30 June 2011

Useful Trees & Shrubs of the North Woods (A Five Part Series) Balsam Fir

The old saying that "Nature Provides" couldn't be more true when applied to the Balsam Fir, Abies balsamea.

  • Flattened needles that are about 3/4 inch long, the needles are dark green on top and silvery-blue on the undersides.
  • The green resinous cones stand vertically and are two or three inches long.
  • The bark is grayish-brown and smooth with raised blisters containing a sticky resin.
  • Height of up to 80-ft  with a very narrow crown.
  • Prefers well drained acidic soils and cold climates, but I've found it almost everywhere here in Northern Minnesota.
I've found that the blisters are more prolific on the younger trees, not so much on the older trees.

Some images to help ID the tree:

  • Topical applications
    • Painkiller
    • Antiseptic
    • Salve for the healing of wounds such as cuts, abrasions, burns, sores, and chapped areas.
    • Prevention of chapped lips.
    • When applied to chapped lips it speeds the healing
  • As a warm tea
    • Bronchitis, cough, consumption, and sore throats
    • Inflammation of mucus membranes
    • Colds and flu
    • Dysentery
    • Earache
One of the best ways to use balsam fir pitch is to dab it on cuts, abrasions, sores, and wounds as a salve. The pitch will form a protective cover that aids in healing and destroys organisms that would otherwise find the area a hospitable place to grow and multiply.

The following images show how easy this is to do, I busted a knuckle open, just a small cut. Using the pitch in this manner seals the cut, keeping harmful stuff from entering. You can use it to seal a cut together as well, since the pitch has antiseptic properties it's like putting Neosporin in the cut, except the pitch is sticky and holds better. You could put a couple butterfly closures to truly close it up.

This is a Balsam right outside my shop, popped the blister with a pocket knife, apply directly to the cut.

28 June 2011

Recent Trail Camera Activity

I purchased a software product specific for managing images captured by trail cameras. It's called Scouting Assistant and is available here: Scouting Assistant. I finally got a chance to fool around with it, took maybe an hour to get through the learning curve, it's quite intuitive once you get to playing with it. I put the following together using it in about forty five minutes.

I can see alternative uses for regular photography as well as the primary function of helping you manage trail camera photos. It's not unusual to see 600+ images on one of my trail cameras for a four day span. Managing that many images is challenging, out of the gate it looks like Scouting Assistant will be a real plus. More to come in the future.

Here are the four quick videos.

26 June 2011

BUSHCLASS 5 Man made tinder class

Trying to get caught up on my BUSHCLASS courses hosted by BushCraft USA. One of the earlier ones I just have not done until today. I usually use natural tinder for fire starting so I had to find some motivation for the man made versions. While doing it I also decided to do the Pot Hook spot as well.

Some still shots and a short video of the tinder types being ignited via a firesteel and knife.

25 June 2011

Busted cameras and a stroke of luck, maybe.

As it happens I managed to bust my camera last weekend, the day after the trip to the beaver pond. I'd gotten it wet that day, to the point of fogging the LCD screen. I'd assumed the worst but set it out to dry. Next day loaded up freshly charged batteries, an empty SDHC and hit the trail, powering the camera up I was pleasantly surprised it was working perfectly.  Thirty minutes later my camera was on the ground, having bounced of a rock and a root on the way there.

I mount my camera to a collapsible shooting stick, the end of which is threaded for the camera. It's sort of like a trekking pole only mine is 64" tall and puts the view finder of my camera directly in front of my eye when on level ground. Like an idiot I hadn't firmly pushed the point into the ground while I swapped an SD card in one of my trail cameras.  So, good gust of wind and the camera smacked the rock and the root, then the ground.

I picked it up and turned it on, the back half of the LCD was just white, the other side was working fine. This wasn't good. Ticked off at myself I finished my circuit and got myself back to the barn, I was leaving for Denver the next day. By the way, our high here at the house for the week was 57 degrees while I was sweating my butt off in Denver's 93 degrees.

So, back from Denver and assorted chores done I grabbed my camera this afternoon and hit the trail. Instead of using the LCD screen I was using the view finder and was hoping for the camera to work in this manner. I'll be the first to say I'm an amateur, rank amateur. I don't really have a clue as to what most of the features of my camera even do, I just like to visually document my time in the field.  Maybe one day I'll work on improving myself.

So here are the results, I'm pleased, hope you enjoy them, to see some of the detail like the Dragon Fly in in the first image you might need to click it to enlarge it.

19 June 2011

A Day Deep in the North Woods...

Behind the house there are over 9,000 acres of unbroken wilderness, not a road crosses it, no town mars it, few men other than myself walk it. There are seventeen beaver colonies that I know of and I've tramped across most of that ground, slogged the marsh and wallowed the moose bogs. I've had more of my blood taken by the mosquito and biting flies than I've lost or donated in my entire life I think. 

