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

2007-2008: Conservation Challenges

David Seburn

Press Story
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
March 26, 2008
Submitted by Pauline Donaldson

MVFN’s recent lecture explored why turtles outlived the dinosaurs but are now in trouble in Ontario

Photo: David Seburn discusses local populations of Blanding’s turtles with a carapace after MVFN lecture. Photo by Howard Robinson

Ecological consultant David Seburn was guest speaker March 20th for the 6th lecture in Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) series “Our Natural World: Conservation Challenges.” The lecture focused on Ontario’s turtles which Seburn describes as ‘endlessly fascinating’. As a species they have been around for so long they saw the dinosaurs go extinct! This is especially remarkable when one considers the relatively few species of turtles worldwide and only eight in Ontario.

The turtle’s shell, perhaps their best known and most unique feature, represents a serious biological limitation, Seburn explained. “They are enclosed in a little box so when they breathe they must compress their organs.” And when they need to pull in their head and limbs for defense, they have to hold their breath! Egg-laying is also a challenge. Not surprisingly the females tend to be larger than males to make room for eggs.

Seburn took the audience through the characteristics and distribution of Ontario’s eight turtle species and the conservation challenges they face. Interestingly, though loss and fragmentation of Ontario’s wetlands was one challenge highlighted, habitat protection did not dominate the discussion. Neither was the threat of global warming a major concern as we are at the northern limit for these reptiles’ successful egg hatching, so warmer temperatures could be beneficial. Why then, are six of Ontario’s eight turtles on the Canada’s ‘species at risk list’? As Seburn explained, Painted turtles and Snapping turtles are doing well. However the large Map turtle is of ‘special concern’ and the Spiny softshell, the Stinkpot, the Blanding’s and the Wood turtle are all considered ‘threatened’. The spotted turtle is in more serious trouble listed as ‘endangered’. It is rarely seen now.

Clues to the answer are the increasing adult mortality rate and the survival of eggs. Once turtles reach adulthood they can live a long time, and have the potential for a surprisingly long reproductive life combined with low rates of adult mortality. However, the natural success rate for eggs is so low that adult mortality must be kept at only 1-2% to maintain population stability. Unfortunately increasing adult mortality from road hazards has become a major problem when turtles travel on land to lay eggs or move to different food sources. The Blanding’s and Wood turtles are quite terrestrial and can travel 1-2 km to nest. Secondly, exacerbating a naturally low egg success rate is increasing predation from overpopulations of ‘subsidized’ predators such as raccoons in parks. Reaching more than 4 times regular rural numbers they can eat 100% of any turtle eggs in an area. Sadly sometimes the only warning sign a population is in trouble is it’s disappearance as all the adults eventually die off leaving no young.

Seburn made some suggestions to help conserve Ontario’s turtles. Short of closing down roads, municipalities can use drift fences or culverts to channel turtles across roads, and perhaps turtle crossing signs. Individuals can help turtles cross roads in the direction they were going (do not handle snapping turtles -lift them with a shovel). Large ‘ecopassages’ have been used in some places with great success in reducing mortality of a wide range of wildlife species. Recovery strategies for Ontario’s turtles also include research and population monitoring.

Info. from Seburn on identification and reporting turtle sightings has been posted on MVFN’s website (see Turtle Watch 2008 filed under Conservation). Turtle sightings can be reported locally to Mississippi Valley Conservation or to the Toronto Zoo Turtle Tally project by calling 416-392-5999.

‘Focus on Mammals’ by Glenn Desy (MNR) will be the last lecture in MVFN’s Conservation Challenges series, Thursday April 17th at 7:30 pm at the Almonte United Church Social Hall in Almonte. For more information, please contact Joyce Clinton at 613-257-4879 or visit MVFN’s website at www.mvfn.ca.

Canadian Timber Wolf

Press Release
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
April 4, 2008
Submitted by Pauline Donaldson

“Conservation and management of coyotes, wolves and cougars” at next MVFN

On Thursday, April 17, the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalist’s (MVFN) will host a lecture by Glenn Desy, a wildlife biologist who has studied a variety of rare birds and mammals, but who has a special interest in wild canids, the group of dog relatives that includes foxes, wolves, and coyotes. The lecture “Conservation and Management: Coyotes, Wolves, and Cougars” will be the last one in MVFN’s series “Our Natural World: Conservation Challenges.”

Glenn Desy’s work as a wildlife biologist has spanned ten years and taken him around North America studying a range of species and habitats from boreal birds to mangrove monitor lizards. His University of Guelph thesis work was part of a 4-year Georgian Bay ‘wolf telemetry’ study involving year-round wolf capture, snow tracking, and prey surveys. Recently Desy joined the Ministry of Natural Resources in Kemptville as Species at Risk Biologist with the Natural Heritage Information group.

