Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley
Mississippi River at Pakenham

Biodiversity

New Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas App

There is an urgent need for volunteer citizen scientists of all levels to submit sightings of all reptile and amphibian species, not just the rare ones.

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“The Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas is a citizen-science project that tracks distributions and spatial trends of reptiles and amphibians across the province over time. The over-arching goal is to increase the collective knowledge base of reptiles and amphibians. Equally important, however, is the engagement of non-scientists of all ages and abilities, in all parts of the province, in nature study and conservation.

Reptiles and amphibians are experiencing global declines of 20 and 40 percent respectively. In Ontario, 75 percent of reptiles and 35 percent of amphibians are listed as nationally and provincially at-risk.”

It is very helpful to report sightings:

We need volunteer citizen scientists of all levels to submit sightings of all reptile and amphibian species, not just the rare ones. Just in time for spring, we’re proud to announce the launch of our updated Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas App!

The new App!

There are several new features, including a field guide for the 48 species of reptiles and amphibians found in Ontario with colour photos, descriptions and calls that can be used to help you identify your sightings. If you have the previous version of the app, make sure to download the updated version to access all the new features! This project is supported by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry Species at Risk Stewardship Fund, and the Environment Canada Habitat Stewardship Program. All illustrations provided are courtesy of the Toronto Zoo. The app is available for both iOS and Android devices.

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Almonte Lagoons and Nature Trail Receives Rare Visitor

 August 19, 2016

The Almonte Lagoon and Nature trail, across from Auld Kirk cemetery on Ramsay Concession 8, has been the recipient of several rare birds over the past few years. The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) Potvin Observation Tower provides  views across the lagoons.

On Saturday morning, August 13th, a Western bird, a juvenile male yellow-headed blackbird was spotted by noted Ottawa birder Mark Gawn, feeding on the exposed mudflats and hiding in the cattails. Immediately the signal went out over the birding networks and area birders began pouring in to get a glimpse of this rarity. At one point in the morning, a peregrine falcon zoomed in over the lagoon like a marauding spitfire and scared all of the shorebirds and the blackbird away, but within half an hour, the rare visitor returned, much to the delight of those who came to observe the bird and log the sighting in their records.

The yellow-headed blackbird has a range across the west from Lake Michigan, with a few coming into the Point Pelee area around Windsor. An inch larger than our most familiar red-winged blackbird, the adult male is all black with a brilliant yellow head and chest. Most distinctive is a white wing patch. The adult female has a more mottled yellow head and chest and does not show a wing patch.

The Almonte lagoon and Nature Trail sports an observation tower overlooking the fence and berm. The tower, named for its donor Al Potvin, was erected by MVFN several years ago and the nature trail leading to the tower is maintained regularly by MVFN members.

Having this excellent site and access trail in our area is of great value to local birders and others, and also has value for the local economy. In an economic study of the facility done in 2015 by MVFN member Cliff Bennett, a questionnaire was sent out all across Ontario through the ONTBIRDS network to gauge the dollar value of this magnetic draw of rare shorebirds and other birds coming in to rest and feed during migration. The results showed that during the year, 88 people had visited the lagoon, making a total of 265 visits. While in town, they spent over $4000 on gasoline, food and other shopping.  Today, the Lagoon and nature trail is regularly visited and reported on by the Ottawa birding network as well as local birders.

If you have not yet visited this facility, watch for MVFN’s series of September Open Houses at the Potvin Observation Tower. These will be held on four Wednesdays in September/October, details tba. From 3 to 5 P.M. on each of these days, an expert birder will be on site with a spotting scope to help you identify the lagoon’s visitors.

Submitted by Cliff Bennett, MVFN Past-President

 A female Yellow-headed blackbird. Photo source: Akiroqu Brust on free stock photo site: https://pixabay.com/en/female-yellow-headed-blackbird-1427772/

A female Yellow-headed blackbird. Photo source: Akiroqu Brust on free stock photo site: https://pixabay.com/en/female-yellow-headed-blackbird-1427772/

Photographed August 13th on the mudflats in the distance, a positive ID was later made of a rare Yellow-headed blackbird, a male juvenile. Photo by Mark Gawn.

