The lemmings are coming!!

I had heard reports that for the first time in many many years there has been an unusually large explosion in the Lemming (Lemmus lemmus) population in the mountains.  This used to happen on a regular cycle every four years but now it is a much rarer occurrence to have such a large increase in population and no one seems to know why the increase occurs.

The Lemming is a large rodent up to 15cms long and easy to spot due to its variegated colours of black, yellow and rusty brown.  Density of Lemmings in very good years can be up to 250 per hectare.  When the population density becomes to high the Lemmings travel to other areas, crossing streams and rivers and covering great distances.

A female Lemming can have 6 litters per year and a litter will consist of up to 12 young.  The young females become sexually mature at 20 days old.

Having never seen a Lemming I decided to walk up to the top of Dundret mountain in Gallivare on Wednesday

to see if I could find any

There was a very cold northerly wind and it was snowing, with a temperature of about -5 degrees.

I spent three hours searching what looked like good habitat

There was much vole spore

but nothing to suggest that Lemmings were there.

I had to shelter behind a small rock to make fire and cook food and coffee, using dead Pine and Juniper as fuel

Today however, we decided to drive along the road to Ritsem to see if we could find any Lemmings.

We had probably driven about 25kms when we started seeing Lemmings which had been run over on the road

and it wasn’t too long before we saw our first Lemming running across the road.  I had to chase after several before I finally caught up with one

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We saw about 15 live ones in total and this one was particularly obliging as we drove back home

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Lapland Spring 2009 – 1st June

Cold with a strong NW wind this morning.

Every day I have had my fish trap in the lake but caught nothing.  I am told it is because of all the rain and melt water stirring up the lake.  After a couple of warm sunny days the lake has become clearer and this morning I caught fish.

fish in trap (Small)

Three perch or aborre in Swedish which are good to eat.

I had dismantled the tipi because heat from the fire was causing resin to run out of the poles into the parachute material and drip onto the occupants.  I had leaned the poles in a tree to dry but then noticed they were bending.  So I have now arranged them around the trunk of a tree

Tipi poles around tree (Small)

and tied them in position to leave until the autumn to dry

Tipi poles (Small)

I wondered around taking pictures  for the rest of the morning.  Here is the view from the tipi

scenery (Small)

and a view across the lake

scenery-2 (Small)

and here is a view of the lake now

view now (Small)

compared with the same view one year previous

view then (Medium)

Clearly showing how much more advanced the spring is this year!

While eating lunch I heard a crackling outside and rushed out to find that the remaining dead grass outside my cabin had caught fire (either from a spark from the chimney or from the bottom of a polished beer can left in the sun after making fire with it)!  The strong wind was fanning the flames and it spread very quickly.  I spent over an hour running up and down to the lake with two buckets until finally I put the fire out.

burnt ground (Small)

and another view

burnt ground-2 (Small)

After the fire had been out for a couple of hours I walked in the forest and on the marsh collecting plant specimens

These are the flowers of Bilberry (apologies for the quality of the image)

Bilberry in flower (Small)

This is Cloudberry Hjortron in Swedish (Rubus chamaemorus), in the same family as our Blackberry.  Locally it is used to make a desert sauce or jam and also a strong liquer.

Cloudberry (Large)

This next plant (when not in flower) can be mistaken for Labrador Tea but as a member of the Heath family, Bog Rosemary (Andromeda polifolia – Andromeda because as sea water bathed her feet when chained to a rock in the sea, so the roots of this plant are bathed by fresh water from the marsh) is said to be poisonous.  It lacks the brown hairs on the underside of the leaf which Labrador Tea has.

Bog Rosemary (Medium)

Filled with enthusiasm from catching three fish this morning I spent the evening fishing

fish float (Large)

Regular readers will of probably already guest that I caught nothing!! And had to console my failure with a fish and dehydrated potato pie made from my catch this morning

Fish and potato pie (Large)

While out rowing I spotted a Birch tree which had broken in the wind and was now hung-up in a Scots Pine.  This would be useful fire wood for me and so I needed to plan how to get it down, logged up and back to the cabin, but more about that next time!

1 Whooper Swan landed on the lake just as the sun was setting, called a lot and then flew off


Lapland Spring 2009 – 23rd May

I walked into the forest to cut some more poles and passed an area where a Redwing (Turdus iliacus) a member of the Thrush family was mobbing me and alarm calling so I decided to look around and see if it had a nest.  I did not have to look far

Redwing nest (Small)

The nest contained 6 eggs

Redwing eggs (Small)

I had cut down some poles when the boys joined me again and as there were many mosquitoes I decided to show them how to make a smudge fire to help keep the mosquitoes away.  The lose bark from the Pine can be collected  and will ignite with a spark from the firesteel

Pine bark (Small)

but to make it easier for the boys to make fire we collected Old Man’s Beard Lichen

Old mans beard (Small)

