Dew drinkers suffer in the heat

Water, water, everywhere?Water is vital for wildlife and even species associated with the driest habitats need water for survival. In deserts, some plants and animals get all the water they need from the dew that gathers overnight.

Water, water, everywhere?

Water is vital for wildlife and even species associated with the driest habitats need water for survival.

In deserts, some plants and animals get all the water they need from the dew that gathers overnight. Other plants, like cacti, store water in succulent leaves.

In your gardens, you may have plants that have special ways of reducing water loss, or maximising water uptake. Some plants have long taps roots that descend several metres into the soil to find water. Others have narrow, curled leaves to reduce evaporation, or waxy leaves, as many Mediterranean plants do.

Birds and mammals may travel long distances in search of fresh water, and a garden pond or woodland pool can be a true lifesaver. Birds don't just need water to drink. It is very important that they protect their feathers by regular preening and bathing.

If you have a garden pond, it's worth sitting somewhere quiet where you can see the pond. If you're patient enough you are likely to see a steady stream of birds and other wildlife visiting.

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Some birds like to drink and bathe in peace. Robins, wrens and dunnocks find a quiet spot, or wait till there are no other birds around, before coming down to the pond. Blackbirds are bolder and will happily splash about while you watch.

The most entertaining birds at the pond must be starlings, my favourite garden birds. They are likely to descend en masse and squabble loudly as they bathe. Water will fly in all directions, and their plumage will glint wonderfully in the sunlight.

If you are lucky, you may see mammals, such as hedgehogs, foxes or even badgers, coming to drink at a garden pond. You may have to sit and watch at dusk to see them though, braving the midges and mosquitoes that will have bred in the pond.

Frogs, toads and many insects rely on permanent water bodies to survive. We've all seen blobs of frogspawn in spring - many of us have probably collected it in jam jars as children.

Did you know that dragonflies spend up to three years underwater as larvae before emerging to fly as adults for just a few weeks?

Big dragonfly larvae are voracious eaters, and can easily devour many of the other invertebrates in a pond. Eventually they emerge as adults that go by such wonderfully descriptive names as hawkers, darters, chasers or demoiselles.

Dragonflies and damselflies have been around since before the age of the dinosaurs, so it is a great privilege to see them in our parks and gardens. However, without water in which to breed, dragonflies would die out. So too would fantastic wetland plants like purple loosestrife, water lilies, and the aromatic water mint.

Suffolk's wetland nature reserves have looked anything but wet in recent weeks. The lack of rain has had a big effect at RSPB Minsmere nature reserve, where parts of the famous Scrape look more like a desert than a wetland.

Luckily, most birds had finished nesting before it dried out, but there's very little water to attract migrant wading birds such as spotted redshanks and green sandpipers.

We can all help to protect these wonderfully wet patches by reducing the amount of water we use. Here's a few simple things that can help to make a big difference:

· Turn off the tap when brushing your teeth

· Collect rainwater in a water butt to water the garden

· Use buckets instead of a hose to clean the car

· Only put the washing machine on when you have a full load

· Take a shower rather than a bath - though power showers can use almost as much water as running a bath

But what's under the water? Children and adults love pond dipping. The chance to discover what lurks below the surface is always popular. Pond dipping events draw in visitors of all ages, and it's often the parents who don't want to leave. Will you be lucky enough to catch a baby newt or a monster dragonfly larva? Or will you find a caddis fly larva inside its home of shells, pebbles or dead vegetation? If you look through a magnifying lens, you can study the detail of the tiny creatures in the pond, and maybe discover something so small that you can hardly see it.

The next pond dipping day at Minsmere is on Thursday August 24. Sessions start at 10am, 11am, 2pm and 3pm and will last for about an hour.

It's open all, and costs £3 per child with accompanying adults free, book by calling 01728 648281.

Or if you have a pond in the garden, you could even try dipping there. You never know what you might find.

Weblink: www.rspb.org.uk

RSPB Havergate Island nature reserve is famous for avocets, and several hundred of these beautiful black-and-white birds will be present this month. It is also the best place to look for spoonbills, with their almost impossibly spatula-shaped beaks.

Access to Havergate is usually very limited. However, for four days this month visitors have a special opportunity to visit this unique place and enjoy a guided walk.

Havergate Adventure is organised by the RSPB Woodbridge local group. From Saturday August 19 to Tuesday August 22, boats will depart Orford Quay every half hour from 10am to 2.30pm for a two and a half hour guided tour.

Places are limited to twelve people per boat, so you are recommended to book in advance, though tickets will be available on the day subject to availability. Tickets cost £6 for adults and £3 for children. Light refreshments, binocular hire and toilets will be available on the island. To book a ticket, or find out more about the event, ring Malcolm Key on 01728 723155.

(at Minsmere unless stated, call tel: 01728 648281 for more details)

· Tues 8 and Thurs 31 Aug at 1.30 pm: Discovering Minsmere

· Wed 9, Fri 18 & Tues 29 Aug at 10 am: Family wildlife walk at Minsmere

· Thurs 10 & Tues 22 Aug at 9.30 am: Birdwatching for beginners

· Sat 12 Aug at 8 pm: Moth and bat night at Minsmere

· Sun 13 Aug at 7 am: What's About at Minsmere?

· Mon 14, Sun 20 & Fri 25 Aug at 9.30 am: Discovering Minsmere

· Wed 16 Aug at 9.30 am: Monks, tanks and avocets - history at Minsmere walk

· Sat 19 - Tue 22 Aug: Havergate Adventure (boats depart Orford from 10 am to 2.30 pm. Call 01728 723155 for details)

· Thurs 24 Aug: Pond dipping for all (sessions at 10 am, 11 am, 2 pm and 3 pm)

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