Friday, October 31, 2014

Old camp phone and number bite dust

For over 40 years our phone number at camp was 807-727-2730 but that has now come to an end with a final breakdown of this type of phone system.
Bell had offered and then maintained the remote microwave telephone network that several camps and individuals used in the Red Lake region. It was always a party line but over the years the system was refined so that you could not hear others' conversations; you just got a busy signal when you went to use the phone. It replaced the old walkie-talkie or CB-type of radio phone we had used in the 1960s.
Motorola made the equipment and we had several large boxes of electronics in a building we called the radio shack. The equipment has been obsolete for about a decade. We were told a few years ago that if anything ever broke again, that would be the end. Well, it broke some time in September or early October.
Fortunately, we have another telephone system at camp -- a cell phone that picks up a signal from Red Lake via an external antenna and then boosts that signal with an amplifier. It is considerably simpler than the old microwave system and has worked extremely well since we started using it a few years ago.
That phone number is 807-727-0439 and is our only summer phone number now.
However, if you want to remember only one phone number for us, remember our winter number: 807-475-7246.
It will always reach us any time since we forward calls from that number to wherever we are, including camp.
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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Last year's freeze-up caught on trail camera

The scene as we left camp in the Lickety Split, Oct. 17

Moose gets a drink from point in early November

Still some open water the day before freeze-up, Nov. 19

Ice extends all the way across narrows, Nov. 20,  and never melted until May
My brother-in-law, Ron Wink, left his trail camera set at camp last fall (2013) and it recorded nearly half of the winter before its batteries went dead in late January. In particular, it witnessed the actual freeze-up of the narrows in front of camp.
Ron had set the camera to take a photo every five minutes during daylight hours.
The sequence began when we left Oct. 17. Not much changed for a couple of weeks except for some snows that came and went. Eventually the snow just stayed.
Also ice formed and melted along the shoreline several times. Finally, in mid-November, it stayed along the shore all day and started edging toward the center. On Nov. 20, the ice reached all the way across the narrows and never melted again.
The camera also recorded temperatures and it was remarkable to see it was -40 C (or F, both scales come together at -40) in early December. That is extremely cold for so early in the winter.
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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Beavers and 'valuable lessons'

Now the beavers are cutting down our birches
My current attempt at living in harmony with North America's largest rodent -- the beaver -- is just the latest chapter in a very thick book. It's a psychological thriller full of twists and unexpected turns. Over the years we have invested hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars into this relationship with mixed results, at best.
It started with fencing our trees. Beavers had cut down virtually every quaking aspen tree within 100 feet of the water at the west end of Red Lake except for those growing in the yard at camp. Eventually, these trees around our cabins were just too great a temptation and they started disappearing at night. We put our superior human intelligence to work and placed wire fencing around every aspen near the lakeshore. We reasoned that if the beavers got out of the water and discovered the trees could not be cut down, they would not bother going farther back into the bush where we had not fenced trees. It worked!
Also, to save money, we had cut the fencing so it made a barrier that extended just two feet off the ground. When you look at beaver tree stumps, they are roughly the same height -- the height of a beaver -- and are less than two feet high. Again, our plan worked ... for awhile.
After several years, beavers somehow learned to cut above the two-foot fencing. I don't know if they were standing on each others shoulders or maybe dragging a log to the trees to stand on, but trees started vanishing in the night again. So, there was nothing else to do but take off the two-foot fencing and replace it with three-and-four-foot fencing, a process that was even-more expensive and time-consuming than before. But at least our efforts weren't in vain, at least not for several years.
I got up one morning only to find beaver stumps where trees had been, right beside the cabins! Some beaver had gone right past the fenced trees at the water to see if all the trees were protected and discovered they were not. This had to be stopped immediately or we would need to fence hundreds of trees all around the camp.
It was then that I started thinking about how beavers learn. For years they had been swimming right past the fenced trees and assumed all the trees in camp were protected. This knowledge seemed to have been passed on to new generations of beavers. Then, some smarty-pants, not listening to the advice of his elders, went inland anyway and discovered the whole story was a myth. If he taught the rest of the beavers what he learned, we were in big trouble. But what if he had a bad experience and related that to the others? We needed to teach this adventurous beaver a valuable lesson and then he would pass that message on -- stay away from this place.
I came up with the idea of electric shock. It works with domestic animals after all. Think electric fencing. Once pigs and cattle have been shocked by the fence, you can take the fence down and they still won't cross where it had been, at least so I've been told.
The beaver had left a half-cut tree near Cabin 10 and I reasoned he would be back to finish the job the next night. A 12-volt battery, I guessed, would do the job. That's what the electric fencers used.
I fashioned a grate of heavy fencing all around the tree for the beaver to stand upon and wrapped finer chicken wire around the trunk, right where the beaver would bite. I set the battery down by the tree and fastened one pole to the grate, the other to the trunk. The beaver would complete the connection, get zapped but not killed and would head off to Beaverland with the knowledge this was a bad place to cut down trees.
It took me a couple of hours to lay the trap and since it was supper time, I went into the lodge to eat.
Afterwards I moseyed on down to the cabin hoping to actually see the trap in action -- a zapped beaver fleeing to the safety of the lake and probably slapping his tail repeatedly to warn off the rest of the clan.
Instead, I found the battery flipped upside down with both poles touching the metal fencing. It was sparking furiously and this had set the dry grass in the entire yard on fire. Oh yeah, the tree was gone.