We used the lower dead branched from the poles I had cut as fuel and then started to add the green branches

making smudge fire (Small)

to produce smoke

smudge (Small)

This was sufficient to keep most of the mosquitoes away, but I demonstrated that added much more green Pine would produce a high column of white smoke which can be used as a signal fire for emergencies or if lost and people are searching.

smoke fire (Small)

Although it was my birthday the following day, in Sweden (as it was a Saturday) it was my unofficial birthday so that people could drink and not have to drive to work the next day and Anki had arranged a party.  The whole family came to Anki’s cabin bringing food and presents.  (I feel so lucky to have these people as my friends because they owe me nothing yet they give me so much!!)  Here I am opening my gifts.

opening presents (Medium)

and here are the children enjoying the party

party (Medium)

My friend Teres had also made me a traditional birthday cake (at least that is what they told me it was……I was a little suspicious at first) called I think “Sill tarte” which translated means herring cake

Sill torte (Medium)

and it was FANTASTIC.  Savoury, not sweet but very tasty.

Here are the gifts they gave to me;

birthday gifts (Small)

two fleecs blankets, some candy sweets, a set of Moose (Alg) antlers on a crown to go on the wall of my cabin and a frying pan of the type traditionally used when cooking out in the forest.

In the evening we decided to go fishing and Simon wanted to show me good places to fish

Simon fishing (Medium) (2)

and of course he caught a fish!!!…..but I didn’t

Simon with fish (Medium)

As the sun began to set we made fire

P1020405 (816 x 612) (Medium)

and spent the rest of the evening relaxing and watching the sun set

P1020400 (789 x 579)

Birds of note; Male Smew, Waxwings, Common and Parrot Crossbills, Siskin, Common Crane

Lapland Spring 2009 – 22nd May

Rowed to the far end of the lake first thing this morning and went walking in the forest, but very quickly it clouded over and really heavy rain fell.  I was soaked by the time I got back to the cabin and it’s times like that when I really appreciate have the cabin and a warm fire to go back to.

I collected the rain water from the roof of the cabin for drinking and cooking

collecting rain water (Medium)

While it was raining I carved some hooks from pieces of Pine

coat hooks (Large)

to nail up around the cabin to hang things from.

coat hooks on wall (Large)

After the rain stopped I decided to go into the forest to begin cutting small Pine trees for poles to make a traditional style tipi or kåta.  I was careful in my selection, taking a tree where two were very close together and only one would survive, or trees that did not look so healthy.

Pine poles (Small)

Once I had cut down a tree, I removed all the branches with my axe

sneding tipi poles (Small)

To remove the bark I drove the tip of a knife into a wooden batten to make a simple draw knife

peeling poles (Small)

I tried eating the inner bark which was surprisingly tasty and quite sweet.

I was having lunch and some coffee at my cabin when I heard the voices of children in the forest

me at cabin (Medium)

It was the grandchildren of my friends Anki and Ingvar who were coming to visit me.  The children are taught survival skills in school in Sweden and they were keen to learn new skills from me.  Particularly making fire without matches.

I began by demonstrating the bow-drill to them and then we headed into the forest to collect different tinders for them to experiment with using firesteels.

seb making fire (Small)

We also experimented with flint and steel to make fire with True Tinder fungus

Rasmus making fire (Small)

The boys were also keen to teach me things as well.  Here they are explaining how to navigate in the forest using Wood Ant nests

boys showing ants nest (Small)

and here Simon is demonstrating how to eat the ants without being bitten.

Simon eating Wood ant (Small)

They were actually quite pleasant to eat.

We spent the evening fishing though no one caught anything.

Simon fishing (Medium)

New birds; Redstart, Song Thrush, Mallard, Teal, Whimbrel, Capercaillie and two groups of Black Grouse lekking on the edge of the marsh.

Winter in Lapland 2009 – 7

I headed off into the forest again along a scooter trail.  The temperature was -16 degrees.


It was rather cloudy and the sun soon set but there were still some nice views.



The trees are mainly Pine (Tall in Swedish), Spruce (Gran) and Birch (Björk).

Later in the afternoon I decided to stop for a brew.  I headed off the scooter trail into the forest in thigh deep snow, collecting the lower dead branches from the Spruce as I walked.


This seemed like a good location to stop with a stump to rest on/against and somewhere to keep my kit out of the snow.


I needed to dig down into the snow to make my fire directly on the ground, and lacking a shovel I used my Crusader cup

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I used some Birch bark in the Spruce branches and my firesteel to get the fire going.  The resin in the dead branches makes them burn well.


I melted a small amount of snow in my cup and then continued to add snow to the water to melt it.


Once I had a cup full of water I put the cup lid on and waited for the water to boil.


While sitting enjoying a hot cup of chocolate I had the idea to carry my Crusader cup in my soft leather possibles pouch but unfortunately it wouldn’t quite fit in so I decided to make a larger pouch once I got back to England…but more about that soon!

As I headed back it was almost dark and so peaceful.