Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Foot of snow falls on Nolalu area

Well, it is just what we didn't want. A foot of heavy snow fell on the southern and eastern regions of Northwestern Ontario over Sunday and Monday. This will delay ice-out on area lakes and rivers by a week at a time when almost nothing in the way of melting has even started.
Red Lake escaped the late-winter surprise.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

A great way to shed light on the outdoors

Books that are specific to your area are a must

I've got books on everything from birds to mushrooms
Is there anything at your house that you would buy without batting an eye? I mean besides beer?
At our house no one ever hesitates to buy a book. This is mostly Brenda's influence. Her attitude is that the covers of books are doorways to knowledge, wisdom and entertainment. If there isn't room on the credit card for a book, then just try another credit card. We will find the money somewhere; it's that important. Brenda is a big library user but buys lots of books as well.
My weak spot are field guides that are specific to our region. And since I never know when I'm going to need them the library isn't a good solution. I need the book right now, in my pocket or on the shelf.
Over the years I've accumulated a great number of field guides on birds, flowers, trees, shrubs, fungi, lichens, amphibians, just to name a few, and they are among my most prized possessions. With these books I can learn the names of everything in the outdoors. More than that, I can begin to understand the role they play in the ecosystem, how they were used by First Nations and how precious they are to us right now.
I also find that books are far and away a better way to identify things than is the Internet. Case in point: years ago I wrote on my old blog about an enigma involving herring gulls at our remote outdoor business -- Bow Narrows Camp -- on Red Lake in Northwestern Ontario. See Gulls Catch Tiny Blue Flies, Then Migrate
Herring gulls live to eat fish. They are the birds that will sit on the water behind your boat just hoping you will toss away a dead minnow. They are also the ones that will swarm you when you are emptying fish guts on a rocky island, nearly landing on your head in the process. They are bonkers, crazy, nutsy for fish and never pass up an opportunity to get some more. We all know that, right? Well, not always.
Every year in late August I watched the big gulls flying erratically right over camp. They were obviously trying to catch something right out of mid-air, 100-200 feet off the ground. They would dip, dive and swerve like swallows. And I could never make out what they were catching until one year. I think it might have been quite windy and that is what forced their prey down lower. They were tiny bluish-white flies and I mean tiny, like one-quarter the size of my little finger nail. What were they and what was it about them that made the normally voracious fish-eating herring gulls spend so much energy catching them?
I must have wasted dozens of hours scouring the Internet for an answer. I also asked in the blog post if anyone had any ideas. No one responded.
It has "bugged" me all these years that I couldn't solve the riddle.
Then this spring Brenda and I stopped at Tettegouche State Park on Hwy 61, north of Duluth. This place is my favourite source for the North Woods Naturalist Series field guides that are just about the Northern States and Northwestern Ontario. I had thought I already owned every book this company has published when my eyes spotted two new ones on the shelves: Insects of the North Woods and also Ferns and Allies of the North Woods. Jackpot!
I read field guides like other people read novels, cover to cover. I was almost finished the Insects book when I came upon the chapter entitled Fruit Flies. "Fruit flies!" I almost yelled out loud. "Fruit flies!" Why didn't I think of that before? Small flies that are poor fliers and therefore easy to catch.
Sure enough, there among five wild fruit flies found in this region is the exact bug I photographed up at camp. It is called, simply, Fruit Fly, or in scientific language: Paroxnya albiceps.
The guide says P. albiceps feeds on asters in late August and into September. Asters are a common flower around the yard at camp.
They must be intensely nutritious, perhaps all fruit flies are. When the herring gulls are feeding on the flies I could pass right beneath them with pails of fish guts and not one of the birds was interested.
After feasting on the fruit flies for a few days, the gulls apparently got the fuel they needed to migrate as they then took off, not to be seen again until the next spring.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Northwestern Ontario ice-out could be late

