Tuesday, October 15, 2019

A wildlife management idea that flopped

Drumming log I placed for ruffed grouse years ago
We have lived on our 65 acres in Nolalu for 34 years now and during that period I have tried a few experiments to see if I could improve the land for wildlife. Here is one that flopped.
I had heard that one of the limitations on ruffed grouse populations was the number of drumming logs. Male grouse attract hens in the spring by rapidly beating their wings while sitting on a log. The birds are said to have rigid requirements for the logs. For instance, they prefer sizeable logs that have a tree growing at one end (presumably for cover from hawks and owls) and like these logs to be near a clearing.
So I made a few clearings on our acreage and whenever a big tree blew down, carted sections of it to the edge. You can tell if the logs are being used because the birds will leave a pile of droppings on it.
To date, not a single one of my logs has been used.
Each year we hear a grouse, aka partridge, drumming at the edge of our field but there only seems to be one such bird on the whole property. The spot this bird does his drumming is not a log at all but just a hump of land. He apparently always finds mates because there are a few young grouse seen each year.
Although I can't seem to increase the overall grouse population on our land I have found a way to feed them. I plant dwarf white clover in areas that I have opened up, mostly from firewood harvesting. These places always have grouse feeding in them until the clover is covered by snow.
The same clover also feeds deer, bear and snowshoe hares.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

I discover new tree after 34 years

Blue-coloured berries ID the Alternate Leaved Dogwood
Just when you think you know a thing or two, something like this happens: I identify a tree, a shrub actually, that I never thought existed on our land. It's an Alternate-Leaved Dogwood.
There are a dozen or more of these 12-foot-tall, spindly shrubs that grow right on the edge of a ridge behind our house in Nolalu. I've been perplexed at what they were because they have the leaf shape of a dogwood but their flower umbrels never seemed to produce any berries. This year a few did and the berries are blue, not white like Redosier Dogwood. The plants are also twice the height of Redosier. Despite its name, I swear the leaves are opposite, not alternate. Anyway, the blue berries, and the size of the plants are clinchers. Redosier has white berries and is about half as tall.
Cork and I found some other interesting things to photograph on a recent walk. Our Red Maples had not only turned colour but also had lost about half their leaves. Mushrooms are nearing their season end.
Scarlet Hood Waxcap

Red Maple
Late Garter snake. Time to hibernate.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Our kids read us: 'Once upon a time...'

"Once upon a time you believed in eternal economic growth. That fairy tale is why our planet is now dying. You could have saved us, Grandpa, but instead you did absolutely nothing. How can we ever forgive you?"

Those weren't the exact words of tiny Greta Thunberg, just 16, to the United Nations this week but that was the gist of her honest, gut-wrenching message.
I have a question: What is your grandchild's life worth? Don't say she is priceless because you really don't believe that. If you are a true capitalist then you believe everything and everyone has a dollar value. We are seeing that belief played out right before our eyes.
Every day our court systems come up with a dollar value for what someone's life was worth had they not been killed due to negligence on the part of individuals, corporations or governments. It is always astonishingly little. Tens of thousands of dollars. Maybe a million. That's how much our society values your granddaughter or grandson. From a corporate point of view it may be more profitable to continue killing children than make a change. It's just business and so far society in general has no problem with that.
The scientists of the world are screaming from the rooftops that we only have 11 years to cut our carbon emissions by 45 per cent just to have a 50:50 chance of stopping the Earth from becoming a barbecue.
"Oh, I don't know if I believe that," some of you are saying right now.
You know what? There are a lot of things you don't know but that doesn't stop you from reaping the benefits of science.
Case in point: do you have a smart phone? Do you know how it works? How does text, audio and video come through the air right to that little device?
Did you know that your smart phone would not even function if the scientists who developed it didn't take Einstein's Special Relativity into account?
No, you don't understand your smart phone, modern medicine and a lot of other things that you use every day but you have no problem believing in them.
Why then don't you believe in the warnings of climate change? I just read a book that I had a hard time understanding but finally, with the help of a friend, got its message: It is going to take more than science to convince people to change their ways. It did not explain why this should be so different from the examples I provided above.
Well, here's one big reason: On one side of the issue we have you, me, children, environmentalists, scientists, teachers, doctors, even the military and on the other side are the people with all the money in the world.
The fossil fuel industry is so filthy rich it can buy anything it wants, including your free will.
It has its own political parties: Republicans in the U.S. and Conservatives in Canada. But if they aren't currently in power it can still leverage its demands with whomever. There is no bottom to its pockets. It has created entire institutions to brainwash citizens. Google "climate change skeptic organizations" for a list or for an in-depth understanding that goes beyond climate change read Pulitzer prize-winning author Jane Mayer's book Dark Money. This has been going on for so long that it controls our subconscious.
Nobody hears about a plan to fight climate change without immediately asking, "What does that cost?" We have been programmed to be suspicious about anything other than the status quo.

