Theses large, hornet-like creatures are a certain indicator of water. If you see a mason fly building in an area, you can be sure that you are within a few hundred yards of a soak of wet earth.
Search around carefully and you will see the mason fly hover and then suddenly drop to the ground. If you examine the place where she landed, you will find the soil is moist and that she is busy rolling a pellet of mud for her building. By digging down a few inches or at most, a couple of feet, you will surely find a spring and clear, fresh, drinkable water.
BIRD INDICATORS FINCHES
All finches are grain-eaters and water drinkers. In the dry belts, if you see a colony of finches, you can be certain that you are near water, probably a hidden spring or permanent soak.
They are a reliable indicator of water. Being grain and seed eaters, they spend the day out on the plains feeding and then with the approach of dusk, make for a water hole, drink their fill and fly slowly back to their nest. Their manner of flying will tell you the direction of their water supply.
If they are flying low and swift, they are flying to water but if their flight is from tree to tree and slow, they are returning from drinking their fill. Being heavy with water they are vulnerable to birds of prey.
All the grain eaters and most of the ground feeders require water, so if you see their tracks on the ground, you can be fairly certain there is water within a few miles of your location. An exception are parrots and cockatoos which are not seen as reliable indicators of water.
Being flesh eaters, they get most of the moisture they need from the flesh of their prey thus not reliable water-drinkers. Nor should you regard the water living birds as indicators of fresh or drinkable water.
Nearly all mammals need water at regular intervals to keep alive. Even the flesh eaters MUST drink, but animals can travel long distances between drinks and therefore, unless there is a regular trail, you can not be sure of finding water where you see animal trails. This is a general rule.
However, certain animals never travel far from water. Example: A fresh track of wild pigs is one sign that there is water near by. Also, fresh tracks of rooster and most of the grazing animals, whose habit is to drink regularly at dawn or dusk. In general, water is found by following these trails downhill.
Frogs, salamanders, weevil charancons always look for a damp place to rest and usually, if we dig under them, you will find water points, even springs.
Most of the land-living reptiles are independent to a very large extent on water. They get what they need from dew and the flesh of their prey and thus, not an indicator of water.
WATER FROM VEGETABLE SOURCES
Roots and branches of many trees contain sufficient free-flowing fluid to relieve thirst. This can be collected by breaking the roots or branches into 3 feet lengths and standing these in a trough of bark into which the collected fluid will drain to the container.
In some plants the amount of stored water is truly unbelievable. The water will gush out literally when the plant is cut.
WARNING!: THESE VEGETABLE "DRINKING-WATERS" CAN NOT BE KEPT FOR MORE THAN 24 HOURS.
The fluid starts to ferment or go bad if stored and might be dangerous to drink if in this condition. The nature of the plant, if judged by the properties of its foliage, is no guide for the drinkability of the fluid which is its sap.
For example, the Eucalyptus whose leaves are heavily impregnated with oils of Eucalyptus, and in many cases poisonous to human beings, contain a drinkable fluid, easily collected from the branches or the roots. The fluid is entirely free from the essential oils and with no taint of the Eucalyptus. Its roots measure from 12 to 25 metres (39 to 82 feet), crawling under low depth. Pull them off, remove the bark, and the sap will sweat at both ends, where you have put containers.
The Liana or Monkey ropes found in tropical regions are an example of a prolific abundant source of water.
There are certain precautions and a few danger signs with regard to vegetable fluids. If the fluid is milky or red or colored in any way it must be regarded as dangerous, not only to drink, but also to the skin. Many of the milky saps, except those of the ficus family which contain latex or a natural rubber, are extremely poisonous.
One exception known is the Barrel cactus in the USA.
The milky sap of many weeds can poison the skin and form bad sores, and if allowed to get into the eyes, cause blindness. With all vegetable sources of fluid, even though the water itself is clear, taste it first and if quite or almost tasteless or flavorless, it is safe to drink.
For vegetable sources of water in arid areas, the best volume is generally obtained by scratching up the surface roots. They are discovered close to the ground and if cut close to the tree, may be lifted and pulled, each root yielding from 10 to 20 feet. These MUST be cut in 3-4 feet lengths for draining.
Many persons who have tried to obtain drinking water from vegetable sources failed to get the precious liquid to flow just because they did not break or cut the stalk or root into lengths. Unless these breaks are made, the fluid can not flow and the conclusion is that the root, branch or vine is without moisture.
