Early in August I was due to clean out the bird bath. The stones get covered in algae and the whole thing starts to stink. Not that it stops the cats drinking from it, as they prefer this to the clean water provided indoors. As I bent over to take out the first stone I noticed black wriggly things moving in the water. They were like tiny black dots which were able to contort themselves so they could spring about the bowl. Now I had a dilemma. With a strict no-kill policy I couldn’t just tip these guys out to fend for themselves, but at the same time I needed to give the birds some fresh water to drink. I decided to push the bowl to one side and let nature take its course. I found an old green tray in the shed, filled that with fresh water and then put in a rock as a safe refuge for unexpected visitors. I then supplemented this with a small stone to create a bridge to freedom for anyone who couldn’t swim. Ok, I know what you’re thinking and yes I do have better things to do.
So all was well. The birds were very suspicious of the new water tray and apart from accidentally standing in it due to the crowd at the food counter, none of them went near it. I did pull a few flying things out though. They hadn’t made it to the safe island due to the vast expanse of water which was probably the equivalent of a small lake. Flies were never good swimmers. Meanwhile, in the old bird bath the black dots had turned into red wiggly things. These gathered on top of the stones and appeared to be eating the algae. They were probably going to turn into blood sucking mosquitoes, I thought and all my neighbours would be visited by them on the warm summer evenings to come. But I could no more kill the red wiggly things than I could the black dots, so I let them be. Mother Nature knows what she’s doing I thought.
A few days later I bought a proper bird bath for my winged friends. It is shallow and easy to clean, so worth every penny. I dismantled the lake and saved a few more flying creatures in the process, including a moth. I have seen birds drink from the new dish but none have taken a bath yet. At least not to my knowledge; perhaps there are a group of early morning bathers queuing up to wash under their armpits while I am still sleeping in my bed. Who knows? The gloopy soup in the old bird bowl now had additional life. Alongside the red wiggly things there were creatures that looked like small nail heads. They too had a strange way of gyrating around the water by bending double and then flicking out. Fine if you don’t mind which direction you are going in. There were masses of them all bumping into each other in this haphazard manner. The stink from the bowl was pretty horrendous by now and I started to wonder how much longer I would have to wait for these guys to grow up and leave home.
Turns out Mother Nature wasn’t to be trusted. Sure enough she had sent the mothers to a pool of water to deliver their offspring, but that was where her duty of care ended. Although I topped up the bowl with fresh water every day, pretty soon the teeming pond life started to use up all the oxygen. The red wiggly things went first. I found them fixated like figures from Pompeii stuck to the green algae stones. They apparently died mid-bite from asphyxiation. I should have realised that this would be the case and instantly blamed myself. Now it fell to me to save the remaining pondlife. The hammer head thingies looked to be doing ok and were still moving around and there were some larger black dots which propelled like rockets across the water when I put my finger in to stir up the gloop. As I bent lower to look into the murky depths the stench was appalling. I had to get the survivors out alive and dispose of this acrid water as soon as possible.
I took the stones out first. Dead red things splattered haphazardly across their sides. I got an old bucket and filled it with some tap water, then took a sieve from the kitchen which will never see another packet of flour and used it to scoop up the life forms. I couldn’t get them out of the sieve though and watched them all wriggle and squirm stuck to the bottom. So I got the hose out and washed them into the bucket of fresh water. I wasn’t sure whether this high pressure water ride was fully appreciated by them all, but at least it saved their lives. I painstakingly continued in this fashion and managed to find some red wiggly survivors at the bottom. When I finished I wondered how I was going to keep them all alive. What do all these creatures eat and how do I get air into the water to avoid another disaster? With no time for a full inquest I decided to create a makeshift pond. I tipped everyone into a blue container that I was keeping as a snail hospital (don’t ask) and topped them up with some fresh tap water. Many of them floated on the top, looking dazed. The red wiggly things went to the bottom and the nail head creatures gathered in groups round the edges. I couldn’t leave them like this.
I popped round to my local pet shop to get some pond weed. I had no idea if they would eat it, but at least it would put some air into the water. The pet shop had run out of fresh weed, but there would be some in tomorrow, I was told. This was a serious blow, but I managed to persuade the kind lady to sell me some from one of their fish tanks. I checked first that no fish would be harmed in this process and she assured me that they would be fine for a day. The she put her arm into the tank and took out handfuls of lovely, green, aerating weed. My boys will love this, I thought.
Nothing much had happened in the makeshift pond when I got back. They lead simple lives and don’t ask questions. I put in the first handful of weed and immediately bubbles appeared on the surface of the water. As I put in more weed there was more movement erupting to the surface. Perhaps it was air from the weed or maybe it was all the wild life getting excited and swimming to the top to see what was going on. So now I have an accidental pond. It is in a shady part of the garden and shouldn’t get stinky for a week or two, which is just as well as I am going away, so boys, you will have to fend for yourselves.