Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Freezing temperatures are bringing an end to another growing season-but could the frost-free growing season be getting longer?

Press Release
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
October 1, 2006

by Neil Carleton and Paul Egginton, MVFN members


Plants and animals are limited in their distribution and activities by climate. By May 8th the last frost of the year is usually reported in the Ottawa area. This is followed by a period of relatively high activity and growth for plants and animals, which continues throughout the summer until the first fall frost.

While this frost may not severely limit all species, to an observer of nature it signals a major seasonal change and the end of another growing season. The timing and length of the frost free season is of interest to all of us and especially naturalists, farmers and gardeners. As the climate warms the timing of the first and last frosts may be expected to shift and the growing season may become longer over the whole Mississippi Watershed.

In 2005, some 90 students and families in three towns and surrounding areas participated in a Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) frost watch project to observe when the first frost arrived near their homes. Special thanks to the participating students, families and teachers at Carembeck Public School in Carleton Place (teacher Kirk Belisle), Pakenham Public School (teacher:Leanne Wing) and R.Tait McKenzie Public School in Almonte.

Many of us in participating in the 2005 frost observations were simply curious how our gardens or areas of interest would compare with others nearby.For the students, making the observations and sharing them with their class gave them a first hand look at the geographical and temporal variability of frost in our area. Details will be posted in the climate change awareness section of the MVFN website at

When should we expect the first frost each year?

This of course depends in part on where you live, whether you live in town or in the country, beside a moderating lake or on an exposed hillside. Typically some local areas will experience frost when the forecasted overnight low temperatures for the area are 40C but if lows of 0 0C are forecast we are almost certain to get frost. This is anticipated to occur on about October 8th each year. For many of us however, the growing season of 2005 was quite exceptional. The Fall season seemed to go on and on; some of us enjoyed hardy fall blooming flowers and garden vegetables until the heavy freezes of October 20 and 21st. Will such long growing seasons become normal?

Scientists’ analysis of Eastern Ontario climate station data shows that over the past 40 years the length of the frost free growing season has increased by 15 days, in other words at a rate of a day every 4 years. At this rate there would be another 10-15 days added to the growing season by 2040-2060.

Interestingly, outputs from some 40 climate models also indicate that regional warming trends may persist into the future. Thus, current trends are in line with what model projections tell us is likely to happen.

To put these changes into perspective, by 2040 Mississippi Mills, Perth, and the Ottawa area could have growing seasons as long as those found in the Windsor area today. There are significant ecological implications to such warming of our climate. MVFN is examining various aspects of the climate sensitivity of local ecosystems as part of our climate change awareness program and will report on these as information becomes available.

Neil Carleton is a teacher at R.Tait McKenzie Public School in Almonte. He and his students took part in recording frost observations in 2005.

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Field Naturalists Took Temperature of Mississippi River Watershed

Field Naturalists Took Temperature of Mississippi River Watershed

August 17, 2006

by Cliff Bennett

When a child is showing signs of stress, we naturally take its temperature. With the potential of climate change to stress the Mississippi River watershed, the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) decided to take its temperature. So, from Upper Lake Mazinaw at one end, to the Ottawa River at the other, we took the temperature of lakes and rivers of the watershed. The volunteer driven water-temperature survey, conducted on the August holiday weekend, was one of 75 projects celebrating the 75th Anniversary of Ontario Nature, formerly The Federation of Ontario Naturalists. As an outreach project, the goal was to engage the public in considering the implications of future climate change for the Mississippi River.
The health of our lakes and rivers is important to us: the watershed is where we live and play. Water temperature, levels, flow patterns and distribution of flora and fauna are not static; change can occur quickly in response to various environmental stresses. Water temperature, specifically maximum surface-water temperature, usually occurring during the first week of August in our watershed, is one important control on the distribution of aquatic plants and animals which can be measured.

Eighty to one hundred people, MVFN members and other volunteers, thermometers and home-made water-samplers in hand, set out in canoes, row boats and motor boats to take the watersheds’ temperature in the perfect weather of August 5-7th. From families in rented canoes, people in motor boats, and those sampling from bridges and docks, we thank all participants who helped make the survey a success! Please send in your location and temperature data if you have not already done so, as information on all lakes and river sections within the watershed is valuable. Raw data will be archived with MVC and the field naturalists.