But a valuable lesson had been taught.
I learned never to do this again.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Assistants 'volunteer' to help with tree clean-up

About half of the chore of cutting down trees in the yard is dealing with the branches. They all need to be picked up and hauled to burning piles. It's a tedious task. If only I had helpers to do it. Hey! The favourite food of beavers is quaking aspen, the same species of trees I am cutting. I just cut down the trees and give the big rodents time to haul away the branches. In fact, I give them a hand by cutting the branches loose from the trunk.
My trail camera shows beavers passing by every few minutes each night. There are obviously a number of them at work. Even the kits are getting in on the action. The camera showed a kit hauling off a few tiny branches at first and then progressively taking bigger ones.
The adult beavers can carry small logs that are several inches in diameter.
The trick is going to be to allow the beavers to take the branches but not the cut-up pieces of firewood. In the past we've had them steal wood right out of firewood stacks. This year I'm stacking the wood "in-the-round" which means it will be much heavier than split pieces. That, plus the fact it will be wedged by the weight of all the pieces above will, I hope, prevent all of next fall's firewood being dragged into the lake. Each round piece of these large green poplars probably weighs 20 pounds. I'll also stack it as far away from the lake as possible.
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Sunday, October 12, 2014

What fish species spawn in the fall?

Lake trout, as mentioned in some of the last postings, spawn in the fall.  This seems odd to some  anglers and the reason is almost all of the species they normally seek are spring spawners such as walleye, northern pike and bass.
However, lake trout are not alone in their autumn ritual here on Red Lake. Other fish, most of them not targeted by fishermen much are: whitefish, tulibee and ling. All of these fall-spawning species are the deep-water fish in Red Lake.
Their reproductive strategy is in marked contrast to the spring spawners whose survival seems based on eggs developing rapidly and the young fry quickly seeking shelter from predators, all in a matter of a few weeks. The fall spawners' eggs can take months to develop and the young fish are very slow to grow. However, there also are fewer predators in the shallows under the ice. Most of the predatory fish will be in somewhat deeper water where it is warmer.
Lake trout eggs, dropped among boulders right at the shoreline, can be totally covered by ice when winter comes. Incredibly, even in these ice-bound shallow areas, there is liquid water between the cracks at the bottom of the rocks. The little trout are alive but imprisoned there until the ice melts in the spring. They then plummet to near the bottom of the lake, below the predators which are usually higher up near the thermocline.
Lake trout spawn around Oct. 1, whitefish and tulibee spawn just as the ice is forming and ling can spawn under the ice. All of these fishes' eggs just fall to the bottom. The parents don't build a nest as do some stream trout and bass.
It may seem more primitive than the warm-water fish but it is just another example of the diversity of Nature.
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Monday, October 6, 2014