It is nearly mid-April now and at our home in Nolalu we should be hearing the roar of the Whitefish River, about a mile away. How streams get their designations is a mystery. The Whitefish "River" would just be a creek in many other places. The only time it is the least bit navigable is normally right now when the spring melt sends all of the winter's precipitation down a myriad of rivulets that dump into the river. A month later you can walk down the river in most places, jumping from rock to rock and never get your feet wet.
Today the Whitefish looks just like it did all winter -- frozen from one side to the other with no visible signs of flowing water.
Even though we have lost at least half our snow, none of it seems to have gone to runoff. The ditches are completely dry. The snow has just evaporated in the stronger-than-normal winds.
Temperatures should be +10 C in the days and around 0 C at night. Instead we are just starting to see the first hours of above-freezing with miserly temperatures of +1 or 2 C. At night the mercury plummets to -15 C. The nighttime temperatures are not unlike those of winter.
The reason for all of this is climate change that has sent Arctic temperatures soaring and forced cold air farther south. The result has been Ohio-like winter temperatures at the top of the world and Arctic temperatures in places like Ontario, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
There is about four feet of ice on the lakes everywhere in Northwestern Ontario. That is about as thick as it ever gets. The ice itself acts as insulation that prevents it from freezing deeper. It is only about a month before the opening of fishing season, May 19. Can four feet of ice thaw in just one month?
If fact it can, if the temperatures got back to normal right away but according to the weather forecasts, normal temperatures are at least a couple of weeks away.
A good picture of what is normal can be found by going to The Weather Network Canada
Find the locality you are interested in and click on the 14-Day Forecast. At the bottom will be a chart showing a line for the normal highs and lows.
For places like Red Lake, keep in mind that the normal ice-out date is May 8 with a normal variability of a week before and a week after that date. Then keep in mind that there is about a foot more ice this winter than normal so it will take higher than normal temperatures to melt it on time.
As I said earlier, we have seen in the past four feet of ice melt in a month but that was when the springtime temps were pretty normal for this time of year. That has not been the case so far nor is it expected to change for at least a couple of weeks.
On the positive side, lots of the snow has evaporated and there haven't been recent accumulations of new snow. Every new snowfall sets back the ice-out by about a week. Also the ice itself is what we call blue ice. It is the strongest type but because of its bluish colour melts more rapidly when exposed to sunlight than white ice that reflects the sun rays.
When I put all the factors together my best guess right now is that ice-out is going to be late. For places like Red Lake that could put it around May 19. Nolalu and Thunder Bay areas are usually a week earlier.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

