Water and wildlife

People think first of birds and birdbaths when they think of supplying water, but every kind of creature needs water.


Song sparrow bathing ©Janet AllenA song sparrow enjoying his bath.

The main way we provide water is with our pond and stream and also with our wildlife pond.

We were surprised that birds initially seemed quite cautious when we first started up the stream. Even the usually-bold blue jays seemed to be afraid to fly over it. It was pretty frustrating since we had designed the wide, shallow, pebbly stream with birds in mind. I felt like shouting, "You've got wings. Use them!" I guess life is dangerous if you're a bird—only the cautious survive. But it soon became a favorite place.

Yellow-rumped warbler ©Janet Allen
A yellow-rumped warbler

Besides the many resident birds that enjoy the water spring, summer, and fall, we've been thrilled to see the many migratory birds—especially the warblers— attracted to our water features as they pass through in the spring and fall.

Hawk taking a bath ©Janet AllenA sharp-shinned hawk taking a bath

This sharp-shinned hawk took a very long, very leisurely bath—at least ten minutes. He definitely had the stream to himself!


Frog(Enlarge) ©Janet Allen
One of our dear departed green frogs

What we were most looking forward to was having frogs in our pond. Although everything I read said that they'd surely find any body of water, they never arrived on their own.

Eventually someone gave us a bunch of little green froglets they had rescued from their swimming pool.

baby frog ©Janet Allen
A baby frog

Although I've read that you should never to move grown frogs, only tadpoles, these were really "rescue frogs" since, sadly, they all die once swimming pool owners add chlorine. Fortunately, most stayed, thrived, and even laid eggs.

They survived the first winter in our iced-over pond, but the next year all the adults died, leaving only the tadpoles which had overwintered.

Pond air hole ©Janet AllenHole we created for air (Yes, the pond is under all that snow!)

Besides really enjoying our frogs all summer, we felt a responsibility to help them overwinter. We also wanted to do this without a large amount of electricity. One winter ('09) we experimented with putting a PVC pipe in the pond and checking it each morning to see if it was still open. If it wasn't, I poured some warm water down the pipe to maintain an air hole.

It didn't help, and eventually all our frogs died.

Our pond just isn't deep enough.

Young toad ©Janet Allen
A young (probably second year) toad with a dime (at the right) for scale

Toads, on the other hand, have enjoyed using our ponds as a mating place. They lay thousands of eggs each spring, and the tadpoles live in our ponds until they become adults a few weeks later.

Being nocturnal and land-based, we seldom see them again until the following spring unless we happen to disturb one during the day.


Water boatman ©Janet AllenThere are a lot of interesting water insects, such as this water boatman

Besides frogs, we're also interested in insects. We especially enjoy the damselflies and dragonflies. (And I learned that there's a difference between these. Before I thought they were just different kinds of dragonflies.)

We also find the other water insects, such as water boatman, interesting. They're small, but fascinating. I like watching them "row" around their "lake."

Mosquitoes? They haven't been a problem. First, the water in our pond and stream is constantly circulating, which is probably enough to prevent them from breeding, but second, we have lots of mosquito-eating creatures around—birds, dragonflies, frogs, toads, other insects. For whatever reason, we just haven't had mosquitoes.


Chipmunk drinking ©Janet AllenChipmunk drinking at the pond

I've seen squirrels and chipmunks use our ponds and streams to get a drink, but not to bathe. (Perhaps they "bathe" by licking themselves like cats do?)

I assume that nocturnal creatures in the neighborhood, such as raccoons and skunks, use these water sources, too, though I've never seen them do so.


Goldfish ©Janet AllenThe goldfish didn't survive - Thank goodness!

We initially didn't want fish, but after buying them (6-for-a-dollar feeder goldfish), we really enjoyed them. They even survived the first few winters with an iced-over pond.

Eventually, though, we suspected they were eating the frog and toad eggs, as well as, we assume, dragonfly eggs. The goldfish were also multiplying. What to do? As a non-native fish, we definitely would NOT add them to local streams, and we couldn't bear to kill them. But nature took care of the problem. After one especially icy winter, we found they had all died. What a relief!

We haven't replaced them, and even though the Aquascape system says fish are essential, we haven't found any problem without them.

Another reason for not replacing them: As the photo shows, the water is crystal clear and there isn't much vegetation. This photo was taken early on before water plants developed. The ponds are much more interesting now, so we don't miss these artificially-introduced, non-native goldfish.