"Grandpa, why do you give all your money to the man in the limousine?"
"I don't know, honey. It's just the way things are."
"Don't you know any better?"
"I guess not."

We just assume that any change is going to cost us. No, that's not exactly right. We assume that any change to our fossil fuel usage is going to cost us. We don't have the same expectation about other changes. Funny, isn't it?
Probably the biggest hang-up people have about fighting climate change is it will require us to convert to electric automobiles. "What is that going to cost?" you say immediately. Well, let's look at that.
What do you pay right now for your car's gasoline? It isn't free, after all; you shell out part of your income for it every time you fill up. I will bet you don't even know what you spend in a year on gas. Funny, isn't it?
Well, there are people who have examined what the average person spends on gasoline. In Ontario, the provincial Ministry of Transportation has calculated we spend up to $2,500 a year. (It would be way higher in Northern Ontario where we must drive much longer distances.) The same usage with an electric vehicle would cost less than $300.
So back to the question about what would converting to an electric vehicle cost? It wouldn't cost anything. It would save us $2,200 each year.
And immediately your mind flips to the next reason not to change. "We would have to build charging stations all over the place. What would that cost?" Did you ask the same question about building gas stations? Nope. Funny, isn't it?
A year ago in Ontario we elected Conservative premier Doug Ford, at least in part, because of his vow to destroy every climate change initiative (including incentives to buy electric vehicles) instituted by the previous Liberals. He made a special point about going all the way to the Supreme Court to get rid of the four-cent-a-liter carbon tax imposed by the federal Liberal government. The carbon tax, which you get back in a rebate at the end of the year anyway, amounts to three per cent of the cost of a liter of gas. Ontarians were outraged and so elected this right wing blowhard. We will now live with the consequences.
So what is your grandchild's life worth? In Ontario, not even four cents.
Do you really not believe in science? Science is just another word for knowledge. If you don't believe in science you are not far from sacrificing virgins to appease the gods.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Folding solar charger keeps devices going

A gizmo that we used all summer while building our cabin could be of use to people in power outages such as those caused by hurricanes. The Coleman Folding Solar Charger kept our cell phones and other small electronic devices working just from the power of the sun.
The 7.5 v unit is about the size of a book when closed and opens to display two flexible photovoltaic panels. You can charge things with either a USB or a 12 v accessory plug.
Besides our flip phones we charged my Fitbit, Olympus camera and Brenda's e-reader.
I have just purchased an Android smartphone (easier for texting while at the cabin) and have also charged that although I found the panels had to placed in full sun outside, not through a window as we have done sometimes for those other devices.
A word to the wise, judging from on-line comments, this charger may not work with I phones or other Apple products.

Fall field mowing is completed

Goldenrod lines driveway
Red clover

Bull thistle
I noticed a big difference in the composition of our fields in Nolalu this fall. In the past our poorly drained fields mostly grew sedges. This year red clover was the main species. I credit multiple mowings in each of the past two years and a dry summer for the change.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Mushroom season is upon us

After the dog days of summer and before the crisp days of autumn comes mushroom season.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Difference between a wolf and a Lab

Question: What is the difference between a wolf and a Labrador retriever?
Answer: There are some parts of a deer that a wolf won't eat.
Labs may be smart animals when it comes to a lot of things but not in choosing their menu.
The timber wolves behind our house eat almost all parts of the deer they kill but leave a few useless items, like shins and hair. That's good enough for Cork. He crunches the bones and gulps them down, never letting me near so I can take away these sharp items.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