The Wolf and I

"We're a lot alike, you and me," he said and I nearly jumped out of my skin. I had thought I was completely alone but here was a wolf right at the side of my bench.
"Jeez, have a heart," I gasped. "You shouldn't sneak up on a guy like that!"
The wolf shuffled a step or two away.
"Well, just for the record, I was here first. You nearly sat on me."
"Now that would have been embarrassing," I said. "What are you doing here?"
"Watching to see if any deer come to eat the branches you piled, same as you."
We both stared at the brush pile for a few minutes. There wasn't a deer to be seen.
"We're also about the same age," the wolf continued. "I'm 10."
"Well, I'm 65," I said and was cut short by the wolf.
"That's 10 in wolf years."
I took a close look at him then. His muzzle was indeed gray and he had silver tips to the hair all over his coat.
"And we're both retired," he added.
"Wolves retire?" I was surprised.
"Of course we do, in a way." He smiled then. He was missing all but two teeth, one on the top and an opposing one on the bottom.
"Moose hoof," he said. "Couple of years ago."
The old canine explained he now mostly existed on road-kill. No worries about starvation though. There were enough dead deer along the highways to feed dozens of retired wolves. Mostly he hung around in the vicinity of our property. He had been here all his life and liked the place.
"You know I could have killed you a dozen times over those years," I said.
"I could say the same thing," said the wolf.
Now we both smiled. I liked him. Maybe we really were alike.
"And we both eat deer," he added.
"Well, I do eat other things, vegetables for instance," I said as I watched the pile.
"Never understood that. Deer are vegetarians so when you eat them you get vegetables too. They are like the perfect food, man."
I could tell he was serious so I didn't laugh.
I opined that it was unlikely a deer would walk up to the pile with the two of us sitting just a dozen yards away. I wasn't hunting, of course. I just wanted to see them. The wolf said it was the same for him. He would chase them for a ways, for the fun of it, he said, but he couldn't kill a deer with just two teeth. Anyway, it was good exercise, he added.
The wolf turned to look at me.
"Have you seen Junior, the wolf who took over the pack after I left?"
I had lots of trail camera photos of him, I said.
"Dumber than a stump. I mean the kid couldn't outwit a stupid clam."
He was silent for a minute, before adding, "I shouldn't talk that way. I apologize for that last remark."
Then, in a loud voice aimed at the woods, "I apologize to clams everywhere!"
We both laughed until we cried.
"I told him that if he would just pay attention to his physics, he and the pack would only need to get a deer every few days instead of every night. They run around all night like a bunch of partridge with their heads bit off, howling and yelping like jackasses in heat. 'Use your head once in awhile,' I told him. 'Think of the energy you're expending.'"
Wolves know about physics? I wondered.
"Certainly we do," said the old wolf. "If you run and run and run your mouth will get fizzy and next you'll upchuck last night's icky supper."
It took me a moment. "Oh! I get it," I said. "Fizz-icks."
"That's what I said," said the wolf.
"I told him, just put a couple of wolves on stand and have a couple others drive the deer to them."
That's the way we humans do it, I said.
"That's the way anyone with half a brain hunts, " said the wolf. "Anyway, Junior told me that at least he was still able to run all night. 'Not like you, Grandpa,' he said."
"He actually called you Grandpa?" I asked. "I'm surprised you didn't cut him down to size."
"Well, I wasn't going to get in a pissing match with him, my chompers being what they are. Junior may be stupid but he's also mean-stupid."
I asked the wolf where he learned to speak English.
"Never did," he said.
Then how are we carrying on a conversation, I asked.
"It's you," he said. "You're speaking wolf. I wouldn't be surprised if you picked it up listening to Junior and his gang singing their lungs out every night. Singing is a good way to learn a new language."
He was probably right.
A raven flew overhead and let out a couple of squawks. The wolf watched it intently.
I started to say, "Anyway, my ma'iingen friend...'
The wolf cut me off. "You're starting to drift," he said. "You're switching to Ojibwe for some reason, and before you go there I don't speak that either. In fact, I only know one word in it, ma'iingen, Ojibwe for wolf. We all know that one!"
Two more ravens now flew over in the same direction as the first, making gurgling sounds.
The wolf jumped up.
"Well, it's time to go chew some real fat. A furnace oil truck just clobbered a deer over on the sideroad!"
He trotted off a few yards, then stopped and looked back.
"I may not speak English or Ojibwe but I'm fluent in Raven."
He smiled his near-toothless smile.
"See you next time," he said, then added, "Bro'!"
I waved at his tail disappearing into the bush.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Lunch time

The deer are especially hungry at this time of year
Twenty minutes after I finished piling the limbs of birch trees I had cut down for firewood my trail camera recorded these four deer stepping up to browse on the branch tips.
If the dog isn't with me while I'm cutting I can usually spot the deer standing around in anticipation of their feast. They pretty much come running as soon as they hear the chainsaw.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

This is better than watching TV

If you are a connoisseur of wood stoves, you will appreciate what is happening on this video of our new Napoleon Banff 1100 model.
The secondary air feed at the top of the firebox is igniting the gases coming off the wood, creating a blue flame. This gives a more thorough burn, generating more heat and less smoke and particulates from the chimney.
Incredibly, these blue flames are coming from tinder dry balsam, generally considered a low caliber firewood. (See blog a few postings back)
To get the blue flame you must first get a hot fire burning, then check down the draft so it is only open a smidgen.
Half an armload of the balsam keeps the sunroom cozy for about six hours.
We should get even better performance when we burn dry birch next fall.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

