Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Heron poopy splat tracks

In an earlier post, I wrote that I wished I had herons landing on my deck, like some of my neighbors experience. Maybe not. It turns out that herons land all the time on our walkway during the night, and they leave big, messy, poopy splats. This week, a heron moseyed through its splat and made tracks down the walkway. The tracks are overall charming to see but the splats are quite the mess!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The absurdity of river caterpillar rescue

Caterpillar floating in river
Rescued caterpillars on my legs

I wrote this to "Ask an Entomologist:"

"Last week when I was kayaking on the Multnomah Channel of the Willamette River in Portland, I paddled alongside a small orange/black fuzzy caterpillar with a bit of white fuzz on top and I rescued it -- eventually setting it on the dirt in a planter on my houseboat. Paddling a week later, I saw another caterpillar and rescued it. After five of these, and seeing that none of the caterpillars was dead I figured, silly me, they must belong in the river. I then noticed that about every five feet there was one or more of these caterpillars floating, and seeming to be "eating." I eventually pulled over and put my five "rescued" ones back on land, still hesitant to leave them in the water. I also realized later that I only saw these caterpillars along about one mile of the six I paddled. I was near shore the whole time. I can't find any info about them myself online. Can you help? I would like to add an entry to my blog, My Riverhouse Life, that I will call "The Absurdity of River Caterpillar Rescue."

I wrote to a website called www.allexperts.com. I was given a choice of half a dozen or more entomologists and I chose one. I immediately got an email saying that "most of our questions are answered in 3 days." However, less than an hour later, I got another email with a link to the answer. Eric R. Eaton is the entomologist. He's the author of the "Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America" and has a blog at http://bugeric.blogspot.com.

He correctly identified this caterpillar as a Ranchman's Tiger Moth, Platyprepia virginalis.  He sent this link http://bugguide.net/node/view/381614 with photos (that exactly matched mine) and more information
... along with this note:

"I grew up in Oregon and found the adult moths frequently associated with wetlands, so it makes sense the caterpillars would be found in the same situation, though why they were actually in the river is kind of a mystery. Maybe they blew off the host plant or something."

I will now do more research on my own to see if I can find out why the moths were in the river swimming.

Platyprepia virginalis? - Platyprepia virginalis

Friday, April 26, 2013

"Stream," ballet like a river

                                                                  Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert, courtesy Oregon Ballet Theater

Last Friday I was a volunteer usher for the Oregon Ballet Theater premiere of a dance called Stream, which I found to beautifully evoke the flow and colors of a river. In the evening's program it said this regarding the dance's Swedish choreographer, Pontus Lidberg: "At the heart of Stream is a quote that has given Lidberg inspiration, 'What we call a person, the Buddha referred to simply as "stream."' Lidberg clarifies, 'There is no beginning or end, there is just now.'"

The sheer fluid costumes in shades of blues and aquamarine were designed by Reid Bartelme. The program says, "The properties of water ultimately influenced Bartelme's final costume design with the use of translucent fabrics in ethereal blues and greys and a mobius-like top. There are also subtle differences in each costume as well. Bartelme shares, 'Water is all one thing and never the same thing.'"

In Catherine Thomas' review Monday in The Oregonian, she describes the piece as "shimmering instrumentalism, a mesmeric pure-dance ballet set to a luminous strings-and-electronics score by Portland-born composer Ryan Francis ... Stream swirls and surges in calm, clear lines, aided immensely by Reid Bartelme's ice-blue diaphanous costumes against the darkened stage. There's an airy serenity to the piece, although tht 10 dancers are in near-constant motion, streaming en masse, arcing into on-pointe spins, forming and dissolving patterns... Stream is not a showcase ballet; it's all dreamy mood."

Preceding the dance was a lecture by OBT's ballet historian Linda Besant. In that morning's paper there had been a DOGAMI poster of the Willamette River floodplain over time -- she noted that image and compared it to the beauty and flow of the dance piece.

DOGAMI image from LIDAR of a segment of the Willamette River's historic floodplain

Monday, April 15, 2013

Way into the inlet

Directly across the channel from my houseboat is a small inlet. Mostly, it's too shallow to get very far back there, but once inside, it's a magical-feeling spot, a small place to float surrounded by high trees. Back there I've been up close with herons, a beaver, and a few weeks ago, hooded mergansers.

Every time I got out for a paddle, that's my last bit of gunkholing, to see how far I can get back in the inlet. Of late, fallen trees have blocked the path and I've even thought about taking a saw and slicing my way through. However, this last Saturday the water was high enough for an intrepid kayaker to scoot around the tree-falls and get quite a ways back. Here are some photos of navigating the encumbered passageway.

                                                  Beaver-chewed trunk and fallen tree

                               Headed home

Three martins in the morning

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The purple martins are back! One of my neighbors was hoping they would have arrived a week ago, fittingly during the memorial for Dave Fouts, but here they are today, a week later, and just as he would say, "the scouts arrive mid-April..."

I already re-love hearing their sweet chirp. There are two males and a female (I think) and they look bedraggled -- coming from South America. I felt bedraggled just paddling six miles in the wind and rain on Saturday.

