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

Monitoring our Environment

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.


“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.


MVFN Nature Notebook Recent Sighting and report: 

“We also had a very exciting experience last week-end. A bird bander came to our property to band the Snow Buntings. I had been in contact with the Snow Bunting Network for several years, pleading for them to send a bird bander to my place! There are several banding stations in Quebec, along the St Lawrence, and also around the Great Lakes, but nothing in between. My location is perfect, right in the middle!
Finally, Rick Ludkin, a veteran bird bander, came with his wife and a young apprentice and we caught and banded 89 Snow Buntings! It was an experience I will never forget. As an avid birder, I always wanted to observe a bird banding session, but never in my wildest dreams did I think it would happen right in my kitchen!!” 
Lise Balthazar, Sheridan Rapids
Snow Buntings, Lanark, Jan 3, 2016. photo Lise Balthazar

Snow Buntings, Lanark, Jan 3, 2016. photo Lise Balthazar

Banding of the Lanark Snow Buntings:

My name is Lise Balthazar and I live in Lanark Highlands with my husband, Nat Capitanio. Every year, we have a large flock of Snow Buntings on our property; we feed them white millet. I had been in contact with the Snow Bunting Network, asking if they could send a bird bander to our property. Finally, on the week-end of February 11th, 2017, we had a veteran bird bander from the Waterloo area, Rick Ludkin and his wife, come to our property, along with a young apprentice from Montreal, Catherine Lavallée-Chouinard. We set up the traps, which are basically large cages on the ground with food in it; the birds make their way in to feed but can’t find their way out. As soon as several birds are trapped, time is of the essence. The birds are put into bags and brought to the banding station…which was our kitchen!!

Very quickly and expertly, Rick and Catherine pulled the birds out of the bags, measured them, determined the sex and age, checked the muscle mass and the fat and the weight. After all that, Rick would hand me each bird so that I could release it back into the wild. It was an exhilarating and emotional experience I will never forget.

We caught and banded a total of 89 Snow Buntings. We collected very important data which is sent to Canadian Wildlife Services. Snow Buntings are declining in numbers and the Snow Bunting Network is studying these beautiful little birds and their movements. They usually arrive in our area in December and leave at the beginning of March to go back to Groenland and Baffin Island to nest.

Lise Balthazar, Sheridan Rapids


Live trapping the snow buntings. Photo Lise Balthazar

Snow bunting banding, temporary live holding

Birds were put into bags to be brought into the banding station, the kitchen.

The team at work in the kitchen.

Snow bunting banding 2

Very quickly, birds were brought out of the bags, banded, and quickly checked before release to the wild

Checking muscle mass and fat during the banding process.

Checking muscle mass and fat during the banding process.

Checking sex and age during banding.

Checking sex and age during banding.

Releasing the snow buntings!

Releasing the snow buntings!

Snow bunting banding release 2



Audubon Christmas Bird Counts sponsored by MVFN



Again, this season, thousands will take part in Audubon Christmas Bird counts (CBC’s) across the Americas. This sociable citizen science tradition began Christmas Day in 1900. Organized by conservation minded ornithologist Frank Chapman, people at 25 locations, including Toronto, Ontario took part in a “Christmas Bird Census” (instead of a hunt) to identify and record, as many birds as possible for the day. Thus, was founded one of the world’s most significant citizen-based conservation efforts. Bird Studies Canada and partners at the National Audubon Society in the United States rely on the data to monitor populations and guide conservation efforts.

Volunteers are needed for all three counts sponsored by MVFN in our local area. You can help by counting birds at your feeder or out and about by joining a field team. You do not need to be an expert but it helps to be familiar with local species. Field counters are placed in a field team led by an experienced birder. You will need a pair of binoculars. Also, residents with bird feeders within a count area can participate from home by recording visiting birds on count day. At the end of the day field and feeder counters gather to socialize at the “count-in” and share stories and refreshments. Registration information for a few local counts sponsored by the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists is listed below.

For further information about Audubon Christmas Bird Counts visit

Rideau Ferry Christmas Bird Count

Saturday December 17. The count is centered on Rideau Ferry and includes Perth, most of Smith’s Falls, Murphy’s Point Provincial Park, and several conservation areas. Register with Alison Bentley at or 613-273-4428. Feeder counters contact Judy Buehler at or 613-264-8856. Full details of this count can be found in this press release by Alison Bentley.

Carleton Place Christmas Bird Count

Tuesday, December 27. The count area is a 24-km circle centered on the bridge over the Mississippi River in Carleton Place, and includes Almonte, Appleton and Ashton. Contact Iain Wilkes at .  Feeder counters register with Georgina Doe at 613-257-2103. Further details can be found in the CP count press release here.

 Lanark Highlands Christmas Bird Count

Wednesday, December 30. The count circle is centered on Watson’s Corners and includes Brightside to the north, Middleville to the east, most of Dalhousie Lake to the west, and south to within a km of Balderson. To register contact Marilyn Barnett at  or  613-259-2269. Feeder Counters register with Marj Montgomery before Christmas at  or 613-259-3078. Further details can be found in the Lanark Highlands CBC press release here.









MVFN Sponsors Lanark Highlands Christmas Bird Count

December 30, 2016

Christmas Bird Counts (CBCs) have been around in the Western Hemisphere since the year 1900. Three count circles (7 1/2 mile radius) have been operating for decades in Lanark County and area including Carleton Place, Rideau Ferry and Pakenham.