A juvenile male yellow-headed blackbird photographed August 13th from the observation tower. The bird was in the distance on the mudflats; a positive ID was later made. Photo by Mark Gawn.

 

Now (August 19), a week later rain has flooded the area; but last week the exposed mudflats were teeming with birds, including the rare yellow-headed blackbird. Photo Pauline Donaldson

Nearly a week later (August 19), rain has flooded the area, but on August 13, 2016 the exposed mudflats of the Almonte lagoons were teeming with birds, including the rare yellow-headed blackbird. Photo Pauline Donaldson

At the lagoons a platform provides views across the berm, and a place to set up a tripod or spotting scope. Photo Pauline Donaldson

At the lagoons a platform provides views across the berm, and a place to set up a tripod or spotting scope.

 

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On Ramsay Concession 8, across the road from and just past Auld Kirk cemetery, a yellow sign marks the entrance to a short, easy nature trail out to the lagoons and the Potvin Observation Tower. Photos by Pauline Donaldson

On Ramsay Concession 8, across the road from and just past Auld Kirk cemetery, a yellow sign marks the entrance to a short, easy nature trail out to the lagoons and the Potvin Observation Tower. Photos by Pauline Donaldson

 

 

Ontario Pollinator Health Action Plan

Feature photo credit Diana Troya

NOTE: The following combines information just released by the government of Ontario and Ontario Nature:

Ontario has just released its draft Pollinator Health Action Plan for public review on the Environmental Registry. They are seeking public feedback on a draft action plan to improve pollinator health and reduce pollinator losses.

Public comments may be made on the Environmental Registry: Number:  012-6393 until March 7, 2016

Pollinators, including honey bees, are essential to Ontario’s agricultural sector and contribute approximately $992 million worth of economic activity annually to the economy. The province became the first jurisdiction in North America to protect bees and other pollinators through new rules introduced on July 1, 2015, to reduce the number of acres planted with neonicotinoid-treated corn and soybean seeds by 80 per cent by 2017.

Now, Ontario is looking for the public’s feedback on a proposed plan to improve pollinator health that will address:

  • Habitat and nutrition
  • Diseases, pests and genetics
  • Climate change and weather
  • Pesticide exposure.

The proposed plan will be posted on the Environmental Registry until March 7, 2016. Additionally, the public can also provide input on protecting pollinator health by completing a public survey.

Supporting pollinator health is part of the government’s plan to build Ontario up and deliver on its number-one priority to grow the economy and create jobs. The four-part plan includes investing in people’s talents and skills, making the largest investment in public infrastructure in the province’s history, creating a dynamic, supportive environment where business thrives and building a secure retirement savings plan.

Quick Facts

  • Ontario is home to more than 400 bee species, which are the most common pollinators.
  • Honey bees and some bumble bees are bred specifically for pollinating plants for food. A foraging honey bee will travel up to 3 km from the colony (and up to 10 km if food is scarce).
  • The province recently introduced a new Bee Mortality Production Insurance plan under the Agricultural Products Insurance Act to promote best management practices and allow farmers to manage their risk more effectively.

Additional Resources

The plan proposes actions to address four stress sources: habitat loss, disease, exposure to pesticides and climate change.

Read the Ontario government news release here:
https://news.ontario.ca/…/province-seeking-public-input-on-…

Ontario Nature is working with partners to assess the plan and provide recommendations. Learn more and stay informed by joining Ontario Nature’s Alert updates: http://www.ontarionature.org/prot…/campaigns/pollinators.php

The public is invited to comment on the draft Pollinator Health Action Plan on the Environmental Registry: Number 012-6393 until March 7, 2016

MVFN Concludes Campaign to Influence Proposed Development on Burnt Lands Alvar

The almost year-long efforts of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) to oppose a proposed small development at the southern edge of Burnt Lands Alvar on Golden Line Road in Ramsay Ward, came to a conclusion with an Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) hearing on December 7, 2015. The MVFN alvar team fought for changes to the development right up to about a week before the hearing, when they withdrew from the hearing after exhausting all of their options.

