Waterholes, whether in the wild or the backyard, are natural gathering places for wildlife and people who like to watch them.
My brother organizes and leads small private tours into the wilds of Africa and Australia. Gathering at waterholes is one of their favorite past-times and the best way to view a large variety of the region’s wildlife. Namibia on the west coast of Africa is a popular destination where the barrenness of the desert landscape stands in stark contrast to the abundance of wildlife. At a single waterhole he will see herds of lions, elephants, rhinos, zebras, giraffes, and several varieties of antelopes drinking and bathing, all in proper pecking order.
Watching the variety of wildlife gather at our own backyard waterhole has become a favorite pastime for our family. We’ve seen squirrels, raccoons, rats, and rabbits, as well as a large variety of birds from hawks to hummingbirds sipping from the waterfall that flows between the spa and pool. Not to mention all the bees and grasshoppers and other tiny six-footed creatures that skim the surface of our pool for a drink.
Before we moved here the wild turkey had made our backyard pool its home. They flew in over the iron fence and waded in the water which at that time had been mostly drained. Even after we moved in they tried to establish the pool area as their domain, perching on the fence and swooping down over our heads, until the dog eventually convinced them to move on. Sometimes they still stare longingly at the water behind our fence. As do the deer whose trail passes nearby, lifting their long necks to peer over, noses in the air enjoying the sweet scent of water.
Two coyotes who hunt in the meadow behind our home like to sit in the tall grass on the hillside gazing down into our backyard, waiting for the squirrels and rabbits to sneak in for a drink, then chasing them down as they depart.
Just as in the wild our backyard waterhole has a pecking order. Among our feathered friends, the red-headed woodpeckers have claimed first rights to the waterfall. They will tolerate the blue jays who pay no attention to them anyway, and they largely ignore the hummingbirds, but the doves and finches and bush tits and any other birds who try to drink without their approval get chased away, returning only when the woodpeckers are otherwise occupied.
Once I rescued a small bird that had fallen into the pool, perhaps having been swept down the waterfall when trying to drink. I scooped it out with the pool skimmer and set it on the grass to dry off. A squirrel was pulled from our water trap where it had managed to pull itself to partial safety. Several rats were scooped from the pool post-mortem. And we have rescued hundreds of bees and grasshoppers with our skimmer, or hand-carried them to safety while we were swimming.
My favorite waterhole show was watching a pair of hawks that had flown in for a drink. But they weren’t quite sure how to do it. They walked back and forth along the edge of the pool gazing into the water and occasionally lowering a toe. But the stretch was too far. They’d strut back and forth and puff themselves up and squat and peck at each other, trying to figure it out, to no avail. Once in a while they approached the waterfall leading up toward the spa where the water was closer for drinking. But this appeared too tricky or too risky for them. Apparently the cascading water and uneven rocks presented a problem. As soon as they’d taken a few timid steps up, they backed away. After a long while they summoned enough courage to climb all the way to the top, and at last they were able to drink as well as bath in the shallow waters coursing down the rocks.
The tiny bush tits and timid doves never experienced any difficulty in drinking and bathing in the falls—only the mighty hawks.
Sometimes I’m tempted to leave our pool gate open, so the wild turkey and deer, coyotes and mountain lions, rabbits and squirrels, could all gather around our pool in proper pecking order, just as they do in the wild.
Wouldn’t that make an awesome photo!
[NOTE - My brother, Jeff Jones, is taking reservations for trips in 2013 and 2014. He will have a website up soon, but until then, let me know if you'd like more information.]