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Basketry is an art form with many variations. One form found in many parts of the world for hundreds and maybe thousands of years is coiled basketry. In this country (the U.S.) the most recognized form would be the pine needle baskets made by Native American groups in the Southeast and possibly elsewhere. Many materials have been used in the past and today.

In this video I demonstrate how to make a simple and expedient coiled basket out of dead grass and string. This will be a three part video so I can show all aspects of the process.  Many other suitable materials could be used in the same way.  This is one of the few basket weaving techniques that could be applied as a survival skill because it is immediate with no need for soaking or lengthy processing of materials (willow shoot weaving would be another).

If you enjoy this video please subscribe to my Youtube channel to be sure to see the next two installments in the coiled basket series.

My family really enjoys make maple syrup right from the trees in the back yard.  We only make a little each year and so do not have any specialized equipment.  This year I employed an expedited version of a rocket stove made from cement blocks to boil the sap.  It was quite efficient.  We did not use much wood and produced something close to a quart of finished syrup.

Nothing I have ever purchased has tasted as good or been as satisfying as what we make in the back yard.

 

Pileated woodpecker sign

Pileated Woodpeckers leave some very obvious sign.

While at work the other day we came across this quite recent excavation by a Pileated Woodpecker. What was not so obvious was the scat we found mixed with the wood chips at the base of the tree.

Piliated Woodpecker sign

I have never seen this much scat from this species in one place like this.  It must have had a good meal.

Pileated Woodpecker scat

A close up of the scats (above) and an example of their contents (below).

Contents of pileated woodpecker scat

Take a look at all those bug parts, most likely wood ants taken from the hollowed out interior of the tree. The large size and elongated shape of the hole it what signals Pileated rather than a smaller cousin.

Whiskeyjack
 
While in Ontario’s Algonquin Park my wife Deneen and I encountered a well known and charming creature of the North, the Grey Jay (Perisoreus canadensis). This corvid is related to the more Southern Blue Jay as well as the rest of the corvid family which includes crows, ravens, and magpies. Like those other corvids they are smart,  consummate opportunists, and well known to the people around them.
 
camp robbers
Grey Jays have other common names that are often used; Camp Robber and Whiskeyjack, a anglicized pronunciation of a Cree name ( likely Wisakedjak).
 
Grey Jay eating from the hand
They have some unique behaviors, one of which is breeding and nesting in the Winter. To be able to do this they hide or “cache” food when it is available. They hide it in many different spots, later finding it, possibly by memory, the way we expect Grey Squirrels to do.
 
The name Camp Robber comes from their habit of taking food from people, often right from their hands whether offered or not. 
 
 
 

The snow is slowly leaving us here in New England.  Before it turned to slush and ice I got out to do some tracking in beautiful conditions.  In this video I go into detail on how to distinguish Red Fox from other species without using measurements.  I also include a good explanation of a few ways to tell canine from feline and, we see a bit of hunting behavior by our friend the fox.

Thanks for watching. Please like and subscribe.  If you want to learn more about tracking first hand go to my school’s website www.threeredtrees.com

River Otter are a cool animals. Following their trails always leads to adventure and insight into otters adventurous nature.

In this video I follow an otter trail on the Bantam River in Litchfield CT as it slides its way along the ice to a snow buried beaver lodge. Hope you enjoy it.

 

As I child I connected deeply with my dog, and the neighbors dogs, and my uncles dogs and my grandfathers and on and on… I also connected with the romance of a wild life.  My play and drawings were often of Native Americans, mountain men, horses and wolves. Especially wolves. In 5 grade, at the book fair, while I image other kids bought books on skateboarding or ponies, I borrowed the final 10 cents from one of the teachers to get Jack London’s White Fang and Call of the Wild. In highschool I made a life size paper mache wolf for an art class project.

Obsession is a word one could use. I think it was part of a desire to connect with the wild and a recognition of how much people and wolves have in common, I am certainly not the only one to think so.

In college I befriended a young man named Z. No I did not make that up. We had some nerdy common interests and hit it off. Turned out he had wolves living in his back yard.  His folks ran Wolf Hollow in Ipswich Mass an educational facility to raise awareness of what wolves are really all about. I spent a lot of time there, was around for the raising of some of the puppies, witnessing the death of the alpha male, even living in the house for a few months. Hanging out with the wolves was a dream come true and I learned a great deal.