After two years we're glad to be out of tent

Angler Kim Gross with us beside dining tent, tent and shower. Charles Howard photo
After spending most of this summer and part of last year's in a tent while we worked on our cabin project, Brenda and I are thankful to have hard walls and a roof to live under from this point forward.
Last year it took us most of a week to make a clearing in the dense bush just to pitch a tent. It was then that I realized the materials I had hauled in two years earlier to make a foundation for the dockhouse could be used to make a platform the exact size of the 10x14 tent. So we made the platform and pitched the tent on it, six inches above ground. This gave us a smooth, dry floor in the tent and worked well.
Besides the rain fly for the tent we also covered it with a white tarp. This kept us snug in the fiercest thunderstorms.
We had a separate screened-in dining tent in which I built a sort of counter for our coolers and food boxes. Our propane cook stove sat upon a folding metal stand.
In the tent we slept on folding cots with air mattresses. They worked pretty well as evidenced by the fact that two 67-year-olds with bad backs didn't have any major issues.
We just got lucky with the bears. Although we were immaculate in keeping our garbage and food locked up I know that you can do everything right and still have problems. We had none.
One of the biggest advantages of the cabin, besides solid walls, is that we can have a wood stove. A tent is basically the same temperature as outside.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

First year of cabin building completed

The Dockhouse

Photovoltaic panel runs a 13-cubic-foot solar fridge

Crane helps lift heavy objects from boat
We have been out of Internet range most of the summer as we worked on our cabin project at Red Lake, thus the lack of postings.
Stage One is mostly completed now. We have a building we call the Dockhouse to live in while we build the main cabin next summer. Until now we were staying in a tent.
The Dockhouse is a 12x24 building erected right next to our new dock. 
The dock and its landing are important parts of the infrastructure needed for the bigger cabin construction.
The dock, Dockhouse and septic system installed in May are our accomplishments for 2019.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Before the 'story of dead, white men'

I believe the readers of this blog are pretty well-read so let me ask you this question: In the late-1700s New York City became the largest city in North America, north of Mexico. What city previously held the title?
Come on now; you studied history in high school and maybe university too, you must have learned this. Well, so did I and if you are like me you will be floored by the answer: Cahokia.
Cahokia? Where is Cahokia?
It was in what is now Southern Illinois. It was abandoned in the year 1200 after being occupied for 500 years. In its day it was larger than London, England. You've heard of London, haven't you?
Everybody has heard of London. So why not Cahokia?
The answer, I'm ashamed to say, is because history -- as recorded in books and taught in our schools -- is the story of dead white men. They are all dead; they were all white, and they were all men. No wonder it is so boring.

Cahokia had a population back then of about 15,000 and if you included suburbs -- yes, it even had suburbs -- took in nearly 50,000 people! It was one of the largest cities in the world. You would think this would be common knowledge, wouldn't you?
If you have heard of Cahokia at all I bet it is for its 'mounds.'  In fact we called the people who lived east of the Mississippi River for 2000 years 'Mound builders.' That is a pretty denigrating term. They don't sound too smart, do they? Funny we didn't call them 'Pyramid makers' because many of those mounds, from Florida to Canada, were once pyramids!
If you want a paradigm-shifting experience, get the Ancient Civilizations of North America course from The Great Courses company. It is taught by Professor Edwin Barnhart, director of the Maya Exploration Center and a PhD of Anthropology from the University of Texas.
It is a revelation what archeology and anthropology tell about the past, our past.
The first city east of the Mississippi was built about 1,500 years BCE which is the politically correct way of saying before Christ. That was a long time ago. It had 5,000 inhabitants.
These people were surveyors, astronomers, architects and social planners.
They built many Woodhenges -- like Stonehenge, only out of wood -- all over the place. Out on the Plains and Prairies people made what we have come to call Medicine Wheels for the same purpose -- astronomical observation -- and for other reasons that to this day we can't figure out. They have been in continuous use for 6,000 years.
These ancient people built hundreds of miles of irrigation canals in the desert and apartment buildings up to four stories high and with as many as 1,500 units.
They had extensive road networks all over North America. Copper miners from Lake Superior could move their ore all the way down to kingdoms in Florida in just weeks.
Eventually they had vast agricultural complexes. It has been said there is more forest in the eastern half of the U.S. today than at first contact with Europeans; that is how much land was in cultivation 500 years ago.
They numbered in the tens of millions, at least, and their civilization was one of the most advanced in the world.
So what happened? Well, first of all let me point out they are still here; they are the First Nations peoples of North America. Archeology shows they have been here for at least 14,000 years and maybe for as long as 30,000 years. Their history as shown through archeology is nothing short of awesome.
But in short, those first Europeans brought diseases that in a matter of decades killed 90 per cent of the population. Ninety per cent! By comparison, the Black Death in the Middle Ages killed 40 per cent of Europeans. We all know about The Plague. It was written about extensively by, you guessed it, dead white men. Well the North American "Plague" that hit Indigenous Peoples was more than twice as lethal! It all but wiped out entire nations and the ones left were attacked on all sides by the invading Europeans.
Actually N. America's was far worse
You can learn all about what happened after contact in this Great Courses program: Native Peoples of North America. It isn't pretty. However, if we are ever to achieve reconciliation with First Nations in our countries we must first have all the facts. Before you get too bummed-out remember that despite the plague and the genocide, there are still First Nations alive and well today. They have made it against all odds.