They are checking out the gourds and claiming their spots on the poles. Mid-day when they were gone I took the opportunity to lower the pole and add cedar chips and diatomaceous earth that a neighbor had offered to people at Dave's memorial. He had given her that advice, although not said anything about it to me. The cedar chips are a soft beginning to a nest and the diatomaceous earth keeps insects away.

I am never going to lower (or raise) the pole sleeve again by myself. It is heavy and when I got to the end of the figure 8 around the clamp it got away from me. The pole careened down and banged me in the head. My hand -- fortunately gloved -- got trapped where the sleeve slides over the rest of the pole. Afterwards I looked up "concussion" "symptoms" and didn't have any, although I've got scraped-off skin and some swollen and black-and-blue marks on my hand. It was a bit scary.

But I won't do that again, and I'm delighted to have the purple martins back home.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Whitecaps, wind, and roily waters

A very windy day today and the river is wild with whitecaps. Usually the channel is flat and placid so it's a whole different aspect of the water's behavior. I won't be paddling today. The wind is blowing east/upriver, counter to the downtream current. The tallest trees are swaying along the shoreline. Boats are bobbing in the roily waters and there are big splashes on the bows of boats heading downriver. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Debris derby

The river is a spectacle today. It's flowing high and fast, and is loaded with debris. Down the center of the channel is a steady stream of floaters -- logs, branches, plastic bottles, blobs of styrofoam, plastic bags, and junk of all sorts. At 10:40 a.m. I checked the tides -- which affect the river here even 80 miles inland -- low tide would have been around 9:15 a.m., so it's past slack and the tide should be coming in until around 3:00 p.m. -- but this is all moving fast downriver. These photos were all taken within maybe a half hour and are just part of what was speeding by outside my window. Every time I looked up it was something new and lots of very big logs ...

The river's ups and downs, Part II

Here is the dramatic difference between the river at low and high water. Last summer, the ramp -- some call it our bridge because it connects our walkway over the backwater to land -- was extremely steep. Now here in April, it's nearly flat. Time to go and move down some heavy firewood.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Mornings of a thousand rainbows

Because I knew I was buying a houseboat that is basically a double-wide trailer surrounded by a cedar "shell," I decided that it was going to need some glam and that that glam was going to be a crystal chandelier. I was leaving behind a beautiful gold antique chandelier at my previous house, so I was not going to be satisfied with the white aluminum circle hanging light that was currently in the houseboat.

I had been eyeing used crystal chandeliers at Portland's fabulous Hippo Hardware, central spot for old lighting of all kinds, and just before I moved I found the perfect one and had it installed, with a dimmer for extra ambiance. I was happily enjoying the beauty of it, in and of itself, when one morning I was eating breakfast and the sunlight happened to be low and rise above my neighbor's roof into my place and suddenly I had small rainbows all over the newspaper I was reading. I looked up and around and rainbows where everywhere -- all over the walls, the ceiling, the floor and into the adjacent living areas. It looked truly magical. It has only happened a few times again since then, but each time it does I just smile as it lifts my spirits.

Sparrows under my roof


Well, I was going to get around to having the space under my roof that just has insulation more properly sealed off this year. But I didn't get to it before sparrows decided to ignore the bird houses I put up and nest there again, but this time, they are making a very big mess. It is quite entertaining, since when I am in the kitchen I can hear the birds above my head, moving around and chirping. If I go outside, that scares them and they fly out from under my roof and land on the tenderhouse roof or electrical wire.

They also are nesting under the tenderhouse roof. They have torn out the insulation, and the padding and styrofoam bits land on the deck and in the water, where I have to kneel with a scooper to get them out. Closing up those spaces will be a definite project as soon as sparrow nesting season is over.

Mindful Slacking

I have a pretty good history of what's now being called "mindful slacking" -- taking time off from work and appreciating that it is a time for creative thinking, a meditativeness, a reconnection with the natural world that is enriching. Rather the opposite of being a workaholic.

I've been self-employed as a freelance writer for decades and my style is to take at least 8 weeks off a year -- last year I took off 12 weeks.  (How could I have a regular job? No one would give me so much vacation time, unpaid or not.) Lately I have been taking off Friday afternoons to paddle. Unless I have some deadline, who needs me to be around to work at the end of the workweek? Living on the river makes it ever so easy to get out and have a wonderful paddling experience and as the weather gets nicer, I just might take off two afternoons a week ...

Osprey--cormorant--swallow switcheroo

The bird transformation in one week is astounding. The multitude of cormorants are gone -- birds I'd been seeing every day since autumn -- have migrated to the Oregon coast. No cormorants in the water in front of my windows, none on the river pilings. Gulls, too. Instead, swallows are zipping all around and landing. Last year I put up a birdhouse for violet-green swallows and this year built a perch for barn swallows, so I'll see if I get any nesters.

Then today when I went for a paddle I saw that the ospreys are back, building their nest on top of one of the pilings where the cormorants had been hanging out. One was on the piling and its mate on a nearby tree.

