Welcome to my zone 9a habitat garden near Houston, Texas.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Critters and the drought

In my own yard, my drought has been going on for over a year now.  June 2010 was the last month in which we had normal rainfall, and the drought combined with triple digit temperatures day after day is putting a lot of pressure on the animals which live in and around my yard.

Lately, we see raccoons regularly during daylight hours.  These normally nocturnal visitors evidently are not able to find sufficient food at night and are having to venture out during the day.  There was a litter of four baby raccoons that were born and grew to juvenile status around our yard.  For a while, I continued to see all four of them together.  Then there were two that were still foraging in the yard.  Now there is only one left.  The other three have either moved on to other territories or something unfortunate has happened to them.  The one that is left is the smallest one of the litter and is still only about half grown.  He takes refuge under our garden shed and comes out to cadge dry cat food or other scraps that I leave out for him.  (I don't really approve of feeding raccoons and I don't recommend it.  This one just looked so thin and pathetic I couldn't help myself.  He does look healthier now and I'll have to wean him soon.)

Turtles are another matter.  I don't have any qualms about providing tidbits of food for them.  Long-time readers of the blog may remember Sam Box, the female box turtle that lived in our backyard for over 20 years and often visited our little back porch/patio to get treats.

Sam Box in the summer of 2009, the last summer that we saw her.

Sam never turned up last year and hasn't been seen this year either.  I must assume that she no longer walks among us.  Box turtles are highly territorial so it is inconceivable that she would have wandered away.  I think she had probably reached the end of her long lifespan.  But she did not leave us turtle-less.  Last summer, a tiny baby box turtle turned up in the yard and followed the same routine as Sam, coming to the back porch for handouts.  I dubbed him "Son of Sam," later shortened to Samson, and this summer he has returned.  When I am late getting up, as I was this morning, I will often find him already on the back porch waiting for his treat.

Samson - Little Sammy.

Of course, the great majority of critters that visit my yard have feathers, and we've definitely seen more of them than we usually do this summer.  Normally, during summer the birdfeeders are fairly quiet.  Not this year.  I refill the feeders every couple of days and the birdbaths every day and the seeds and water disappear as if by magic.  One of my birdfeeders is available to squirrels as well and that feeder empties in a day, sometimes in a few hours.

The drought does not seem to have hampered the lizard, toad, and frog populations.  I see plenty of them - of all sizes - every day as I go about my tasks.  However, I think it has definitely affected the butterfly population.   Usually, by this time of summer, the yard would be full of their fluttering wings.  This year, not so much, which is why I was so happy to see this beauty today.

Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly feeding on tithonia, Mexican sunflower, today.

Perhaps she is a harbinger of more to come.

The drought and the heat have been very hard on our gardens and very hard on us, but it has definitely taken a toll on wildlife as well.  While I tend to be in the camp of those who advise non-interference with the processes of Nature, this is an exceptional time and I don't yet have it in me to be able to watch an animal starve when I might be able to help it.  So, I'll continue for at least a while longer to leave scraps around for the hungry raccoon under my garden shed and I'll keep filling the birdfeeders as often as they empty and turn a blind eye to the thievery of the squirrels.  And, of course, I'll make sure Little Sammy has his treats and that all the critters have plenty of fresh, clean water every day.

It's tough out there and just now going the extra mile to help our fellow creatures who share our yards seems the right thing to do. 

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