When the cat's away the wolves will play

Note the yellow eyes

This pair look like they mean business

A great spot for a nap

Before long they will need to shed those shaggy coats
Brenda and I and our dog, Cork, were down in the States visiting for a few weeks and while we were gone the wolves decided to make themselves right at home.
Cork and I took a walk today to pick up our trail camera cards and found three deer kills right on the trail. No doubt there are many more farther into the bush.
I guess with no new scent from me on our trails the two wolves shown above felt pretty relaxed. It's unusual to get a photo of a wolf in the day anytime yet here is one even taking a nap.
We were happy to see that about half of the snow here in Nolalu melted while we were away. I don't think Red Lake was as lucky. It has stayed cold there. In fact it is -16 C there tonight.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Fishing is like a trip to a parallel universe

One of my heroes, Aldo Leopold, once wrote that there were four kinds of people in the world: deer hunters, duck hunters, bird hunters and non-hunters. That pretty much sums it up alright.
I would say you could also divide the population into walleye fishermen, trout fishermen, bass fishermen and musky fishermen. I don't think there are any non-fishermen. Everybody fishes at least a little in their life and lots fish a great deal.
Size is relative, grandsons Raven and Quillan with 'huge' pike in 2006
Fishing transcends the human condition. You can be rich or poor, young or old, male or female, rural or metropolitan and you are all part of the same family of anglers.
Your equipment can be as simple as a stick or cane pole, a piece of line and a hook or as elaborate as an expensive boat, electronic depth finders and graphite fishing rods. There's nothing incongruous with the owner of the latter equipment leaving it parked at the dock while he joins the kids with the cane poles at the fishing hole on the local creek from time to time.
Just about everybody has fond recollections of their first fishing 
Brother-in-law Ron Wink with an 'equally' impressive fish
trip. It could have been with a brother or sister at the creek or with dad or grandpa on the lake. These are absolutely magical moments.
Fishing itself is a stream of consciousness, one out-of-body experience after another.
Casting out a bobber, hook and worm while sitting on the dock with your toes dangling in the water and seeing "faces' in the clouds overhead makes time stand still. It may take a tug on your rod to bring you back to the present.
Even if he has no formal education in physics, every fisherman understands relativity. He gets it when the kids come running to the porch out of breath and tell him that one of them briefly had an enormous rock bass on the line, just massive, and then illustrate by spreading their arms wide. The point is this fish was way, way bigger than the others, not literally the three feet between their little hands.
 Fishermen daydream, nightdream and fantasize about their sport. They can pick up a dry fly or a popper, a spoon or a plug, a spinner or a jig in a sporting goods store in the middle of winter and know with all their being that this is going to work wonders come next summer.
We shouldn't even call it fishing. We should call it a trip to the twilight zone.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Sunroom is finally finished


Our sunroom is finally finished and with the installation of a woodstove can now also become a moonroom, even in winter.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Animals are entering bottleneck of winter

Fawn finds the least snow is beneath conifers

Whitetail doe also stays under cover
There is a time in the Boreal Forest when some animals simply are not going to survive the winter. That time begins now.
Two feet of snow have fallen in the past week. That makes nearly three feet on the ground in the Nolalu area. Travel is now difficult for whitetail deer and timber wolves and the snow depth even begins to restrict the activity of the longer-legged moose.
I clear trail through bush...
Deer are staying under the cover of conifer stands, especially balsam fir. Most of the snow in these places is caught up on the branches. There can be as little as a foot on the ground.
Timber wolves are no better able to travel atop the snow than the deer unless a thick crust forms, and that may actually be in store. Temperatures this week are expected to be several degrees above freezing in the day. The melting snow will freeze again at night and that is how a crust is made.
Some animals are adapted to stay atop the thick snow cover. Lynx, snowshoe hares, marten and fisher all have fluffy feet that act as snowshoes. So do ruffed grouse which have feathers
... and within minutes a deer takes advantage of the walkway
between their toes. Red fox can stay aloft simply because they don't weigh much. Ditto for red squirrels.
So it is the deer and moose that are most at risk. They will stick to their heavy cover, even if it means fasting from now until spring. They will tramp down a maze of trails and these will reduce the energy needed to move around.
Wolves, however, are not stupid. They know exactly the places their prey is likely to be and will hunt those spots thoroughly.
The heavy snow cover may send great grey owls southward. They arrived here about a month ago from farther north. Deep snow prevents them from reaching their prey of mice, in these parts, and lemmings farther north.
March is normally the month that brings the most snow so the situation could get even more serious as time goes on.
Snow now is taller than Cork