There was until today, a beaver pond I'd not ventured to, not for lack of trying mind you. I've made a stab at getting to that pond several times, between the marsh, the bugs, the terrain, the thickets and seemingly impenetrable understory I've always been turned away or wondered astray of the course. Well today I set my mind to the task, and ventured forth, even in the face of a terrible forecast and after three days of rain.

Knowing full well the bugs would be out for blood, the water would be deep and flowing I wore my hip boots, I decided to try out a gortex German surplus parka as well, more on that later. I also sprayed myself up with some plant based Lemon & Eucalyptus insect repellent, usually I use DEET but I've gotten to where I hate the stuff. This was the second time I've used this particular spray and I'm completely sold on the product. It isn't oily, doesn't stink, isn't a chemical and IT WORKS! While it says six hours of protection I've found I generally need to reapply in about four to four and half hours. It works better than DEET ever has for me. I can't say enough good stuff about this Lemon & Eucalyptus repellent.

I can also say that for a piece of surplus the GorTex jacket I wore did indeed work. I remained bone dry under it's coverage area. Very light weight and built tough, climbing, clawing, and crawling my way through the thick stuff had no effect on it. It's made the grade for Backwoods Bum Gear.

Incidentally, the hand held GPS unit seen above is a DeLorme Earthmate PN-40. In the bottoms, the thick marshes and moose bogs where the overhead cover is complete it's challenging to navigate. It's like night flying in a storm with virtually zero visibility, you run by instruments alone as you rarely if ever see the open sky. I loaded the PN-40 up with all the maps available for my neck of the woods. What is interesting about the PN line is you can use layered maps. Not only do I use the typical USGS Quads, I also have color and black and white aerials, satellite imagery as well. Four layers, each providing a different view. I was amazed at what I could see compared to just using a USGS Quad topo. The unit is damn rugged, I had it fully immersed on several occasions, there wasn't a moment that it was dry. If I were to have something to complain about I guess it would be battery life, though it's tolerable.

There was no trail. It always amazes me, the size of a moose, and how little of a trail they leave. I think it's related to the fact that unless it's their bedding area they tend to not use the same trails repeatedly. Whitetails will often use the same travel corridors, all the time for that matter, while moose wander a bit. Still, I picked their sign up on the way towards the pond.

As I bushwacked my way in, at times the path would break open a bit to reveal that hidden beauty of a forest not oft traveled. Places that just have a feeling of isolated pristine uniqueness.

I was getting closer, starting to see beaver sign, chewings and runways. The cover broke as well, revealing a tall grass bog clearing, broken with beaver runs.

Then as I was picking my way closer to the open water and the beaver lodge I saw a blur, a big blur across the area and into the edge of the tree line. My lens was foggy and covered in water but I snapped these pictures, and then began a two hour cat and mouse game. Tough to make out at first huh? Momma moose is standing in that tree line with her calf. Her legs are to the left of the pine, her head is low, as she browses, is on the right of the tree. In the second image she is bedded down. I decided to circle the area and see if I could get closer.

Coming in now from the north, I was slipping through the edge of the transition between the pines and the marsh. Couple of occasions had me waist deep in it, I had to stop at one point on a bit of dry ground in a pine thicket to shed the hip boots. I'd gotten too deep and the left one dipped below the water line and filled with about two gallons of bog water rather quickly. Making it to the other side I crossed from the marsh to good solid dry land. I found these beds, the size of Volkswagen just inside the tree line.

Some pictures of the beaver pond that had thwarted my efforts. You can see the lodge to the left of center.

Once I rounded the bend I got a surprise, my heart leaped into my throat as it accelerated to what must have been one hundred fifty beats a minute. In front of me, barely twenty to twenty five yards momma moose and calf were coming into the opening. The most dangerous animal in the North Woods isn't the bear or the wolf, it is the Moose.

I also managed to shoot some video as well.

I spent about twenty to twenty five minutes watching them, on several occasions they'd both throw their heads up to test the wind. I'm pretty sure she saw me but couldn't make out what I was or if I was a threat. The wind was in my face so I had that in my favor. I finally slipped out, circling back the way I'd came before venturing further north.

I was quite pleased with the encounter. I've always had an affinity for Moose and Bears, for as long as I can remember, both have fascinated me. Living where both are prolific is an absolute joy. As I passed from the pond and marsh and deeper into the interior I stumbled upon a tragedy.

I'm not sure what brought him down, I did notice a leg bone busted in half, it was the only one, all the other leg bones appeared whole. Perhaps he broke a leg and died there in the deep forest. His bones were scattered about now though, and bear sign was everywhere. Judging from  the condition I figure he made it through winter and died sometime in early to mid spring. Such is the cycle of life though, from spending time watching the young moose and mother together, to finding the final resting place of an adult male moose.