THE WILD SIDE
By Maria de Bruyn
All life on our earth needs water to exist — plants, animals, and humans. Water contributes to respiration, processing nutrition, photosynthesis, regulating temperature and providing a living environment for many organisms. Scientific studies are documenting the benefits for our well-being of spending time in natural areas. Beautiful places for this include nature reserves and parks with ponds, wetlands, lakeshores, creeks, and rivers.
The diversity of wildlife around ponds can be delightful, especially in the summertime. You may be lucky to see mammals coming to the shoreline or pond’s edge to get a drink or have the good luck to catch sight of beavers, muskrats, minks, or otters.
Reptiles and amphibians clamber onto rocks, snags, branches, and boardwalks to sun. Turtles lay their eggs close to ponds and rivers. At this the time of year, you may come across the remains of leathery eggshells left by hatched turtles (or dug up by predators).
The tiny insects on vegetation near water can be remarkably interesting, so taking along a magnifier can increase what you see. Most leaf- and plant hoppers are quite small but the glassy-winged sharpshooters are about fingernail-sized. They eat the water-carrying tubes in plants, called xylem, and then need to expel excess water from their bodies by shooting out fluid droplets into the air.
Many birds nest near water. Eastern bluebirds and brown-headed nuthatches will raise young in boxes we put out for them, but they and other birds also like to use holes in snags near or in water. Those nests are much more difficult for predators to reach.
Various birds like to nest near water because they are primarily insectivores in the spring and summer and there are many insects in such areas. The only hummingbird nests that I’ve been able to find were all near water; up to 60-80% of their diet comprises spiders and other bugs.
This year, I had the good fortune to see a female ruby-throated hummingbird building her nest and raising her young. The first time I visited this wetland after the babies fledged, mama hummer came and hovered about 2 feet in front of me, as if she were greeting me. I’ve seen her on subsequent days as well.
The large waterbirds such as geese and ducks bathe in ponds. The smaller birds enjoy taking a bath in streams and creeks. Birds living further away from natural water resources also need to drink and bathe and that is where we can help them out.
If you live near a park, ask those who take care of it to put out a few bird baths. You can put out shallow dishes or plant pot saucers in your own outdoor area as a space for birds to drink and cool off. If you have a balcony, it might take a while for birds to find your water source, but if you stay inside, you may get to see them come by to sip and splash.
The gradual warming of our planet is reducing life on earth and what happens with water is an important part of the changes. Besides educating ourselves about climate change and advocating for planet and wildlife protection, we can also act personally to protect and conserve water. Information and ideas for this can be found at these websites:
- What is Climate Change?
- Water and the Global Climate Crisis: 10 Things You Should Know
- Eno River Association
- How Can You Help Protect Source Water?
- 45+ Ways to Conserve Water in the Home and Yard
Maria de Bruyn participates in several nature-oriented citizen science projects, volunteers at Mason Farm Biological Reserve and the Orange County Senior Center, coordinates a nature-themed book club, posts on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/bruynmariade/) and writes a blog focusing on wildlife at https://mybeautifulworldblog.com.