Snowbanks are up to the mailboxes along our road

Sunday, February 25, 2018

He went thata way

Two-by-two tracks identify the marten
You can find these tracks just about anywhere you walk in the Boreal Forest during the winter. They are from the marten, known in the U.S. as the pine marten.
This is the main animal sought by trappers. They are easy to catch, easy to skin and bring a premium price per pelt, usually $80-$160. And, as indicated by their tracks, they are abundant.
The track sign is a little bit misleading, however, as one animal covers a lot of territory.
Marten are a mid-size weasel and kill virtually anything they can catch. Their main prey is the redback vole, a small, short-tail woods mouse. The population of marten explodes during years of heavy production of cones by spruce and pine. That's because the seeds in the cones are the main food of the vole.
Marten are expert climbers and are known to also catch red squirrels. They don't catch enough of them to suit me. I sometimes think that the weight of the squirrels on our acreage is greater than the whitetail deer.
Other than trappers, most people never see marten. They are wary of people and disappear like greased lightning.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Three wolves go for a walk

Time stamp shows spacing of the wolves

They are not nose-to-tail

Each one sniffed this same spot
Three timber wolves walk single file through the bush, only a dozen or so seconds apart, behind our home in Nolalu.
My trail cameras always photograph wolves on our densely wooded property in this fashion -- single file -- as they follow my trails in their quest for whitetail deer. In more open country, such as in a cutover, I have observed a different hunting technique. There they seem to fan out hundreds of yards apart. When an animal finds a hot scent it follows it and when it has flushed the deer it vocalizes to the rest of the pack what is going on. The excited call sounds like ki-yi-yi, sort of like a dog when it is hurt. The others then come running to the sound.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The treasure that others think is trash