Wolves and coyotes are symbolic of the wilderness. As top predators they require a lot of territory and can compete with humans for resources. The Eastern wolf has disappeared from southern Ontario but is found in Eastern Ontario where its hunting is regulated under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act (1997). It is listed as a species of special concern provincially and nationally. The Eastern wolf is distinct from the northern Gray wolf (Canis lupus) and very closely related to the red wolf (Canis rufus). Hybridization with coyotes (Canis latrans) makes distinctions between the species more difficult. Which do we have here and what are the differing landscape needs and predation talents of the wolf, the coyote, and the coy-wolf hybrids? Our speaker will help answer these questions and explore ways to manage human/wolf interactions, to help conserve them, and increase our understanding of these animals.

Desy also plans to talk about wild cats or cougars. They remain a source of widespread interest to local residents. An endangered species, the Eastern Cougar tends to be quite rare in this area but their presence in Ontario is generally acknowledged, as there have been hundreds of sightings reported. Glenn Desy’s presentation is 7:30 p.m., April 17th at the Almonte United Church Social Hall, Elgin St., Almonte. All are welcome and refreshments are offered. There is a $5 fee for non-MVFN members. For information, please contact Joyce Clinton at 613-257-4879 or see MVFN’s website at www.mvfn.ca.

Press Release
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
March 12, 2008
Submitted by Pauline Donaldson

Conservation Challenges: Focus on Turtles

On Thursday, March 20, the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalist’s (MVFN) proudly present a lecture by David Seburn, author of Ontario’s recovery strategy for turtles and an ecological consultant who specializes in the conservation of reptiles and amphibians. The lecture entitled “Biology, Ecology and Conservation of Ontario’s Turtles” will be the 6th in MVFN’s series “Our Natural World: Conservation Challenges.”

Baby TurtleDavid Seburn is a member of the Ontario Multi-Species Turtles at Risk Recovery Team. Turtles are amongst the most endangered of all living things in Canada. According to Seburn about ¾ of Ontario’s turtles are on the species at risk list as either endangered or a species of special concern. Seburn has worked for the past 9 years on the conservation of the endangered Spotted Turtle in Eastern Ontario. This turtle is a small, slow growing turtle which does not always reproduce every year. It is in decline and now rare in many areas. It is sensitive to degradation of water quality in the marshes, beaver ponds, vernal pools and other wetlands where it is found. Spotted turtles are also susceptible due to popularity for the pet trade and habitat destruction.

The lecture on turtles by David Seburn, as with other lectures in MVFN’s series this year, will take a back-to-basics approach in focusing on a specific group of animals, in this case turtles. David will discuss the basics of turtle biology and provide a introduction to the identification, ecology and distribution of Ontario’s turtles including the northern map, the stinkpot, spiny softshell, wood turtle, spotted turtle, snapping turtle, Blandings, and Midland and western painted turtles, with a focus on those of concern locally.

David will then go on to explore why these animals are so vulnerable. What are the major threats facing turtles and what can we do to help conserve these beautiful and fascinating creatures?

David Seburn’s presentation will be March 20th at 7:30 pm at the Almonte United Church Social Hall, 106 Elgin St., Almonte. There is a fee of $5 for non-members over 16. Refreshments are provided. All are welcome. For more information, please contact MVFN’s President Mike McPhail at 613-256-7211 or see MVFN’s website at www.mvfn.ca.

Jean Lauriault
Press Story
Amazing Monarchs at MVFN
January 24, 2008
by Sheila Edwards

A large crowd gathered January 17 for a Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) lecture on Monarchs presented by Jean Lauriault of the Canadian Museum of Nature. As one of Canada’s foremost Monarch experts and member of a tri-national committee for conservation of these animals, Lauriault knows Monarchs well. Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) have a very interesting life cycle, as short as 20 days, or 9 months long. During a hot summer the cycle is quick and thus more generations are born. From June to August, adults lay eggs on milkweed. In 3 to 15 days they hatch and there are 5 instars or molts of the caterpillar (larvae) taking up to 14 days, before the pupa or chrysalis (not cocoon) stage is reached. The adults emerge within 7-15 days and will live as little as 14 days or as long as 8-9 months for the late-season adults emerging in August. These are the adults which go into sexual diapause and begin the amazing migration south, remaining sterile until starting their return trip.

Monarch migration has always fascinated scientists, children, and nature lovers alike, but it wasn’t until 1975 that the site of their winter home in Mexico was discovered. As they leave Canada, Monarchs in Ontario gather at ‘staging’ areas to cross Lake Erie and Ontario. Then, covering distances of up to 100 km per day at heights of up to 1 km, they head to locations in southern US and remote areas in Mexico. Little is known about the stopover locations used during their trip, but upon arrival as many as 50 million butterflies may congregate within trees in a single hectare. They do not eat all winter but survive on stored Lipids. In March as the area gets drier, they mate and head north, with many stopping in Texas to lay their eggs and die, leaving the next generation to complete the return journey. Those arriving in Canada are the children of those that left in August.

