Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Turtle time (again) in Lanark County

LOCAL NOTE INJURED TURTLES:  Outside of Peterborough the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre has the following advice: “If you live outside of Peterborough, call us at 705-741-5000. We work with over 30 Turtle First Response Centres across Ontario – these are private clinics, or rehabilitators that we have trained in emergency treatment for turtles; the availability of these varies so please call us to arrange. We will be able to direct you to the appropriate one, while transfer to our hospital is being organized.” 

In our local area contact the Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary near North Gower (258-9480) who works with OTCC and sends all of the serious injuries there. The benefit of going to RVWS first is that they can provide fluids and pain meds to the turtle before sending it to OTCC which can take a day or more.

 LOCAL NOTE AT RISK TURTLE NESTING:  If you are aware of a turtle nest at risk, please see the following note from Canadian Wildlife Federation Biologist, David Seburn.”It is turtle nesting season! We are collecting Snapping and Blanding’s Turtle eggs from roadside nests to incubate them and then release the hatchlings back into the wild. Roadside nests can’t be caged and without protection most of turtle nests get predated by Raccoons. If you see nesting Snappers or Blanding’s Turtles please email me the location and we will try and collect the eggs (davids at cwf-fcf.org). We are only permitted to collect nests from Ontario and are working in Ottawa, Lanark, and Leeds & Grenville Counties.”

NOTE: Re-printed below is an article on turtle nesting season written in 2009 by Dr. Paul Keddy and published in local print media on behalf of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists. Dr. Keddy, is a local Lanark County resident,  scientist and author of many articles and books on wetlands and wildlife including Earth, Water, Fire: An Ecological Profile of Lanark County; Dr. Keddy’s website:  http://www.drpaulkeddy.com/  

June is here.  The nesting turtles are back! March is for maple syrup, in April it’s goodbye to the melting ice, in May the leaves come out, and in June it’s turtle time!

Every one of these annual events reminds us where we live; the previous statement could not be made in Paris or Los Angeles.  Of course, if you are a high rise building dweller who rarely ventures outside the big city, you may not appreciate my point.  Here in Lanark County, every June, many turtles crawl out of their ponds and streams and start crossing the highways looking for nesting sites.  Elsewhere tourists might pay a fortune, say, to travel to South Africa for lions, or British Columbia or Quebec for whales, but here the wildlife comes to visit us!

Map turtles. photo Pauline Donaldson

Map turtles. photo Pauline Donaldson

 

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Most of the time turtles are rather secretive – hibernating nearly half the year on the bottom of lakes and pond. Much of the rest of the year they swim around looking for dead things to eat and occasionally taking a break to warm up in the sun stretched out on a log.  Overall, turtles are harmless, and in fact do some good since they are efficient scavengers that clean up dead animals from our water supply.  All of our turtles – even the large snapping turtle – are opportunist feeders.  They eat whatever they can conveniently find, which is mainly insects and dead fish. Biologists have spent many years studying turtle diets –by counting the items in their stomachs – and have this well-documented.  Even large snapping turtles, which get blamed for eating ducks or game fish, rarely have any of these items in their stomachs. They too eat carrion. Yes, snapping turtles will snap at you — when on land — particularly if you let your dog frighten them, or if you poke them with a stick.  Many people would do the same.

Let me mention, too, that every part of the world has its own set of turtles. If you were lost, and someone gave you a list of local turtles, you could pin down almost exactly where you were. North America has just over 50 species in all. Some places, like the west coast, are impoverished, having just one species.  Other places, like Louisiana, are blessed with turtles – more than 30 species. Lanark County, has exactly, five.  In approximate order of size, beginning with the smallest, they are musk turtle (or stinkpot), painted turtlemap turtleBlanding’s turtle and snapping turtle. All but the painted turtle are now considered species at risk – that is, they are declining.  Two, the musk turtle and the Blanding’s turtle, are officially considered threatened species. The decline has two main causes, (1) death on roads and (2) destruction of wild places.

NESTING IS A DANGEROUS TIME!

So, for about 50 weeks out of each year, turtles are rather quiet, inoffensive neighbours, who pretty much keep to themselves.  In this way, they might set a good example for human neighbors, like the ones with the loud stereos and motorbikes … but I digress, I was asked to write about turtles.  My point is that, finally, after 50 weeks of peace, all hell breaks loose in mid June! All the females of reproductive age climb out of the water and begin the laborious task of hiking around to find a nesting site.  It is probably terrifying for them to leave the familiar water and venture onto land, but the nesting urge is too strong to resist. Once they find just the right location, they dig a hole, bury their eggs, and leave.  That is the end of motherly care.  The eggs are heated by the summer sun, and then, in September, baby turtles about half the size of walnut dig their way up to the surface and somehow find their way back to water.

