The night of April 21st may be a great night to view the annual Lyrid meteor shower. There will be a new moon this night which is, of course, optimal for meteor viewing! Generally you can expect between 10 and 20 meteors per hour, although there are years where this number can jump significantly. For instance in 1982 the rate was about 90 meteors per hour.
As long as the skies arenâ€™t overcast this will be a great night to get out and enjoy the stars. With the new moon occurring this is an excellent night to just go stargazing in general. The meteors will be a nice bonus.
For best results always bring some warm clothes, a comfortable chair to sit on (or better yet a blanket or pad to lie down on) and try and get as far away from city lights as possible. Sit back and look up and a bit to the east. I also find coffee and hot chocolate to be extremely nice to have with me.
Two days ago, on March 15th, 2012 the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA-TFCA) was officially launched. This is a huge international conservation area that crosses the borders between Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The total area of the KAZA-TFCA at 109 million acres is more than 2/3 the size of Texas.
The KAZA-TFCA is combining three dozen existing nature preserves and the lands surrounding them. The 5 countries are going to work together to develop tourism, implement transboundary natural resource management, as well as provide benefits to the local communites that live in and around the area (there are an estimated 1.5 million people that depend on resources in the area).
It will be interesting to see 5 separate governments manage one interconnected preserve. I wish them the best of luck, and hope that they can set a successful example. Successful for the people that depend on the land, the animals they are trying to protect, and economic success as a poster child for future preserves.
This is old news, but here it is in case anybody missed it:
Les Stroud is in the process of filming season 4 of Survivorman. This time around he is going to be spending 10 days alone, instead of the old format of 7. Great news for fans of the show, and people interested in outdoor skills in general.
Last September (2011) I was camping with my brother in the Eastern Sierras, near Tom’s Place. I had been given an inexpensive wire survival saw as a gift earlier in the year, and had largely dismissed it as a useless piece of equipment. I decided to bring it out with me to test it out. Five minutes or so of use and I assumed it would fail and that would be that. Instead I found it to be pretty rugged, able to cut far better than I would have imagined, and is something I keep in my pack to help gather kindling.
I receive the saw as a stocking stuffer, so it had no packaging. I do not know the exact brand of it, but if/when I find out this will be updated. This one from Amazon looks identical to mine.
Near our campsite I found a tree that had fallen over, but landed on a rock pile. This had prevented it from sitting on the ground and allowed it to fully dry out and season. The log was about 8.5 inches around, and I decided it would be a good place to break my new saw. I used a few twigs to put through the end rings and use as handles. I started cutting, and to my surprise the saw bit in and started (very slowly) making a cut in the wood.
After about an hour or so of exertion I managed to finish the cut, and I had blisters on all of my fingers on both hands where the skin had been rubbed off by my makeshift handles. I had a first aid kit so this wasn’t an issue, but I would be careful if you were going to be somewhere that wouldn’t have access to medical facilities. Infections are serious business when you are outdoors.
When I got back to camp my brother quickly commandeered the log. He got it leveled out on some large rocks that were in the site, then made some stakes to peg it down and got to work making himself a bench.
I used the other, shorter end of the log as a cutting block for the rest of our week in the campsite. Here is a picture of the round with the saw and handles set on it, and my Mora Clipper for scale. The overall length of the knife is 8.5″.
On later hikes we successfully used the saw to gather branches for kindling out of standing snags. Â To gather branches out of a snag we just tossed one end of the saw over the branch. Then hold on to both handles and in no time you have it cut. I found that it was the best tool I had with me for branches about the size of my wrist and forearm. These tended to be to small for an axe to really work well (especially when they are in a snag overhead) and too big to baton through with ease.
The instructions listed other things you could use it for- a fishing leader and a snare. You probably -could- use it for either of these things, but it would largely be worthless in either capacity. You could build better implements with natural materials, and use the saw to harvest them.
I just came across this great story and thought that I would share it here for anybody that hadn’t seen it yet. It was a grizzly attack outside West Glacier, Montana. Nobody was injured and it has an interesting twist.
