Autumn Boletes and a Mouse Hole

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9 October 2011
More photos from the weekend's excursion. A couple of boletes and a small hole that a mouse (didn't get enough of a look to see if it was a wood or house mouse) disappeared down. I also saw a squirrel but didn't get a photo of him as he ran off up a tree so quickly.



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Woodland Amphibian

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A long way from any ponds or lakes is the last place you'd expect to find a small green hopping thing. I'm guessing it was a juvenile toad. It was no more than an inch long and fantastically well camouflaged. I spent a few minutes following him and taking photos. Sadly, a tiny dark toad, on dark leaves, under a leaf canopy, is not the easiest thing to take photos of!

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I, Caveman

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6 October 2011
I recently came across this programme (two 45 minute episodes), part of the Discovery channels "Curiosity" thread. Aside from the use of "caveman" in the title, a rather inexact and infantile term, and a rather awful quiz on the website the programmes is well worth a look.

Casting
Thankfully, the producers avoided the usual trap of picking cast members based upon their inability to get along and the group work well together. Only one member of the tribe looked completely out of place, whilst including a vegetarian in the tribe is an overly PC decision. There were some strong male and female members of the cast which helped the overall makeup of the programme - the lack of younger and older members in a tribe is something of a weakness though, especially as different age groups bring different skills, advantages and experiences to bear.

Why Watch?
The programme does feature some great footage of an Atlatl 'Elk' (deer for us Europeans) hunt. The emotions connected to the hunt are very moving. The participants use of thrusting spears and rocks for hunting also showed a less often discussed angle of primitive hunting. The film also contained the building of a charcoal and grass water filter and fishing for trout by hand. All in all there was a lot of good footage of primitive huting and living skills. There's also an appearance of Atlatl Bob, something of a legend in primitive circles and quite an entertaining character.

Stomachs Rule!
Sadly, the constant harping about being hungry is a bit of a negative. I know the quest for food was central to the programme and makes for better TV than setting trap lines and going after frogs and rats. The trouble is that this is a very boom and bust strategy and requires big energy expenditure. As I said, it makes dramatic TV but poor survival information.

If Only...
The one thing I wish with these programmes is that they'd take people who genuinely wanted to be there; not just on TV. I'd love the opportunity to go and live stone age style in parkland and go primitive hunting!
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Cutting Edge Technology of the Stone Age

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3 May 2011
I've been reading a lot recently about archaeology. I've always thought that archaeology, along with anthropology, provides a lot of inspiration and ideas for bushcraft. Of course, for use in a flint and steel, the ability to get a sharp edge is pretty important. Further to that, simply knowing where to look for the right type of stone and how to get a sharp edge can be great additions to your survival skills.

The How
There are some great articles on making stone tools in many books. The Society of Primitive Technology's books, and Practicing Primitive, are both great all round books with some good information on how to make stone tools. There are countless others which cover the skill in some detail, but John Whittaker's book on flintkapping is the most authoritative. It is truly jam packed with information and for a beginner it has some really inspiring pictures. I particularly like the genuine first attempts the author shows us as  I'm always a little suspicious when I see a "My first...." thread on any forum with excellent work. I've got other books where techniques are mentioned but they're simply not as detailed.

If you're more of a visual learner there are some good videos out there. Ray Mears does a bit of knapping in his Wild Food series, but as far as modern knappers go John Lord is considered the most knowledgeable by many Brits. He has his own website and ha written a book called "The Nature and Subsequent Uses of Flint" - one of the few bushcrafty books I haven't got yet! There are other good videos available and the series "Flintknapping The Impossible" comes recommended from BCUK.

If you'd linke a bit of interaction hen there are forums, either A British Knapping one or good old Paleoplanet 

Materials
Flint simply isn't as common in Poland as in the south of Britain. There are some outcrops of banded flint in central Poland, ironically not far from where I used to live. However, relying on public transport to get into the middle of nowhere for rock collecting probably isn't a good idea. My knapping has been limited to found flints in car parks and gravel! Hardly ideal but you can get some sort of sharp edge. The area we live in now is mostly on sandy soil with very little rock of any sort around. I'm hoping to pick up some more materials now the snow has melted and with the chance of travelling a little over the summer.In essence the lack of suitable materials is quite a big hurdle for me to overcome.