Dead balsam with missing bark is what I want
I haul the wood out of the bush by using two snow scoops
Necessity may be the mother of invention but it is also the father of discovery.
For 20 of the 33 years that we have lived in Nolalu we heated our home with firewood that I cut from our property. In our first home, the old squared timber house built 75 years earlier, there was a single woodstove. In our present home, which Brenda and I and our two children, Matt and Josh, built ourselves, we installed an outdoor wood furnace which we used for 13 years before switching to a propane furnace.
We had no sooner bought the property and moved in when the entire region was hit by a spruce budworm outbreak. The spruce budworm is a tiny caterpillar that eats the new growth needles of its host tree. Despite its name, the favourite host of the spruce budworm is not the spruce but the balsam fir. After eating the new soft green needles the budworm makes a cocoon and re-emerges as a moth which lays its eggs in other balsams. The next spring the cycle repeats.
Balsams naturally shed one-fourth of their needles each season; so, after four seasons of having their new needles eaten by budworm, the trees die of starvation since they have nothing left to produce food. The budworm outbreaks cover enormous areas at one time. They are often the size of many European countries. They leave behind forests of grey, dead trees, devoid of needles. And that is the end of the outbreak because there is nothing left for the budworms to eat. But it is not the end of the balsam fir nor even the end of the budworm.
Primo dry, solid, white balsam is surprisingly good wood
Although every growing balsam is killed by the budworm during the outbreak, the mature trees left so many seeds on the ground before they died that new seedlings will sprout for the next 10 years. And since the budworms will also have died with the demise of the mature trees, the seedlings will grow like mad in a pest-free environment for about 40 years. Then the few budworms that are always present, nibbling on spruce as well as balsam, also go mad and the whole thing starts over.
This cycle has been documented in the Boreal Forest in Canada since the very first explorers started recording history and was undoubtedly well-known to First Nations people before that.
The only thing that can interrupt the chain is forest fire that simply burns up the balsam seeds on the ground. Other trees like jackpine, red pine and white pine have cones that open after a fire and also benefit from the fertilizer effect of the ash. So the pines take over.
Balsams are unique in Northwestern Ontario in that they are the only conifer that is truly shade-tolerant. In areas that burned many years earlier and are covered by large spruce or pines the balsams will eventually get a foothold again just from seeds carried on the wind. They become the understory, waiting for a storm or disease to topple the big trees. This is especially true on clay or loamy soils. On sandy soils only the pines with their taproots that can dive down to the deep water table can survive.
Large birch logs serve as a sawhorse
In Nolalu the budworm outbreak hit about 1985. About half of the trees on our 65 acres were balsam and it was obvious that within a few years they would all be dead.
Commonsense told us that since we heated with wood we should use the balsams but there was only one problem: they suck as firewood and are absolutely miserable to cut. Nonetheless I put up many cords of the stuff for the first few years, cutting the trees green while they were still solid and getting covered with sap in the process. The sap is impossible to get out of clothes. I split and dried the wood for a summer and burned the limbs in immense brush piles. My guess is that 50 per cent of the weight of the tree is in the limbs, far greater than other species.
And for my effort I was rewarded with wood that barely generated any heat in the stove.
I learned what everybody else already knew: balsam sucks.
Balsam firewood has such a poor reputation you can't even give it away.
Then we built our new house and installed the outdoor wood furnace about 100 feet away. (Outdoor wood furnaces heat water that is delivered to the house in underground pipes where it is either circulated for heat in room radiators or as in our case, in a large radiator with a massive fan as part of a forced air heating system.)
The furnace and house were surrounded by dead balsam trees. I had to get rid of them anyway so I just cut them down and fed them into the outdoor stove despite their low heat value. It took an awful lot of them but then there were an awful lot. It took me years to clean them up and over that time I gradually became aware that it was taking less and less wood to heat the house. In other words, the wood itself was producing more and more heat as the years went on! This wood was far superior to that which I had cut green and dried years earlier. What was going on?
Eventually I depleted the nearby supply and had to start roaming deep into the bush looking for more. I couldn't afford any machines for a long time and had to carry or pull the wood out by hand. That is when I developed an expert eye for the wood that would generate the most heat for the least effort.
First, the trees must be upright. Fallen-over trees are always wet.
The trees must have been dead for several years. Not only must they be devoid of needles but also largely of branches. The bark must be either split or missing. Without the bark the tree dries rapidly and that appears to be the key. Trees with intact bark are rotten inside.
When cut the wood should be white, not red. This white wood is sound and tinder dry. It produces good heat and burns about as long as jackpine which is one of the favourite Boreal firewoods. In fact, in some areas it is THE favourite although in Nolalu people think paper birch is best.
Balsam must always be kept covered. It absorbs water like a sponge. Even a light rain or melting snow ruins it.
We are installing a wood stove in our new sunroom and I have spent the past week hauling in dry firewood for it. The only trees that fit the bill on our acreage are still balsam which now are few and far between. It took me about three days to put up a cord.
Balsam has a lovely smell when burned. It smells very much like sandalwood incense.
Starting tomorrow I will start cutting green birch which I will split and stack for next winter. Green birch is far heavier than the dead balsam but fortunately I now have a tractor to move it around. I have kept a road clear all winter into a birch stand.
Wood is split and stacked and will later be covered, ready for new stove

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Coyote with mange could be in trouble