The water-temperature survey project was a result of nearly a year of planning by MVFN organizers, coordinated by Cliff Bennett and including Paul Eggington, Michael Macpherson, Michael McPhail, Howard Robinson and Pauline Donaldson. Of course, MVFN could not have completed this Herculean effort without partnerships with Lake Associations, local Fish and Game Clubs, and volunteers from NRCan, to which heartfelt thanks and congratulations are extended. Special thanks go to Mississippi Valley Conservation (MVC) staff member Susan Lee and summer student Tom Thistle, whose efforts in contacting and encouraging the Lake Associations were outstanding.

In all, an estimated 500 plus temperature readings were collected, both at the surface and one metre deep across the watershed. Collected at a single point in time they will provide a baseline of data on temperature distribution across the watershed. The baseline can be used for assessing future change. In addition, lake associations and other groups can use the data in a more specific way, for example to look at temperature variations within their lake or river area to locate useful sites where data loggers could record future change as it happens. Already, as a result of this project, temperature loggers were installed by lake conservationists in Buckshot Lake, Clayton Lake and White Lake, and plans are underway to install them in additional places. Valuable ongoing monitoring work also continues to be done by volunteers such as Lake Stewards and organizations such as MVC and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.

Future climate change is only one environmental stress which may change our watershed. The provincial government and MVC have now begun serious consideration of the implications of future climate change. Hopefully, our work will encourage the local public to engage in discussions about how we can manage future change. Just what is at risk and how can we best adapt to changes that are already underway?

Once all of the water temperature results are in, MVFN will prepare a summary report of the 2006 water-temperature survey for public release. Copies will also be sent to participating groups and individuals and posted on our website at For further information on this or other MVFN projects, please contact MVFN President Michael McPhail at 613-256-7211 or .

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Climate Change Awareness Project – Water Temperature Monitoring

Lake and River Water-Temperature Measurements in the Mississippi Watershed:

“A Doors Open to Nature, Ontario Nature 75th Anniversary Project, organized by the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists”

Water Temperature Measurements – Guidelines  Water Temperature Measurements – Form

Help gather data on one aspect of wildlife habitat in our local watershed which may be affected by climate change!

During the past year the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists have been exploring the theme of change in our natural world, particularly climate change. Several of our regular seminar sessions focused on aspects of global climate change including recent changes in the arctic and changes in Ontario fish populations. We also began several local monitoring projects to raise awareness of the issue of climate change and to better understand the possible effects in our own backyards.

We are interested in how climate change may directly affect the Mississippi watershed and adjacent areas. Therefore, for Ontario Nature’s “Doors Open to Nature” we have organized a data collection weekend engaging participants with a direct interest in the watershed to measure surface water temperatures across the watershed on the three day August holiday weekend, August 5-7, 2006. One important aspect of watershed wildlife habitat in the watershed is temperature of the water. Maximum annual surface temperatures, which typically occur here around the first week in August, are a key factor determining which species of fish and other aquatic life thrive.

The plan is to collect water-temperature readings at the water surface and 1 metre below the surface on the Mississippi River and connected lakes in the watershed. To our knowledge, this is the first ever volunteer-driven survey of the entire watershed. The data could be used as a starting point, or baseline, which, along with other available information, can be compared with future temperatures. We hope the activity will promote discussion of this aspect of habitat variability in our watershed, and of the implications of climate change here.

Participants will include individual cottagers, vacationers, fishers etc., as well as groups such as cottage and lake associations. If you will be out on the water on the holiday weekend, plan to participate. All that is needed is a boat, a good thermometer, a home-made sampling device and the project’s water-temperature reporting form to record temperatures.When the weekend is over and temperature readings are sent in, the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists in partnership with Mississippi Valley Conservation will look at the results and prepare an overview for public release. Some data collected may indicate sites where long-term monitoring would be useful. An increased awareness of this aspect of habitat change should also serve to promote sustainability practices and measures.

To participate, please see a copy of the Water Temperature Measurements – Guidelines and the Water Temperature Measurements – Form.

Remember to stay safe on the water; do not sample in dangerous weather or water, and always wear a lifejacket.

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Local naturalists invite water-enthusiasts to water-temperature survey weekend to mark “Doors Open to Ontario Nature’s” 75th Anniversary celebration

Press Release
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
Submitted July 2, 2006

by Pauline Donaldson, MVFN Public Relations Chair

Local naturalists invite water-enthusiasts to water-temperature survey weekend to mark “Doors Open to Ontario Nature’s” 75th Anniversary celebration

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists invite water-enthusiasts to take water temperatures in the Mississippi watershed over the August holiday weekend, August 5-7. MVFN is organizing a volunteer-driven water-temperature survey of the entire Mississippi River Watershed. Why the interest in taking temperatures in lakes and rivers, and why on the August holiday weekend? Water temperature is an important characteristic of aquatic habitat. Maximum annual surface temperatures, which typically occur here around the first week in August, are a key factor determining the species of fish and other aquatic life present.