Efforts 

I've previously posted some of my very first attempts at flint knapping, nearly 5 years ago but I've not had much stone to practice with since then so I've not really made any progress since then.

I found it pretty hard to make any sort of deliberate shape but by striking at the edge of a broken piece of flint with varying degrees of force I was able to get a few very thin shards and some more useful bigger bits. The smallest blades were so fine that they tended to crumble rather than cut but the bigger items were acceptable for cutting vegetation.

The original flint core was then bashed a bit more until it became a palm sized chopper. It isn't very sharp but has a nice feel to it. I also managed to make a discoidal blade (left end of middle row) but the actual edge is mostly the chalky outer layer of the rock so it is not wonderfully sharp and will probably blunt really quick but it does have a sort of serrated effect.
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Every Spring

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28 March 2011
It's the same question every March, has spring come yet? What that boils down to is usually snow fall - going back over 4 years of living in this area of Poland I can see that we usually get one snow fall after the "official" start of spring on March 21st.

Old Observations
It's actually very interesting looking back over old posts and observations, you can quickly see weather patterns emerge. It seems that we get the first real snowfall in the last ten days of November, though there is often wet and quick melting snow before. We also tend to get the last snowfalls in the final days of March, though they may settle they rarely last more than a day or two. This has proved the case even with very different winters - we had an almost complete thaw in January whilst last year the snow-blanket remained in place for three and a half months. The winters came in and out in much the same manner.

Polish Spring
I've often debated what a Polish spring is with people here, it is more of a "summer-lite" than what an Englishman would recognise as Spring, fairly long sunny days with little rain and it's quite normal for the temperatures to swing 20 to 30 degrees in as little as two weeks. There isn't as much of a gradual progression from grey to green to gold as there is in the British countryside. Summer and winter are more starkly defined and autumn and spring pale into the background in comparison. The British climate, on the other hand, tends towards spring and autumn being very long affairs with shorter periods of deep winter and high summer.

Looking...
I first got interested in following the weather and forecasting it through the Jack Mountain online forum, I did a series of observations for 30 days in May about 3 years ago. I learnt a lot and came to a lot of my own conclusions too, I also came to distrust long range forecasts as being rather inaccurate and not a lot more than wishful thinking. My skills in forecasting the weather have atrophied somewhat over winter, but that's what 3 months of low pressure and below zero temperatures will do - it's been a very grey and cloudy season.

Summer Storms
Summer proves a far greater, and more practical, challenge for your skills of weather observation as thunder storms are a regular feature here and pretty common between 5 and 8 in the evening. Spotting whether or not there's going to be one, and adjusting your plans so as to avoid being caught out, are quite important activities.
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The Most Important Survival Tool

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23 February 2011
If you pick up just about any survival/outdoors type book you will generally find the following line or something similar

"If you could choose only 1 item for your kit it would have to be a knife"

Now this is something I have been thinking about for a few months now and I have been seriously wondering about this.
I live in Eastern Europe where although the population is sparse by British standards you are still never that far away from someone else. As such any survival situation is likely to be in the 24-48 hours category not the multiple days type.

Risks in the Outdoors 
Thinking about this what are the biggest risks to life in that time? I came up with the following
  • Hypothermia (winter at -20)
  • Accident or Injury
  • Dehydration
Accidents happen however much you have and well planned you are. The goal of planning is to reduce the chance and risk to be minimal and have a strategy for what if.
Dehydration is unlikely to be a big problem in a temperate area but it is still a noteworthy issue.

Cold 
Hypothermia is in my view the biggest threat here and what is the best way to combat it? Fire! I don't have the skill to do fire by friction and I'd rather have a method which can be done with numb fingers.
As such I have decided a method of starting a fire is probably my most important tool. The fire would also give me a type of cutting tool (by burning through objects) and when combined with hands, teeth and bashing things (an underated method of doing stuff) should enable me to get back in 1 piece.