The Great Courses are university-level courses that you can watch on your computer or smart phone or listen to in your car. There are usually 36 or so half-hour lectures per course. They are taught by top instructors in their fields.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Construction begins on our cabin

There was plenty of sandy-loam that is ideal for septic system

New boat worked great. Now we need a dock!
We have broken ground on our new cabin, literally. Last week we installed an EcoFlo peat moss septic system. This is the same type of system used at the camp. It filters effluent to near-drinking water standards before discharging into the soil.
Brenda, Cork and I will be on site at various times all summer now building the rest of what is needed. We start with a dock, then a shed, then the cabin.
I got to use our new (to us) 20-foot Eastern boat last week and just love it. This craft has a "Downeast" hull style that should make the trip to town on windy days a breeze (pun intended).
It can also be used for fishing.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Fifty-year-old mystery solved

A good friend, Doug Billings, sent me a link to a video the other day that sheds light on one of the eeriest things that I have ever experienced. It happened 50 years ago while I was walking one night from the old lodge, now Cabin 3, to my little log cabin. This was a relic from the gold rush that used to sit down near the water in front of where Cabin 8 is now located. There was no one in camp other than my Dad and me.
I was following the narrow footpath using my flashlight when this blood-curdling sound came from the other side of the narrows, actually right where we plan to build our new cabin this summer. It was a loud moan, a cry, a wail, a scream. It lasted for maybe 10 seconds, then after a pause, it started up again
I flew back to the lodge.
"Dad! Dad! There's a weird sound coming from across the narrows. Come quick!"
Dad had been about to get in bed but now he quickly pulled his boots back on.
"What do you think it is?" he asked.
"I don't know! I've never heard anything like it. It sounds like a woman, a woman screaming in pain!"
We both ran out to the point in front of Cabin 3. The sound immediately came shrieking from across the narrows, only this time from a spot farther to the south than where I first heard it.
"It's moving!" I exclaimed.
Again and again the sound came wailing out of the bush, probably 600 yards away. Whatever was making it was definitely heading toward Trout Bay. It was now climbing the mountain right across the narrowest part of the narrows.
I was shaking with fear as I listened to it, all the while trying to reason what it could be. It wasn't a moose, not a wolf, certainly not an owl. And it couldn't be human because who would climb a steep mountain in the dark, especially if he or she was in agony?
"What do you think it is?" I asked.
To my astonishment, Dad said, "I actually don't hear anything. Well, I've got to get to bed. It's going to be a long day tomorrow."
A lifetime of loud noises without ear protection had ruined his hearing.
He went back inside.
I raced to my cabin, grabbing the axe as I went inside. I got into bed wearing all my clothes, including my boots. I wanted to be able to make a hasty exit if necessary. As I lay there trembling with my axe in hand, a Great Horned Owl landed on the roof and started hooting. I never did get to sleep.
Here is the link to the video.

Friday, May 17, 2019

As predicted, Red Lake ice-out was May 15

I talked to Brian at the camp today and he said ice-out was May 15, just as we figured way back in mid-April (see My System Predicting Red Lake's Ice-out).

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Great website shows ice-out status

Wow, check out this website that shows up-to-date aerial views of ice-out progress from Wabigoon Lake to Lake of the Woods.
Do a search for "Lake of the Woods Ice Patrol."

Wish we had this kind of look farther north to Red Lake.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Whitefish Lake clear of ice May 5, 2019

Yeah, baby! This is what we wanted to see!
Cork and I drove out to Whitefish Lake today expecting to see it covered in ice and instead saw this man launching his boat! The ice broke up a couple of days ago, he said.
Whitefish Lake is about 60 kms (35 miles) southwest of Thunder Bay.
In some Internet searching this morning I also found that Lake of the Woods is mostly clear of ice. Eagle Lake is starting to breakup too. The ice sheet is shifting and smashing.
The news isn't as rosy for Red Lake, 110 miles north of Eagle Lake. Melting has occurred right at the shoreline but it doesn't appear any shifting is going on. The high there today was expected to only be 3 C or just above melting. Warmer temps are coming but will remain below normal.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Now we get another inch of snow

Here in Nolalu today's snow adds to about three inches that had yet to melt from the six inches we got a few days ago. Red Lake also got an inch today but they escaped the earlier dump.
Temperatures are way below normal and are expected to stay that way for about a week. What does this mean for ice-out? It sets it back by at least a few days for Red Lake and maybe a week down here near Thunder Bay.
For Red Lake, I now expect ice-out to be back to May 15.