While I was hiking last week I gathered some materials to attempt making a bow-drill set. I have never tried to do this before, so I wasn’t entirely sure what types of wood I should choose. For my spindle I selected a piece of mule fat. It was long and straight and the only thing I had to do was strip the bark. My hearthboard was a nice dry piece of California Sycamore that I found snagged in some brush a few feet off the ground. Both of these woods seemed to be of a medium hardness which is what I was looking for. The bow was made from an unidentified piece of wood, and my bearing block was a chunk of Eucalyptus.
A few minutes with a knife had all of the wood debarked, and the spindle and hearth carved into the correct shapes. I used a length of parachute cord for the bowstring, and had a terrible time getting it to stay tight. The string kept loosening up and then the spindle would slip.
My first attempt went well, but the spindle started slipping (this was due to the knots I had tied loosening up and putting slack in the line). I produced lots of smoke, and some black and brown powder. I don’t know for sure, but I believe the brown powder was from when the spindle began to slip and I wasn’t generating enough friction to heat the wood up sufficiently.
I went back to the drawing board and found a better knot setup: a bowline on one end and a taut-line hitch on the other. The taut-line allowed me to adjust the tension on the spindle, but once i had tension on the line it wouldn’t slip. I also noticed that I had trouble holding onto the bearing block, so I carved a new socket in the center to give me more control. Once these adjustments were made I decided to have another go at it.
I got everything set back up and started working the bow. I probably would have benefited from a much longer bow, my strokes were very short and I think it took a lot more effort than was necessary. In any event the new socket and bow setup were vastly superior to the first setup. I was able to keep tension on the spindle and constant downward pressure with my socket. The wood quickly started to smoke and I gave it everything I had. I decided to stop and see if I had made any progress, being careful to slowly extract the drill from the hearthboard.
My bow-drill set had worked! My first attempt to make a set and it produced an ember. Beginners luck was definitely on my side. I had shut off the camera, not anticipating that I would actually get this far. I frantically turned it back on to take a picture. Then I grabbed the tinder bundle I had made beforehand.
I picked up the leaf and carefully tipped the ember into the pocket of milk thistle fluff. I pinched the bundle and slowly began to blow. Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures of this part… I was terrified that I would make a mistake and waste the ember. The more smoke the bundle produced, the harder I blew. After a few minutes I was successful in coaxing an open flame out of a few pieces of wood and grass.
I dropped the fire into a bucket of water that I had waiting. Then took this final picture. I am extremely astounded and (justifiably) proud of the results. My first attempt at friction fire and it was successful in the first notch in the hearthboard. Perhaps I will try a fire plow or a hand drill next.
This year should be a good one for viewing the June Lyrid meteor shower, the meteors will be arriving only two days after the new moon,. Although on a few rare occasions there have been ninety or more meteors per hour observed, you can generally expect to see about ten. The new moon was yesterday (the 12th) and the shower will be peaking between the 14th and the 16th so all three days should be good.
If you live in the country just put on some warm clothes, grab a cup of whatever your preferred hot drink is and sit on the deck. For us city dwellers it is more prudent to head out away from urban areas where the lights tend to drown out the night skies.
You should dress in layers, bring a chair and/or blanket and snacks and drinks. A flashlight is always a good idea. If you have a red filter for your flashlight that is even better (using a red filter at night preserves your night vision) so you can look at maps or other things and still see the shooting stars.
The last thing you want to do is make sure you have an ample supply of coffee at home. You may need it if you have to get up and go to work early the next morning!