Allison Alvar walk 2015, photo by Pauline Donaldson

Allison walk ram's head (1280x960)The County of  Lanark and the Municipality of Mississippi Mills Official Plans allow cluster-lot developments within the alvar  (even though it is a sensitive area and a designated Area of Natural and Scientific Interest) if an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) is conducted and steps are taken to mitigate environmental damage to the footprint of the development. As these steps had been shown in the original application, the proposed development project had been approved conditionally and could proceed. It was on these grounds that MVFN felt it could make an impact by opposing the project as planned. The MVFN alvar team strove to force many improvements to the EIS for the proposed development.

By opposing the development, MVFN has raised awareness of the public as to the existence of the Burnt Lands Alvar, its location, what an alvar is, and the unique and fragile ecosystems which make Burnt Lands Alvar an ecological treasure.  Also, MVFN’s opposition to this particular development has arguably influenced the local municipality to begin processes to change its Community Official Plan and accompanying Zoning By-Laws to ensure future similar development schemes cannot occur on regulated lands in Mississippi Mills.

A significant impact of MVFN’s alvar appeal was to have three additional on-site visits by ecologists and other experts take place, in late spring, summer and early autumn. These field studies added significantly to the developer’s previous EIS study, which had included only one cursory assessment of the Alvar ecology. Two other important concessions were achieved by the MVFN team, to place the roadway in the least damaging location, and the other to change the location of the turning circle, also to minimize impact. Other positive influences from the MVFN team can be seen throughout the final EIS report.

The Alvar OMB team, led by MVFN member Tineke Kuiper, included several qualified specialists and other supporting persons. Key to the effort was a team of lawyers from the Canadian Environment Law Association, which was provided free of costs to MVFN.

The other significant component of MVFN’s appeal effort was the MVFN fund-raising team, led by MVFN Chair of the Environmental Issues Committee Theresa Peluso. They conducted an amazing fund-raising campaign which allowed the MVFN Alvar team to hire a planner and two ecologists and pay other related costs. When final invoices are in, the MVFN Finance Committee will publish a financial statement.

Although MVFN had withdrawn their appeal prior to the hearing, MVFN President Cliff Bennett and a member of the lawyer team, attended the short OMB hearing as a professional courtesy. The final judgments of the OMB will be handed down by mid-January and a final MVFN report will be issued at that time. For any enquiries on MVFN’s involvement in this project, please contact Cliff Bennett at 613 256-5013 or

Photos by Pauline Donaldson were taken during a 2015 walk on Burnt Lands Alvar led by Ken Allison .

NOTE: The following article by MVFN Program Chair Gretta Bradley reflects on a recent MVFN presentation by Almonte native Dr. James Coupland. His presentation “Pesticides and Pollinators: What’s Happening Down in the Pasture?”  highlighted the importance of a healthy, biologically diverse landscape and the wild pollinators on which this depends.

Ordinarily Extraordinary 

By Gretta Bradley

The B-ee is iconic. As if spilling from a Chiclet box, the alphabet sprawled across the top of the blackboard gave us our first insights, as children, into this important pollinator. The letter “B” was represented by that smiling yellow and black bug with impossibly small wings. “Worker bee”, “busy as a bee”, and “honey bee” were already part of our growing understanding of this cheery, sweet, industrious insect. Needless to say, it was a bit of a shock when we came into contact with the pointy end. But we would eventually learn that in its flight from plant to plant it was, in fact, enabling plants to reproduce.

Now, modern agricultural practices such as pesticide use, habitat loss and climate change have come crashing headlong into this fundamental biological process, posing a serious threat to biodiversity.

