Saturday, November 29, 2008

Any little spot

This entry is overdue and is the reason that I started the blog. I had promise a friend that I would document how I made a fountain for my yard to make it more of a habitat. Putting seeds and food out for birds will draw them in but a water spot or fountain changes the whole dynamic of your yard.

Have you ever watched a nature show filmed in Africa. The center piece of life and drama is at the water hole. Regardless of where you live the drama is the same, it may just not be all that visible, yet. All animals need water, you would think that birds, being highly mobile would have little problem in getting water. Water is always a challenge and by adding a reliable and safe watering spot you have the power to change the landscape. With power comes responsibility.

I have been putting water out for birds for a number of years now, here are a couple that have done very well.

This was my first "success". It was a neighbors bath tub thrown out during her remodel. I did not know what to do with it for the first couples years so I just filled it with water and threw in some "feeder Goldfish" from the pet store. Poor mans Koi. I put some rocks in for the fish to look at and so that birds would have some thing to stand on if they fell in. Birds that fall in deep water can maneuver themselves to the edge to get out but a bath tub sides are too smooth to pull themselves out, you have to make sure any bird can get out.

A few problems I encountered with this was that the water froze solid in the winter but the fish did survive. That is until the local Raccoons figured out there was a free meal. Let us not forget the thing I have the most int he entire world...mosquitoes.

I fixed these problems by burying the tub up to it's edge and placing a cinder block in the bottom. I then went to a near by swamp and pulled out a handful of grass with the roots and mud. A couple more gold fish and it took off. During hot summers I did have to top it off from time to time.
Life sprang from the mud. Bacteria, microorganisms, bugs and plants all appeared. It did not freeze solid in the winter, the Raccoons could not catch the fish with the cutter in water and best of all the mosquitoes became part of the web of life in the corner of the yard.

The discovery of a three Red Legged Frogs in the "pond" three years after it was installed was my crowning achievement. Time moves on and I moved out of that house. That pond is thirteen years old now and still providing cover, food and water to the animals in that yard.

I moved to a house on a hillside with a large marsh nearby. I had wanted to make a fountain that was a garden piece for many years and I can up with this.

I have been working with welding industry for twenty years now and I took scraps and odd pieces of metal I have played with over the years and came up with this bubbling fountain that has a pleasant sound and draws birds in like a magnet. The sound of running water triggers the most basic parts of the brain, it is irresistible!

The bottom column is half of a stainless steel gas cylinder. The large bowl the end of a propane tank from an old pick up truck. The small half domes are the ends of gas calibration cylinders used by the state to set up the machines that are used to do emissions testing on vehicles. I threw in a big gear I found out in the woods and a weird bronze fitting I bought at the Boeing surplus store a few years ago. I decorated parts with solid copper spot welding tips. I plumed in a small water pump I bought for $4 on sale a local tool store. The pump is rated to push about thirty gallons per hour to a height of 16 inches. The bowl holds about four gallons of water and needs 115 VAC to work. I ran a conduit from the garage out to the fountain underground and connected it to a circuit breaker.

I love it. The sound is calming and the moving water is beautiful. Nothing comes with out shortcomings. It needs to be flushed often. Birds tend to bath in it which was the point but they foul the water and during the summer I flush it every day, sometimes twice a day.

Robins love the size. Here a male shares with three females. What more needs to be said about that.

In the winter it does freeze. Moving water does not freeze as easily as still water making it the most valuable source in the area. I put a piece of wood in the fountain so the birds would not hurt their feet on the cold metal. The picture above was taken in January 2008, look close, that is a male Anna's Hummingbird taking a BATH in the fountain!

Gotta have water. This fountain has been up a running for three years not with out any problems. It has provides these spectacular encounters and many others.

Band Tailed Pigeon

Male Western Tanager

Hummingbird bath

What ever it ended up costing me to build and maintain this fountain was well worth it to be fortunate enough to capture a picture like this.

A couple months ago a young guy named Dane and I started to remodel my shop. I work out of the house and use my shop for work. It is cold out there in the winter so we decides to take everything out, insulate and sheet rock. Then have a gas heater hooked up for heat. One of my selfish motives to do this was to make a new wildlife water spot.

