Door to Nature: Wildlife and Drought

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

I keep weather records, including rainfall, every day. The total rain here in central northern Door County was 1.4 inches in June and 1.6 inches in July. Hayfields were cut in June, and very little was growing back until the second week in August. Cornfields are showing tasseling on plants that are only two to three feet tall.

It seems that the heavy rains travel from west to east across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan or through the central part of our state. I cringe when the Green Bay weathercasters say it will be a “beautiful, sunny day.” That’s great for visitors, but not for our farmers, gardeners and wildlife.

My land finally received a substantial amount of rain by Aug. 15. In fact, Sturgeon Bay got more than four inches in two days. 

This is the nature of global climate change: There may be areas of drought and parts of the country in constant floods at the same time, often within a few hundred miles. This element of climate change and global warming causes greater storms with heavier rain. Warmer air can hold a greater amount of moisture.

Some natural wetlands may dry up, and plants that require regular moisture will begin to show signs of stress. There are cherry orchards that were planted a couple of years ago east of Egg Harbor where some of the trees are dying or already dead from lack of moisture.

Sugar maple trees are dropping leaves that are still green, but they just don’t have the needed fluids to stay attached to the trees. There are fewer butterflies flitting about with flowers drying up, as well as far fewer monarch butterflies now than are normally seen in later August.

The news this summer of global climate change rapidly increasing is evident in the extreme heat and dryness in Europe and in many parts of our own country. In many places, wildfires are destroying much more forestland 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 are dependent on water sources for food and refuge, and the insect population has decreased. During the breeding season of almost all birds, insects are fed to newly hatched chicks, so fewer insects mean fewer young birds. 

Our dry early summer made the local deer population take advantage of the three bird baths in my front yard. I saw an adult deer carefully walk through the woods just south of my front yard and peek out to drink a great quantity of water from the elevated bird bath. Another bird-bath visitor was a large fox snake. It slithered into the “satellite dish” that lies on the ground to enjoy the cool moisture one hot July day.

Drought conditions can also affect wildflowers and the moisture they contain in the nectar. These late-summer days are when many butterflies are in the air getting this “ambrosia of the gods” and trying to find mates. 

The very hot, dry days of July were a time when robins really enjoyed the large bird bath. They first took several drinks, then splashed for many minutes in the cool water. 

There are also field sparrows that nest in the meadow to the west of my woods. They knew where to find the satellite dish bird bath that lies on the ground, and I saw them use it many times, as did the nesting indigo buntings. Having several clean bird baths that are refreshed daily with ample water is so important all year.

Several years ago, a neighboring landowner had many beehives. It was a very dry summer, and every day, the bird baths were drunk almost dry by the hordes of honeybees flying into 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. That has turned the parched hayfields a brilliant green again. However, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center still indicates that most of this autumn will be dryer than normal.

Please keep fresh water out every day for the wild creatures that depend on it to stay alive.