In general, water is more plentiful from plants in gullies than on ridges. And the flow is wasted if the roots are broken into sections and NOT CUT. Cutting tends to bruise and seal the capillary channels.
In barren areas where there are no trees, it may be possible to collect sufficient moisture from the grass in the form of dew to preserve life.
One of the easiest way is to tie rags or tufts of fine grass round the ankles and walk through the herbage before the sun has risen, squeezing the moisture collected by the rags into a container.
Many explorers saved their life that way. Pig-face and Ice plant and Pig weed contain large proportions of drinkable moisture.
WATER ON SEA COAST
Fresh water can always be found along the sea coast by digging behind the wind blown sand hills which back most ocean beaches. These sand hills trap rain water and it floats on top of the heavier salt water which filters in from the ocean. Sand hill wells must be only deep enough to uncover the top inch or 2 or water.
If dug deeper, salt water will be encountered and the water from the well will be undrinkable. It will be noticed too that the water in those wells rises and falls slightly with the tides.
THESE SAND WELLS ARE COMPLETELY RELIABLE SOURCES OF WATER ALL OVER THE WORLD.
When digging, it is necessary to rivet the sides of the well with brushwood, otherwise the sand will fall into the well. On coastal areas where cliffs fall into a sea, careful search along the lower edges of the cliff will generally disclose soaks or small springs. These, in general, follow a fault in the rock formation and frequently are evident by a lush growth of ferns and mosses.
I personally found that near the cliff, at the bottom of them where you find fallen rocks meeting the sand beach, if you dig there yet not too close to those rocks, you will find water about 1 foot down. It is a perpetual source of water, as much as you want, even for 20 persons. It keeps filling up every day.
MAKE SURE you rivet the side also and just cover the hole with some planks or drift board and mark it well so that it keeps animals away, for sand will cover it fast after a while from the nearby sand hill.
I know about them I survived on them for 5 months on a deserted island, Brion Island, QC.
SEA MOISTURE FROM FISH FLESH
Another source of liquid sufficient to sustain life at sea, when no fresh water is available, comes from flesh of the fish.
The fish are diced and the small portions of flesh are placed in a piece of cotton cloth and the moisture wrung out. This moisture is not excessively salty and can sustain life for a long period.
CONDENSING SALT WATER
It is possible to condense sea water without equipment and obtain sufficient fresh water.
A coolamon is made or alternatively a hole is scraped in the ground and lined. The salt water is put into this hole. A fire is built and stones are put into it to heat up. These, when hot, are put into the salted water which soon boils and then water vapor is soaked up by a towel or thick mat of cloth.
In time, this will become literally saturated and may be wrung out, yielding a fair quantity of fresh drinkable water. Once the cloth is cool the collection of water vapor is fairly rapid.
MOISTURE CONDENSATION IN ARID AREAS
This still produces about 50% more water between 8pm. and 8 am. than during the day, but it still works day and night. Don’t depend to drink this water immediately for it takes 24 hours before collecting 1 quart (1 litre) of water sometimes.
A simple still for water condensation in arid areas can be made from a piece of light plastic sheeting about 4 feet (122cm) square. A clean garbage bag which has been fully cut and open will do. A hole is dug in the ground in a sunny position. The hole should be about 3 feet (1 meter) across and 15” to 18" (38cm - 46cm) deep or deeper if possible.
The site should be preferably in a moist ground, a depression in a creek bed is ideal if one can be found. If green material such as shrubs or succulent herbage is nearby, the hole should be lined with this and the materials packed down. It may be necessary to weigh down the material with a few flat stones. In the centre of the hole and in the deepest part, a container is placed to catch the moisture from condensation.
Lay the sheet of plastic across and covering the hole using some of the earth scooped from the hole to seal the edges lightly.
Place a stone in the centre of the upper side of the plastic sheet above the approximate centre of the water container to weigh it down to just over the container below.
Moisture in the soil and in the greenery placed in the hole will be drawn off by the heat of the sun and condense on the underside of the plastic. The condensed moisture will collect into droplets, coalesce and trickle down the underside to the lowest point where it drops off into the container.
If the underside of the plastic sheet is slightly roughened with fine sandpaper or similar fine abrasive such as a piece of finely grained stone, the droplets will coalesce and run off more cleanly than if the underside is absolutely smooth.