This is my pallet. A chunk of yard between the garage and the easement. While we were working on the inside of the shop I installed the little white window to look out on the fountain I was going to build. The barrels are for my future water cistern project. Do not rush me, I will get to it, someday.

I went to the local big box store and bought a black plastic basin for $45. I bought a bigger fountain pump from the tool store. This one was capable of pushing 190 gallons per hour to a height of five feet. I would not need all that power but the pump was only $12. The basin 18 inches deep and holds fifty gallons of water.

Dig a hole

Well, I live in the Southern part of the Puget Sound. Famous for the high quality rock and gravel left over from the last ice age. You might notice a sixteen gallon shop vacuum in the picture. If you are going to dig a hole and your lower back is a mess use a vacuum! I loosened the soil and used the vacuum to pull out the small stuff and then manually pulled the "Baby Heads" out. This was not easy. I figure it took Dane and I about five hours of digging to make the basin fit into the hard ground. This was not very cost effective but holes just don't dig themselves.

This is the view from the window in the shop.

Dane and I took a piece of old pipe we found in the brush behind the shop and created this "spring". All of the wood, moss and leaves were what we carefully moved before we started to dig the hole. We buried the power cord the the pump after it was extended and the splice was watered proofed. I made a pump filter from a coffee can and a piece of screen. I could have purchased one for $26 but I knew I had a coffee can that was not doing anything constructive at the time. I had to buy a piece of tubing and hose clamps to go between the pump in the eighteen inch deep water to the back end of the buried pipe, which is only thirty inches long. Total I spent less than $100 to make the spring. I also put three goldfish in along with a cinder block for them to hide in until the basin can mature and protect then from the Raccoons in this area.

Within days I took these pictures.

Here is a North West Salamander that I found a few feet away from the water. I moved it for the photo. The salamander is now living there. Prior to working on this project I had never seen a salamander in my yard.

A Red Legged Frog has already passed through.

Look closely, there are two Townsend's Warblers here drinking. These warblers normally live and feed high in the big Douglas Firs here in the Northwest. They are not often seen this close on the ground. Water is that important.

Bath time for one of the Townsend's Warblers

Robins love it.

Lister and Phoebe love it too much. Lister on the left loves the Goldfish food.

Well I think the point has been made. Add a water spot to your yard and draw in the wildlife. You are only limited by your imagination, it does not have to be expensive or elaborate. Just clean and safe. Water can also draw predators and disease. These are issues not covered here today but look in to it and you can work it out. If you have questions, let me know and I will do what I can to help.
Your yard will reward you.


Dave Miller said...

Great photos and story! I like your use of logs & etc around the pond edges, I will have to try that.

I put in a pre-formed pond, pump and bio-filter about 10 years ago and I have been amazed at all the wildlife that it has attracted, especially birds. With the bio-filter I do absolutely no maintenance, I just add water now and then in the summer. The biofilter keeps the water crystal-clear. I take out the pump in the winter, because the biofilter is not needed then.

The biofilter is just a buried tub the size of a small garbage can, set up a certain way so that the water gets aerated and flows upward through lava rock and the roots of water plants, then out into the pond. I have noticed that the birds mostly use the top of the biofilter to bathe and drink (vs. the pond), probably because the biofilter is shallow and provides lots of cover.

I think every kid should have the experience of setting up a small backyard pond with pump and biofilter. Over a short period of time it becomes a complete ecosystem, hosting all kinds of life, large and small. It does require some monitoring, e.g. if the pump stops, the water will turn cloudy with algae. If every kid had the opportunity to be a steward of their own little ecosystem, I think they would have a lot more interest and knowledge about the entire ecosystem.

I once made the mistake of putting in a plant which had a few pieces of duckweed stuck to it. Before long the entire surface was covered with duckweed. It took lots of skimming to get it all, but I did eventually, and it has not come back.

Keep up the good work!

Jade said...

How did I miss this before? Wow! I love the photos and I love your fountain, in particular. I can only imagine how it sounds.

I don't suppose you build wildlife fountains on commission? :D

Right now I just have an old Starbucks glass mug filled with rocks and water, but the chickadees and our ground squirrels have been drinking from it.