Monday, April 29, 2019

'Cruelest Month' is almost over

Scene out our window in Nolalu today
There is nothing more depressing than a blizzard in the spring. It started this morning and the snow is expected to continue for the next few days although the bulk of it should come down today. Here in Nolalu we are expecting 5-15 cms (2-6 inches). Rats!
I knew it had to happen because the robins showed up about a week ago and robins are always snowed upon. Talk about a bittersweet moment: you see the first robin and you say "Yay! Spring is here!" and then you think, "Oh, no! It is going to snow some more."
The truth however is we have been blessed by beautiful spring weather. The snow had almost totally disappeared and the ground was drying up nicely. The melt occurred gradually enough that there was no flooding. We are so much more fortunate than our friends in Eastern Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick where record floods are all occuring.
There are only three weeks to go before the start of fishing season! Will there be open water? It looks that way. Although the weather has cooled off from what it was the last two weeks, everything is still melting. Red Lake missed this snowfall and that's a plus. Such an event always sets things back until the snow is melted.
I'm sticking with my 2019 ice-out or breakup forecast for Red Lake of May 12.  Come on sunshine! I want to have a fish fry!

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Lovely weather could speed-up ice-out

Warm, sunny days and above-freezing temperatures at night the last couple of weeks should put the 2019 ice-out on Red Lake, Ontario back nearer the average date of May 8. Colder-than-normal conditions the first two weeks of April had me speculating in the last posting that the breakup would come a week later -- May 15. Maybe I'll split the difference now and pick May 12.
Incidentally, my predictions are for when a boat can travel on Howey Bay, the bay right in front of town. It is usually the last place to melt.
Walleye season opens May 18. It is always the third Saturday in May.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

My system predicting Red Lake's ice-out

I've got a pretty good track record for picking the date for ice-out on Red Lake, usually pinpointing it within a few days. I thought others might be interested in how I do this.
First of all, I don't make my prediction until April. That is when spring melting actually begins and it is the weather in this month that accounts for 75 per cent of the timing of ice-out. The other 25 per cent comes from the weather in the first week of May.
I am emphasizing this to keep you from going down the rabbit hole of believing that last winter's conditions have anything to do with it. They simply do not.
I don't know how many times I have heard people say that because they had to put extensions on their ice augurs in March that breakup would be exceptionally late and then the actual date was early. Or the opposite situation: there was less ice than normal so ice-out would be early -- except it wasn't.
Trust me on this; I've only seen it about 60 times.
Now, let's start with the fact that Red Lake's average ice-out date is May 8. That is just a fact gleaned from nearly a hundred years of data. Except for a handful of years, all the other ice-out dates are within one week either side of May 8. OK? So, you could say that normal ice-out is from May 1 to May 15. May 8 is right in the center.
When April comes around start paying attention to the highs and lows and how they compare to the averages for that date. The Weather Network conveniently does this for you in a graph on their 14-Day forecast.
If the temperatures are exactly normal all the time guess when ice-out will be? May 8! Do you see where this is going? Days below normal add to the time of ice-out and days above normal subtract.
I don't actually keep track of the days but rather the weeks. A week above normal moves the date to May 1. But if that is followed by a week below normal the date is back to May 8.
Finally, there are a couple of fudge factors. For instance how abnormal were the highs and lows for the weeks? If the deviation was only a few degrees, it will hardly make any difference, a day or two, for instance. If the temperatures are way out of whack, like 10 C, for most of the week, then it could move ice-out by an extra week.
A few other factors, like wind and rain, also play a marginal role. High winds, especially near May 8, will hasten the process. Rain any time does the same thing.
So, starting April 1 each year you can look ahead at the forecast and start to get an idea for your prediction then refine it as time goes on and you observe what actually happens weather-wise.
It's a fun thing to do while you anxiously wait for open water!
I'll just bring you up to date by telling you that the first two weeks of April were below normal but not critically so. That makes me move the ice-out date to about May 15.

A wildlife management idea that flopped

Clearing Drumming log I placed for ruffed grouse years ago We have lived on our 65 acres in Nolalu for 34 years now and during that ...