Body waste such as urine, waste food, moist tea leaves etc. can be put into the hole. The pure moisture only is condensed. From 1 - 4 pints of water a day can be collected by this method.
If the stay in the area is likely to be of some duration, the top few inches of the hole can be removed and fresh green material replaced and the still will continue to work when this is done.
FRESH STILL SITES MAY BE NECESSARY EVERY 2ND OR 3RD DAY.
This still can also bring you food! Since water under the plastic will attract snakes and small games which will crawl under the still cone but can not go out.
This effective method was first used by the Water Conservation Laboratory in Arizona.
Drink from the bottom bucket without having to remove it and stopping the recuperation.
OTHER WAYS TO FIND WATER
EXPERIENCE WITH A OIL LAMP
At night, dig a hole 2 feet deep, cover the bottom with very dry wood and place an oil lamp which has very little oil (just so the wick is imbibed), light it up and place it on the wood floor.
Cover up the hole with branches and wait till morning to see if your oil lamp is still burning. If so, then there is water at a certain depth. Dig and you shall find it. Why is that?
Because the dampness of the under water sheet increases the air condensation furnishing more oxygen and thus, makes the oil last longer which keeps the flame to your oil lamp. If however it has died, then there is a lack of dampness. The oil alone has not sufficed for the night’s duration having burned faster than the air which was too dry.
WATER FROM A LANTERN
If all other means of getting water have been exhausted, any metal container and lighted lantern may be used to obtain water.
Remove one end of the container and submerge the closed end in a foot or more of salt water. Place the lighted lantern inside the container on the bottom. Cover the open top, allowing only enough air to enter to keep the lantern burning. The heat will cause moisture to form on the inside container. This can be soaked up with a rag and squeezed into a cup.
EXPERIENCE WITH A WOOL BALL
Do as for the oil lamp but replace it by a wool ball. Put a very dry wool ball on the dry wood and cover the hole. The following morning, look at your ball and press it strongly, the quantity of water will tell you if its worth digging.
Always safe to drink and easy to collect with any tarp, but unfortunately there are three exceptions. A chemical, atomic or bacteriological warfare would render this water unsafe unless filtered and boiled. Man has created its own worst problems.
WATER IN COLD CLIMATE
Snow: Clean snow can be eaten any time one is thirsty. The only precaution is to treat it like ice cream and not to put down too much at once when overheated or chilled. Rather, let it melt down in your mouth. It is better not to eat snow when extremely cold, for it has the tendency to dehydrate the body and provoke chill. Let it melt slowly into your mouth in small quantity
One of the most pleasant wilderness desserts is ice cream made with snow. Pour milk into a container, add sugar and some flavor such as chocolate and stir in preferably fresh light snow till taste and texture are satisfactory.
Snow drawback is that a considerable amount is needed to equal a glass of water. Packed snow gives more water of course, ice even more.
Particular care has to be taken when melting snow to not burn the pot. Melt the snow until the bottom of the pot is safely covered with several inches of water before adding more snow. Use any tool to pack the snow as it melts to avoid the bottom of your pot drying up and burning. This nuisance is compensated for by the fact that snowfall makes water readily available throughout wilderness.
One needs a lot more water in cold weather than one expects, because the kidneys have to take over much of the process of elimination otherwise done by the sweat glands.
ICE and FRESH WATER
This is the water supply of many an Arctic establishment but the tasks of cutting and melting is sufficiently inconvenient that when it is feasible, most prefer to chop or chisel holes in the lake or stream to get water.
Such holes must be covered to discourage their freezing. Also it is the preferable method since you waste no fuel. To obtain water you need twice the amount of fuel to melt snow than if you melt ice for the same quantity of water.
To break ice, it is better to use a pointed tool. First, hit a few light strokes to create a split then a hard blow to break an ice piece the length desired. On a great lake or long river, cut toward an already existing split to avoid making only small bits.
If one wants to dig a hole in a lake or river to obtain water, one must be careful doing it to avoid splashing.
First, start to axe all around your hole but make very sure not to puncture the ice all the way to the water, until your hole is deep and wide enough for your bucket.
Then and only then, once you are near water on all sides, give a sharp blow to break the ice completely. If you don't do this, the water will seep into the hole and you will get dangerously wet while trying to enlarge it. However, as far as purity is concerned, ice and the water obtained from melting ice differ in no respect from the water originally frozen.