For those of you who donâ€™t know, the Federal Government offers an annual pass that can be purchased at the entry station of almost any Park, by telephone (1-888-ASK-USGS, ext. 1) or throughÂ their website. The pass (the official long-winded name of which is â€śAmerica the Beautiful â€“ National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Passâ€ť) is a steal. It only costs eighty bucks for a year. The pass includes free entry into any day-use fee sights that are administered by the following agencies:
With very little use the pass will pay for itself, mine is currently expired (it doesnâ€™t benefit me much since I have been out of the country!) but during the last year that I had one (2008) I visited the following parks:
â€˘ Yosemite- $20 admission
â€˘ Glacier- $25 admission (I believe it is $15 in the winter)
â€˘ Yellowstone/Grand Teton- $25 for admission to both parks
â€˘ Denali- $20 admission
â€˘ Joshua Tree- $15 admission
â€˘ Sequoia and Kingâ€™s Canyon- $20 admission to both parks
Some quick math shows us that my total costs would have been $125 just to visit each park once. (Some I went to multiple times, so that is even more I saved!) There are also many other federal lands managed by the agencies I previously mentioned that it would save you on as well. This last year I spent a lot of time in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in Southern California, so I didnâ€™t use my National Parks Pass to its utmost.
Then there are the hidden benefits of purchasing a pass that are overlooked by many people. More passes being sold, and more people visiting the parks, shows our elected officials that we do appreciate our wild places. This helps them when they decide how to vote on bills that effect our National Lands. The park service is horribly underfunded, and higher use rates gives them a better platform to argue for funding for new projects, and to renew the funding for existing projects.
The biggest benefit though, in my opinion, is that when you shell out the money for the pass instead of the $20 or so admission fee to a single park it makes you want to go out more and â€śget your moneyâ€™s worth.â€ť Anything that gets me up off my butt and out among the trees (or cactus as the case may be) is a good thing! So the next time you pull up to a park fee-collecting station think about the added value of an annual pass. It will pay for itself, and you will regret not having purchased one sooner.
Sometimes (especially for those who live in the city) it can seem like a real challenge to find the time to get outside. Often a huge factor is the time that has to be spent getting to the destination. Yosemite is great, but the 5 (or more) hour drive from the Los Angeles area relegates Yosemite to a weekend trip at a minimum. Especially for those with children, having some local escapes to introduce the kids to the wonder of the natural world would be something of a godsend. With a little help from the Natural Wildlife Federation and theirÂ Nature Event Finder finding a venue to get you out and immersed in the natural world is just a click away. The interface is very straightforward and easy to use.
I generally leave all of the activities boxes checked, and then check the site types that are closest to what I am looking for. Make sure that you have at least one activity type checked, or the search will return no results! Â The results will show up on the map, with an icon on which type of place/activity it is.
Mouse-over the icon and it will display the name of the Site, click on the icon and you will get a brief summary of the venue, and its contact information (if applicable).
All in all the Nature Event Finder isÂ a great tool. You can use it to plan an afternoon getaway, or help decide where to go and what to do on your next vacation. It is also a tremendous resource for people who are new to an area and may not know the local hideaways.
When you are done finding your next place to explore head on over to theÂ National Wildlife Federationâ€™s main page. They have tons of ideas to get you outside, and are always looking for volunteers if you have some spare time on your hands!
So you read my post on how evenÂ small wildlife sanctuaries can be very beneficial and effective, and now are debating turning your yard into a safe haven for creatures great and small. But what are the pros and cons of the project, and where do you start? Well, dear reader, read on so that I may assist you.
First the cons. You wonâ€™t have a lawn. For some people this is a big deal, for most it is just wasted space anyway so this is less of an issue. You are also unlikely to find native plants at your local Home Depot, so it will be slightly more work to locate a nursery that carries the plants you need.
The pros are many. After the initial outlay to landscape your yard (no way around that one!) the maintenance costs for a natural landscape are extremely low. The plants are adapted to the naturally existing conditions. You donâ€™t need to water them (once they have taken root) and pesticides/fungicides are unnecessary- the plants and insects have coexisted for ages and are well adapted to life with the other. You also will be saving money on gardening expenses; not having a lawn means not needing to mow one!
But the biggest reason to plant a native landscape is the diverse wildlife it will attract. The most visible, and usually most desired, are the birds and butterflies that will be frequenting your yard for food and water. By providing them with food and shelter they will provide you with countless hours of viewing pleasure.
For more information on how to design and build your native landscape, and to find sources for local native plants, check outÂ PlantNative.com. Another great resource for those of you living in California is theÂ Las Pilitas Nursery. They have a great resource to help you choose specific plants based on the animals they attract. They also have a great selection of California natives.