Dr. James Coupland, co-founder of FarmForest Research and an authority on Integrated Pest Management (including the use of biological control systems) began his MVFN presentation “Pesticides and Pollinators: What’s Happening Down in the Pasture?” by asking us to think differently about seemingly ordinary places like meadows and pastures, with their meandering streams and low bogs. Explaining the concept of ‘Ecosystem Service’, Coupland helped us to look at the issues around our embattled pollinators and the role they play through a new lens.

The ‘Ecosystem Service’ approach looks in detail at nature’s products (e.g. food crops) and processes (e.g. tree roots draw water into the soil, filtering harmful bacteria, replenishing the water table and municipal water supplies) and determines their worth to our economy. We have traditionally resisted putting a number on our biodiverse natural spaces. Placing a monetary value on an ecosystem and the services it provides challenges the idea that they are “free”. However, as we have depleted these resources and disrupted the processes that support our quality of life and that of the natural world, putting a number on their value helps us to understand, in a very concrete way, that these things have not been without cost. Assigning a value allows ecosystem services to be accounted for, and damaging or destroying them clearly has a negative impact on the bottom line. Assigning value allows governments to make policy decisions based on measurable outcomes that allow for accountability. Wetlands offer a dramatic example. It is estimated that they are worth $2.64 trillion U.S. or $14,785 per hectare per year to the global economy.

Having established a frame of reference, Dr. Coupland turned to the role and value of a diversity of pollinators. Although the Rufous and Ruby-Throated hummingbirds, the Silvery Blue, Canadian Tiger Swallowtail, and Monarch butterflies, Hummingbird Clearwing moth, Paper wasp, the Hoverfly and Checkered Beetle are all pollinators, it is the 4,000 species of bees in North America, and 20,000 species of bee worldwide that are considered to be ecological keystone species for pollination. These species are at the very centre of a viable, functioning ecosystem. Lose them and we risk the collapse of those systems. And scientists are now really worried about collapsing wild bee populations. Our food supply (fruits, vegetables and other crops) as well as that of many birds and most other mammals will be severely impacted. Dr. Coupland used the environmental service model, to reinforce the scope of the challenges ahead. Pollination has been valued at $195 billion for global agriculture. Pollinators are now in decline-both in numbers and diversity, and bee-dependent plants are also declining. The cost of pollinator decline will be high and we ignore the problem at our (and those species with whom we share the planet) peril.

Carefully avoiding an overly simplistic explanation of a complex problem, Dr. Coupland discussed the possible culprits for our pollinator crisis. He warned against seeing the problem as having a single source. The research that promises the greatest potential to produce solutions looks at impacts caused by interaction of a variety of factors characteristic of a species under stress. Neonicotinoids (and other pesticides), fungicides, parasites, pathogens, and reduced plant diversity (some pollinators feed on only one type of plant) are all at work in ways that are not yet fully understood. More research needs to be done. That does not mean that efforts are not underway or that steps have not been taken. Neonicotinoid pesticides have been banned in the EU for 2 years and some will probably be removed for sale in Canada in the next few years, and companies are moving to ‘biosafe’ products. As individuals, we can plant pollinator friendly gardens/lawns, support efforts by organizations to protect and set aside wild spaces, and educate others and ourselves as to the importance of preserving our wild bee populations and their habitat.

If you are looking for additional information, ask your local librarian for “Status of Pollinators in North America”, published by the National Research Council of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. Several printed copies are also available from the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists on loan, and a pdf of the publication can be found on MVFN’s website (just search for key word pollinator).

“Wild bees are our best pollinators. Without them, there would be few flowering plants to produce food, to provide habitat and to make the world beautiful.” ~ Dr. James Coupland

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FULL-SIZED  CALENDAR WITH DETAILS

Our natural history talks are at 7:30 pm on the third Thursday in January, February, March, April,  September, October and November at Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St. in Almonte, Ontario. All are welcome to attend! Non-members $5. 

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