16 May, 2014

Building a Home in Belize - Plus Bonus Birds and Beast

Last year we started building an addition to our small (668 sq. ft.) vacation cabana to make it more suitable for living in full time.  We designed a small space of a little more than 600 sq. ft. that would include a nice master suite, an office area, and some storage space.  The whole thing will have a wrap-around veranda, some of which will be covered and screened.  It will be a separate building joined to our cabana by a covered breezeway that will house the batteries for our solar power system.  The east-west orientation of the roof's ridge-line will provide the proper orientation for the solar panels that will be mounted on the roof. 

Before the rainy season last fall made the roads impassable, we had poured all the foundation and footings for the 10 ft. tall columns the addition will be built on.  Then nothing happened for ages.  Belizeans take their holidays seriously and each time we thought it would get started up again there was Pan American Day, Garifuna Settlement Day, Christmas and New Year, Baron Bliss Day, Easter week.  After a few fits and false starts in early 2014, we are finally making headway on the construction, as shown in the photos below.  If you are bored by construction just scroll through and toward the end you will be rewarded with some bird and beast photos.  :-)
The foundation and columns for the addition are at a 26 degree angle relative to the existing cabana to achieve the proper orientation for the roof-mounted solar panels.  Stacks of wood are kept dry under the blue tarp to the left.  You can see the first wood sills mounted to the top of the concrete columns.
The addition looks huge from this perspective, but most of it will be the wrap-around veranda.  The area underneath will be used for more water vats, storage, and workshop.
Pascal and Richard are fitting the cross-beams across the floor joists onto which the plywood subfloor will be screwed down.  We have some "interesting"  angles in order to accommodate the 26 degree difference in orientation between the 2 buildings.

Here are the floor joists from below.  The columns have all been water-sealed and all will ultimately be painted white.
The floor joists from above.  You can see that the addition will be approximately the same height off the ground as the original cabana.
These joists in the breezeway that will connect the 2 buildings are extra sturdy to bear the weight of the batteries for the solar power system.  Each battery weighs more than 100 lbs. The joists consist of 3/4 inch plywood sandwiched between 2x6s.  Lumber here in Belize is full dimension, so a 2x6 really is 2 inches by 6 inches.
The breezeway joists from above.  Under the blue tarp is the subfloor for the interior.
Here is the subfloor from below. Our original cabana does not have a subfloor, only tongue-in-groove flooring installed right on the joists.  Although it has worked better than we expected, it was pretty buggy inside until Richard applied wood putty in ALL seams.  The flooring had shrunk so much that there was between 1/8th and 1/4th inch gap between each piece of wood.  Wood in Belize is not kiln dried, so you can expect such shrinkage if you don't let the wood dry first.
We are also adding a veranda to the back of the original cabana on the left.  The notched space between the 2 verandas and the breezeway is where the stairs will come up from the ground.
The blue tarp covers the subfloor for what will be the interior living space of the addition.
Soon (maybe late fall of 2014?) this view will be quite different the addition atop new columns to the right. The root top of the addition will be about 8 feet higher than that of the original cabana. 
As promised below are some birds and beast.  Spider warning!
The lovely black-headed trogon, Trogon melanocephalus.
Black-headed trogon with its blue eye ring, glimpse of yellow belly, and violet iridescence on its back and rump.
Golden orb spider, Nephila claviceps, snacking on what looks like a hover fly.  You can see the golden color of the web in this shot.   The gold color is washed out in the 2 flash photos below.
She has a chain of mummified meals in the upper part of her web.  Her body alone is a little over 2 inches long and her web, which she had woven in our lime tree, stretched over an area of about 4 ft by 3 ft.  The males are only about a tenth the size of the females.
Fearsome looking, but she won't bite humans unless provoked by rough handling. Even then, her bite is supposedly not very painful and leads to a minimal red swelling similar to a bee sting.
The moon and a Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, lit by the same low evening sun.

11 May, 2014

Hummer Wars!

As promised in my last post, here are photos of hummingbirds fighting over access to our feeders.

This first series is between a Cinnamon (perched) and a Rufous-tailed that is trying to drive it off.   And then comes a Green-Breasted Mango to get in on the action.  The Cinnamon just hunkers down and stays put, after giving the Green-Breasted Mango a word or two!

Looks like the Cinnamon senses the Green-Breasted Mango off to the left.

"Hey!  I was here first.  Wait your turn!"
"That's right.  You had better back off!"
"Just get on out of here."
Now the fight is between a Rufous-tailed and a Green-Breasted Mango.  Lots of displaying and posturing.

'Round and 'round they go until the Green-Breasted Mango goes for the nectar.
This calls for reinforcements!
"The big guy won't have a chance with both of us Rufous-tails here."
"Where'd he go?"

Time out for a quick drink on both sides.
"Go away.  I'm not finished yet."
Now the 2 Rufous-tails fight each other once the Green-Breasted Mango has gone.

My favorite ones to watch are the little Ruby-throated hummingbirds.  They are small but fiesty!

They must have watched Stars Wars and The Matrix too many times...

Dedicated on this Mothers' Day to my Mother, who loved hummingbirds and never tired of watching them.