“Water, water everywhere but not a drop for me!”
Years ago, I had a dream that I was in my studio working on a story. I heard a tap at my back door. I stood up and went to the door. I remember thinking that one of the neighborhood children must be there asking me for help finding one of their soccer balls constantly kicked over my fence.
When I opened the door I looked around my large backyard with all its heavy shrubs and my wife’s flower beds, but spotted no children. Perhaps, I thought, someone is playing a trick on me. The kids are always up to something and kidding around is part of life on my street. Perhaps my wife could speak to some of the other women on the street and see what could be done. Honestly, I work at home and could use a little more peace and quiet.
I pulled on the handle and closed the large wooden door. Just as I turned towards my studio, there was another tap.
This time I opened the door and looked down more closely. A bundle of brown and black fur moved near my shoe. Two small animals were resting there. Their eyes were on me. They were chipmunks and one had no tail.
Now, this is the funny part. My mind received a message. How that happened I do not know nor understand. Be that as it may, the message was in good English and in a courteous tone.
The chipmunk with no tail asked, in a chuckling sort of voice, “Can I have a drink of water from your kitchen faucet?”
After I recovered from surprise, I spoke, “Sure.” Then I added, after glancing around the large backyard, still wet from morning dew, “What happened to the water out back?”
He nodded that he understood me and sent his mental answer, “It is polluted.”
Needless to say, and even though I was not a little surprised at the pollution, I asked him to wait a moment. I rushed to my kitchen and fetched a saucer of cool water. I put this in front of them. They stood on hind feet, front paws on the side of the small glass dish. They gulped and licked the water.
After a minute, the one with no tail rubbed his mouth with his front paws and sat back satisfied. Apparently chipmunks don’t spend much time doing any one thing. He chuckled again and sent his mental message,
“Thanks. This warm weather makes me thirsty especially when I run around chasing my girl.”
“What happened to your tail?”
He replied over his shoulder as they ran away, “My mom said the bad water she drank caused me to be born without a tail.”
When I woke up I went to the back door and looked out. The yard was the same as always. I placed a bowl of fresh drinking water on the ground and watched as the chipmunks came to drink. I didn’t see one with no tail and I didn’t get any mental messages.
Later as I began studying better methods of providing wholesome drinking water to animals, I attended a meeting of my bird watching friends at the suburban home of the club president. It was a colorful get-together with about fifty birders, both men and women and a few children. There was the usual collection of imitation of bird sounds with human callers showing their latest voices. I remember one caller voicing a plaintive nuthatch which was delightful.
I was in a conversation with several of my friends when an older gentleman joined us. We were talking about my new favorite subject, providing fresh water to wildlife, and he asked me, “It’s foolishness. Don’t you think that birds can find water?”
Well, he was a distinguished birder, known for achieving a life list of hundreds of local birds he had seen. I didn’t want to start an argument. I did reply, “I know that they can find some kind of water around the yard.”
He replied, “That’s the whole point. Nature takes care of itself.”
Then I asked him a more pointed question. “Would you drink from the puddles on your lawn?”
He smiled at me as he realized I’d just pointed out the whole issue. He walked away without answering.
These days, each morning I go to my backyard and place fresh water outside for the wildlife. I always look around for a chipmunk with no tail. He’ll be a descendant of the one I dreamed about. If I should spot him, I’ll look into his eyes, give him a wink, and let him know that I’m trying.
Something to remember:
Water covers 71 percent of the earth’s surface. Of this 96 percent is in the oceans and about 2 percent is in groundwater. 2 more percent is in ice and the rest is in the atmosphere. Only 2.5 percent of this water is fresh and almost 99 percent of that is in ice or underground, not easily available to animals. Less that .3 percent is in rivers and lakes and the atmosphere. A tiny bit more is carried in plants and animal bodies.
Here’s another interesting fact. About 70 percent of the small portion of the water on earth that is drinkable by animals is used in human agriculture including animals raised by humans to be eaten.
