Battle of the Birds

The National Weather Service says we are in the middle of a moderate drought. I don’t believe that. To the animals in fields and woods near our small farm, the land is parched. I walked in the woods and crossed the cracked bottom of a stream that normally would flow over rocks and roots. Further on, I looked for the vernal pool where frogs gather to lay eggs. Even in late summer, tadpoles squiggle along in the wide pool. Now it is empty, just another rut in the path. Off in the woods, a deer crashed through the tangled brush. He must get moisture from leaves or perhaps by smashing pumpkins from a backyard garden.

Where do the animals get water in a severe drought?

I got an answer one day when I drove in the driveway and scared off a flock of robins perched on our grape arbor, ready for a feast. We had waited five years to see clusters of purple grapes hanging from the arbor. Now birds were trying to beat us to it. That afternoon my husband did an “emergency” harvest, gathering eight pounds of succulent fruit. He figured they ate ten percent of the crop. In other words, we involuntarily tithed our grapes.

A short time later, I heard loud squawking coming from the grape arbor. A large Pileated Woodpecker (think Woody Woodpecker) hopped among the grape leaves, looking for fruit. Apparently, we had spoiled his meal plans and he was in quite a dither. His red crest was standing on end, like an angry dog with hackles raised. 

Two days later, Woody disappeared, migrating to warmer climates and perhaps to a place where streams flowed more abundantly. 

I thought of him as I made grape jelly, canned it, and smoothed the dark purple confection on sourdough toast. This moment was years in the making, but still I thought of those thirsty birds.

The whole episode made us more aware of the plight of animals in this drought. That is why we bought a bird bath and now watch chickadees frolic happily in the cool water.

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