Door to Nature – Door County Pulse

Wildlife and Drought

Some people may read the title and wonder what I’m talking about because parts of northeastern Wisconsin have seen torrential rains for the past few months. That’s not the case here in northern Door County, however.

I keep weather records, including rainfall, every day. Total rain here in north-central Door County was 1.4 inches in June and 1.6 inches in July. Hay meadows were cut in June and very little grew back until the second week of August. Cornfields show tassels on plants that are only two to three feet tall.

It looks like the heavy rains are moving west to east across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan or across the central part of our state. I cringe when the Green Bay weather forecasters say it’s going to be a “beautiful sunny day.” It’s great for visitors, but not for our farmers, gardeners and wildlife.

My land finally received a substantial amount of rain on August 15th. In fact, Sturgeon Bay got over four inches in two days.

This is the nature of global climate change: there can be areas of drought and parts of the country that are constantly flooded at the same time, often a few hundred kilometers away. This element of climate change and global warming causes bigger storms with heavier rains. Warmer air can hold more moisture.

Some natural wetlands can dry out and plants that need regular moisture will start to show signs of stress. There are cherry orchards that were planted a few years ago east of Egg Harbor where some of the trees are dying or have already died from lack of moisture.

Sugar maples shed leaves that are still green, but they just don’t have the fluids to stay attached to the trees. There are fewer butterflies fluttering with the withering flowers, as well as far fewer monarch butterflies now than you normally see in late August.

This summer’s news of rapidly increasing global climate change is evident in extreme heat and drought in Europe and many parts of our own country. In many places, wildfires are destroying much more forest land that is vital to the health of our climate.

The entire food chain is affected by these ongoing events. Our Door County Bluebird Club monitors are finding fewer nesting bluebirds, tree swallows and other cavity nesters.

Reptiles rely on water sources for food and shelter, and insect populations have declined. During the breeding season of almost all birds, insects are fed to newly hatched chicks, so fewer insects means fewer young birds.

Our dry start to summer allowed the local deer population to enjoy the three birdbaths in my front yard. I saw an adult deer walking cautiously through the woods just south of my front yard and peeking out to drink a large amount of water from the elevated birdbath. Another visitor to the bird baths was a large fox snake. He slipped into the “satellite dish” which rests on the ground to enjoy the cool humidity of a hot July day.

Drought conditions can also affect wildflowers and the moisture they contain in nectar. In these days of late summer, many butterflies are in the air to get this “ambrosia of the gods” and try to find partners.

The very hot and dry days in July were a time when the robins really enjoyed the large birdbath. They drank several glasses first, then splashed for many minutes in the cool water.

There are also field sparrows nesting in the meadow to the west of my wood. They knew where to find the satellite dish birdbath that sits on the floor, and I saw them use it many times, as did the nesting indigo buntings. Having several clean and refreshed birdbaths daily with plenty of water is so important all year round.

Several years ago, a neighboring owner owned many beehives. It was a very dry summer, and every day the birdbaths were drank almost dry by the hordes of bees flying around the yard in search of water. It got so bad that the birds started avoiding the baths.

My part of Door County received four inches of rain during the first half of August. This has returned the parched hay meadows to a vibrant green. However, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center still indicates that most of this fall will be drier than normal.

Please keep fresh water outside daily to keep wild creatures that depend on it alive.

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