This means that without fail, near the middle of each June, we are treated to a parade of female turtles, wandering around our roads and properties, trying to nest.  They have been doing this for about 200 million years, more or less.  Turtles existed before the dinosaurs, and they even survived whatever it was – an asteroid collision? – that eliminated the dinosaurs.  Despite their long history, turtles just have not had time to learn to adapt to two new things: cars and roads. That tiny brain has no idea that a road means danger. And so, increasingly, we are losing our turtles as the reproductive females (and often the eggs they contain) are killed on highways.

Biologists have calculated how important certain types of individuals are to their species survival, i.e. their “reproductive value”.  New baby turtles have low reproductive value because only a few ever survive –skunks, raccoons, crows, fish and even bullfrogs eat them.  This high mortality rate for babies is natural for turtles.  However the reproductive value of the adult female turtle is extremely high. Once she has made it to 20 years old she has the capacity to make up for the high mortality rate of the babies by laying from 10 to 30 eggs every year for decades.  The turtles being killed on our roads are usually the adult females — with the highest reproductive value. When a female is killed – it means the loss of hundreds of offspring she might have produced over future summers.  These loses cannot be replaced. As a result, turtles that were present in my childhood, like musk turtles and Blanding’s turtles, are now uncommon. Not only do turtles just cross roads, they are actually attracted to roads.  The warm sand and gravel along the road side makes a perfect nest site.  So turtles will come long distances to climb onto the shoulder and lay their eggs.  If drivers are careless, the highway becomes a ribbon of death.

SO WHAT CAN WE DO?

1. The first is to accept and even appreciate this annual event.  Just as the maple syrup flows in March, so do turtles flow across our roads in June.  We might even build an annual tourist event around the nesting week.  We could put up some highway crossing signs at critical locations, or better still, plan ahead and build small underpasses when roads are being reconstructed. And, of course, we have to protect critical nesting areas from subdivisions. More urgently there is the immediate issue of death on the roads.

2. Drive carefully.  Turtles are slow-movers, so it really does take a [completely irresponsible driver] . . .  to hit one with a car.

Turtle Parade

CAUTION PLEASE: Crossing the road!  In June, Lanark County turtles cross the roads to look for nesting sites.  The three species most often seen are the painted turtle (left), Blanding’s turtle (middle), and snapping turtle (right).  Please, drive carefully, and let them nest in peace. Images courtesy of Toronto Zoo Adopt-a-pond conservation program- Don’t tailgate (which your driver training instructor no doubt told you anyway), as you may run over a turtle that the car in front just missed.

Help them out. Stop, and carry the turtle the rest of the way across the road – in the direction she was headed, of course.  Yes, some will not appreciate your help, and might try to scratch or bite, so keep a pair of gardening gloves handy and perhaps a shovel to help lift. A big snapping turtle is heavy, so I would recommend extreme care – probably best to simply act like a shepherd.

– Alert other drivers.  Yes, you can stop your car and let other people know that a turtle is crossing the road. Not a good idea at 100 kilometers per hour, perhaps, but certainly feasible on many side roads.

Let them nest in peace.  If one arrives in your yard, keep the pets away, and let the children watch quietly from a respectful distance more than ten feet away. Think about the respect we give to pregnant women, and give the pregnant turtle the same courtesy.  If she does nest, you can put a piece of chicken wire (not mosquito netting – that will trap the baby turtles in the fall) over the nest.  Then, wait.  Given the right amount of sun and rain, baby turtles should emerge in September.

One of the joys of living here is the annual spectacle of the June turtles.  If you still think you must drive so fast that you ignore the crossing turtles, may I respectfully suggest you consider moving to downtown Phoenix or Las Vegas or Toronto, or one of our other larger urban centers, where you won’t have to be inconvenienced by other living creatures.  Learning to share the landscape with wild animals is part of what it means to live here. We might start with courtesy to turtles, and then extend it to frogs, birds, butterflies, bears and all the other animals that lived here long before our ancestors decided to settle in North America.

Not everyone can personally save a blue whale, or a black rhinoceros, but everyone can drive responsibly, and, like a good boy scout, help the occasional turtle across the road.

Paul Keddy

NOTE: For more information on identifying Lanark County turtles, please visit a local bookshop or consult the Toronto zoo’s adopt- a- pond website  www.torontozoo.com/adoptapond/turtles.asp.