Coyote has lost hair on its tail due to mange
This coyote with mange is the first animal I have seen this winter with the skin disease. Although there is never a good time for an animal to fall victim to this parasite, I would think it would be especially perilous this winter with the long run of bitter temperatures we have experienced.
Mange is spread animal to animal by the sarcoptic mite.
For some reason Nolalu seems to be a hotspot for mange. I have frequently photographed wolves and coyotes with the condition.
We give our dog, Cork, a drug to make sure he does not contract mange.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Living and dying with timber wolves

Eagles and ravens were picking on the carcass when we found it
The whitetail deer are clustering every day right in our yard and that should have been a clue as to how close the timber wolves were getting.
Today Brenda was on her way into town and phoned back to say there were bald eagles and ravens on a deer carcass about a half-mile down the road. I investigated and found the deer shown above. It must have been killed during daylight since it wasn't frozen. The temperature last night was -30C and didn't get above -12C in the day.
I can't swear it was wolves that killed this deer since it was within 50 feet of the road. But there were no car parts or headlight glass left on the road and there were wolf trails leading away from the carcass. The trails also seemed to indicate that wolves, not dogs, were to blame. I would suspect dogs would have made their trails between the road and the kill site.
Tracks show that wolves routinely come within 100 yards of our house. We wouldn't be worried except for our dog, Cork. We don't let him outside unsupervised.
I am trying something this year to keep the wolves farther away and it seems to be working. When I take my walks with Cork in the bush behind our house I take off my mitten and grasp branches that are growing near the trail, about a foot from the ground or right at wolf nose height. It occurred to me that touching anything when trapping spooks any canine -- wolves, coyotes and foxes. I've also "marked" some trees at the corners of our property. I've done this before but only when I see wolves doing the same thing. My message to the wolves is: this is my territory, not yours, so get lost. It seems to work but it also must be continuously kept up as the wolves recognize when the scent becomes old.
Wolves are a vital part of the Boreal Forest ecology and we don't consider them villains. They are absolutely no threat to people, just their dogs.
The deer are right outside our sunroom's windows

Sunflower seeds are good but so is the protection from wolves that comes from being near to houses

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Blowing up the winter night

Balsam that just couldn't take it any more
When the mercury is cringing at the bottom of the thermometer you can sometimes hear shots coming from the bush. It sounds like a .22 rifle. Who would be shooting in the dead of a cold winter's night and with such a small caliber? No sane person, that's for sure.
If you mark the direction carefully and investigate the next day you won't find the snowshoe tracks of a human being but rather just a tree with its trunk split. Trees with lots of moisture, like balsam fir and balsam poplar are the usual victims. The sap freezes deeper and deeper, expanding all the while, until eventually the pressure is too great for the strength of the wood. The tree ruptures in an explosion and in the stillness of a crisp Boreal Forest night the sound carries like a rifle shot.
So there wasn't a Mad Trapper out there after all, just trees driven insane by unrelenting cold.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Spot the bunny

White on white
Picking out a creature that is all white from a landscape that is also all white can be challenging.
It's the snowshoe hare's eyes that give him away to a night vision trail camera.
I'll be darned if I can see one when I'm walking in the bush. There are bunny tracks everywhere but seemingly nothing making them.

Friday, January 26, 2018

When your smart phone can't save you

There are no cell towers out here
When your smart phone can't save you. That would have been a better title for the book reviewed a few posts back.
The truth is when you are really in the "wilderness" or "the bush" as we call it here in Northern Ontario you better have some skills other than how to wiggle your thumbs.
Case in point, you have fallen through the ice. What are you going to do, search YouTube for a way to get out? Or maybe you have been attacked by a bear and are being dragged away. Do you pull out your hip, sleek, digital device and calmly type: What to do if my head is in a bear's mouth?
Even if you did call out to The Cloud, it would fall on deaf ears because there is no Internet service out here, you see. That's why it's called the wilderness. There are no people or any of their inventions like cell towers.  In the Wild, the real Wild, you have to think and fend for yourself.
I've spent most of my life living in or writing about the Boreal Forest and while I don't know everything there are a few tips not often heard that I would like to pass on.