It is hard enough to conserve a species that stays put, but conserving Monarchs, Lauriault noted, poses a ‘super challenge”, requiring the efforts of three countries. Concerns in Mexico include protecting the remote wooded area favoured by the Monarch, from illegal logging. When return migration commences clouds of butterflies fly low over the land and thousands/millions may be killed by vehicles. Important also are the stopover areas in the US, many not yet identified, where a generation may be raised in the spring, and where non-migrating Monarchs may also live.

What can we do here in Canada to conserve Monarchs? The staging areas in southern Ontario need continued protection. Secondly, Milkweed, the sole food of the caterpillar, is classified as a weed since it is toxic to cattle; action needs to be taken to remove this classification. A very aggressive invasive species that has gotten a strong foothold in Ontario is dog-strangling vine (Pale Swallowwort), also in the milkweed family. Adults can mistakenly lay their eggs on it, but the hatched caterpillars cannot eat this plants leaves. Dog-strangling vine should be eradicated whenever possible. Finally as Lauriault pointed out, the adult butterflies feed on nectar of various wild flowers and thus roadside flora need to be protected from mowing and herbicide application. On an up note, provide habitat by planting a butterfly garden, and enjoy!

To wrap up our evening, we presented Jean Lauriault with a Monarch T-shirt. He then drew a name for a second Monarch shirt, won by Teresa Peluso. Both shirts were donated by Neil Carleton, a local educator who often uses Monarchs for teaching biology and conservation in his classroom.

The next lecture in our series “Our Natural World: Conservation Challenges” on Thursday, Feb 21st will be “Ontario’s Birds” presented by Cliff Bennett, an MVFN founding member and Ontario East Director for Ontario Nature. For more information please contact Program Chair Joyce Clinton at 613-257-4879 or email . MVFNs Annual Winter Walk will take place February 17th. Learn about Winter Adaptations of Plants and Animals. For more information call Cliff Bennett at 613-256-5013 or refer to www.mvfn.ca for information on either of these upcoming events.

NOTES:

1. Further information on butterflies can be found in The Butterflies of Canada by Layberry, Hall and Lafontaine, parts of which can be found on-line at http://www.cbif.gc.ca/spp_pages/butterflies/index_e.php.

2. More information on dog-strangling vine may be found at http://www.swallow-wort.com, and http://www.ofnc.ca/fletcher/research/swallowwort/index_e.php.

Press Release

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

February 7, 2008

Submitted by Pauline Donaldson

“Birds: Changes and Challenges Around Us” at next field naturalist lecture

On Thursday, February 21st, the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalist’s (MVFN) proudly present a lecture by Cliff Bennett, international birder, Lanark Era bird columnist and current Eastern Regional Director for Ontario Nature. The lecture entitled “Birds: Changes and Challenges Around Us” will be the 5th in MVFN’s series “Our Natural World: Conservation Challenges.” The timing for this lecture could not be better, following the official January 30th launch at the Museum of Nature of the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario 2nd edition.

Cliff Bennett is one of MVFN’s founding members, and celebrated author of our Lanark County Canoe & Kayak Journeys guide. As a retired educator living along the Indian River in Mississippi Mills, Cliff has never really stopped teaching, especially where birds are concerned. Cliff was responsible for MVFN’s 5 year effort to collect data for one of the ‘squares’ reported in the breeding bird atlas, and was on hand January 30th to receive his copy of the atlas.

Beginning in 2001, MVFN officially began work on the ‘Appleton’ or square 18VR10 in the atlas. Birds were followed in search of definitive evidence of breeding within the square. Evidence could range from ‘possible’ i.e. for birds seen in season in suitable habitat or for breeding calls heard in breeding season in suitable habitat, to ‘confirmed’ for sighting of fledged or downy young, nest with eggs, adults carrying food for young etc. Similar data from the thousands of squares in Ontario have undergone extensive analysis and the results are summarized in the new Atlas.

Cliff will tell us about changes and challenges for birds around us. In doing so, he will draw from his own observations and from the information analyzed and presented in the newly released Atlas. As human populations grow, effects on the landscape are evident and these have corresponding impacts on birds, both positive and negative. Canada geese, house finches, blue-headed vireos, turkey vultures and wild turkeys have expanded their ranges considerably. However, some birds such as common nighthawk, chimney swift, bank swallow, blue-winged teal, red-headed woodpecker and all swallows have decreased significantly.

What are the key reasons for these expansions and declines? What conservation challenges are suggested by this information?

The lecture by Cliff Bennett, “Birds: Changes and Challenges Around Us” will take place Thursday February 21st at 7:30 pm at the Almonte United Church Social Hall, 106 Elgin St., Almonte. There is a fee of $5 for non-members over 16. Refreshments are provided. All are welcome. For more information, please contact MVFN’s Program Chair Joyce Clinton at 613-257-4879 or see MVFN’s website at www.mvfn.ca.

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FULL-SIZED  CALENDAR WITH DETAILS

MVFN natural history talks:  7:30 pm on third Thursdays of Jan, Feb, March, April,  Sept, Oct, and Nov at Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St. Almonte ON. All welcome! Non-members $5. 

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