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The Secret Life of Lichens

On Thursday, January 17, the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists 2018-19 series “Earth, Water, Wind and Fire” continues with a presentation by Troy McMullin Ph.D.,  lichenologist with the Canadian Museum of Nature. Our speaker has studied lichens throughout Canada and internationally, and has published extensively on this group, including the 2015 book Common Lichens of Northeastern North America: A Field Guide, co-authored with Frances Anderson.

Join Troy to explore the often overlooked, but beautiful and fascinating world of lichens.  Learn about their role in different ecosystems, rare species in southern Ontario, and how they are used in medicine, science, and more.  You will gain a new appreciation for the small things in life!

Teloschistes chrysophthalmus or Golden-eye lichen; the Great Lakes population of this species has a status of ENDANGERED in Ontario. Photo provided by speaker

 

Speaker: Troy McMullin Ph.D.

Presentation: The Secret Life of Lichens

Date:   Thursday, January 17, 2019

Time:  7:00 PM for socializing & refreshments, 7:30 for program

Place:  Almonte United Church Social Hall, 106 Elgin St., Almonte

Admission: is free for MVFN members. There is an admission fee of $5 for non-members. No charge for youth 18 and under. We always welcome new members.

For further information, please contact Cliff Bennett MVFN Program Chair at or 613-798-6295.

A NOTE ABOUT A VERY RARE LICHEN

Golden-eye lichen (Teloschistes chrysophthalmus), Great Lakes population, is ENDANGERED in Ontario. Ontario Species at Risk information for this species, as follows, can be found at https://www.ontario.ca/page/golden-eye-lichen-great-lakes-population#section-0

“The Great Lakes Population of Golden-eye lichen is vulnerable to several threats due to its limited restriction to a single host tree. Threats that may impact on this population include severe weather events, invasive species, acidification from air pollution and recreational activities . . .

What you can do?

Report a sighting

Report a sighting of an endangered animal or plant to the Natural Heritage Information Centre. Photographs with specific locations or mapping coordinates are always helpful.

Volunteer

Volunteer with your local nature club or provincial park to participate in surveys or stewardship work focused on species at risk.

Be a good steward

Private land owners have a very important role to play in species recovery. If you find Golden-eye Lichen on your land, you may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of species at risk and their habitats.

 

 

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Wildlife crime topic of next MVFN nature series talk

MVFN’s 2017-2018 natural history speaker series “When Things Go Bump in the Night” continues February 15th in Almonte, Ontario with the presentation:  “Rhinos, Tigers, Bears and . . . Wild Ginseng: Wildlife Crime Comes To Canada.”

Sheldon Jordan. photo courtesy our speaker

Our guest speaker is Sheldon Jordan, Director General for Wildlife Enforcement for Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Enforcement Branch. Jordan is responsible for enforcement of Canadian laws regarding species at risk, international and inter-provincial trade, and migratory birds and their habitats. He is also Past Chair of INTERPOL’s Wildlife Crimes Working Group that brings together countries and networks of enforcement agencies to organize operations and advise international bodies on wildlife and forestry crime matters. In addition, he is Co-Chair of the North American Wildlife Enforcement Group and Secretary-Treasurer of the Canadian Natural Resources Law Enforcement Chiefs’ Association.

Jordan will lead a discussion using seized plants and animals to tell the story of how wildlife poaching, and trafficking threatens the conservation of species, ecosystems and sustainable communities and economies here in Eastern Ontario, in Canada and around the world.

INTERPOL and the United Nations estimate that environmental crime is the fourth most “valuable” crime field globally, valued at over $100 billion US per year and increasing at a rate of 5-7% every year.

The negative impact on wild species worldwide is very significant.

Jordan:  “Like it or not, we’re all dependent on the Earth for our survival. . .  the more that’s taken without being regulated, the less ecosystems are able to continue the services they provide all life — including ourselves.”

[Source for quote above:  https://www.canadiangeographic.ca/article/illegal-wildlife-trade-biodiversity-apocalypse ]

 

 

EVENT DETAILS

Thursday February 15, 2018 /  7:30 PM / Almonte United Church 106 Elgin St. Almonte, ON

Doors to the social hall at Almonte United Church will open at 7 PM and the program gets underway at 7:30 PM. Refreshments are available throughout the evening and a discussion will follow the presentation. As always, the event is free for MVFN members and youth 18 and under. Everyone is welcome, $5 for non-members fee at the door. For further information please contact MVFN’s Program Chair Gretta Bradley at  or visit mvfn.ca.

A seized reptile

Polar Bear hides and Narwhal tusks: intercepted illegal exports from Canada

 

 

 

 

 

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Where do breeding bank swallows go at sunset?