A fourth circle, the Lanark Highlands Christmas Bird Count (LHCBC), has been around for 12 years, since 2003. This year will be the thirteenth count. Designed to fill a large gap in Lanark County, the LHCBC, sponsored by the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN), is centred on Watson’s Corners. This count circle takes in Brightside to the north, most of Dalhousie Lake to the west, south to within a km of Balderson and east to include Middleville.  The Lanark Highlands Christmas Bird Count is always on December 30th and this year it falls on a Friday.

The Christmas Bird Count is conducted by interested birders who are formed into teams each with a group leader.  These avid birders comb the roads, trails and woodlots during the count day to record every bird seen or heard. The results are sent to Bird Studies Canada. This annual event produces a definitive census of our bird population across the entire Western Hemisphere and is used for many research and conservation programs designed to encourage the continuing health of our avian friends.

All persons interested in gathering data on our local bird population are invited to join in the count. Teams will be formed, each team having a knowledgeable birder. Each team will be assigned a count area and will spend the daylight hours from 8 a.m. counting every bird they see or hear. Many of us meet at the Lanark Landing for lunch on George Street in Lanark at noon to warm up and share stories before heading out for a few more hours of counting. At 3:30 or so, the birders gather at the Lanark Civitan Hall just outside Lanark Village along Pine Grove Road (called South Street in Lanark Village)to record their findings and enjoy hot refreshments and some tasty goodies and watch the final count numbers as they come in. This is a fun and important day as we keep track of and record our local bird populations for research purposes.

Residents in the count circle area who have active bird feeders may like to take part in the count as a feeder counter by spending a few hours documenting birds at their feeders. Feeder Counters must register with Feeder Coordinator, Marj Montgomery, before Christmas by email at or leave a message for her at 613-259-3078.  On December 30, the feeder watchers will count every bird coming in to their feeders or appearing in their yard and, by 2 p.m., preferably email your results to Marj or leave her a message.  These numbers will be totalled and added to the main count from the field observations.

Count coordinator is Marilyn Barnett. Howard Robinson enters all the data into our central data base. Complier of the data is Cliff Bennett. If you have not participated before and would like to register for the field count, please contact Marilyn preferably by e-mail at or call her at 613-259-2269.

Mississippi Lake Loon Survey 2016:

Our iconic common loons are now gathering upon our larger lakes in large rafts all across Canada, ready for take-off to the warmer south for the winter. Groups of up to sixty should be found now on the Big Mississippi Lake.

Many of these local loons were counted this summer, as breeding pairs and chicks were surveyed during the Mississippi Lake Loon Survey conducted by members of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN), in conjunction with the Mississippi Lakes Association (MLA). The Canadian Lakes Loon Surveys are conducted all across Canada by Bird Studies Canada.


MVFN observers were divided into four teams of two, and each team was supplied with an MLA boat driver. The teams paid three visits to the lakes, one in June, one in July and once more in August.

Team 1 consisted of Chris Baburek, Clayton, Anne Cameron, Carp and local driver Glen Moulton and they covered the Lower Lake. In June, they found three mated pair with three young chicks. In July, the same three pairs still had three chicks but, in August, one pair was found without chicks. The other two pairs seem to have moved further up the lake.

Team 2, consisting of David Garcia, Almonte; Chris Barlow, Blakeney; and local driver Ron Pollock, covered the Middle Lake. In June they listed three pairs of mated loons. Two pairs had a total of three chicks and one pair had none. In July, four pairs were counted, still with only three chicks. In August, two members were exchanged for Gloria Opzoomer and Paul Sprague, from the Balderson area. They counted five pairs of loons but no chicks accompanied the pairs. The chicks were either off on their own, not seen, or had been predated.

Team 3 had MVFN members Lynda Bennett, Clayton and Pat Enright, Blakeney. They were chauffeured by local boat driver Gregg Robinson and they covered “The Narrows.” In June, they counted two pair of adults, each with one chick; in July they found the same two pair, one with a chick and the other with no chicks. August yielded three pairs, each with one chick.

The Big Lake, by far the largest, was covered by Team 4, consisting of Cliff Bennett (count compiler) and Brenda Boyd, MVFN President, both from Clayton. Boat Driver was Rick Erskine from Innisville. In June, they found five pairs of loons and three singles, spread out over the lake. Of the pairs, two had one chick each and another had two chicks. No chicks were seen with the other two pairs. July’s count produced seven pairs. Two had two chicks each, one had one and four had no chicks. No singles were found, but in August the picture changed dramatically. Only three adults were found, and five juveniles, most on their own.

photo Gloria Opzooomer

photo Gloria Opzooomer


Mated pair and chick. photo P. Donaldson

Mated pair and chick. photo P. Donaldson

In summary, the maximum number of loons counted seems to total thirty-five adults, formed into seventeen pairs, with a total of eleven chicks. This was in July. In August, only seven chicks (now young, almost fully grown, juveniles) were found. This survival rate seems very low and could be attributed to predators such as pike, raccoons and maybe the pair of bald eagles which nested on Greig Island in the Big Lake, or a result of harassment from thoughtless or careless boat drivers. As human habitation overtakes more and more of the shoreline, loon nesting opportunities will diminish. Loon nesting platforms should be considered in certain discreet locations. Loon populations are a great indicator of a healthy lake.

Submitted by Cliff Bennett

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MVFN's natural history talks take place on 3rd Thursdays, Jan-April and Sept-November, at  Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte, ON. All welcome!

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