if these are the same wasps that I saw on August 20th. Those had yellow tips, but were jet-black and did not have the characteristic white markings found on the face of the Bald-faced Hornet. Were those earlier wasps just an immature phase of or a special worker class of the Bald-faced Hornet, or were they a completely different wasp specie? There are jet-black wasps such as cricket hunter wasps, and the meadow at mile 1.3 is full of crickets. But cricket hunting wasps generally are solitary, build underground nests, and do not have yellow tips. For now, I just continue to describe those earlier jet-black wasps with yellow tips as “unidentified”.

September 26, 2016

September 26th

Just a Short Walk

4:00 p.m. Just a short walk between the Guardhouse gate at mile 0.0 and along the first quarter mile, individual variation in leaf turning within tree species can be seen. Today, in the parking lot at Guardhouse gate are several large horsechestnut trees, and as noted on September 23, their leaves are turning brown at the edges. But a short distance away at picnic site 1, there is another large chestnut tree that experienced the same cold weather, but it remains completely green. Similarly, just past the gatehouse, there is a large, apex narrow leaf cottonwood tree, but 200 yards up canyon, there are two immature cottonwood trees that have completely turned a bright yellow. Within the first 50 yards of the gatehouse, there is a Box Elder tree that has almost completely turned and one that has only begun to turn.

There is some type of ordered distribution to this seeming randomness. I pull out my field note pad, and I am tempted to record a list of road positions, type tree, and percent of leaves turned. I have made such lists in the past for birds and animals in the canyon. But I remind myself that I am here for solitude and not to start another project, and the notebook is put away.

Along the first mile, gnats have returned, but at a lower density, and so their predators, the dragonflies, have also returned. But the dragonfly population is now counted by the tens and not by the hundreds as before the cold overnight weather. The waterskimmers are completely gone from their pool at picnic site 5.

September 25th

Filed under: Box Elder Tree, Gambel's Oak, picnic site 2, Uncategorized — canopus56 @ 7:05 pm

Leaves Redux

5:30 p.m. The cold has clarified which trees will turn next: Box Elder trees and the River birches. The Gambel’s oaks have slowed their leaf turning, now that the canyon is warm again. The leaves of both the Box Elder trees and the river birches turn in a similar fashion: instead of entire clumps turning at once, green and yellow leaves are distributed randomly and uniformly about the branches. As noted on September 23rd, this gives these trees a pale-light green hue. River or water birch is a common tree along the stream bottom; its grey-silver trunks grow in clumps. An exemplar water birch is found at picnic site 2, and its silver trunks are covered with short, tan horizontal lines that are perpendicular to each trunk. It looks like an organic version of Morris code. What are the birches trying to telegraph us?

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