Implications for the conservation of a declining aerial insectivore

Dr. Greg Mitchell,  research scientist with the Wildlife Research Division of the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Canada, and adjunct research professor (Carleton University) will be guest speaker as our “When Things go Bump in the Night” series continues.

Bank Swallows photo Dr. Greg Mitchell

 

Our guest speaker is studying the habitat requirements of migratory species in human-dominated or working landscapes throughout southern Canada using field surveys, weather radar detection of biological entities, and citizen science data such as breeding bird surveys.

Dr. Mitchell will share his work on Bank Swallows (Riparia riparia), a threatened species in Ontario. His research team recently discovered, among other things, the “cryptic and broad-scale movements of bank swallows . . . in the early evening during the breeding season.”

The results of this fascinating research have revealed interesting insights into the effects of sunset and sunrise on movements of these aerial insectivores, as well as the importance of wetland roosting habitats during breeding season. Join us for Dr. Mitchell’s presentation: “Where Do Bank Swallows Go During Breeding When the Sun Sets?  Implications for conservation of a declining aerial insectivore.”

 

photo courtesy Greg Mitchell

photo courtesy Greg Mitchell

photo courtesy Greg Mitchell

photo courtesy Greg Mitchell

 

 

Bank Swallow photo courtesy Greg Mitchell

Bank Swallow photo courtesy Greg Mitchell

Dr. Mitchell’s presentation details:

Thursday November 16 /  7:30 PM / Almonte United Church 106 Elgin St. Almonte, ON

Doors to the social hall at Almonte United Church will open at 7 PM and the program gets underway at 7:30 PM. Refreshments are available throughout the evening and a discussion will follow the presentation. As always, the event is free for MVFN members and youth under 18; non-members fee at the door is $5; all are welcome. For further information please contact MVFN’s Program Chair Gretta Bradley at

Press Release pdf: The Flight of the Bank Swallow

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MVFN Opposes Roadside Spraying to Control Wild Parsnip

MVFN has written a letter of concern to Lanark County, expressing our opposition to their plans to carry out herbicide spraying in 2017 of approximately 350 km of roadsides along County (and Township) roads, in an effort to control the presence and spread of wild parsnip, as well as other noxious weeds.  This letter follows from a similar letter sent in 2016.  A map and table showing the roads where spraying is planned or has been completed can be found on the Lanark County web site at http://www.lanarkcounty.ca/Page1875.aspx.

MVFN is concerned that spraying, particularly boom spraying, of a general herbicide (Clearview) to control wild parsnip will detrimentally affect many other species of flowering plants that provide food for insects and birds.  We also feel that, even with careful application, there is a risk of the herbicide entering streams and wetlands where it is known to be highly toxic to aquatic organisms.  An active ingredient of Clearview (aminopyralid potassium) cannot be considered readily biodegradable and so may persist in the environment and transport into groundwater.

MVFN is of the opinion that the County should focus its efforts on wild parsnip control through non-chemical means, particularly mowing at appropriate times of the year, and carry out a more comprehensive public information campaign that will lead to risk reduction through education.  No matter the scale of our efforts, wild parsnip, like poison ivy, will always be with us and we should deal with its presence through education and mechanical control, not through the widespread application of herbicides.

To learn more about wild parsnip, and how property owners can control it, please go to this Mississippi Mills link:

http://www.mississippimills.ca/en/news/index.aspx?newsid=ea222f68-22bb-4b3e-857a-3bfe39d4a2ed

Here is the MVFN Letter of Concern that was sent to all Lanark County Councillors: MVFN-letter-to-LC-spraying-2017.pdf

Photos below are of wild parsnip plants at various stages of development. Learn to recognize the plants and avoid them.

Wild Parsnip before flowering. Almonte, June 17, 2017

Wild Parsnip rosette without flowering stalk: Almonte, June 17, 2017

Wild Parsnip, June 17, 2017 some plants are beginning to flower

Wild Parsnip, June 17, 2017, Almonte:  some plants are beginning to send up flower stalks

Wild Parsnip, Almonte June 17, 2017 some plants also have begun to flower

Wild Parsnip, Almonte June 17, 2017:  other wild parsnip plants are already in early flowering stage

Wild Parsnip. photo Drew Monkman

Wild Parsnip. photo Drew Monkman

 

Wild Parsnip along roadside post-spraying, July 2016, March Road. Unsprayed plants are visible at fence line.

Wild Parsnip along roadside,  after spraying, July 2016, March Road. Sprayed plants and unsprayed plants (greener wild parsnip at the fence line) are visible in the photo.

WildParsnip

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