The water-temperature survey weekend is MVFN’s contribution to “Doors Open to Ontario Nature”, a year long project celebrating the 75th Anniversary of Ontario Nature. It was 75 years ago that a University of Toronto Professor and zoology director at the Royal Ontario Museum proposed that natural history clubs join together to speak with one voice for nature conservation in Ontario. To mark the occasion, 75 projects are being hosted by the 140 plus conservation groups comprising the Ontario Nature Network.

The goal of the project is very simple, says Tracy Moore, Eastern Regional Director for Ontario Nature. “It will be a fun opportunity that connects people with nature, but it also serves to gather some very important data and raise awareness of climate change and its potential effects on our beautiful Eastern Ontario landscape”. MVFN’s theme this year on “Change in Our Natural World” started with a seminar on national and global climate change issues. Subsequent talks focused on its potential impact in various areas. MVFN members initiated local monitoring activities which, like the water-temperature project, focus on impacts of climate change in our own backyards. It is known, for example, that water-temperatures in some fresh water lakes in Ontario are on the rise, and, as MVFN heard from John Casselman (OMNR) in March, small changes in fresh water temperatures can lead to rather dramatic shifts in fish populations.

The water temperature project will involve individuals as well as members of naturalist, fish and game clubs, and cottage and lake associations with a direct interest in the watershed, in monitoring waters of the Mississippi Watershed. The results, coming from all across the watershed, should complement other monitoring work already being done and contribute to a better understanding of the watershed as we prepare for climate change. Participants can contact their local lake association for suggestions on where to sample, or choose their favourite stretch of river or lake and sample temperatures with friends and family. Reporting forms for temperature readings, and guidelines for participating, including tips for home-made depth sampling devices (such as the one shown in the photo) and choosing the right thermometer, will be available from participating lake associations.

The information can also be picked up at the MVFN booth at The Art of Being Green Festival in Lanark Village July 15-16, or viewed at MVFN’s website at For questions, the public can contact project coordinator Cliff Bennett at 613-256-5013 or by e-mail: .

All data collected will be provided to Mississippi Valley Conservation and MVFN will prepare an overview of the study findings for the public.

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“Changes in our natural world” with an Ontario Parks conservation ecologist

Press Release

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

Submitted by Pauline Donaldson, MVFN Public Relations Chair

April 10, 2006

 “Changes in our natural world” with an Ontario Parks conservation ecologist

There is an opportunity to hear about conservation issues, past, present and future from a real ‘grass roots’ biologist at the next Mississippi Valley Field Naturalist meeting to be held Thursday evening April 20 in Almonte. The presentation will be given by Dr.William Crins, Senior Conservation Ecologist in the Planning and Research Section of Ontario Parks, at the Ministry of Natural Resources in Peterborough. A botanist by training, Bill has devoted his career to the study of living things, specializing in the evolution and ecology of important grasses and sedges. Several species new to science, including the juniper sedge Carex juniperorum Catling, Reznicek & Crins, bear his name.

As a ‘budding’ biologist in the early 70’s Dr. Crins worked summers at Algonquin Park as an interpretive naturalist and later conducted biological inventories and assessments used to develop the Nature Reserve Zone system in the park. Following graduate studies at the University of Toronto, Dr. Crins did research at UBC and the New York State Museum in Albany. As senior ecologist with Ontario Parks, he now applies his knowledge of conservation and biodiversity issues to projects such as the Ecological Land Classification system for Ontario and the development of old growth forest policy, as well as contributing to detailed inventory of Ontario’s habitat resources and Species at Risk habitat mapping guidelines.

Dr. Crins says that his presentation on Thursday “will illustrate some of the changes in flora and fauna that have occurred during the past century, and will speculate on some of the changes that may occur in the future.” What effects have development and the intensification and then abandonment of agriculture had on species and ecosystems? What have been the effects of accidental introduction of exotic species, changes in forest management practices, or changes in land use patterns? Potential impacts of climate change on species distribution and ecosystem composition will also be discussed.

The presentation, “Changes in the Flora and Fauna of Southeastern Ontario: Past, Present, and Future” is the last in MVFN’s series “Change in our Natural World” and takes place Thursday April 20th at 7:30 pm at the Almonte United Church on Elgin St. Program Chair Tine Kuiper will host the evening, and refreshments will be offered. All are welcome. A non-member fee of $5 applies (for those over 16) or MVFN memberships are available. For further information visit or contact Pauline Donaldson at 256-9399.


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