Black bears

The usual advice -- make noise, don't give them anything to eat -- is all that just about anyone needs to avoid bear trouble. But despite taking such precautions it should be noted that there are a few bear attacks every year in Canada, some of them fatal. (Keep in mind there are millions of people entering the bush every year and almost none experiences threatening situations. The odds of meeting a mean bear are incredibly low.) In nearly every case the culprit is a large male bear exhibiting predatory behaviour. My advice is if you ever see a large black bear, leave the area immediately. For instance, if you are canoeing and plan to make camp at a certain location but see a large male black bear anywhere near that spot, keep going. Get at least five miles away before stopping. How do you know if it is a male bear? Because it is large. Females usually are quite small.
Another thing to know is that these bears almost always attack lone people. So travel with a buddy.
If you ever need to do battle with a bear, know this: other than a gun your best weapon is a stout club. Something like a 1 1/2-inch- thick, three-foot-long birch sapling. It won't break when you swing it with two hands and all your might right across the top of a bear's head. Right between the ears is the best target. That's where the brain is located. A bear's skull is not very thick, nothing like a moose, for instance. You can crush it with a club and in so doing kill the bear. You just need one properly-placed hard blow but if you miss slightly and the bear is only stunned, hit it with all your might again, this time in the right spot, then get away.
Chances are the reason you might ever need to club a bear is because it has already grabbed someone who was alone when the bear attacked. Biologists, prospectors and forestry workers are the ones most at risk. They usually work loosely in pairs, sometimes hundreds of yards apart. Many times the threatening bear flees when the second person comes running after hearing cries of help. If it ever comes to stabbing a bear you need a knife with at least a six-inch-long blade to reach vital organs. A better idea is to club it. Bear spray must be sprayed right into the eyes of the bear and even then sometimes doesn't stop an attack.
Never climb a tree to get away from a bear. That's what bears do when they are afraid. A bear that was going to leave you alone might attack if it sees you climb a tree.
Likewise, walk but don't run away. If the bear follows you, even at a distance, make a club and be prepared to make a stand if the bear gets too close.

Traveling on ice

No matter how cold it has been, places with current such as narrows, rivers and creeks should be avoided. The entrances to long, narrow bays also are hazardous. So is the area in front of a beaver house.
Falling through the ice is only one hazard. There can also be areas with slush that can bog down snow machines and get your feet wet. Wet feet become frozen feet.
If you aren't sure about the ice conditions, don't travel.
We must also keep climate change in mind when considering ice travel. Lots of people just have a date in mind to make that first ice-fishing trip. For instance, they might have always gone ice fishing on the first of December because the ice is always solid by that time. Well, no longer. Even if the lake has been frozen for a month, the temperatures might have been insufficiently cold to make thick ice.
Check it first.

Store fuels outside

Never bring fuel cans inside a building where there is fire, machinery or electric motors that can make sparks. Keep the watertight caps secured on the fuel cans and leave them outside in the fresh air.

Just don't take risks

Just like there are no old, bold bush pilots, there are also no old reckless trappers, prospectors, biologists, etc. If you encounter a risky situation where you think you will probably be OK, don't do it. You must KNOW you are going to succeed.
Have you ever heard this saying? Never step on a log that you can step over and never step over a log that you can walk around.

Take out your boot liners

Every time you take off boots with felt liners, take out the liners and place them and the boots where they can dry. The liners will always be damp with perspiration and if worn in frigid conditions the next day can lead to frozen feet.

Carry a butane lighter

All you need to do to survive is make a fire. It will keep you warm and bring help. A butane lighter can light thousands of times. Keep the lighter warm in an inside pocket in frigid conditions or it won't have the pressure to light.
You also need to know how to make a fire in inclement conditions but that will be the subject of a future post.

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