It is a foggy morning in Topanga Canyon. Squirrel chomps away on a walnut from his tree branch, while up above a Red-Tailed Hawk glides by screaming, screaming .. He’s been doing this for days now. “What is he saying?” asks Squirrel. “Wish I knew,” I reply.
My first thought was: maybe Hawk is thirsty. Maybe he wants water. Other possibilities are: he could be fighting for territory or protecting a nest. I have heard what I believe to be a baby hawk in the nighttime crying out, while his daddy screams during the day.
Besides Hawk, all wildlife need water during prolonged heat spells. While wildlife are accustomed to Southern California’s usual summer drought, this year is especially dry, as we have had no rain. The morning fog is the only source of precipitation for the native plants & wildlife of the Santa Monica Mountains in the summer. Once the fog lifts, summer days are hot & sunny. There is no water running now down in the Creek that flows through Topanga Canyon to the Ocean. The bats under the bridges rely on this water, as do birds, coyotes and deer.
No matter where you live, it is a good idea of course to add a water feature to your native wildlife garden at summertime and to refresh your birdbath daily. This is especially true this summer, where the nation has seen triple digits and record drought. I like to add shallow bowls of water at the ground level, as well. I place them in different parts of the garden so that different types of birds can find them without having to fight. The saucers should be ones that birds are able to perch on to get good footing (tip fr Karyl Seppala).
Though you might not see them drink, Lizards partake, too, of this water placed at ground level, and Squirrels also appreciate the careful placement of water bowls.
Bees & butterflies need a drink, as well. Both need a shallow container such as the lid from the bottom of a pot. Some butterflies make use of mud, where they gather nutrients besides getting a drink. A clay plant saucer with large pebbles works nicely; place in a dirt area, and overfill (tip from Loret Setters) and place near butterfly attracting plants.
For the bees, it is good to add a few rocks to your saucer, so that they can drink without drowning. My neighbor has a fountain that runs constantly, attracting birds from all around. The only problem is that the bees are also attracted to the fountain and, since there are no rocks in this fountain, they congregate on the edges of the fountain where they sometimes fall in and drown. Not a good result. It is important to be mindful when you add a water source in your wildlife garden. Consider the proper placement for the critters it will necessarily attract.
Hummingbirds enjoy the spray from the garden hose; they love the sound of running water. They dance at the very edge of the spray, careful not to get too wet.
If you live in Topanga Canyon and you are out watering, be warned that you will attract all manner of critters, whether you want them or not. Again, be mindful here. For example, snakes are drawn to water in the summer. Baby rattlers are especially curious and will come out to see what you are doing. Not having rattles yet, you don’t get the usual warning that they are there like you would from an adult Rattlesnake. So be alert.
Young Southern Pacific Rattlesnake, photo courtesy of Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
Another concern in the Topanga Canyon in summer is water for deer. It is a rare treat to see a deer in our canyon. If you have deer nearby, you will feel concerned for them in these unusual drought conditions. A friend of mine always makes a point of putting big buckets of water out for them. I have not done so. I am concerned that if I attract the deer by leaving water, wouldn’t I also be attracting Coyote? Would I be making Deer an easy target? One of my neighbors has a man-made pond. The Deer come to drink from it.. Are they targets for Coyote or even Mountain Lion? (Yes, Mountain Lions also reside in Topanga Canyon.)
Water.. a precious resource in Southern California, and in much of the West. This year I believe I heard that 56% of the U.S. is in what is considered “drought conditions”. It pays to be careful with this precious resource. In So Cal, something like 80% of water use goes to: Landscaping! As native wildlife gardeners, we should all be mindful of how much water our garden is using. This, of course, is the problem with gardens that have large lawns. What a waste of water! Wildlife cannot drink from lawns. I think about this every time I see huge swaths of lawn just baking in the summer sun! Usually this is at a commercial area, like a shopping mall or outside government buildings. It is one thing if your climate provides lots of rain, and quite another if you get none and every drop of water has to be imported from elsewhere as it is here.
Ah, but there he goes again, Hawk screaming, screaming.. I have left a large plastic potting lid from for him, full to the brim with water. It would be wonderful to see him land & drink, but I don’t know that I will be that lucky. Coyote might decide that this is his water. Who knows? Right now, the precious resource of water belongs to all the members of our Topanga Canyon Wildlife Family.
What are you doing to help the critters in your wildlife garden through the summer heat and drought? We’d love to hear~
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