Thursday, 28 February 2008

Sun halo

At 14:30 this afternoon there was a very nice example of a halo around the sun also known as a 22 degree sun halo.

The halo is formed by the suns rays passing through high altitude ice crystals and is usually a sign that it will rain within the next 24 hours.

For more information take a look at these links;

When I see a distinctive cloud formation, I take photographs at regular intervals as the sky changes and note the resulting weather for future reference.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

A visitor from the continent

While out on one of the reserves yesterday I noticed a medium sized pale bird sitting very upright in the top of a hawthorn bush. "Is that a Shrike?" I said to my colleague. On viewing the bird through binoculars we were able to confirm that it was indeed a Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor.

Pictures taken by Bruce Martin

The shrike is renowned for catching prey such as small mammals and large insects and impaling them on thorn bushes or barbed wire fences as a food larder for later use. For this reason, one of the names for the shrike is "butcher bird".

They breed in Eastern Europe, Russia and Scandinavia and move south and east to slightly milder climates for the winter.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Another sign of spring

While out walking today I found another sign that spring is with us...........

The ball of moss, hair, lichens and spiders webs on the centre of the picture is a Long-tailed Tits nest. Here is a close-up of the nest.

The nest is completely enclosed, except for a small entrance hole on the side. The entrance hole is on the other side of the nest and was difficult to access without causing unnecessary disturbance to the birds. The nest is usually lined with feathers.

To read more about Long-tailed Tits take a look here;

Friday, 22 February 2008

One for Merete - Part 3

Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) are also starting to appear in reasonable quantities.

In spring when the leaves are young, if you grasp them confidently and roll between your fingers, you can remove the stings without getting stung and eat the leaves raw. They make a pleasant snack.

I like to gather lots of nettle leaves, place them in a small amount of water, add vegetable stock granules and pieces of spicy sausage and boil to make a simple soup.

People are always skeptical about the cooking process breaking down the stings, but it really does. I really enjoy nettle soup!

Nettles are a rich source of minerals (especially Iron) and vitamins (especially vitamin c). They have been used in the treatment of skin complaints and rheumatism and internally are good for the kidneys and circulation.

The outer stem of this plant can be utilised to make fine cloth and can be used to make a strong cordage. The word "net", as in fishing net is derived from the word "nettle" as nettle cordage was used to make fishing nets.

I have found that the juice from inside the plant, counteracts the effect of the stings.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

One for Merete - Part 2

The leaves of Herb Robert or as I often refer to it "Bob the herb" (Geranium robertianum) Geranium coming from the Greek "geronas" - a crane, because the fruits are said to resemble the head and beak of the afore mentioned bird and hence the name of a relative of this plant "Cranesbill", are appearing now.

I am unaware of any parts of this plant used for food, but it has been used to treat skin conditions, kidney problems and to help staunch blood flow.

One plant which is actually starting to flower now is Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria), a member of the Buttercup family.

Another local name for this plant is "Pile Wort" and it has been used both historically and currently as a treatment for piles, often made into an ointment and applied externally.

Monday, 18 February 2008

One for Merete - Part 1

While my friends Merete, Inger and Ida are living with deep snow and icy temperatures in the middle of the Lapland winter, suffering "snorkallt", here spring is on it's way. So I thought this week I would write about some of the plants I found while in the woods last weekend.

Here is a typical view of a woodland floor at the moment, around where I live.

The most common plant is Dogs Mercury (Mercurialis perennis) and is already flowering, though the tiny greenish flowers may be easily overlooked.

Cleavers or Goose Grass (Galium aparine) is another which is growing now and in fact with our milder winters, is evident all year round.

The plant can be eaten when young, though I prefer to discard the stems and just cook the leaves. Both the stem and leaves are covered in fine hook-like hairs, which soften when briefly boiled. For children the fine hooks of the plant make great source of amusement as when thrown at clothing the plant tends to stick or hook on.

The plant has several medicinal uses including; treating skin conditions such as eczema and ulcers, internally for expulsion of fluids via the kidneys (useful in urinary problems) and to help drain the lymph glands after illness or infection.

Horses are also fed this plant in spring as it encourages the shedding of their winter coat and brings the coat into good condition.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Pathfinder, Gallivare, Lapland

The company "Vägvisaren - Pathfinder Lapland" is owned by Lennart Pittja.

He started the business as a small family company in 1995. Lennart says "We work close with nature and are proud of our origin and our history. We wish to spread knowledge about Sami culture, but also how to enjoy being close to animals and nature. For reasons of sustainability and "Natures Best" we always find new trails, a way of not leaving marks behind us".

The Company

Experience the traditions and culture of the Sami people, with both long and short expeditions available.

Springtime Migration with the Reindeer

Trekking with the Reindeer

Reindeer sled in the Winter Mountains

Explore Sami

Sami camp at Repisvare

Here you will find a gallery of pictures from previous expeditions.


For more information contact Lennart.

Pathfinder Lapland
Box 148, Repisvare
SE-982 21 Gällivare, Sweden
Tel +46 (0)970-555 60
Fax +46 (0)970-555 60

Please mention me if you contact him.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Coffee break

I carried a small plastic bottle of water with coffee granuals added, in my pocket the other day.

For a brew, I made a small fire and once I had a good bed of embers, I removed the top from the bottle and placed it on the embers, as explained previously here

Water does not boil as fast in a plastic bottle as in a glass bottle, but is does work after about fifteen minutes, and the end result was a cup of hot coffee.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Spring is in the air

The birds are singing and collecting nest material.

At work today I noticed both Elder and Blackthorn bursting into leaf (Elder leaves work very well as an insect repellent) and the wild plum trees at the bottom of my garden are now in blossom.

