Sunday, July 29, 2012

Bat in my umbrella

Yesterday morning was sunny and warm enough to eat breakfast out on the deck. When I went to crank open the umbrella, I saw a silhouette that I immediately recognized as a bat. It stayed there while I ran inside to get the camera and allowed me to come around to take photos. It looked like it was shivering -- I wonder from fear of this large creature. I stood there and we looked each other in the eye for awhile.

At my forest house we'd once had a bat family living in our deck umbrella. It began while we were on vacation and it so happened that our houssitter was Michael Durham, at that time a photographer for The Oregonian newspaper (he's now a photographer at the Oregon Zoo). He took photos of our bat and one appeared in the newspaper.

I slowly closed the umbrella and dragged around another one for shade. When it was time for lunch I gently looked into the folds of the umbrella to see if was still there. I couldn't detect it and so I opened the umbrella. It was there -- but high -- and flew away.

Today bats are challenged by habitat loss and a mysterious epidemic disease. I'd left a bat house in place at my forest house when I moved. Now I'm going to get a bat house or two for the riverhouse.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Why a houseboat doesn't sink

When I found a houseboat I wanted to live in, I had no idea what was underneath to get it to float. I had some friends come over -- one an architect and another a long-time houseboat-dweller -- who looked underneath with a flashlight and thought it looked fine.

To be certain that I was buying a floating home that would continue to float, I paid $500 for a dive inspection. The report turned out fine except that my setups needed three new stringers, which the previous owner knew about and had already agreed to replace. I still didn't know what was really underneath.

The photo above shows what a set-up is like.

What floats are logs (some places have flotation that looks like rectangles of styrofoam) and as long as the logs are underwater they don't rot. Above the logs cross-wise are long wooden beams called stringers (like you would have if you were building a deck) and the house floats on that. I've learned that you don't want the stringers to get wet (which could happen if your house is lopsided or weighed down by a snowfall).

Here are my new stringers arriving by mini-tugboat. They are 6 inches by 10 inches and 44 feet long. They are on the far side of the tug. In the foreground is a log raft that were used as a work platform.

Part of the installation process was to lift up the deck boards so the floating logs could have notches cut in them for the stringers to slide into. At last I could really see what was under my house and was amazed to discover that I have six huge old-growth logs. I measured this one and it is 50 inches across. Likely they are the original logs that floated the houseboat in 1955. Nowadays you could not harvest trees that big, and so smaller and more logs are used.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

What Floats Past

July 24, 2012

I am experimenting with this blog and trying to post a slide show I created of "What Floats Past" -- watercraft and wildlife that have floated past my window since last November.

Included in the slide show are: this gravel barge - a garden shed and gazebo - yachts - houses, boathouses, a dance hall - a large downed tree - sailboats - geese and goslings - mallards and chicks - Fire Bureau, Coast Guard and Marine Assistance craft - long canoes - and a mysterious blue ball looking so much like performance art.

We shall see if visitors to this blog can access the slide show.

You are invited to view Donna Matrazzo's photo album: What Floats Past ...
What Floats Past ...
Dec 2, 2011
by Donna Matrazzo

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Introduction and fledgling swallows

July 22, 2012

Last November I moved to a riverhouse -- a floating home -- on Sauvie Island, on the Multnomah Channel of the Willamette River outside Portland, Oregon. It's just a quarter mile from the forest house where I'd lived for 23 years, but it is amazingly different and wondrous. I've been keeping journal notes and writing stories to friends about what I see and experience, and decided that I would become a blogger so that all that could be available in one place.

I'm a science, history and nature writer, but this blog will not be elegantly crafted pieces, just quick snippets of this life.

This first entry will focus on the fledgling swallows in the photo. We have four kinds of swallows in our area -- tree, violet-green, cliff and barn. For years at my other house I'd had violet-green swallows in special nesting boxes I put up for them. I put up such a box here but none nested. Instead, I got these visitors on the glider on my deck. I believe they are the birds that fledged a few days earlier from a mud nest at my friend's place three houseboats downriver.

This photo was taken on June 22nd and here's what I wrote in my journal:
"Four baby swallows perched on deck glider. Parents fly by -- they all open their mouths-- parents fly by and feed them. They are all chirping. One sat on top of one of the others for about 30 seconds. The ones on the end are getting fed more than the ones in the middle. I started watching them about 5pm. It started to rain; they all snuggled close to each other -- two facing one direction and two the other.
5:35. A fifth one arrived and then they all left. (maybe it was the parent advising them that dinner was over)
5:45. Four birds are back.
June 23rd. 8:45 am. The four baby swallows are huddled on the glider. It's rainy, rainy, rainy."

Last evening friends were here at dusk as swallows flitted all about us, swooping to snatch insects in the air and on the water surface. We had a long discussion about them, and then couldn't agree on which of our species of swallows build mud nests. Got out the "Birds of North America" book and couldn't tell. Got out the 1,100-page Audubon Bird Encyclopedia and saw that both barn swallows and cliff swallows build mud nests. Since the swallows in the photo don't have a forked tail (nor are blue/tree or violet green), then they must be cliff swallows. Next year I am going to build some platforms so they will nest at my place.

Below is a photo of a new crop of baby swallows in their mud nest at my neighbor's.