As I was having my toast and tea this past Wednesday at the kitchen table, a northern flicker flew in to drink at our birdbath. You may think this is not something to write about, but it is. We rarely see flickers out here on the prairie, but today one showed up. The juncos arrived a few days ago, down from the hills. They too came for water. It turns out that we've created a little oasis on our property. The birds have cover with a New Mexico olive that's now over eight feet tall (as well as a large pinyon pine)—and water with a birdbath. Just a birdbath, not a pond or water feature. And it's enough. We've got quite the view from our kitchen table, and regularly see a variety of sparrows and house finches, but not forest birds. (We've also created a food source for kestrels and sharp-shinned hawks, but that's another story.)
I think the forest birds are desperate for water, and so they are leaving their regular habitats to find it. We've now had two months without any precipitation, and the wildlife is struggling. I'm still watering some shrubs and plants, and when I do, the pollinators follow me around—yellow jackets and native bees. I try to leave them pools of water in my gardens or on the sidewalk. And they too drink from the birdbath.
I've never felt as close to nature as I do now, living in northern Arizona, nor as concerned for it. Growing up on the farm I paid attention, but southeastern Pennsylvania is not a harsh environment. And then I lived in cities and suburbs for many years. I had to learn again to observe—and care. Right now, plants and animals are stressed from warmer-than-usual temperatures and lack of precipitation, and I'm trying to do my small part.
Working at The Arboretum also makes me more conscious of what's happening. Our grounds provide an oasis for a number of critters; we've got a pond and several water features, as well as many delectable food sources. We've always had lots of wildlife around: gray foxes, coyotes, bobcats, assorted squirrels, and a huge variety of birds. But now we have attracted "undesirable" critters, those that will eat our plants. And some seem to have even established territories inside our fencing. Warming winters have brought us javelina, and now we also have a small herd of mule deer. I haven't seen them, but others have, and their sign is evident. Scat, deer beds (depressions in grasses and other plants where they bed down to sleep), and some clipped shrubs and trees. The deer, two does and two fawns, regularly use our gates to come and go, and so must be habituated somewhat to human activity. And our fencing affords them some protection from coyotes and bears. We also provide them with a critical element—a year-round water source.
What to do? We have no idea, except to install additional fencing around certain plants and trees. Caring for nature and living with it can be a challenge, but during these difficult times, I'm grateful that I can help.