A Repost from my Woodcraft in Poland blog in 2006
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Mystery Tracks Number 1

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2 January 2011
Following on from yesterday's track pictures and mystery, and the resultant discussion on Twitter, I have had a play with Picasa. What I've done is turned up the "shadow" on various photos and if that didn't work I used the auto-contrast tool. Now the photos look a lot less natural but the tracks should be easier to see.

Single Track
First up there is a zingle track with the animal heading from right to left and a clear tail mark behind. The prints probably contain front and rear feet as this is the common mode of movement for rodents. The footprint is between 10 and 20mm long with the tail extending around another 30mm behind.


Trails 
 The next two pictures show a series of tracks going from right to left with around 5mm between each pair of tracks. I've had suggestions ranging from squirrel to wood mouse for these prints but with more contrast visible and some sort of scale it should be easier to see what made the tracks. All these guesses indicate we're looking for a rodent of some sort. It's also worth noting that they are also a lot smaller than red squirrel tracks from the same wood which can be seen in the final picture which I took two years ago today.


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The squirrel prints are scaled by the SAK next to them which is around 90mm long and on this occasion the squirrel was leaping and there was nearly 2 metres between the prints!
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New Year's Day Walk, Roe and Tracks

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1 January 2011
A Happy New Year Tradition
It's something of a tradition for me to go out to the woods for a walk on New Year's Day and there's usually a good amount of snow about to add to the fun. As well as the traditional reason I'm also in the process of trying to lose a bit of weight this year so any extra activity is certainly going to help in that respect.

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Paths and Rabbits
The woods were fairly busy and the walkers, kids being towed on sledges and skiers have compacted all the paths down into a fairly hard and reasonably slippery track. It made for slow going but I did see some great tracks on the way. Aside from the myriad of do tracks there were a fair variety of rabbit tracks with their distinctive "Y" shaped pattern criss-crossing the paths.

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Weather Makes Tracking Puzzles
Today's weather was hovering around -1 centigrade and fairly dry but most of yesterday and early this morning we'd had a nice fluffy snowfall. The net result of this was their being no real ice crust on the snow and there being some really, really small tracks visible. I have little to no idea what these tracks could be and pose them as a puzzle for my dear readers. There's nothing to scale them against other than the seeds but they are truly tiny and with such weak light, photographing them was easier said than done.

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This is the first of the sets, and the bigger of the two with the prints being around a centimetre long and coming in pairs like so.

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Minute Tracking Trivia
The second set were even smaller and far harder to photograph, as I said, for tracks so fine to show up there must have been some special conditions at play. The tracks were so shallow that there was very little contrast between them and the snow crust and despite trying different angles it was hard to get much definition. This picutre, and the next one in the album of the same prints, probably need some editing to get the contrast to show up more but if you look super closely you can see tracks running across the picutre.

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A slightly better picture is below, but remember these tracks are less than a centimetre long and can only be milimetres deep.

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Deer!
I've seen roe deer Capreolus capreolus tracks in these woods before but never the animals themselves. I was lucky today and saw a small pair (one bigger than the other) running across the clearing in front of me and then along the tree line.

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Although they are not as impressive as the massive Red deer stags that Hen4 was posting over the New Year's holiday I had a similar feeling of being blessed to see them and it's certainly a very positive omen for me for the coming year. I tried following them a bit but the drifts in the fields have blown so that the snow is between a couple of cm and mid thigh with no indication which bits are which as the top is flat and pure white. No doubt anyone watching would have found me, disappearing halfway across the field as I sunk beyond my knees into the snow, very funny.
In the end I gave up the "chase" took some photos of the fresh tracks and headed for home.

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Janus and Looking Both Ways
Tracking reminds me somewhat of Janus, the double faced god who January is named after. By having two faces he can see in front of and behind himself and this looking back and forward is the same thing we do with tracks. They can be followed both ways and sometimes tracking backwards can be more rewarding or easier.
So as welcome 2011 in, I'd like to wish you all a happy New Year with lots of bushcrafting, woods time and love and leave you with a trail to symbolise all that's good that lies ahead of us this year.

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