Herons and belted kingfishers, which I'd hardly seen around all winter, are starting to be more visible. And we are all waiting for the purple martins -- "scouts" that look for potential nests are anticipated to arrive here from South American in mid-April. Today was the Celebration of Life for Dave Fouts, the Purple Martin Man, and one of my neighbors said wishfully that "my" martins should have come back today in honor of Dave, but they apparently are waiting to arrive at the usual time, although it's been a mild winter, so who knows.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Queen of Sheba Reading Throne

Last summer I hardly spent any time sitting out on the deck reading. This year I was determined to change that. I had some money unexpectedly refunded to me from my mortgage escrow account and such things I always consider "found money" and not to be spent on ordinary expenses.

I decided I would allot the money for a decadent lounge chair with a fat pad (and later, water toys). As deck and lawn furniture began to appear in stores I kept my eye out for what I was looking for but wasn't seeing it, so I tried online and found the perfect lounge. But the cushions I saw there were only 3-1/2 inches and I wanted something thicker.

It seems that all the lounge pads are thinner than chair pads, so I opted for one 5-inch thick chair pad and a second one almost as thick that can be doubled over as a foot rest. The combo doesn't fit quite right but it is plenty comfy. It even has a slide-out panel to put drinks and snacks. Now I go out when there is sunset light and sit and read for a bit, even if I have to wear a sweater. I am imagining long lollygagging reading binges during the summer when it's warm and beautiful out.

To complete the vision, a few weeks ago I went to the Skyline Grange annual garage sale, where I bought 18 books at 50 cents each. Summer reading, I'm ready ...

The Great Backwater Bird Count

February 17, 2013 was Audubon's annual Great Backyard Bird Count. Since I don't have a backyard, I participated with a Backwater Bird Count. I decided I would count all the birds I could see in my purvue. You're supposed to watch and log for 15 minutes, so I watched from 4:35 to 4:50 p.m.

Here is my count:
-- 2 Canada geese
-- 1 wood duck
-- 6 mallards
-- 14 double-crested cormorants (3 on pilings; the others flying past)
-- 1 gull (couldn't identify species)
-- 4 redwing blackbirds (at feeder)
for a total of 28 birds of six species

Afterwards I went online to add my list to Audubon's count. I was noted as:
Checklist S13077786

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Moonlight walk to the frog chorus

                                         Photo enhanced by Courtney Frisse

Around this time of year, the Pacific tree frogs come into full chorus. It is an outrageous sound, a zillion chirpy splendiforous croaks of the tiny one-inch frogs' mating season. There's a lake in Wapato Greenway park nearby where for probably the last decade or more a few of us have gone out after dark by moonlight to hear the frogs at their most magnificent. We try to wait if we can for an evening that's warm and better yet, with a full moon, but even without the perfect conditions we give it a go. We park at a friend's and hike by flashlight close to the water's edge. We stand quietly -- reverently, really -- and cup our hands behind our ears to magnify the sound. It's extravagantly wonderful. Each year we remind each other how the sound comes from a sac under the male frog's throat. We have stood in the full moon; we have stood, like this year, without the moon but a sky brilliant with stars; and we have stood chattering in the pouring rain. This year four of us went, and as a nod to technology, three of us had iPhones and recorded the sound. If anyone knows how to add a sound attachment to a blog, let me know and you'll be able to hear it somewhat too. When we get back to the moorage, we can hear a distant semblance of the frog chorus from the wetlands at Burlington Bottoms across the Channel.

photo nbc news

Decomposing seal, weeks 1 and 2

Two weeks ago I came across this dead, decomposing seal caught in a logjam near the confluence of the Multnomah Channel with the Willamette River. It was chewed a bit on top.

Last week I came across it again. It was upriver of where I saw it the first time, and on shore, on the riprap almost at the confluence. Much more of it has been eaten. Hmmm, in the wild it looked like a seal and I think was as least four feet long and meaty. Here in the photo its face looks more fish-like.

Log lasso

Logs are continually floating downriver, and some riverhouse people go out and lasso them for firewood. In the past week I saw this fellow trying to harness a large log. Earlier I'd noticed an immense log -- maybe the biggest one I'd seen -- float by. I passed my neighbor Bruce shortly afterward sitting outside and asked him if he'd seen the big log -- he hadn't. Turned out, Tom Hecker had hurried out with his motorboat and lassoed it before it got to Bruce's house. Then a few days later I was sitting out on the deck and saw another neighbor go out and maneuver a big log to his place. One of the old-timers on the moorage said that there was a time when no one bought firewood -- there was so much wood coming down river they just went out and snatched it.

Return of the redwings

I love the song of redwing blackbirds. The bird guides call it something like "a liquid, gurgling konk-la-reee, ending in a trill." I think it's a flirty whistle, with kind of a "Pick 'ya up at 8, babe!" quality. The redwings have returned in great numbers and they perch in the cottonwoods behind the backwater. In the morning, when I open the door to go up and get the newspaper, the air is filled with a burst of their melodious song.

They are rather gluttonous at the bird feeders, but I don't mind. I especially like to see the flashes of the brilliant red epaulet on their wings.