Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Summertime Elk



It’s summertime in elk country and the living is easy – at least relative to much of the year. So far this has been a rather wet summer and the vegetation is lush and growing rapidly. All the meadows and food plots in Pennsylvania’s elk range are still spring green –

After walking several miles from the car I came upon a spike bull that was curious and obviously being cautious about the human walking through the meadow –

He was soon joined by a cow –

And then by a few more cows, including one that was accompanied by a young calf –

Toward the other end of the large meadow/food plot there were a couple of adult bulls - one quite far away. Their antlers, while still in velvet, were almost full-grown –


Later in the evening, there were seven bulls feeding in a field close to the road. Thoroughly habituated to humans, they wouldn’t interrupt their feeding as cars stopped and camera shutters clicked –

video
As great as the elk viewing and photography were that day, the real highlights were birds, the singing male grasshopper sparrow I photographed in a large reclaimed strip mine being managed for elk –

Grasshopper sparrows are birds of the grasslands that are increasingly scarce in northcentral Pennsylvania as former hayfields are planted to corn or soybeans or revert to forest.


Earlier, I managed to photograph a monarch butterfly and a ruby-throated hummingbird momentarily sharing a milkweed blossom.

It was a great day to be spending time in the natural world.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Wee Lassie


In the early 1880s a shoemaker from Wellsboro, Pennsylvania made a series of canoe trips in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. Adopting the pen name “Nessmuk” he wrote articles and books about his trips. One of his books, “Camping and Woodcraft”, is still in print. 


Over the years Nessmuk used five canoes built for him by J. Henry Rushton of Canton, New York and used three of them on his extended trips. The canoes were open-topped and paddled with a double-ended paddle similar to the paddles kayakers use today. Each of the Rushton-built canoes was lighter than the last, the most famous being the “Sairy Gamp” which was nine feet long and weighed 10½ pounds (Nessmuk was short, 5’3” tall). Rushton has been described as the finest canoe designer who ever lived and his 10’ 6” long “Wee Lassie” Nessmuk-style canoe, built in 1883, may be the best canoe ever designed.   

From The Adirondack Museum

I have a Wee Lassie-style canoe built of modern materials by Hornbeck Boats – it’s a beautiful boat and a joy to paddle. For decades I’ve wanted to build a cedar-strip canoe and also wanted another Wee Lassie, so several years ago I decided to combine the two desires and build one for myself. The purchase of some 3/4” thick western redcedar boards at a local lumberyard began the process.


The boards were ripped into ¼” wide strips on the table saw, then the edges of the strips were shaped using cove and bead router bits. Plywood forms were cut to shape and mounted on a strongback and then construction began.



Each strip was glued and pulled tight to the one below it with strap clamps and stapled to the plywood forms –
 



Adding strips is pretty straightforward until they no longer run to the ends of the boat -




At that point the end of each strip had to be tapered along a string line to meet the strip from the other side –



When all the strips were in place, the staples were pulled, the ends shaped and the hull sanded –



After a coat of epoxy was rolled on and allowed to dry it was time for a layer of fiberglass cloth –



Three more coats of epoxy were rolled onto the fiberglass, which became transparent in the process –



The hull was turned over and the process repeated on the inside –



Then it was time for the finishing touches, the gunwales (no woodworker has ever had enough clamps), decks and thwarts, followed by multiple coats of good quality spar varnish –



Done, after about 200 hours of cutting, gluing, sanding and fiberglassing (I’ll never make a living building canoes) and on the water. The canoe weighs about 22 pounds, just a bit more than the original Wee Lassie but more than my 16-pound Hornbeck.

“... I always prefer a very light, open canoe; one that I can carry almost as easily as my hat, and yet that will float me easily.”
                                   G.W. Sears ‘Nessmuk’ in Woodcraft


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

From The Camera Traps



Checked several of my camera traps and, although they hadn’t gotten too many photos of wildlife, they had some interesting pictures.

Two very different black bears in the same place –



A gray fox –

And a long legged red fox -

A buck white-tailed deer showing his new antlers –

And a white-tail fawn –

I always enjoy checking the camera traps – there’s usually something unexpected among the photos.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Colors Of Rain



June was an especially wet month here, with twice the usual amount of rain during the month. Every stream in the Big Woods is full and small streams are running where there is seldom any water – and the ground is squishy underfoot. 

Usually when we think of colors associated with rain we think of dark gray clouds or maybe the colors of a rainbow. Now, however, all that rain has produced other colors in the woods, the many and varied colors of the fungi that were prompted to produce fruiting bodies by the rain. Recently, we’ve had an abundance of colorful fungi – unfortunately, most of them aren’t shown in any of the field guides on our shelves. Fungi are notoriously difficult to identify which is why I won’t gather any for the table and why even experienced mushroom gatherers are occasionally sickened or poisoned by their wild harvest.

But we can all enjoy the beauty of the colorful gift the rain has bestowed on the woodlands.














Thursday, July 2, 2015

Snowshoes



Yup, I know, it’s already July in northcentral Pennsylvania and there’s no snow to be seen. In fact, it’s now been months since the last snow melted here. But, I remember how it was last winter when the easiest way to get around in the Big Woods was on snowshoes – and how the old neoprene bindings on my snowshoes were almost worn through.

Those bindings were a sandwich of fiberglass cloth between two layers of neoprene rubber and didn’t last as long as the original leather bindings that came with the snowshoes. When I took the bindings off the snowshoes, the wear the bindings had caused to the snowshoe’s rawhide lacing was obvious – some of the lacing at the spots the bindings were attached had worn through.

This pair of snowshoes was of a style often called “Green Mountain Bearpaw”, 10” wide and 36” long with rounded toe and heel. They’re by far my favorite shape of snowshoe, large enough to provide decent floatation and short enough to be easily maneuverable in thick vegetation. Some of the folks I worked with over the years preferred the “Alaska” style, 10” by 58” – to me that was like wearing skis in the brush without the benefit of speed.

The worn-through lacing said it was time to relace the snowshoes. Having laced snowshoes with both neoprene (“sticky” and almost impossible to pull tight) and rawhide (wet, stinky, and hard on the hands), I chose to use the same flat tubular nylon webbing (1/2” wide) that I’ve previously used to lace five pairs of snowshoes. But, first it was time to remove the old lacing, and then scrape and sand the white ash frames to remove most of the old varnish and smooth any rough spots.
After putting a couple of coats of good quality spar varnish on the ash frames, I laced the body of the snowshoes; the pattern is pretty standard and directions are readily available on-line. A tight pattern makes for smaller air spaces and thus better floatation.

When the body lacing was done, it was time to lace the toe and heel with 3/8" wide webbing – on this pair I used the same lacing pattern on both toe and heel.  

Finally the wood frame at toe and heel were wrapped with lacing material to help protect them from abrasion.

Yes, the lacing is white, pretty garish. A few coats (five on this pair) of spar varnish and the ash frame is protected from water and the white lacing amazingly changes to an amber color that closely resembles the color of the original rawhide lacing.

Done now, and all they need is a new pair of bindings to secure the snowshoes to my feet.