Summer is over and maybe fall too

Lodge this morning

Cabin 7 and Cork
Looking across narrows

Cabin 3 and boats pulled out of water for the winter

 Boathouse. Just the Lickety Split and two fishing boats left in lake
Here's the scene this morning at camp. A couple of inches of snow have fallen and more is expected today. The temperature is only predicted to rise a couple of degrees above freezing and the long-term outlook isn't much better.
There is no one in camp this morning other than Brenda, Cork and I but the trouters are due back today after taking the weekend off. They would still like to catch a couple dozen more fish for the spawning project. It could be tough sledding (pun intended). It is no fun to be in a boat when it is snowing or after a snowfall.
Unfortunately, that is exactly what I will be doing in a few minutes. We are out of firewood and that means I will be taking one of the fishing boats down the lake and cutting down standing dead jackpine trees. I will buck them into 48-inch lengths, pile them crosswise in the boat until the load is above the gunwales and slowly motor back to camp. There I'll haul the lengths up the hill, make a neat stack in the yard and cut each into three, 16-inch pieces. These I'll split and using the wheelbarrow, haul them to the cabins that will still be used this fall and to the lodge. If there was no snow I would use the golf cart and wagon but these are useless with snow on the ground.
In bitter conditions like this we have two woodstoves burning in the lodge and can melt right through a woodpile in no time flat.
Our family arrives this weekend for a week of moose hunting. We will have three cabins plus the lodge to heat during that time. Brenda and I will be here for a week or two more, closing up. I also have Cabin 4's roof to finish. About one-third of it has been shingled.
I also have a bunch of dangerous trees to cut down, especially around Cabin 9. I got a start on this last weekend but have a bunch more to take down. These are huge, heavy, quaking aspens that easily weigh a ton each. I hate to cut them down but they are so big now and so old that they are tipping over. They are also full of pileated woodpecker holes and some of them are breaking off in high winds where the holes have been made. It's just been lucky that none has hit the cabin. These will provide firewood for next year and probably a year or two after that. I think each tree contains about a cord of wood. We use about five cords a season at camp.
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Saturday, October 4, 2014

A stroll with Cork along the camp's waterfront

Click on this photo to see it in panorama.
Red osier dogwood and wild roses make a good frame for Cork's portrait
Fall colours as seen in front of Cabin 10
Cabin 10 shoreline. How many cabins have 3.6 billion-year-old fossils in front of them? See Stromatolites

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Friday, October 3, 2014

Lake trout spawning project one of best in years

Jeff King carries trout from pens to Eagle Falls' pontoon boat

Toby Braithewaite strips eggs into bowl held by Tori Toews and Nadine Thebeau assists
Pam Dietrich tags each fish before it is released

Ministry of Natural Resources fish and wildlife personnel are all but finished with the 2014 lake trout spawning project and have had great success in gathering plenty of eggs for the hatchery.
For about two weeks now two three-person crews have been netting the lake and gathering lake trout which were kept in underwater pens off our main dock at camp. Twice the trout were stripped of eggs and milt and released back to the water. The final tally of fertilized eggs wasn't known today but it seems it would be in excess of 200,000.
Depending on egg mortality that should mean perhaps 100,000 trout fingerlings will be reared by the Dorion, Ont., fish hatchery and will be planted back into Red Lake in 18 months.
I believe this is the 12th year of the project and was one of the best in egg collecting. It seems the fish and wildlife crews captured the trout at exactly the right moment when they were ready to spawn.
It should be noted that three camps helped with the project this year. For starters, trout caught two years ago were released this spring when the MNR crews and hatchery truck drove right down to the lake at Black Bear Lodge. Those fingerlings were released by the MNR, assisted by staff and guests from Black Bear Lodge and Bow Narrows Camp, in the Potato Island basin.
For several years now the MNR has used Eagle Falls Lodge's pontoon boat as sort of a giant MASH tent to strip the eggs. It has proved ideal.
Bow Narrows has been providing meals and accommodations to the fish and wildlife crews from the beginning of the project.
The spawning program was begun 12 years ago when the trout population plummeted and it was discovered there were almost no young trout in the lake. The reason for the lack of reproduction is still a mystery; however, natural regeneration has begun again in some areas and boosted by the stocking program, the trout population is beginning to build again.
Our anglers are catching more and more trout each year now. All trout must be released immediately. Other regulations require anglers to use single barbless hooks and not to use live or dead bait.

Pontoon boat tied to our dock with underwater pens at right
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