Wildlife doesn’t have much left to drink, does it?
Thomas Hollyday 8 /22/2017
Bird watching, like any hobby, can become quite complicated. For example, many folks prefer to be called birders. In the United Kingdom they call themselves “twitchers.” On top of that, the technical name for those who study birds is ornithologist.
However, watching birds is relatively easy. You can be a successful birder just by walking trails. As you get more experience you will find that different birds live in various types of shrubbery and terrain. Like humans, wild birds have likes and dislikes about where they live and what they eat. Some forage on the ground and some catch insects as they fly. Some like to hide in shrubbery and some like trees. So as you walk, scope out the different foliage to see who’s home.
You may want to see them up close and you will yearn for a telescope of some kind. Basic 7 x 35 power binoculars start at about $25. Then, when you get confused about identifying what lots of us jokingly call “the little brown bird” or LBB, you will probably buy yourself a wild bird guide. The Peterson guide, as good as any in the bookstore, starts about $10. This gear is easily carried in a small and lightweight fanny pack, leaving your arms free as you walk.
Let’s start with some likely sightings flying over you or sitting in a tree.
Usually you’ll spot some crows. These large black birds are fascinating to watch. For one thing, like ants, they are gifted with organization talents and seem to follow leaders. Many experts have written articles on the meanings of their system of calls. A group of crows will form up in a flock and attack a hawk that has invaded its territory. This “mobbing” is probably to defend nesting sites. You will only see this if the hawk is fairly large as small hawks can maneuver quickly enough to fight the swarming crows.
As you look at the crow remember what we know about this bird. It is one of the smartest animals in the world. It has the ability to make and use tools, often considered a trait only of humans. The family of the American crow includes Jackdaws, Jays, Ravens and Rooks. Most of these have been characters in stories and fables since ancient times.
You might observe some Canada geese. These are the large birds that fly in chevron formations, some all the year, but most in the colder months when they come south from Canada. Walk a little faster and you might see them land in a nearby field or pond for their lunch. This is spectacular as you see them come in, their wings cupped. They enter the water gracefully with hardly a ripple as they settle in and begin paddling around using their web feet. Canada geese can be pretty big birds. One of this species weighed in at 24 pounds with a wingspan of 7.3 feet.
Pretty soon, in the trees and shrubs around you you’ll hear some excited chatting. The source could be a finch, a sparrow or a wren, as they all have similar fussing sounds. You can be sure it’s one of the wren family if the bird sports up thrust tail feathers. Remember when you are watching to approach quietly, slow if possible. Birds scare easily. Hold still a few moments and they will start calling again so you can spot them.
If you keep an eye on larger trees as you pass, you’ll probably see a little bird heading directly down a tree trunk. This is a nuthatch and sooner or later you’ll hear his call, “yank, yank.” Not a lot of birds do this type of walking up and down as they search for food.
On a nearby tree trunk you likely will hear a rhythmic tapping. It’s one of several woodpecker types that hunt for insects in tree bark. If it is big and loud you’ve found birder treasure. This is a pileated woodpecker, huge and noisy and beautiful.
Chances are good on any day you’ll continue to entertain yourself with new specie sightings. On your computer you can easily check out birds that you spot. Google the description and most times you’ll see your bird up close with all his data. You’ll find sites at Audubon and Cornell University that will show you more birds. You will quickly learn what seasons they appear in your area, what kind of shrubbery they like to sit in, and what they look and sound like. Pretty soon you might want to keep a list of the first day you discovered each new bird. This activity is called by birders “keeping a life list.” After a few years you’ll want to look back at old friends and remember when you met them. Just in case you wanted to know, the current life list record holder has spotted about 9000 different birds.
You can be a happy and accomplished birder without spending any money. Or, you can spend your dollars thoughtfully and buy only equipment you need to enjoy the hobby even more. So, get outside and enjoy birding.
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