On Sunday I saw my first Peacock butterfly of the year and there are a surprising number of moths crossing through the headlight beams of my car when driving at night.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Daily kit

I have been fencing on the reserve today.

The work took longer than expected so I did not get back for lunch, but fortunately I carry the following items in a 15 litre rucksack.

Two pieces of nylon material, two bottles of water, a wooden spoon, a tea-light candle, a 10cm billy can, parachute cord, a packet of soup, some kuskus, a small tub of coffee and one of vegetable stock.

The material and cord allow me to set up a simple shelter.

With a small fire I can boil water and make coffee and cook soup and kuskus. It always amazes me how large a fire some people have just to boil water. With the aid of some pine cones (fantastic fuel) a small fire on a spade is large enough to boil a billy can of water and make the soup. The spade helps to prevent the risk of fire burning into the ground.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Green woodworking group gathering

It was the monthly gathering of our green woodworking group again today. The day started very well with me being given an old picture of a Finnish Skolt Lapp woman making cordage out of Reindeer sinew, by rolling it on her cheek. This is a method I have never encountered before.

If you look closely at the picture you can actually see the cordage the cordage vibrating as she rolls it.

Then I was asked to make a fire in a creative way, so decided to see whether the winter sun was strong enough to make fire using a condom and crampball fungus (as mentioned here). My friend filmed this piece of film for me and if you look carefully you can see the smoke starting to appear as the fungus is ignited.

This is my friend Will, turning out a Alder bowl on his pole lathe.

and here the children are also learning to use a pole lathe.

Everyone enjoyed the day, especially with the beautiful spring-like weather.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Activities in the Nattavaara community

For the last day of my trip I was invited by one of the leaders of the Nattavaara community to experience what they can offer visitors to the area.

In heavy snow, with my friend Merete we drove to Nattavaara village. First we visited the old school house

where you can stay in a cabin, take part in organised hunting trips, traditional cooking courses and much more. Nattavaara Lapland

From Nattavaara you can travel the Iron Ore Trail to the Arctic Circle.

Here they have a monument which marks the Arctic Circle

and when you pass through the monument and cross the circle you are given a certificate.

There are also some beautiful little log cabins here, part funded by the state , so they are open for anyone to use.

There was only a small stove inside, but incredibly efficient and soon the cabin was warm and water was boiling for our coffee.

For further information about activities in the area, have a look here

This si my final post from this Lapland trip and for my next post we will be back in the UK.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Ice fishing

I spent one day ice fishing with the other guests staying at the camp. The ice on the lake was one metre thick and had to be first drilled through to access the water.

I have spent several hours ice fishing in Lapland and never caught anything and this occasion was no different. reindeer skins to sit on for insulation make the experience much more bearable.

After fishing I demonstrated how to make fire without the use of a lighter or matches, using a firesteel and Birch bark. Then we enjoyed hot soup and drinks around the fire.

Once back at the dog camp I taught one of the instructors how to make fire using flint and steel and true tinder fungus.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Making a snow shelter or quinzee

Step One

Clear a circular area in the snow about 8 feet across.

Step Two

Using a shovel or snow shoe make a large pile (about 6 feet high) of snow on top of the clearing (the snow should be heaped, not packed.) Mixing snow of different temperatures will facilitate the hardening process.

Step Three

Allow the mound to freeze and so harden for 1 to 12 hours depending on weather and snow composition. Push sticks 20 – 30cms long into the snow heap, as this will help you to maintain an even thickness over the whole of the shelter when hollowing out. When you find the end of a stick from inside the shelter, you know you have a thickness of 20 – 30cms.

Step Four

Begin to hollow out the mound once it has hardened sufficiently. Dig straight in at first to create your initial opening, and then dig upward slightly in order to make an elevated sleeping area. This will allow cold air from inside to flow down and out of the shelter.

Step Five

Use the snow you dig out to make a windbreak in front of the entrance, or heap it onto the exterior of the shelter to thicken its walls and increase the available interior space.

Step Six

Smooth the interior surface of the walls and ceiling to prevent any melting snow from dripping on you.

Step Seven

Poke a ventilation hole through the top of the dome using a ski pole or long stick. Make sure this hole stays clear of ice and snow.

Step Eight

At this point I usually reduce the size of the entrance hole by packing snow around, but the snow was so powdery, it was impossible to do this. Use your pack or reindeer skin to block the entrance of the shelter once inside, but leave space for air to flow in and out. Keep your shovel inside while you sleep in case you need to dig your way out.

Building a shelter is hard work, so wear the minimum clothing necessary, to reduce the risk of sweating. When you are working you should be cool enough to feel that you need to put another layer of clothing on. Excessive sweating can lead to hypothermia. Once the shelter is completed put all your layers of clothing back on.

Personally, I find this type of shelter hard work and time consuming to construct. The locals just dig a trench in the snow and line it with reindeer skins and sleep in the trench in a sleeping bag. If the air temperature is very cold, they use a stick to prop a reindeer skin over there face to reduce the effect of the cold.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Dog sledding

Working with my own dog team was a new experience for me.

Lotti has 100 Alaskan huskies, but only one Siberian husky.

Having been shown how to harness the dog team I had to gather my dogs and harness them, starting with the lead dog and working my way back. Running a team on my own, I had four dogs and when two of us used a team, we had 6 dogs. Below is the sled.

You control the speed and movement of the dogs and sled using the break located between your legs where you stand.

The dogs are so friendly and extremely keen to work. If the sled tips over it is vital that you hold on otherwise the dogs will continue to run with the sled and leave you behind!.

It really is a fantastic way to travel, but when travelling up hill, you have to run behind the sled to reduce the work for the dogs.

The sun has only been appearing over the horizon for the last few days and doesn't currently get much higher than this.

Dog sledding is also a great way to see and meet the locals.

My next post will be about constructing a snow shelter.