Saturday, October 20, 2012

Drip ... Drip

Lava Beds National Monument:  September 2012

This morning I’m chumming for birds.  I’ve got something even more irresistible than chopped fish or scattering seed.  Water.

We’re at least ten miles from any surface water.  The species that live here cope with doing with less.  Kangaroo rats and mice can make do with the moisture in their food.  Many of the insect eating birds get much of their moisture requirement from their prey.  When there is dew, many birds sip one dew drop after another.  I’ve seen a dozen robins after dew drops on a roof top in the early morning.  

My chumming is simple.  I hang a sandwich bag full of water on a low branch and prick it with one pinhole.  Drip...... Drip....... Drip.  Beneath the drip I place a pint container full of water and weighted down with a rock.  Then I snuggle bigger rocks all around my pint bowl. 

Our first visitor can’t wait for me to get set up.  I spilled a little water next to the van.  Already a Townsends’s solitaire sips eagerly. 
Our second visitor is a surprise.  I hadn’t noticed any California ground squirrels in the area, but here comes one.  He, too, drinks eagerly.

Our third is a robin.  Nine long sips before he flies off.  

But then we wait.  This is such a dry area, there aren’t many birds around to take advantage of my offering.  When we go back to camp to I can’t resist trying again.   

Half my job has already been done.  There are more birds here and there is a campground faucet near me.  When birds hear the faucet run they fly in hoping to sip a few drops of spilled water.  My little pint is a bonanza in comparison.  The drip of water catches their attention and in they come.  

A rare moment of peace.  A Townsend's solitaire sits on the left, then a Cassein's finch, white-crowned sparrows and one robin.
A thirsty Townsend’s solitaire is the first to arrive, but he is immediately ousted by first one robin and then another.  Robins turn out the be the bullies of the pond.  Half a dozen could drink at once, but there is so much squabbling amongst them that drinking is done in bits and pieces.  They pay no attention when a white-crowned sparrow sneaks in for a drink, but woe on any solitaire who approaches.  
But there is one bird that sends even the robins scattering.  I hear a call I haven’t hear for two or three years.  Four evening grosbeaks land in the juniper above me.  After a quick check they drop down to the water and chase off the robins.  The grosbeaks quickly drink their fill and then leave the robins in peace.  

Robins rule over the water for about an hour.  A juncoe gets his share by flutter-flying up to the bag of water and sipping drips  A Cassein’s finch finds droplets where they are gathering on a juniper twig beneath the drip.  

I refill the pint bowl three times over the next three hours.  A titmouse and a chickadee waited until the big boys had their fill.  The little chickadee even took a bath in my tiny pond. 

While I watch we have eight species of birds drink our water.  A flock of quail walked around us and two ravens came near. I suspect the’ll drink when we are away from camp.  

Our last visitor is a mule deer doe and her fawn.  She is in beautiful condition.  Smooth, sleek coat; long, slender legs; big ears.  She sips the bowl half empty and then lets her fawn have a share. 


  1. OMG, Elva, so many tricks up your sleeve! Can't wait to try this sometime. Wonderful sketches and photos as usual.

  2. What a fabulous array of birds. I haven't seen an evening grosbeak in years. All one reads about them is the decline they are in. Love your sketches too.

  3. What a brilliant idea Elva! I just had to comment on your lovely post, wonderful of you to be so thoughtful! And your sketches are wonderful, very inspiring time you had!

  4. Such beautiful sketches and photos! Thanks for sharing Elva

  5. I just did some catching up. You've been busy, and everything is so beautiful. These robins remind me of the style of Edith Holden, and I love them. idea hanging a bag of water in a tree for dripping!

  6. I love this story. What a clever idea you created to get water for the birds. I saw the squirrels at the La Pine campground in Oregon drinking from the water faucets that were dripping water between the RV hose connection and faucet. Never thought of the plan you created. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Oh what a variety of birds. wow. I bet they wish you would come more often. Lovely getting to see the Evening Grosbeaks. I got to see several in spring time but they didn't stick around like they usually do. Love all your sketches and photos. Nice to finally have rain here.

  8. Chumming for birds - great phrase! And wonderful sketches and story to accompany it.

    I used to work in a wild bird hospital, and spent countless hours hand-feeding baby birds. Once they were weaned onto more-or-less natural food, we moved them into outdoor aviaries. At that point they always had fairly shabby plumage, and needed to bathe and preen to make their feathers waterproof. But - they didn't recognize water in a shallow pan. So we hung a gallon jug of water above the pan, pricked a hole in it, and within seconds the pan would be full of splashing fledglings. It was amazing to see their instincts click in. Thanks for bringing back a great memory!

    1. Hi Chris and Mike .... Good to hear from you. Facinating that the rehab birds needed help recognizing the water.

  9. Wow this idea of attracting birds is interesting - must try this

    rajesh s (sketching forum)

  10. What a great idea! I wish I could've been there to see all the activity but reading your wonderful descriptions makes me feel as if I had been there. I will be on the lookout for an opportunity to try this myself.