Saturday, 26 September 2015

Coniferous ID using needles

Having just returned from staying near the Galloway forest I decided to get a quick blog done for a method of telling whether a conifer is a spruce, pine or larch using the needles. Not surprisingly conifer pictures were easy to get.


We start with spruce, the traditional Christmas tree shaped tree. This large swath was taken near an osprey nest on Loch Doon by the way. The rule of thumb here is a Single needle is a Spruce and by that I mean that the needles grow individually out of the branch.


Next up is pine. This is a scots pine, one of only three indigenous conifers and the rule of thumb here is Pairs of needles indicate a Pine. You can see a particularly good example of this lower centre right in the close up.


And finally the larch, which is the only conifer to go dormant in the winter and the rule is Lots of needles for a Larch.

So it's single for a spruce, pairs for a pine and lots for a larch. I'm sure there will be an exception to the rule but it's worked for me so far!

Rush lights

I  recently stayed in Galloway with my family and the place had copious amounts of rush beds running down the side of the property so I asked if I could harvest a few because they were a good diameter and size for making rush lights which are a sort of rudimentary candle.

 I've taken the above picture next to some ash and larch kindling I gathered for the wood burner for scale. I packed them and brought them home.

 They outside has dried somewhat but is still easy to sort. Most of the outer skin needs carefully stripping off to reveal the spongy inner (remove 80% or thereabouts). I find the best way is to support the stem underneath with an index finger and carefully slide a blade along to remove the outer layer in a controlled and shallow cut. If the blade goes too deep the inner material puckers up and often the integrity of that particular section. When stripping the outer layer if it is worth saving a small section at one end to give rigidity when mounting it.

As you can see this particular example has faded even more whilst drying. It is possible however to see the remaining beige coloured strip of the outer skin and demonstrates just how much of the outer layer has been removed. 

The reason for removing so much is to allow the spongy inner part to absorb fuel which then burns off as a flame to give light. To do a traditional one I should be making tallow, but in this instance I'll be using lard. Just to show how simple yet effective this process is in the above picture is a barely peeled mini rushlight I made which burnt for several minutes with only a brief coming to in a pan that had just had sausages in (although some of the that flame will be the outer skin burning too). It also works with the fat generated from the other campfire staple namely bacon.

The sizable rush lengths that I've stripped needed to be trimmed to fit in the saucepan I was using but even so they were about nine inches in length, so I need a saucepan due to the length. Sorting them is easy as all you do is melt the lard over a low heat and place them in for a short while before carefully removing and placing on a suitable surface. Take care when handling them out of the pan. 

Once they had cooled I knocked up a basic stand out of hazel and mounted one of the lights and used a match to get it going. It was rather windy and I tipped the stand forward for a couple of seconds to get the flame established. 

After I'd snapped some decent pictures I put two together to show the enhanced flame. You can see from this shot how smokey the flame can be. I wouldn't advise extended holding of these lights because the lard can occasionally roll down the length. It might be viable to punch a small hole in a sliver of wood maybe?

If you try them please do remember not to leave them unattended.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Kit review and badger poo!

Every September our district holds a Cub Scout skills camp and we are lucky enough to be allowed to use a farm that has lovely verdant fields which back onto mixed woodland and a large lake and is well placed for anyone interested to see vintage planes (Duxford isn't a million miles away).

Now a couple of weeks before this camp I'd been contacted by Chris James, The Scout Association's brand adviser to see if I would be up for doing a kit review for Vango, who are one of the Association's partners. As the camp for within sight I said yes and wondered what item I would was items; a tent, a sleeping bag and a rucksack with the brief to make a small video about them. With hindsight I should have perhaps just done one because I was supposed to be helping with the camping competition and dealing with the urge just to run into the woods and not come out until it's time to strike camp! 


Still, I hadn't slept in a 'proper' tent or a while (I usually tarp and hammock it on this camp) so that would be a novelty in a way and I was pleased to be asked. The tent I'm pitching (above right) can be seen in the final set up away on the left so that I could get some clear shots with my camera in video mode. Once I was set up I had the quickest of quick bimbles to set up a trail cam. There's a page of images here. 

A little later on whilst scoping for fire wood I noticed a huge badger latrine and other activity about a minute from our camp which boded well. So the competition started and I kept my eyes and ears on the woods and saw lots of woodpeckers, buzzards and the like. Come the evening there was the usual campfire, pre bed drink, homemade and strategically placed leopard print thong (you needed to be there) and the like. I turned in at a reasonable time to make sure i was rested for an early morning look around before the competition started again.

Just being ten minutes into the countryside had greatly enhanced the stars out the previous night and I awoke to a mild and glorious morning with Venus in the eastern sky.

As I got started it was lovely just watching as the morning sky sorted itself just before the sun rose, and the human element started adding streaky contrails. I did a quick 'stand spot' behind a small shrubby hawthorn near my tent becasue I'd previously heard two badgers have a brief disagreement and could hear rustling in the undergrowth. I also though I saw two badgers near our mess tent  but I wasn't sure if I was just willing it to be so.

I then moved on towards the wood and froze because ambling merrily out of the woods, from the direction of the latrine, came a badger. He got to about fifteen feet away, suddenly saw me and did a one-eighty back into the woods with a loud 'duff, duff, duff' as his big feet hit the hard ground at speed. I propped myself up against a nearby oak to see if he popped back out but the cubs stared making noise and going for a pee soon after so I abandoned my station. Shame because the morning was so still. I did manage a quick sneak peak at the latrine after breakfast and it had definitely been visited in the night.


I also spotted a kill sight and I'm not the hottest at tracking and sign but I'm going for a fox kill as the quill ends are chewed out, as opposed to plucked cleanly which I believe raptors do. happy for any input if I'm wrong.


It was still early so I set up a paracord line to air my soon-to-be-reviewed sleeping bag and to avert a survival situation I got the tea urn lit. 

Later it was bacon, just bacon...Well and some other stuff...A large group of eight, nine and ten year olds had had a great weekend of fun and competition and had a large dose of country air to boot. Ironically they had been away from their X boxes and the like but lots of leaders were glued to their mobiles.

Once the need for firewood had come and gone all the packs carefully dispersed any unused wood back into the wood. I decided to keep this piece of silver birch because whilst the very looks a little brittle, it has a triangular section, a nice curve and possibly some spalting (see where my thumb is). It not getting burnt and being a spoon shape may have been fate?

Oh and plane wise we saw the B-17 twice, a pair of Jet Provosts, a P-51 Mustang, de Havilland Dragon Rapide and a pair of stunt planes (one of them did a double barrel roll over the camp).

Vango Kit Review/ Badger Poo Trail Cam Shots

As I was in the country for a district cub skills camp I bought along my trail cam to see what I could capture in the night hours.

I'd seen a blog link on Twitter where a chap had placed a horses salt block out to attract deer and badger to his trail cam so I decided to give it a go. It didn't get any passing trade this time and no deer passed the camera so the jury is out as to whether lugging this house brick size and weight lump is worth it or not. I wasn't sure if it would disintegrate drilling a whole or cordage grooves in it so I decided to secure it using a killick hitch and i also baited the area with peanuts as well as the block.

As I mentioned I didn't get any deer action (roe and muntjac were possibilities) but  I got a rabbit early on  and then a lucky badger wandered by and scrummed itself silly on the peanut feast.  See this page about the camp, badger latrines, a kill site, spalted wood, sunrises, Venus, kit reviews and leopard print thongs...