Me and one of the half grown pups.

Me and one of the half grown pups.

As amazing and wild as they were, these animals, for all the love of the people around them, lived withing artificial confines.  So did I.

Now about 15 years later I am much less confined, much more connected to the wild. So time to experience freely living wild wolves in their own place.

I went out with Alexis to scout for tracks along highway 60 on the morning of our second full day. I found out tracking at 50 mph is a good way to train your mind . We saw so many fox and moose trails I quickly learned how to recognize them from a distance at a glimpse. The wolf trails looked quite distinct from the other two as you might imagine.

Canis lycaon

Above and below are the first wolf tracks I have ever seen in real life. For anyone familiar with tracking or wolf feet they might seem quite small. The wolves of Algonquin Park are not the same as the big Grey Wolf Canis lupus. It was known for many years the wolves of the park and surrounding areas of Ontario, Quebec and parts of the nearby States were smaller than their big Northern brethren, and too big to be Coyotes, one of North Americas other three wolf species.  Genetic studies in the 90s by Brad White and Paul Wilson of Algonquin Park showed that these local animals were distinct from the big Grey Wolves (Canis lupus) and little Coyotes ( Canis latrans). Turns out they were very much like the Red Wolf (Canis rufus) of the US Southeast, the same species. White and Wilson called it the Eastern Wolf (Canis lycaon even though it is the same species as Canis rufus).

Wolf tracks in a trot pattern

It gets even more confusing as sometimes Lycaon and Latrans breed and sometimes Lupus and Lycaon breed.  In the park they sometimes have really big wolves and sometimes really small ones. The biologists and naturalists of the area don’t think there are Grey Wolves or Coyotes are currently present in the park (Mammals of Algonquin Park, Strickland and Rutter revised 2002) though they reside in other parts of Ontario. This past and possibly current mixture is referred to as Canis soup.

Wolf and fox trail on side of highway

Back to my story. We discovered through the course of the day following each of the 3 or 4 trails along the road, that most likely a single wolf traveled many kilometers on the highway the night before, leaving it for occasional short forays into the woods and back out again. The other half of the group followed one trail to a bed and we followed these trails off and back onto the road. The image above includes a Red Fox trail which appears narrower and neater, moving in a half loop to the right.

Wolf front and rear track

The clearest wolf tracks I saw over the week, again on the side of the highway.

Eastern wolf tracks on side of road

Our group on the trail of wolves

We followed this trail in to where it turned around and came right back out.

Red Fox track

Above is a fox track for comparison. The local Red Fox left the biggest tracks of its kind I have ever seen. The morphology, or shape, is the give away, indistinct in the center because of the very furry nature of Red Fox feet, and a bar shaped metacarpal pad which can be seen on the left side of this photo.

Wolf trail in deep snow

Distinctly deep and messy wolf trail. Like moose, their long legs allow easier movement in the deep snow.

Older wolf trail in woods

The next days early morning scout reveled no wolf movement along the highway. We found wolf tracks anyway on the way to the Chit Lake rangers cabin. These were older snowed in tracks as seen above with Deneen celebrating their discovery.

Wolf scent mark

Wolf urine along the trail. They of course scent mark inside their territories.

Wolf tracks through moose bed

Where we had to leave the trail I went ahead a little and found a spot where a wolf walked right through a moose bed. In this area I got a little confused because the wolf tracks were mixed in with big moose tracks. I did not have time to follow it out and confirm a suspicion that there may have been more than one wolf, they will often follow each other stepping in the front wolf’s tracks the way we were breaking trail for one another (Mostly Dan and Alexis bless them). When I got back to Dan I told him my suspicion and he agreed. We dug in the snow to feel the bottom of the tracks which were quite deep with hard packed bottoms suggestive of more than one animal stepping in the same spot. That coupled with the scent marks points at least a little bit toward multiple animals.

How lucky am I to have the experiences I have had. Tracking wolves in the Canadian wilderness, living with wolves outside the window when I was a young man, feeling a little bit of wildness anytime I want just by walking out the door. It doesn’t always take wolves to feel that way, a chickadee in a hemlock will do it. Though it doesn’t hurt.

 

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